|l||Nieuwsbrief Issue 38 - September 2001|
The drive to find the badly needed extra 459 drivers and 300 fitters continues, but competition for front-end staff on the labour market increasingly gets a European edge. NS, in competition with equally staff-strapped Swiss railways, is now trying to woo redundant German drivers and maintenance staff to the Netherlands, while on the other hand the first signs of brassed-off Dutch drivers finding their way to other countries are becoming noticeable. Among other interests such as much more appealing work and more leisure time, the lure of the considerably higher wages versus lower taxes in for instance Britain is deeply appreciated. It is in fact a repeat on a European scale of what happened in Britain after privatisation, when staff could vote with their feet about whom they found the most appealing employer, pushing up wages no end and leaving less well-liked operators with severe shortages of drivers. This still is an ongoing thing, as a matter of fact.
NS sees these increasingly difficult to handle staffing problems looming and they have taken on the services of the Belgian transport expert professor C. Peeters to help them to set up crew rosters which will meet both the transport needs of the operator as well as the work interest and leisure time needs of the crews in order to cut the rampant rate of staff sickness and make the job reasonably attractive again. It is better remuneration, which is going to be the main attracting force since the traditional rail staff attachment to their jobs has been squandered, and the operators are now faced with dealing with foreign staff on an international labour market who have no particular attachment to anything but their wallet. The Euro allows instant comparison between the benefits of the various working environments and the quality of the paycheck determines the quality of the staff at work. The European unification has had unforeseen effects in unforeseen places.
Dutch government proposes to take action to get more control over NS again. The enthusiasm among a majority of the Dutch MP's for the commercialisation of the national rail passenger operator has worn so thin that stressed transport minister Tineke Netelenbosch saw an opportunity to appear to be doing something by proposing to investigate turning back the commercial and operational freedom of NS. This is in order to have more clout should NS continue to habitually disregard national transport policies whilst still failing the electorate in the way it has on a number of occasions in the past years. While certainly not all MP's agree with her actions (notably the tax-shy right wing, who probably never use a train in the first place and who fear seeing a ‘black hole’ of public transport funding opening up in the budget again) she has, nevertheless, a fair bit of support. At the same time, following parallel findings in Britain and Japan concerning operational quality, she proposes to reintegrate operations, traffic control and infrastructure management to boost reliability. Only very few (again, mostly those on the deeper conservative side) still believe that true on-track competition will ever take off in any big way, even after the Lovers Rail fiasco, but the benefits of vertical re-integration appear enticing in the light of recent experiences and findings at home and abroad, notably in Britain. The passenger interest groups and unions reacted with delighted surprise, but the business world, despite its slaughtering of NS service delivery in publications, showed the expected, yet not forcefully worded reservations, mentioning benefits of competition etc.
In the meantime the contracts for 15 years of High Speed Line operations comprising 96 services per day have been signed, as expected, between the government and the NS/ KLM/ National Express combine, keeping everything on the high speed front nicely in one hand as well. This does guarantee the ongoing integration of all the offered rail services in The Netherlands and has therefore distinct customer benefits, while it avoids the pointless and potentially damaging InterCity competition on this very small network. The National Express bit could probably do something about future better rail connections from Britain to The Netherlands (fast London to Antwerpen and beyond, bypassing Ashford, Lille and Brussel for instance!), possibly with combined mail, parcels and passenger trainsets along the lines of the Overnight Express in its original form.
The background of what is written above. This article will try to give an answer to the question: Why is it that NS, once one of the paragons of rail convenience in Europe, has become a second rate rail operator? What are the parameters with which to decide what constitutes a second rate rail operator? To mention but one, some of the British InterCity and the Dutch operator are doing rather well financially! The railways in Switzerland, momentarily the bee's knees as far as passenger satisfaction is concerned, do a fair lot worse on this score and the French and German railways, revered by the British press for their comfort and high speed, are a financial fiasco in comparison.
The railways in Britain as well as those in The Netherlands have in common that it was the financial argument which carried weight in government decisions about their future. Possible benefits for their customers would be derived from the market-led operations but were not statutory in the privatisation cum commercialisation process. That is why there are a number of strange similarities between them, such as the fact that the customer in neither case really had any advantage from the proceedings and the fact that technically speaking both operations are on a backward slide as characterised by their increased unreliability.
When the railways in The Netherlands were commercialised the directions as far as NS was concerned were to prepare itself for full privatisation, which required proven maximum profitability on investment for whoever bought shares. Whatever can be said about NS, this and nothing else has been the driving force behind company policies. The state is as yet the sole shareholder in the company and as such is prevented from interfering with the daily operations or the formulating of long term operational goals. Only when financial goals are not being met in a disastrous way can some form of adjustment take place. This sole shareholder-ship situation therefore prevented the state, in its guise as regulator and transport policymaker, from exercising any effective regulatory function at the behest of the hassled customer, which would have interfered with the business strategy, and earning power of NS.
This is the little understood reason why no moves could be made by the state, despite its ownership of NS, to break the deadlock during the last series of unrest amongst staff. As angry customers start to put pressure on the Members of Parliament and Ministry by threatening to change votes during the next elections, there are fears for jobs, hence the moves to turn back the commercial freedom by Minister Netelenbosch. Whether she will achieve anything worthwhile is highly questionable, as the change needed is fundamental and might clash with political right wing ambitions, with NS, as well as European guidelines and law. Whilst NS lacks the regulatory influences to keep it on the straight and narrow as a passenger friendly operator, the demise of Lovers Rail -much of it of its own making- has put all serious competition in the freezer, so there also is no competitive power to make NS behave itself. The freedom of NS to do as it finds necessary to maximise earnings is quite unbelievable when looking at the situation in Britain and is a serious indictment of ministerial and parliamentary knowledge and alertness during the commercialisation process. Despite the Swedish and British examples many sides of this process did not get the attention which was required.
NS has 195,000 seats, which according to contract, no more than 25,000 may be out of service for maintenance or failure per day. At the moment the amount standing around runs at about 40,000 per day and is not really improving. The wheeling and dealing in real estate around railway property became a major way to raise funds, in Britain as well as in The Netherlands organisations are now trying to prevent this, in Britain for railway development purposes, in The Netherlands because the state is waking up to the fact that they are missing out on substantial tax revenue.
Most of all this was the bell which woke up the Members of Parliament to the reality that next to having given away all powers to instil even a vestige of a transport policy on the main passenger rail operator, as was promised to the electorate in various election manifesto's, they had no clue as to the staggering wealth they had rather unwittingly bequeathed to NS. They made it the biggest owner of real estate in the most exquisite locations in the country, who never paid a penny to acquire it, without seeing much of that cash flowing back into better services, if anything it was quite the contrary. It finally made them question whether the fines they imposed to sooth public outcry had any measurable effect at all in such an environment.
EWS - ACTS Class 58 contract still not ratified but "progress is being made". In the Dutch as well as the British rail press little notes keep popping up about the ten class 58 Co-Co' Diesel Electrics which ACTS would like to hire from EWS. The story behind it so far, if I understand a number of people and publications rightly, is that EWS would like to do more with momentarily redundant traction in the way of the hire of the class 37's to France, Spain and Italy. ACTS from its side needs capable, reliable and flexible traction as the class 1200 Co-Co’s lack brute pulling power, are showing their age a mite too often and are tied to the 1.5 kV wires which leads to problems when diversions and future foreign (German, Belgian) expeditions are on the cards.
The last thing one could say about class 58, however, is that they are reliable to the extent that ACTS is going to love them to bits. Also, the number of alterations that will have to be made to these locos makes me wonder whether the hire is going to be that cost effective. New headlight clusters will probably not break the bank but the required fitting of Dutch ATB-L (EG, NG and ETCS compatibility) is going to be very costly, both in the acquisition and fitting of hardware as well as the tweaking time needed to make it work, to which must be added the time and cost needed for Dutch certification, followed by the not inconsiderable effort required to keep them going reasonably satisfactorily. After this the locos will be around for only ten years or so and then go back to Britain? Come on!
Of course, it could be that EWS International has cunning plans to set up Dutch open access activities with ACTS or so. In which case classes 59 and 66 with their Dutch and German certification, and of which the interface with ATB as well as Indusi is known and tested would have been the very obvious choice. Then there is the fact that various manufacturers now offer reconditioned as well as new traction with German and Dutch certification for juicy prices in power by the hour, lease and purchase deals. Fitting and tweaking of Indusi and ATB on these machines is far easier than in older un-rebuilt traction like class 58 due to the fact that new and reconditioned traction is delivered with train control systems compatibility as part of the specification. Look at the relative ease with which various types of Vossloh builds (including Railion 6400 and Belgian 77) get equipped with a multitude of such train protection systems.
The deal however becomes well nigh absurd when realising that EWS is fairly soon going to be about 20 to 25 traction units short for existing obligations when the second phase of the CTRL with its tunnels kicks in. Together with Freightliner, EWS has dedicated class 66 for this job, as only that type is admissible due to noise and exhaust regulations. This shortfall is going to be relieved by reinstating members of the ageing and even less reliable class 56, which otherwise proves valuable through stripping out and selling their main alternators and rectifying kit for class 47 to 57 conversions.
Pacers or no Pacers in The Netherlands. In the meantime, the use of two class 140 Pacer units from off-lease stock to relieve the troubled last operational DE2 set from duty on the Marienberg line appeared to be off, because the narrowness of the bodies in relation to the platforms in The Netherlands posed a safety hazard and precluded permission to use them in passenger service. Nevertheless, RAIL and later other British magazines published articles that RailNed had in fact accepted the trains for strictly limited services and they would be shipped sometime between August and October.
New loco struggle heats up for NS. It has been mentioned before in Nieuwsbrief that NS (formerly NS-R) is looking for new traction now that class 1300 has finally been ditched as a means of working passenger trains in The Netherlands under the new order with its fast push-pull operations. It has also been mentioned that really what NS wants is for Railion (formerly NS-C) to give up their class 1600's to NS and that they then get the new locos they would really like to have, DE or E-Multi-voltage. This way NS can start using the additional locos the day they can lay their hands on them, without having to retrain drivers and having to fit ATB. By the time these locos wear out, from 2015 onwards, the same will have happened with the available ICR and ICK coaches and a wholesale replacement of 1980's rolling stock can take place with more double deck EMU's, for which the little kingdom is after all the most ideal sporting ground. Railion from its side has started to remove the NS identity stickers and apply its name on the 1600's, complete with its website. Further repaints to red are still not mooted.
In September the NS advert for 24 units of new traction appeared in the relevant media and strangely enough Railion is one of the possible contestants to sell traction. I am really curious whether NS itself will take on all the new traction, and what it is going to be. Single cab power car machinery such as the class 91 in Britain, push-pull operated with whatever unpowered stock happens to be around? That is tantamount to another change of rolling stock policy!
In the meantime the first batch of ex-German ICK coaches is now making its presence felt and the ICR conversion saga also appears to have resulted in some upgraded coaches appearing. The initial idea to use the reconditioned solid state alternators from the ICR to re-equip the ICK has been abandoned as the pace at which this kit becomes available is too slow and would hinder the delivery of the ICK coaches, which is now running as planned, which is more than can be said about the ICR upgrade.
SPAD worries on NS as well. Just to show that SPAD's are nothing that is specific to the railways in Britain; on a yearly basis about 280 SPAD's are recorded on the railways in The Netherlands and the number of incidents is increasing. The majority is being caused by overlooking position light signals or through wrong assessment of braking power and braking distance, which tallies with the British experience. Readers who still have previous issues of Nieuwsbrief might remember that the older generation ATP in The Netherlands does not actually stop a train from travelling through a red light, but will restrict that train to 40 kph, which obviously limits the possible damage following an eventual collision. Now there is a political drive to install new generation ATP all over the network.
This is in fact a bit of an expensive folly as ETCS is about to make its presence felt in The Netherlands and this will have the desired ATP features, complete with automatic train stop on red, just another bit of proof that politicians and Quango bosses have a tendency to talk before having decently informed themselves. The drivers, incidentally, blame the increased monotony of their job as one of the main reasons for the increasing amount of SPAD's.
Betuwe Freight Line formation nears its completion, problems near Zevenaar. The formation of the Betuwe Freight route can now be traced all the way from Rotterdam to the German border, and the work on the various engineering bits is progressing very well. The works ran into a certain amount of trouble near Zevenaar though, when ground water leaked into the long local tunnel in substantial quantities. Forceful pumping (the Dutch know a thing or two about that) to keep the works dry quickly lowered the local ground water table to such an extent that houses in a nearby estate came near to collapse. Not unexpectedly it caused an outcry and the anti-Betuwe line lobby had a very good couple of weeks out of it.
A problem with the line, which, however, has still not been resolved, is
the choice of traction current. The classical Dutch 1.5 kV DC has been unanimously
ruled out, but the initial replacement with 25 kV 50 Hz AC does not appear
as logical anymore as it did up to now. The stark reality is that virtually
all traffic will go to or come from Germany and that a German/Dutch operator
is the lead user. It is virtually a German stand-alone railway line within
The Netherlands. So why would one want to install a 50 Hz power system when
German locos use the 15 kV 16.7 Hz AC system at home? More to the point,
why even install Dutch signalling when German signalling will allow German
standard locos to complete the trip to Rotterdam from wherever they happen
to come from, such as say the Italian border with Austria or Switzerland,
instead of having to employ expensive multi voltage/ multi signalling machines
from somewhere halfway as is the case under the present plans. Keeping it
cheap will only help to make the line (and with that Rotterdam) commercially
more attractive. Stay tuned on this one, as it might actually change a few
ideas on re-electrification in The Netherlands quite fundamentally!
Light rail ideas take further shape, but are they well considered? Between Gouda and Alphen a/d Rijn the local plans centre on a low floor tram as used around Stockholm in Sweden. The background is that at a later stage "the light rail" might run in normal street traffic -presumably as a tram- as well. The upshot is, however, that the platforms along the line will have to be lowered to 40 cm above rail head and that all planned future extensions along existing rail lines, whether dedicated solely to tram traffic or not, will require the same thing. This would make diversions of and return to full size rail operations difficult and costly. How this sort of low floor stock is in fact expected to work along the planned Utrecht CS to Leiden corridor (large stations worked by both systems at each end) is not clear. If, on the other hand, the new service could be hooked up to the present Sneltram operation to Nieuwegein to get to Utrecht CS, which appears logical to me and was already talked about years ago, it would be out of sync again with the standard high floor trams running there now.
Low floor operation only has a decent advantage over standard vehicle operation when at least 50 per cent of traffic takes place in fairly slowly worked inner-city street running environments, where a higher top speed doesn't matter as much as good acceleration, and where dedicated platforms take up too much space. This, however, is not the case in the Gouda- Leiden and West of Utrecht triangle. The big disadvantages of true low floor stock are that the intricate construction and involved maintenance of such vehicles makes them more expensive to purchase and operate than standard vehicles of comparable capacity, and a high top speed is a necessary ingredient of the whole Rijn-Gouwe light rail concept if some commercial viability is one of the aims. The standard sneltram vehicles have under floor space for the sort of bogies that make running at 120 kph (75 mph) possible.
Furthermore, with regards to full low floor operations, a new generation of traffic expert is presently finding out that the safety of customers at tram stops, especially on those located near the centre line of streets used by road traffic as well, is better served by higher platforms with sturdy fencing. Car drivers rather publicly damage their prized possessions as well as their ego's if they inadvertently smash into them, which keeps excessively stupid road behaviour reasonably in check, while the occupants of the tram stop at the time of an accident usually escape unhurt. If the powers that be are still hell-bent on low floor, then of course there is the example of the similar two-level situation in Amsterdam toward Amstelveen (street tram and sneltram stock on lines 5 and 55). Here the problem has been reasonably satisfactorily solved with double length/ dual height platforms, but why one would build in this sort of expensive inconvenience right from the start is unclear if a better solution by dropping the idea of low floor trams is possible, in any case, RailNed appears less than enthralled.
As a positive contrast the much more realistic plans to start sneltram operations along the present rail route between Haarlem and Zandvoort, with logically planned diversions and extensions into the inhabited area's at both ends are progressing. That line lost its main public interest when the services from Maastricht were terminated in Haarlem. The replacement train service never really answered the travel needs of the non-local summer beach crowds due to the now necessary change of trains in Haarlem, while the station at Zandvoort on the other hand was always rather far away from where the interesting bits of beach life took place. Quite a slog on a hot summer's day indeed, I recall.
These plans have the classic and proven Siemens Stadtbahn B80 metro/tram
vehicles as a basis and there is nothing low floor about them, even though
folding steps are bolt-on options in the case of use in streets. Siemens
is currently building 48 of these vehicles for the Turkish city of Bursa
and keeping the production line open for a small Dutch add-on order might
generate worthwhile savings for the purchaser.
Our first stage was the bus from the village to Luxembourg station, a journey of 33 km. Luxembourg station has a varied display of rolling stock and motive power, with representatives from the SNCB, SNCF, NS, DB, CFF and CFL systems. In addition there is the Model Shop in Rue de Bonnevoie just 5 minutes walk on the other side of the station. The outward journey was to Troisvierges, just on the northern border, on the Luxembourg to Liege service. This was with SNCB IC orange coaches hauled by CFL class 3100. For the tolerant wives it is a very scenic trip from Ettlebruck to Troisvierges through a valley alongside the rivers Clerve and Wiltz. Troisvierges station is quite modern, but probably a good 10 minutes walk from the village. This we anticipated by buying a picnic at Luxembourg station.
The return journey was with identical stock and motive power. Whilst waiting at Troisvierges, the “local” from Luxembourg arrived with CFL green and cream coaches again hauled by CFL class 3100. At Ettlebruck we passed the Wiltz service consisting of a single new “Bullet” type EMU. There was no sign of any Class 3600 BB electric engines on the network. Although several were observed in the sheds on a previous trip whilst leaving Luxembourg. Class 250 / 260 Budd Inox emus are still being used on the “local” services to Thionville.
From Luxembourg we had 2 choices to Wasserbillig, either by DB IC stock, or local CFL Class 2000 EMU. We chose the latter, although “all stations”, these were very comfortable and arrived just ahead of the DB direct train. This allowed the arrival of the DB to be witnessed, in addition another arrival from Trier of DB red and white EMU. The connecting bus to Echternach arrived on time and connected with the bus back to the village. Our experience was that the CFL runs “on time”, both buses and trains, so there is no need to take “one service ahead”. Buses and trains all connect with each other, the average connection time being 5 to 8 minutes.
It would seem that the CFL rail system is ambidextrous, that is trains run
on the left in from Arlon, on the right to Thionville and Wasserbillig. Going
to Troisvierges we alternated between left and right, although from Troisvierges
on to Liege it reverted to the left. In all it was a very inexpensive day
In its current design, the museum displays its collection protected only by platform roofing, which the NS had built in the 70's. These offer little protection the to weathers' changing seasons. The new funding provides the opportunity to maintain and display the collection in a specially designed in-door environment. Moreover, the new design will also provide the latest in multi-media presentation facilities, presenting the railways in an up-to-date modern manner. With these changes, the museum is looking to place itself at the forefront of railway museums in Europe, indeed create a museum with "international allure". The priority is to replace the current 'open-air' displays with an all-encompassing in-door facility. The responsibility for this new design falls with Nienke van de Lune of architects Holland Rail consult. Not only must it be impressive, but also adhere to all the demands of modern climate control and be environment friendly.
The redesign will also incorporate the past. The museum, which is housed in the former Maliebaan station, will be renovated to its original splendour as it was in 1874 - and thus be unique in railway architecture, as there is no single station in The Netherlands that has been kept in its original design. A new building is also to be built, housed on the existing complex, which will display five different aspects of our 'world of railways' in a "natural setting, giving you the feeling that you're on a film-set". Including the existing collection, these worlds will be centred on themes such as 'Black Magic' (Steam era), 'La Belle Époque' (long journeys, comfort & luxury) and of course the development of the railways from the devastating war years through to the 21st century. The centrepiece and most impressive part of the new design will be an authentic turntable.
Another major change is that the museum will no longer house its 'active'
rolling stock. They will find their new home with HTMU, as a direct connection
with the network to/from the museum cannot be maintained with the new design.
There will be a 'small train' (how small is small?) running through the display
areas, which are hoped to attract around 250,000 visitors per annum.