Trends and developments

Passengers at Eindhoven station were able to enjoy new designs and works of art during the Dutch Design Week (DDW) in October.

This chapter describes the demographic, economic, sociocultural, technological, environmental and political developments that have an impact on NS. For our response to these developments, see the chapter entitled Our strategy.

Economy cooling off but purchasing power under pressure

The Dutch economy grew slightly in the second half of 2023, after contracting in the first quarters. Although inflation fell, it remained high at 4.1%. The economy is now cooling off, but households are not yet noticing much of a difference: partly due to inflation, purchasing power has fallen by 1.6% over the past two years. Sustained inflation can have a negative impact on passenger numbers. At the same time, wages in collective labour agreements rose by 6.1% in 2023. This increase is the biggest in 40 years, and twice as high as a year earlier (2.7%).

Continuing labour market shortages

Global commodity shortages combined with high inflation and high energy prices have led to higher costs and delays in all kinds of construction plans. Severe shortages in the Dutch labour market have reinforced this slowdown. Since 2022, there have been more than 120 vacancies for every 100 jobseekers. These labour market shortages have major implications for NS’s services. In 2023, we were able to cope with the shortage of train drivers and main guards largely by hiring a substantial number of new staff and by implementing temporary solutions such as deploying office staff on trains. Due to the tight labour market, we still have shortages of mechanics, Safety & Service staff and logistics services staff including managers.

Ongoing impact of COVID-19 on travel patterns

The last lockdown is now almost two years behind us, but many effects of the pandemic have proved to be lasting, including changed travel behaviour. While we have seen passengers return to our trains, their numbers are smaller than before and their travel patterns have changed. While passenger numbers in the weekends have almost returned to pre-COVID figures, on working days numbers are still lower than in 2019. NS has noticed that commuters tend to work at the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays and choose to travel during super-peak hours on those days. Spreading out passengers remains a big challenge.

Contribution of sustainable transport to the climate targets

There is a growing awareness and willingness to combat climate change. Conscious and meaningful consumption is gaining popularity, with consumers seeking to find the optimal balance between convenience and value. The drive for a sustainable society is further supported by pressure from European regulations. The importance of the train as a sustainable mobility solution is obvious. Travelling by train is part of the solution to climate change.
At the same time, climate extremes are becoming increasingly problematic due to global warming. Long periods of heat and extreme rainfall are becoming more frequent and are threatening the railway infrastructure. Such developments call for further investment in climate adaptation and climate mitigation.

Population growth and composition of the population

The Netherlands is expected to have a population of 19 million by 2037; over 1 million more than in early 2022. Population growth has also created a housing construction challenge: between now and 2030, we need to build 100,000 homes every year to meet housing demand. This population growth and the associated housing construction are concentrated in urban areas, increasing pressure on the Randstad conurbation and regional core areas. This housing construction is accompanied by a mobility challenge, since all of these new homes must be easily accessible.
Besides population growth, the composition of the population is changing as average life expectancy continues to increase. By 2040, an estimated 25% of the Dutch population will be more than 65 years old. These developments will have an impact on the size and composition of the mobility demand. Urban areas will see an increase in demand, and one of the possible effects of the ageing population is an increase in social and recreational travel.

Developments in the mobility market

The government and new players in the mobility market have expressed considerable interest in Mobility as a Service (MaaS), the rise of shared transport (shared e-bikes, bicycles, scooters and cars) and the development of innovative concepts such as autonomous collective passenger transport. We are witnessing developments on various fronts: the growing popularity and availability of these forms of transport at the local level, and the proliferation of apps to make them more user-friendly. At the same time, local authorities are aware of the nuisance caused by illegal parking, while private car ownership has hardly decreased and the popularity of shared transport has so far remained modest.
Internationally, there is growing interest in sustainable alternatives and specifically in train travel. This is reflected in the introduction of ‘climate tickets’ in Germany, Austria and, next year, in France. With the growing desire to travel more sustainably, more and more people are opting for international rail connections. The growing supply of those connections is accompanied by increasing competition on and around the railways.
An increasing amount of infrastructure and station work is expected to be performed in the Dutch railway network over the next few years. Increasingly, such work is carried out during the day. This can be because adjustments are required for climate adaptation or the new train safety system (ERTMS). Another reason is that scheduled maintenance cannot always go ahead due to a lack of staff, trains or nitrogen emission rights. This increase in trackwork is unfortunately going to cause inconvenience to passengers. Together with ProRail, we will make every effort to minimise this inconvenience.

Technological developments in and around trains

Technological innovations in and around trains impact NS and our partners in the rail sector. NS evaluates the opportunities offered by six relevant technological developments: artificial intelligence, 3D printing, 5G, sensorics, extended reality and process mining. These developments can potentially enhance decisionmaking processes, while increasing train speeds and accelerating train maintenance work. The most important technological development is AI. Last year saw plenty of experimentation with generative AI and the implementation of several use cases. This increase in digital capabilities is accompanied by an increase in regulations regarding privacy and data security. Finally, ERTMS and Automatic Train Operation (ATO) should make it possible for more trains to travel on the busy Dutch rail network, which will contribute to shorter travel times and higher levels of safety.

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