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Typical NL: Trains without toilets

Even after many years, I can't get rid of it. Whenever I hear the abbreviation 'NS', I think of National Socialists and get an uneasy feeling. Ever seen the posters 'Werken bij NS?’ But of course, in the Netherlands NS stands for Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch railway company. Without the NS, nothing would work in the Netherlands; it's vital to keep the country running, especially in those densely populated areas. Still, I have to admit, I don't like them – and not only because of the name. The NS is owned by the Dutch Government, but it's a private company, and it shows; it's never a good idea to privatise crucial infrastructure. In comparison, Belgian trains are extremely unreliable, but dead cheap. German trains are far too expensive, but at least quite comfortable and efficient. The Dutch NS, in my impression, is also very expensive, while its service is not the best.

Once I was travelling from Leuven to Eindhoven (via Maastricht) to visit friends. At 21.00, the train broke down shortly before Eindhoven and the NS didn't manage to arrange buses to get us to Eindhoven for several hours. To make a very long and frustrating story short, I finally arrived at my friend’s place at five in the morning only to find everybody fast asleep. Adding insult to injury, the company refused to reimburse my ticket on the grounds that I had bought it in Belgium, and they would only reimburse foreign tickets if they cost more than €50 (mine was €40).

At least they’ve decided now to upgrade the uncomfortable stoptreinen and bought new trains, the so-called Sprinters. These are not designed for long distances, but to commute in urban areas. In order to save some money, though, they decided to build the trains without toilets, based on the idea that passengers wouldn't need them on the short rides anyway. They forgot, however, that some people do have to take long rides on these trains: the staff, who didn't get a toilet either. The NS is terribly sorry for the situation, but claims it would be too expensive (more than €100 million) to build toilets in trains that they’ve already bought. The situation is urgent, naturally. Female conductors report that they don't dare to drink anything for hours, since they never know when they will get hold of the next loo. Men might just piss into a bottle, or out of the window. The upshot is that the train workers’ union (FNV) has now threatened to go on strike if the NS doesn't solve the problem. I really hope that they succeed, or else I won't ever be able to get rid of that uneasy feeling when I see those blue on yellow NS letters.


Tim Aretz



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