Train travellers going to Belgium and Germany will have to reserve seats on many routes from this summer as operators struggle to cope with rising demand.
Early Bird tickets for Brussels and Antwerp will have to be booked for a specific time from June 11 in a permanent move, while the lowest fare of €25 to Brussels will only apply to off-peak times.
Reservations will also be required on ICE trains to Germany during the peak holiday season from June 17 until August 18.
Heike Luiten, managing director of Dutch rail operator NS International, said the move was ‘unavoidable’ because of the increase in passenger numbers on cross-border routes.
The number of travellers has gone up by 50% in the last five years, but there has been hardly any expansion in train services.
‘NS expects this measure to improve the chance of getting a seat, comfort and safety on the Intercity to Brussels,’ Luiten said in a letter to travellers’ organisations.
But rail users’ organisation Rover called for train operators to fix the problem by running longer trains to Belgium and more frequent Thalys services.
A decision to stop passengers using the Eurostar service to London for trips to Brussels could also be reversed, Freek Bos, head of Rover, told AD.
‘Part of the reason trains to Belgium are so full is that Thalys and Eurostar are often fully booked. A lot of travellers use the IC to Brussels as an alternative,’ he said.
Rover, together with other travellers’ organisations including the Fietsersbond and ANWB, urged NS not to impose restrictions on cross-border routes.
‘We would point out that the increase in traffic on these routes has been ongoing for several years and is consistent with your own growth strategy,’ they wrote in an official response.
NS said the new high-speed ICNG trains would be introduced on international routes to increase capacity, but they will not be available until next year.
German rail operator Deutsche Bahn is also struggling to cope with staff shortages and technical problems with the high-speed ICE trains that limited services last summer.
Demand is also expected to be boosted by the introduction of the €49 a month Deutschland-Ticket for travel across Germany. The ticket is not valid on ICE services but can be used on local cross-border trains starting in Hengelo and Enschede.
Hildebrand van Kuijeren, founder of train website Treinreiziger.nl, said the restrictions were a setback for efforts to promote train travel as a cleaner alternative to flying.
‘The cabinet and the European Union want to make trains compete with airplanes over short distances. The measures taken by NS conflict are at odds with that: they make trains less appealing.’
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