Why are the railways now the responsibility of a junior minister?

From 2010 to the cabinet’s collapse last year, career minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen was transport minister and included the railways in her remit. But why is this no longer the case? asks DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe.

Transport minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen must be sick of the railways. During her short tenure at the helm of the transport ministry in the previous administration, she had to deal with numerous rail-related issues: serious crashes, chaos during wintry weather and the ongoing call for more competition to improve services.

But no longer. After the September general election and formation of the new government, responsibility for the railways has been shifted down a notch – from minister to deputy. In other words, the minister primarily responsible for ensuring the Netherlands’ trains run on time is not part of the cabinet.

This means responsibility for the latest two scandals to hit the Dutch trains has been laid at the door of Wilma Mansveld – a new girl in The Hague and one who must by now be wondering what on earth she has let herself in for.



Firstly, we have the Fyra, the high-speed train service from Amsterdam to Brussels which is jointly operated by the Dutch and Belgian railways. I say ‘jointly operated’ but I am starting to wonder.

One of the main problems with the Fyra – now suspended – is that no-one seemed to know what the other side was doing. Belgium unilaterally suspended the service and then it took until last week for MPs from both countries to jointly quiz the men in suits from the Dutch and Belgian railways about their concerns.

Aside from the lack of coordination, the fact that the Dutch government decided the Fyra service meant we could do away with a direct connection between The Hague and Brussels beggars belief and shows the lack of importance the powers that be seem to attach to having a decent train service.

Now, with no Fyra, we’ve got two intercity trains a day between The Hague and Brussels and no direct service from Amsterdam. A compromise solution which should rightly please no-one.


Poor Mansveld. And she must have had a very bad start to her day when she picked up the Volkskrant last week with its major scoop about civil servants sitting on a highly criticial report.

One of the first things she did as a new minister was describe claims that track maintenance was being scrimped on as unfounded. And yet, there was a nice fat report from transport ministry inspectors somewhere in a drawer saying just that.

Mansveld gets the blame for this – and has taken the unusual step of blaming her civil servants – while Schultz is the one who is really responsible. As transport minister in the government at the time, she had ordered civil servants to make it available to parliament.



This request, apparently, took place on September 6, just six days before the general election. But the report itself dates from June. Given its explosive contents – a sound condemnation of the government’s policy of going for the cheapest offer – why did Schultz not ensure it was published earlier?

Perhaps because it would have overshadowed her one big achievement as transport minister – ensuring the speed limit was increased to 130 kph on some roads.

After all, if we get to drive much faster, we won’t need high-speed trains anyway. 




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