ARRIVA Netherlands’ plans to introduce open-access passenger services on the Zwolle - Leeuwarden and Zwolle - Groningen lines, in competition with Netherlands Railways (NS), have progressed after the Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) ruled that it cannot analyse the economic balance of the new services with the future Main Line Network concession, which the Ministry of Infrastructure intends to grant to NS as a direct award contract.

Arriva Netherlands, a subsidiary of German Rail (DB), submitted plans for open-access all-stations services on the Zwolle - Groningen and Zwolle - Leeuwarden routes to the Dutch regulatory body at the end of 2022. It intends to start operations on January 1 2025, in addition to the inter-city services NS operates on these lines, and says the stopping services will offer good connections with fast trains between Leeuwarden and Groningen also operated by Arriva.

The core network is currently operated exclusively by NS, and the Ministry of Infrastructure has announced plans to directly award NS another 10-year concession, covering 95% of total rail passenger-km in the Netherlands including inter-city and some international services. However, the plans have been criticised by the European Union and rival operators, who have launched legal action.

The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure asked ACM to assess the economic balance of the services proposed by Arriva but this request was denied by ACM, which pointed out that the Arriva services are due to start during the term of the new NS concession, the details of which have not yet been finalised. While the draft concession has largely been developed, ACM says there could still be changes in operations, conditions and financial terms.

ACM also turned down a request to suspend its assessment of Arriva’s proposals, meaning that the introduction of the open-access services is one step closer.

Arriva started its first open-access service in December 2022, a weekly overnight service between Groningen and Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam. The second service launched in January, a weekly overnight service between Maastricht and Schiphol Airport.

Arriva has received permission from ACM for open-access services between Amersfoort and Apeldoorn, which will operate as an extension of the Apeldoorn - Zutphen regional service. Five weekly return services are scheduled to start this year.