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ACM Rail Monitor: the Netherlands has Europe’s busiest railway network

The Dutch rail network is Europe’s busiest. And it will only become busier. Passenger transport has increased, and both passenger and freight transport are expected to increase over the next few years as well. That is why railway companies indicate that they are concerned about rail capacity. This is revealed by the Rail Monitor, which the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has published today.

Henk Don, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: ‘It is important to ACM that, in a situation of growing scarcity, available capacity is allocated fairly. That is why we make sure that railway companies are able to use rail capacity on the basis of transparent and non-discriminatory conditions.’

Passenger transport

The number of train kilometers in passenger transport increased by 1.4% in 2017. Passenger transport is expected to continue to grow over the next few years. Between 2017 and 2023, the number of passenger kilometers is expected to grow by approximately 14%. This will put more pressure on available railway capacity.

In 2017, international passenger transport to and from the Netherlands increased by almost 19%, from 4.2 million to almost 5 million train kilometers. An increase is also expected over the next few years, due to, among other things, new international connections between Hengelo and Bielefeld, Arnhem and Düsseldorf, and increased Eurostar service between Amsterdam and London.

Freight transport

In 2017, the growth in international freight rail transport stagnated, but growth is expected again over the next few years. Rail freight companies are concerned about their competitive positions as a result of higher costs. These concerns are about the infrastructure charge they have to pay to ProRail, the Dutch network infrastructure manager, and about access to railway services and service facilities. As a result thereof, rail freight transport is less competitive compared with road transport or inland shipping. The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management recently published a set of measures for rail freight transport. The ministry announced that, in the period 2019 - 2023, rail freight companies will get subsidies in order to align the rates of the infrastructure charge with those in neighboring countries.

New competitive problems

The European Commission wishes to strengthen the competitiveness of the European railway sector, and has therefore introduced new legislation. For the Netherlands, this means that, from 2021, every railway operator will be allowed to offer rail transport on regional lines. These trains will run alongside rail transport that is offered under concession on these regional lines. It will be up to ACM to assess the economic effects of a new rail operator on that concession. Based on such assessments, ACM may suggest measures. In extreme cases, access can be denied.

Dutch Railways NS still has an exclusive concession on the main rail network until 2025. In 2020, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management will decide on the organization and structure of the Dutch railway market within the new European framework. Preparing for this political decision, the State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management has ordered a number of studies. ACM will soon issue recommendations as to whether or not additional control measures will be necessary for creating a level playing field in regional tender processes.  

About the Rail Monitor

In the biennial Rail Monitor, ACM gives an outline of trends and developments in the Dutch railway sector. Moreover, the results of a stakeholders’ assessment are presented, in which railway companies and passengers’ organizations have put forward their opinions about rail transport.

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