Through The Looking Glass

Sometimes I feel like Alice – I’m in a looking-glass world where black is portrayed as white, good is bad, or up is down. It’s at times like these when I’m likely to throw a Victor Meldrew fit at the apparent stupidity, cupidity or just plain bare-faced effrontery of those in charge, who have the power to dictate what we will experience in our daily lives.

What’s brought on this latest attack is the publication in yesterday’s Volkskrant newspaper of a two page spread covering the likely future of rail transport in the Netherlands.

The kernel of the report was the finding that breaking up the national rail network into separate chunks and putting services out to tender will reduce delays, according to research by network operator ProRail.

Let’s just savour that, shall we? And why would that proposition be true, in any meaning in the real world? Ah, we read, it’s because services will not be so interdependent, reducing the domino effect of delays, ProRail is quoting as saying.

Dear god in heaven, do these people not have two braincells to rub together?

Let’s just take a practical example. I want to travel from Amsterdam to my home – nearest station Varsseveld. That means that I’m using the Dutch National Railways (the NS) from Amsterdam until Arnhem, and then changing over to Syntus for the last hour from Arnhem to Varsseveld.

So excuse me, but surely for me, these services are interdependent – I want to step out at Arnhem and step onto a train bound for Varsseveld with the minimum of delay.

As a matter of fact, at the moment, Syntus (one of the independent rail operators that the Dutch Government is so in love with) offer what can only be described as a truly shitty service. I’ve lost count of the number of times that services have been delayed or cancelled, while the hapless train drivers run around like headless chickens, glued to their mobile phones receiving zero practical information.

On more than one occasion, I, together with my fellow travellers in the outer regions of Hell, have been herded from one platform to another in Zevenaar at the behest of the Syntus staff for what seemed like hours at a time. “The next train for Winterswijk will leave from platform 3”, “no, platform 4”, “no, that’s going back to Arnhem”, “Platform 1”, “no, we’re putting buses on” – so three train’s worth of passengers have to fight for seats on a single bus.

So, ProRail, don’t tell me that delays are not interdependent. Wherever they happen, they will have a domino effect on the individual traveller, if that traveller is where the delays are.

I note, with a roll of my eyes, that the ProRail research report was carried out at the request of the private rail operators. I can’t say I’m totally surprised at the findings then, although it only serves to underline the fact that we are indeed in looking-glass land.

And, oh joy, because of the love affair the Dutch Government have with the idea that more independent operators make for more efficiency, we have the situation to look forward to that if we want to travel from Amsterdam to Varsseveld, we will have not two, but three train operators to deal with: the NS, Breng and Syntus.

It’s at times like this when I earnestly wish to be face to face with the authors of these research reports and the faceless bureaucrats who decide our transport fate and slap them hard around the face with a wet fish.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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