Dutch Railways in red plans to raise ticket prices by 10%

Like in 2022, Dutch Railways NS made a 191-million-euro loss last year due to increased costs for wages and equipment, but also because the number of expected passengers fell short. NS, therefore, wants to make train tickets considerably more expensive next year, possibly by more than 10%.

With that 191-million-euro loss, NS may be doing better than in 2022, when it made a 421-million-euro loss. Still, the presentation of the Amsterdam Central annual report also revealed that it failed to run enough trains on time and is still struggling with a persistent staff shortage.

Post-corona effects

NS’ revenue rose to more than 3.7 billion euros in 2023 from 3 billion in 2022. Of this, almost 2.9 billion euros came from transport revenue in the Netherlands, and 483 million euros came from the operation of Dutch stations. The remaining revenue came from the German subsidiary Abellio.

Nevertheless, that result is “still grossly insufficient to speak of financially sound operations”, the rail company says. “Financially, we are still struggling with the aftermath of the coronavirus,” NS director Wouter Koolmees stated.

The number of passenger kilometers recovered in 2023, but there are still 11% fewer people traveling by train than before the Covid-19 health crisis. High inflation and, therefore, sharply rising costs for wages, IT, energy, and materials, for example, do not help either.

More delays and staff shortages

At the same time, Koolmees acknowledges that NS had to compensate many more train passengers for delays last year – the compensation amount went up from 2.2 million euros to 3.1 million euros. In addition, NS lost another 3.6 million euros in compensation for replacement transport, taxis, and hotel stays of duped travelers.

According to NS figures, 89.7% of passengers arrived more or less on time last year, compared to 91.6% in 2022. That means more than one in ten people married at their destination at least five minutes late.

The High-Speed Line (HSL), NS’ main headache, performed even worse. There, almost three out of ten travelers suffered at least five-minute delays. The HSL runs slowly on some parts of the route because the track is not designed for the desired speed. Furthermore, many also suffered from overcrowded or shorter trains, or new trains showed growing pains and broke down more often.

Track works, disruptions and backlogs at maintenance companies, and staff shortages caused those delays. NS currently has 1,400 vacancies open, 250 of which are “acute shortages”. The company is particularly short of technically skilled people.

NS director Wouter Koolmees /NS

All hopes pinned on the government

Last year, the Dutch government still freed up 120 million euros to avoid a price increase, but next year, the NS would like to make train and season tickets substantially more expensive, possibly by more than 10%.

However, NS director Koolmees still hopes the Dutch government – a resigned cabinet currently leads the Netherlands – will again step in this year to cope with the expected price increase of tickets. “Politicians have also said they want to look at a structural solution. I will hold on to that,” said Koolmees.

The Dutch government promised to absorb the 8,5% fare increase for 2024. But due to rising costs and the emerging ‘indexation gap’, the delayed rate increase must now occur anyway, on top of regular inflation. “That could mean an increase of more than 10% for 2025,” says the rail company.

In a reaction, passenger association Rover warns that more expensive tickets will only cost more passengers. The association also calls on politicians to again invest heavily in train transport to prevent train travel from becoming unaffordable for many people.

The passenger association is also concerned about rail infrastructure, among other things. “The railway is bursting at the seams: no more trains can be added on many routes.”

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