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The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management now faces a complex challenge. The letter from the European Commission underlines the importance of transparent, fair and competitive market forces for the Dutch main rail network.

The European Commission (EC) recently sent a letter to the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management regarding their concerns about the Dutch main rail network.

In brief the EC expresses concern that operators do not have the necessary information to develop sound business plans or make credible market offers. This is partly due to a lack of confidentiality in the current consultation process. According to the letter, this lack could deter individual companies from making offers for fear of leaking sensitive information.

The letter also mentions the repeated objections of commercial operators to the renewal of the concession to Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS). Despite their stated interest in operating services in the Netherlands, their involvement in the consultation process appears to be just a formality.

The discussion about the concession of the main rail network is not new. However, with the recent involvement of the European Commission, the discussion seems to have reached a new high. Commercial operators have long been calling for a level playing field and an opportunity to enter the Dutch market, and the letter can be seen as an acknowledgment of their concerns at a European level.

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The Hague HS station
Photo: © Pitane Blue station The Hague HS

It is now up to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management to strike a balance between the wishes of the EC, the interests of commercial operators and the historical role of the NS.

The EC indicates that the current design of the concession is largely based on a Program of Requirements from the summer of 2022. Concerns have previously been expressed about this program and, according to the letter, no significant changes have been made since then.

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With regard to domestic and cross-border connections, the EC also has some concerns. There seems to be a lack of specifications about the services to be provided by NS. And for international services, it is not yet clear which services will be included in the concession.

Another major concern is the long period between the immediate award of the concession and the start of operations. This is a subject that the EC has raised before.

In summary, the letter from the European Commission emphasizes the need to correctly define the scope of the future concession and calls for a more transparent and inclusive award process. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management is expected to respond to these concerns and possibly consider further steps in collaboration with stakeholders.

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