Staff shortage in train traffic control causes problems in the Netherlands

Cancellation of trains not because of technical problems, but because there is not enough traffic control staff. This has been happening in the Netherlands more often, and this week, the news came out that Roel Salden, Director of Traffic Control at ProRail, will leave on 1 September.

On Wednesday, due to a sick report at the traffic control post in Utrecht, fewer trains ran until 3 p.m. It happened several times this year that trains could not run or could run to a limited extent due to a lack of staff. In most cases this applied to the trains that are controlled from the traffic control post in Utrecht, in the centre of the Netherlands.

ProRail does not rule out the possibility that trains will be cancelled more often in the near future due to staff shortages at traffic control posts. “The moment someone falls ill in a holiday schedule, we have a problem. We don’t have enough fallback for this”, said operational director Ans Rietstra.

Major staff shortage

The Director of Operations acknowledged that there has been a significant staff shortage at the rail traffic control posts for some time now. “Because it is already tight during the holiday period, one sick report was the reason we couldn’t run trains on these track sections for some time”, she said. “A train traffic controller needs track section knowledge and knowledge of railway safety, and it is important that that knowledge also remains projected on that track section.”

She points out that five thousand applicants applied for the job of train traffic controller, while there are sixty vacancies to be filled. The selection is strict, because candidates must be stress resistant and be able to think analytically. Only a small percentage complete the training successfully.

‘A lot of dissatisfaction among staff’

According to the trade union CNV, there is a lot of dissatisfaction among the staff about the high workload at the traffic control posts and the way in which the organization is managed. According to trade union director Jerry Piqué of CNV Vakmensen, this is also the reason why Director of Traffic Control Roel Salden announced his departure in an internal message from ProRail.

The union director points out that it is difficult to take holidays or, for example, to exchange a shift due to the shortage of train dispatchers. According to him, employees are also dissatisfied with ‘how management is provided, but also with the manner of leadership’. “They feel like they are not being listened to”, said Pique.

Attracting new train traffic controllers

A spokesperson for ProRail indicates that one person’s illness ‘can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back’. He says that the rail manager is currently looking into whether it is possible in the short term to call in employees who work elsewhere in the organisation, who were previously train traffic controllers. “We have also increased our recruitment budget eightfold. Also, we are looking at whether we can bring pensioners back. This is difficult, however, because due to the shortage on the labour market, retirees are currently very popular.”

During the collective labour agreement consultations, trade unions urged ProRail to conduct an investigation into the perception of work at traffic control posts. According to CNV, there are currently discussions with three research agencies about the assignment. The union is hopeful that the investigation will be completed before the end of the year.

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Author: Marieke van Gompel

Marieke van Gompel is editor-in-chief of RailTech.com, RailFreight.com and SpoorPro.nl, online magazines for railway professionals.

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