Nederlandse Spoorwegen

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Nederlandse Spoorwegen
State-owned company
Industry Rail transport
Founded 1938
Headquarters Utrecht, Netherlands
Key people
Engelhardt Robbe (CFO)
Products Rail transport, rail construction, services
Revenue Increase 4.1 billion (2014)
Increase €180million (2014)
Number of employees
33,000 (2013)
Parent State of the Netherlands
Subsidiaries Abellio
Abellio Greater Anglia
Serco-Abellio 50%
Merseyrail 50%
Northern Rail 50%
Abellio ScotRail
Qbuzz (100%)
NSRegio (99%)
Slogan Free To Move
Nederlandse Spoorwegen
Railroads Netherlands 2013.svg
Railway tracks in the Netherlands (2013)
Locale Netherlands
Dates of operation 1938–present
Predecessor Hollandsche IJzeren Spoorweg-Maatschappij (HSM)
Maatschappij tot Exploitatie van Staatsspoorwegen (SS),
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Headquarters Utrecht

Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈneːdərlɑntsə ˈspoːrʋeːɣə(n)]) (English: Dutch Railways) or NS is the principal passenger railway operator in the Netherlands. NS provides rail services on the Dutch main rail network (hoofdrailnet). The rail infrastructure is maintained by network manager ProRail, which was split off from NS in 2003. Freight services, formerly operated by NS Cargo, merged with the DB Schenker group in 2000.

NS runs 4,800 scheduled domestic trains a day, serving 1.1 million passengers.[1] In addition, NS provides international rail services from the Netherlands to other European destinations and carries out concessions on a number of foreign rail markets through its subsidiary Abellio.


Old and new headquarters of NS.

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The NS was founded in 1938 when the two largest Dutch railway companies, the Hollandsche IJzeren Spoorweg-Maatschappij (HSM) and the Maatschappij tot Exploitatie van Staatsspoorwegen (SS), formally merged. These two companies, however, had been intensively cooperating as early as 1917. There were both economic and ideological reasons for the cooperation.

As a result of the First World War, the Netherlands' economy had declined causing HSM and SS to fall from profitability. Given their national importance, allowing them to slip into bankruptcy was not considered acceptable. While remaining independent companies, HSM and SS improved overall efficiency by cooperatively integrating their operations. The Dutch government further supported HSM and SS by purchasing shares in both firms. In 1938, the government merged the two companies to form the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS). In the process, the government bought all remaining shares, yet never nationalised the company. Therefore, NS remained, and still is, a private company solely owned by the Dutch government.

NS as a state enterprise

During the Second World War the NS remained an independent company, but was forced to do the Germans' bidding; the NS was forced to construct the railway lines to camp Westerbork and help in the deportation of almost a hundred thousand Jews to extermination camps. The NS went on a strike once during the war, in the winter of 1944-45, after it had declined to participate in one a year earlier.

The NS played a pivotal role in the reconstruction of the country. There was little alternative transport in the country besides the train, while there was a huge demand for logistical services which the NS could provide.

While the 1950s were generally a good time for the company, it started to decline in the 1960s, like most other railways around the world. Not only did the NS suffer from the competition of the car and other modes of transport, it also suffered from a loss of income when natural gas started to replace coal as the main fuel in powerplants and homes after a gas field was found near Slochteren. The NS had been involved in the transport of coal from the mines in Limburg to the remainder of the country.

The NS responded with an aggressive strategy named Spoorslag '70. This strategy meant, among other things, that the NS substantially increased the number of trains per hour and also introduced the Intercity services. However, it was quite clear that this would never return the company to profitability. Nevertheless, the company was declared to be of national importance, meaning that it would receive large amounts of subsidies every year.

Reforms of the 1990s

In the early 1990s, the government started to question the subsidies given to the NS. Not only were there questions regarding the way the NS spent the subsidies, but, after the neo liberal reforms of the 1980s, it was also considered not done to award generic subsidies to companies. The government decided on the verzelfstandiging of the NS. (Although technically, this is not the case, but instead refers here to withdrawal of the subsidies.) The idea was that not only rail transport was economically viable, but that there could be competition as well.

There were two external circumstances which allowed for this to happen. Firstly, the European Union passed Directive 91/440, which prescribed, among other things, the (formal) separation of the national railways into two separate companies, one which deals with the infrastructure, and the other which deals with the transport activities. Secondly, the old CEO of the NS, Leo Ploeger, retired, which allowed the government to name a new CEO which would execute the government's plans. The new CEO was Rob den Besten.

The plans entailed that the government would remain responsible for the rail infrastructure, while the NS would provide the (passenger) transport on a commercial basis. Where the services would prove to be economically inviable the government would subsidise that route. The division which was responsible for the infrastructure would later be turned into NS Railinfratrust.

To facilitate the government plans for the commercial operation of the NS, den Besten planned to split the NS into many smaller independent divisions. The idea was that these smaller divisions would be better able to respond to the market. The plans, however, received massive opposition from the unions, which meant that the only divisions created were NS Reizigers, and locomotive maintenance company NedTrain. There were also other internal changes in the company. The routemanagers got de facto control over the operation, but they were dependent of a different organ in the company.

The freight sector NS Cargo became part of the Deutsche Bahn after its merger with Railion in 2000, now known as DB-Schenker rail.[2]

These reforms were never much of a success and left the company in an uncontrollable state. Result was that the company started to decline rapidly, and that the employees started many unorganised strikes. Following this, the complete board of directors felt it necessary to resign in late 2001.

In 2002 Karel Noordzij was named as new CEO of the NS with the mission to restore the confidence in the company. In essence, he did this by reversing most the reforms of the late 90s and restoring the company to the old state. Meanwhile, the government had changed its opinion of the railways, it no longer considered competition on (passenger) transport a viable goal. Thus, the government started to commission railway operators to run routes on the network. The NS was granted (by the national government) the concession to run on the main lines, whereas other companies received a number of the concessions on the secondary lines. The goal is to give individual concessions for the individual lines, but (at least) until 2025 the NS holds the concessions for main lines.

Symmetry minute

The timetable change on 10 December 2006 saw the most routes to approximate the Symmetry time in clock-face schedules to the one used in most other European countries. Previously, this was different at minute :46 and led to problems by cross-border trains.


NS has been involved in various controversies.

  • Technical problems with the high speed Fyra (V250) trains, which started its services on July 29, 2012 and ended on January 17, 2013 led to the resignation of CEO Bert Meerstadt in June 2013[3] and to a parliamentary investigation in 2015. The High Speed Alliance HSA, a daughter company of NS (90%) and KLM (10%) almost went broke due to the late introduction of the trains in combination with a too high price for the concession which the company paid to the Dutch government. HSA was liquidated in 2015.
  • In 2013, it appeared that NS used a daughter company in Ireland, "NS Financial Services Company", to evade taxes in the Netherlands. The procedure was determined to be lawful, but it was unfavorable for the Dutch taxpayers who do not believe that Nederlands Spoorwaggon, which operates fixed trains in the Netherlands, can possibly be Irish. From 1998 the NS used the favorable tax climate in Ireland, which resulted in a profit of more than 270 million euro.[4] The corporate tax in Ireland was 12,5%, in the Netherlands 25% at that time.[5] The Dutch company NS used the Irish daughter to buy new trains, among others the high-speed Fyra trains from the Italian firm Ansaldo Breda. The Dutch Minister of Finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, wrote to the parliament that NS would stop this tax evasion.
  • In 2015 it became clear that a daughter company of NS, Abellio, had shown unfair behavior with regard to a tendering for public transport in the province of Limburg. The company had obtained confidential information from a competitor Veolia through a former employee of Veolia who had been hired by the daughter company of Abellio, Qbuzz.[6] On 5 June 2015 it became known that CEO Timo Huges of NS had given incomplete and incorrect information about the tendering procedure. According to Minister Dijsselbloem, Huges had acted "sloppy, inaccurate and in violation of the law".[7] Consequently, Huges resigned from his position.[8]


OLD NS Sprinter, also known as "Hondenkop" or Materieel '64

The NS covers most of the country, with almost all cities connected, mostly with a service frequency of two trains an hour or more (and at least four trains per hour between all of the largest 5 cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Eindhoven as well as some smaller cities Nijmegen, Amersfoort, Arnhem, 's-Hertogenbosch, Dordrecht and Leiden). From December 2008 train frequencies were increased on following services: Arnhem-Nijmegen (8 trains per hour) and Den Haag - Rotterdam (12 trains per hour), Amsterdam Centraal-Hoofddorp (16 trains per hour). A night train service was added between Utrecht, Gouda and Rotterdam.[9] "Train routes in the Netherlands" shows all the routes of the NS and private companies. Trains usually run between 5:00 am and 1:00 am, although there is also a night line which connects major cities in the Randstad throughout the night, and in weekends also some major cities in Brabant.

In addition to its domestic services, NS is also a partner (along with Stena Line and their British railway company Abellio Greater Anglia) in the Dutchflyer service. NS has also entered into a partnership with KLM to operate services on the new HSL-Zuid under the name NS International.


The hoofdrailnet is the official core internal passenger railnetwork of the Netherlands. Currently NS has a concession until 1 January 2015 to provide all passenger services on this network, except that on some stretches there is an overlap with lines for which other operators have a concession. Some of the most notable of these stretches are those from Elst railway station to Arnhem railway station, where NS shares tracks with Arriva, and further on to Arnhem Velperpoort. Here the tracks are shared by three operators, as Breng, ultimately part of Transdev, operates there in addition to the two previously mentioned operators. Officially the overlaps do not constitute competition on the same lines.

The concession was free of charge until 2009, and costs an increasing amount since then, up to €30 million for the year 2014.

The concession distinguishes main stations and other stations. Except on New Year's Eve, the main stations have to be served twice an hour per direction from 6:00-24:00, and the other stations once an hour. Exceptions are possible until the start of the next concession[10]

The next concession period is 2015-2025. Therefore, before 2015 it has to be decided whether NS will keep the concession, and under what terms. Requirements will include:

  • for every train service where on average more than one-third of the passengers travel longer than 30 minutes, a train with a toilet is used
  • every newly ordered train has a toilet
  • in 2025 every train has a toilet

Currently trains on the hoofdrailnet without a toilet include:

Types of train service

There are two kinds of passenger trains:

  • A Sprinter stops at all stations, and is mainly used for local traffic. On some smaller lines, though, it is the only kind of service. The name is derived from the 'Sprinter' (2900 class) rolling stock; however, the service is sometimes operated using older style rolling stock (such as 'Plan V/T': 400, 500, 800 and 900 class).
  • Intercity services only stop at larger stations, and were introduced in the 1970s to provide fast train connections throughout the country. As with the formerly widely used Sneltrein service, Intercity services are usually operated by DD-IRM and ICM/Koploper class trains. On some stretches Intercity trains stop at all stations, including small ones; this applies on the stretches Alkmaar - Den Helder, Bergen op Zoom - Flushing, Hoorn - Enkhuizen, Leiden - Woerden, and Deurne - Venlo; in these cases the label "Intercity" indicates that the train does not stop at all stations elsewhere on its route. See also Intercity services in the Netherlands and the list of Dutch stations served by Intercitys (nl) (Dutch).

There are also two former train categories, which are nowadays only used by private operatores:

  • Stoptrein: This is the original name for Sprinter trains. Between 2003 and 2013 NS discharged the Stoptrein formula in favour of Sprinter. Private operators do not use Sprinter, so all private services in the Netherland (except of the four Sneltreins of Arriva, see below) are Stoptrein.
  • Sneltrein: Sneltreins (in the English section of the old paper time tables, these were translated as "semi fast train" and were a class between Stoptrain and Intercity) were abandoned by NS in 2008. The NS Sneltrein services are now called Intercity, although they stop more often than "real" Intercities. The result is that some stations (e.g. Woerden) are served by some Intercities while others pass it. As of 2015 there are four Sneltrein services by Arriva.

Fares and tickets

The OV-chipkaart is the most common form of fare payment but paper tickets are still available and bcoming increasingly popular in the face of repeated NFC failures and unagreed charges. On the buses and trams hourly tickets are for sale for those who don't have enough credit to travel but who do have cash. For train travel one can also buy a disposable one-time chip card.[11]

Traditional paper tickets were finally abandoned in July 2014 for both NS and regional rail operators.[2] Single or return tickets, used by incidental travellers and tourists, are still available at ticket machines and service counters, but are now loaded on a disposable OV-chipkaart which means that the ticket must be validized by "checking in" at a ticket barrier or card reader before boarding the train.

There is partly a common tariff system with four smaller passenger train operating companies — Syntus and Connexxion in the center and east, Veolia on the 'Maaslijn' and 'Heuvellandlijn' in the south east, Arriva in the north and most of the east of the country and on the 'Merwede-Lingelijn' (from Dordrecht to Geldermalsen).

None of the ticket machines accept banknotes, but since August / September 2014, all machines at all train stations accept MasterCard / VISA debit cards using a Personal Identification Number. A €0.50 supplement is required for using credit cards and a €1 supplement for buying a disposable, single-use, chipcard.[12]

It is also possible to buy e-tickets online on the Dutch Railways website, though payment is only accepted by transfer from Dutch bank accounts (iDEAL).[13] E-tickets can also be purchased on the NMBS/SNCB B-Europe website, which accepts payment by MasterCard and Visa credit cards.

During the annual Boekenweek (Bookweek), it is possible to travel for free on Sunday upon showing the Boekenweekgeschenk (Bookweekgift).

Increasingly, operators apply separate tariffs, partly related to the gradually introduced OV-chipkaart, which combines card integration with price differentiation. However, a series of new passes introduced by NS in 2011 are now also valid in trains of the other operators Arriva, Connexxion, Syntus, and Veolia.

Even so, these developments require traveller awareness of the various companies, and often increase the fare for journeys requiring a change from one to another.

Travelling with the OV-chipkaart one has to register starting a journey (check in) and ending it (check out), and always have to travel away from the point of one's latest check-in. Thus in the case of a voluntary detour, one has to check out and check in to register starting a new journey.

Fixed point fares subscription

Fixed point fares known in Nederland’s as “Traject Vrij”[14][15] is a monthly or yearly train pass subscription(In Dutch abonnementen). It is provided by the Netherlands railway system (NS Nederlandse Spoorwegen) to significantly reduce regular travel costs. It can also carry across other train operating companies within the Netherlands such as Veolia Limburg.[16]

Traject Vrij (Fixed point fares) allow a customer to stipulate their daily travel between two points. Point A and point B (For example, Amsterdam to Rotterdam). A monthly fee/subscription covers ones travel costs between these points. A person can travel during all hours at a significantly reduced price, in can be 30 percent or more cheaper than an average ticket. A price of a Traject Vrij subscription will depend on how many zones of travel are used, sometime it works on kilometers. Pricing also works on your subscription type, 1st class or second class. The NS has a pricing Matrix that calculates a fixed price for a travel cost subscription. A subscription only covers travel with in the borders or route between point A & B. If travel occurs beyond or outside these areas, the person is billed via their OV-ChipKaart applicably.

Traject Vrij is commonly used by workers or younger students (12 to 17) who travel or use the same locations or routes every day. A user is required to link their OV-ChipKaart to a created NS account[17] and from there a user can take out a subscription which can be linked to their existing OV-ChipKaart.

There are in addition other[18] fixed price subscriptions provided by the NS which cover peak hours, day passes, unlimited country travel, intercity and more.

Off-peak discount passes

NS defines off-peak hours as weekdays 00:00-06:30, 09:00-16:00 and 18:30-24:00 and on Saturdays and Sundays the whole day. With a discount product on the pass one is automatically granted the discount based on the type of the discount product and the time of checking in. The term discount includes 100 percent discount, i.e. free travel.

There is an Off-Peak Discount Pass (in Dutch: Dal Voordeel (nl)) for €29 per year, allowing a 40 percent discount on journeys starting in off-peak hours. In the case of a group of up to four people, all get the discount even if only one has a pass. This card replaced the old off peak discount pass (in Dutch: Voordeelurenabonnement, which can still be renewed, but is otherwise no longer available). These are the advantages/disadvantages of Dal Voordeel compared to the Voordeelurenabonnement.


  • Discount during the week from 9:00-16:00 and 18:30-6:30
  • Slightly cheaper by €10
  • Up to three free "kids vrij" passes (kids travel free with the cardholder of the Dal Voordeel)


  • No discount in the busy afternoon rush hour (6:30-9:00 and 16:00-18:30)
  • No discount in the morning AND afternoon rush hours in July and August and in the period from 25 December to 31 December
  • No discount on the NS-24 hours card (from 09:00 valid)

Travellers aged 60 years and older can buy a supplement for €14 for free travel during off-peak hours on 7 days of choice (with some limitations) during the year. It is not possible to buy multiple supplements for the same year.

There is also an Off-Peak Free Pass (in Dutch: Dal Vrij (nl)) for €1188 per year, allowing free journeys which each start in the off-peak hours (compare the OV-Jaarabonnement).[19]

For €318 per month, travelers can buy an unlimited travel pass which is always valid, even during the peak hours. Even with this card, checking in and out is always required; otherwise, the traveller risks a fine. Regulations involving time periods (they apply to NS; for other operators there may be differences):

  • 5 minutes: margin in favor of traveller applied to times of start and end of off-peak hours, compared to those published
  • 30 minutes: maximum allowed time between checking in and scheduled departure time of the train
  • 1 hour: maximum allowed time between checking in and out at the same station without travelling; this is free of charge
  • 6 hours: maximum allowed time between checking in and checking out

The Nederlandse Spoorwegen corporate logo was designed in 1968 by Gert Dumbar and Gert-Jan Leuvelink both of the graphic design company Tel Design. Introduced in that same year, it replaced an earlier design which had been used since 1946. The logo, pervasive within trains and railway stations in the Netherlands, plays a significant part in the NS' signage, promotions, advertising and graphic design.

The logo usually appears in blue or black on a dark yellow or white background. Since its introduction, NS livery has also had this same distinct dark yellow or white colour. The logo is a widened letter 'N' and a sideways (reversed) 'S'-shape. The two arrows in the logo represent the train's movement, and the two lines in the middle represent the track.

Northern Rail logo with Serco-Abellio logo including the Nederlandse Spoorwegen logo at Darlington on a Class 142.

Divisions of NS

  • Abellio (formerly NedRailways) is the international expansion of NS. In the UK Abellio[20] and Serco run a joint-venture called Serco-Abellio which runs Merseyrail services in and around Liverpool and Northern Rail across the north of England. Abellio won the Greater Anglia franchise for East Anglia from 5 February 2012 to October 2016 and it operates this as Abellio Greater Anglia. Abellio ScotRail is also run by Abellio. They also put in a bid to run the South Central franchise under the name of NedRailways South Central Limited, however this did not win. NedRailways purchased the German bus and rail operator Abellio (Germany) from Star Capital Partners and the Essen public transit company. On 21 May 2009, it was announced that they were to buy Travel London, a bus operator, from National Express Group.[21]
  • NS Reizigers (NSR) - NS Travellers, responsible for passenger train services and for employing train drivers and conductors.
  • NS Poort - the result of merging the former :
    • NS Stations - in charge of the operation of all 390 railway stations in the Netherlands, i.e., also those served by other railway companies than NS Reizigers; see also station facilities.
    • NS Vastgoed - owns 48 km² of land, often near stations, and develops and operates these areas as public traffic nodes, offices and apartments.
  • NedTrain - train maintenance.
  • NS Commercie - product- and customer management (business and product development, marketing, sales and customer service).
  • NS International - operator, in conjunction with NS Reizigers and foreign partners, of high-speed international Fyra services on the HSL-Zuid, Thalys (from Amsterdam to Paris), ICE (to the German Ruhr area), Intercities (to Berlin and Brussels) and the Swiss CityNightLine (to Munich and Zurich).
  • Qbuzz Bus operator in The Netherlands

In dealing with the general public, these distinctions are not made and the terms Nederlandse Spoorwegen and NS are used.

NS has contracts with Connexxion and BBA, now Veolia Transport for the provision of bus services to replace train services in the case of planned and unplanned cancellations.

On July 23, 2010 NS sold its daughter company Strukton to the construction company Oranjewoud N.V.. This concluded a long history of planning, designing and executing track development done by the NS.[22][23]


There is a delay refund scheme entitling passengers to a partial or full refund of the ticket price if a journey is delayed by half an hour or more. The scheme does not apply on short-distance journeys (tickets less than 2,30 euro) and cases in which the delay is the result of planned cancellations that were announced some days in advance. Refunds are, in general, half the ticket price of a one-way trip after a delay of over 30 minutes, and the full ticket price after a delay of one hour or more. This applies to nearly all kinds of tickets. The refund is not considered a monetary compensation for lost time but rather as a reduction in charges where a poor service has been provided. Many do not claim because the system is perceived as cumbersome[citation needed]; however, the system has improved for holders of some rail passes. Part of the cost of the scheme is paid by ProRail, since they are responsible for part of the delays.

Since 1 January 2004, tobacco smoking is prohibited on domestic trains, station halls and covered parts of platforms. The smoking of cannabis was already prohibited, though it happens occasionally and is not as severely punished as in some other countries (that is, it is punished the same as tobacco smoking). Smoking is allowed near smoking-zones (Rookzones), posts with an ash-tray built in, scattered around stations.

Since June 2003, the sale of coffee, soft drinks, beer, sandwiches, candy, etc., has ceased aboard domestic trains. The increasing number of Servex convenience stores at railway stations and the relatively short duration of most train journeys in the Netherlands have lowered the demand for on-train services. In 2005 a much reduced in-train service of drinks and small snacks has been reintroduced on longer journeys. Nowadays the RailTender service primarily operates in the intercity trains on the trajectory between Utrecht and Zwolle.

Technological assistance for train staff

Conductors have a small computer called Railpocket with timetable, fares information, and capabilities to read the OV-chipkaart. The latest version is the HP iPaq h4350 Pocket PC, which can communicate through Bluetooth with their Sony Ericsson T610 GPRS-telephone. NS is currently studying the upgrade to a next generation platform.


  • 14.73 billion passenger km per year (2005), which is 30% of the seat km.

See also


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  14. nl:Trajectabonnement, Retrieved 2015-08-28[better source needed]
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  19. For more passes see [1].
  20. "Abellio Group Head Office" Group corporate website, Abellio, Utrecht, Netherlands, Undate. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
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  23. Oranjewoud N.V., the holding company that owns Strukton.

External links