March 03, 2016

New strategy refocuses NS’ activities

Written by  Quintus Vosman
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NETHERLANDS Railways (NS) has unveiled a new company strategy for 2016-2019, entitled 'Better at full speed,' which aims to regain public trust and secure NS's position in the Dutch railway market up to and beyond 2025.

The new strategy follows a request by minister of finance, Mr Jeroen Dijsselbloem, for the state-owned company to redefine its role following operating problems, irregularities in a tender for regional services in Limburg, and the failure of the high-speed project.

NS will invest €3bn in three main areas:

• Core network operations and connected international services, for which NS has exclusive concession. NS will improve reliability, provide clean trains, and introduce new trains and increase frequencies
• Station improvements, supported by infrastructure manager Prorail, and
• Door-to-door journey will be enhanced by improving passenger information and introducing new payment methods in cooperation with Prorail, other operators and regional authorities.

As a result, NS will cutback on non-core activities and will no longer participate in tenders for regional train services. Instead NS will partner with competitors like Connexxion and Arriva.

In the long-term, NS will withdraw from bus operator Qbuzz, and will cease to hold shares in city transport operators. NS will also reconsider its role in The Hague's transport operator HTM depending on the outcome of the direct award of a tram concession in and contractual agreements with the municipality.

Furthermore NS will stop its retail activities in stations, retaining only information kiosks and waiting rooms. It will abandon its franchise operations which will transfer to non-railway commercial companies, with 3000 of 4600 NS retail staff set to transfer to new employers. NS will also continue to sell-off its non-strategic assets.

NS says these changes will be noticeable by 2019 and by then NS aims to increase its passenger satisfaction rating to 80%, achieve 92.3% punctuality, and improve passenger information for the entire journey to 82%.

While the strategy focuses predominately on domestic policies, NS also plans to expand its international activities through its Abellio subsidiary which is currently active in British and German rail and bus markets.

NS is striving to improve performance by 2019 to coincide with the Ministry of Infrastructure's mid-term review of the 2015-2025 Core Network Concession, with NS fearing that the government may start to open the core network to competition if NS' performance does not improve.

NS' Central Staff Council(COR) says it supports "the main thrust" of the strategy. However, there are a number of elements where it has a different interpretation.
Specifically it says as "one of the best railway operators in the world" NS must continue to compete for regional tenders in the Netherlands and that NS should remain active in retail activities because of the added value this provides NS customers and the company. It also says that NS should retain its interest in QBuzz in the long-term.

• Since the announcement of the new strategy, Mr Michiel van Roozendaal, CEO of NedTrain, has decided to step down by May 1.

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