Thursday 18 August 2022

Dutch rail chief resigns as Fyra high-speed train row rumbles on (update)

The political impact of Belgium’s decision to drop the Fyra high speed trains service continued to unfold on Monday, with Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem saying it is ‘too early’ to pull the plug.

Fyra is a joint service with Dutch state-owned rail company NS, and the Dutch company is also keen to abandon the project, sources have told Nos television.

But Dijsselbloem said on Monday he wanted to know ‘the options, risks and financial consquences’ of pulling the plug on the high-speed project. Fyra services are currently suspended because of safety concerns. One report says the final bill to the government could be as much as €500m.

Statement

Dutch MPs have called on junior transport minister Wilma Mansveld to make a statement. She is holding talks with NS chiefs on Monday afternoon.

On Monday morning it emerged the head of Dutch rail company NS has resigned in the wake of the chaos. Bert Meerstadt will stand down on October 1. He will be replaced by Timo Huges, who is the current director of flower auction company FloraHolland.

Meertstadt has been part of the NS board for 12 years and was appointed president director in 2009.

Solution

The press release detailing the resignation does not mention the Fyra train itself but Meerstadt says he ‘wants to find a good transport solution between the Netherlands and Belgium’ before he stands down.

The future of the high-speed rail link between Amsterdam and Brussels was thrown into confusion on Friday evening after the Belgian national railway company said it is pulling out of the project.

Problems

High-speed train services between the two capitals began last December and all intercity services were stopped. But the Fyra service – a joint venture between the Belgian and Dutch national railways – was dogged by problems and was suspended earlier this year.

On Friday afternoon, Belgian rail operator NMBS said it was pulling out of the Fyra project because of a string of technical problems, ranging from loose components, rust and leaks in the snow.

It is not clear why the Belgians decided to go public with their decision on Friday or why the two companies did not present their findings jointly. The NS plans to publish its report on the Fyra problems in mid June.

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