Speech by the State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management, Stientje van Veldhoven, at the opening of the ‘International connections’ workshop at RailTech Europe 2019

‘My goal is to attract two million extra passengers a year onto international trains by 2025. Of course, improvements to international connections take time. But we need them to make the train more attractive to travellers. Booking a flight online is far easier than booking an international train. That has to change!’ Said State Secretary Van Veldhoven on 27 March at a seminar on international rail at the international Railtech fair.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to briefly introduce this event. Its theme is one that really speaks to the imagination. Maybe that’s why I’m reminded of the quote that’s printed in big letters on the wall at Rotterdam central station: ‘Space separates our bodies, but not our minds’.
It’s a quote by the philosopher Erasmus, who lived in the fifteenth century. I think we can confidently say that he never set eyes on a train. 
But his words tie in perfectly with the topic you’re discussing today.

International rail travel is about pushing back frontiers, crossing borders – or maybe even forgetting they exist. But above all it’s about connecting people. It fosters exchange across borders, whether through education, work, healthcare, tourism or culture.

This is something that’s close to my heart.
Like many people, I have fond memories of travelling on international sleeper trains when I was young.
And when I worked in Brussels I regularly travelled up and down by train. Last year my family and I took the train to Berlin and recently I went to Paris on the high speed line.
Arriving right in the centre of the city after only three hours – now that’s what I call added value!

My ambition is to put international train travel on the map – literally and figuratively.
Good rail links that cross our borders are becoming more and more important. They can help us reach our climate goals. Mobility accounts for around 30 per cent of carbon emissions. And trains remain one of the cleanest modes of transport for people and goods.

My goal is to attract two million extra passengers a year onto international trains by 2025.

It’s a promising sign that more and more people are already opting for the train. NS International has reported that sales of international train tickets are up by around 10 per cent.

The Netherlands has a clear interest in all this. Good accessibility between cities and economic heartlands is one of the priorities of our public transport network. And some of those economic heartlands are beyond our borders.

The figures for freight transport say it all: 85 per cent of all freight in the Netherlands either comes from or is headed to another country.  

Improving accessibility also came up in the new Dutch Vision on the Future of Public Transport that was adopted last month by all parties in the public transport system. We’ve set a number of goals for the future of international rail travel, including:

  • two stable, high-speed cross-border connections: one to the south and one to the east;
  • and links between selected intercity stations on either side of the border which will join them up to the European high-speed network.

But improvements to international connections take time. There are several factors involved:

  • First, the dominance of domestic transport on the tracks. Even in the Netherlands, more than 90 per cent of trains are domestic.
  • And second, booking a flight online is far easier than booking an international train. That has to change! There’s also room for improvement in the online options for booking a journey that combines trains and flights. It’s all about making the train more attractive to travellers.

Fortunately, the implementation of the Fourth Railway Package’s Technical Pillar in June will make a big difference. From then on, the European Union Agency for Railways will be responsible for authorising new international trains. This should have a positive effect on the market.

And the European rail initiative Shift2Rail can greatly help in achieving a Single European Railway Area. By improving the exchange of data, we can make timetables more reliable and anticipate engineering works. The Dutch government and private sector parties are actively working on this.

It’s important to take concrete, visible steps. So I’m pleased with the recent results we’ve seen. Two new Thalys destinations, a direct Eurostar connection between Amsterdam and London, progress on the direct Wunderline link between Groningen and Bremen. And of course the new line from Eindhoven to Düsseldorf.

All the signs are there: now is the time to press ahead.
There’s a lot of political will and public support.
So on top of the projects already under way, I want to offer passengers ambitious prospects for the future. For example by upgrading the Amsterdam-to-Berlin line.

We can only move forward if all the parties involved work together towards the same goals.

That’s why it’s so important that attention is being devoted to international rail travel here at RailTech Europe.

It’s great that technical experts from across Europe have joined forces to find a smart and responsible way of positioning international train travel as a viable alternative to driving and flying.

We need your input!
So I look forward to hearing from you, and I hope you all enjoy an inspiring workshop!
Thank you.