Plans to increase the speed at which trains are allowed to drive through stations where they are not stopping are ‘a danger to life’, railway unions said on Monday.
At the moment trains must reduce speeds to 40 kph when approaching most stations, but ProRail plans to increase this to 80 kph in Arnhem. The speed limit has already been increased to 60 kph in Utrecht and Eindhoven.
The unease under engine drivers has been increased by an official report into last April’s crash close to Amsterdam’s central station. The report by the national safety council slammed lax approaches to safety at both the NS and ProRail as well as at the railway inspectorate.
‘The Dutch railway system is like a banana republic with a nuclear power plant,’ one driver is quoted as saying by the Volkskrant. ‘We are ploughing on with prestige projects to run more trains with fewer delays but no-one is checking how safe this all is.’
The two state-owned rail companies – NS, which operates passenger services and ProRail, which runs the tracks – said in a joint statement they take safety very seriously. The Netherlands is in the process of moving to the new European rail safety system ERTMS, which has been designed to deal with fast trains in dense networks, the Volkskrant pointed out.
The aim of allowing trains to pass through stations at higher speeds is to reduce the number of track changes, reducing the number of trains using the same track and therefore improving safety, the rail firms say.
‘If we always drive according to the schedule, there would never be an accident,’ one driver told the paper. ‘The danger arises when a couple of trains are delayed. Then all the stops are pulled out to get the timetable back on track.’
Last April, 190 people were injured and an elderly woman died when an intercity and a local train ploughed into each other just minutes away from Amsterdam’s central station.
Both trains were on the same track because work was being carried out on the tracks and the local train driver drove through a red light.
The official report into the crash said the two rail companies operated ‘risky’ timetables with insufficient margins for error.
Rail companies criticised for risky timetables in official crash report
Missed red light probably caused Utrecht train near miss