Dutch Railways considers banning Interrail from ICEs to Germany this summer
Due to overcrowded trains last summer, Dutch Railways (NS) is considering banning Interrail passengers from ICE trains to Germany this summer. The direct Amsterdam-Berlin intercity remains unaffected. “We cannot prevent a lot of people boarding the ICE at the same time due to unpredictable Interrail travel behaviour, which is why we are considering making the ICE inaccessible with an Interrail pass this summer,” said an NS spokesperson.
It caused quite a bit of outrage on social media and elsewhere this week: the NS international website suddenly stated that travelling with an Interrail pass from a Dutch station between 17 June and 18 August is not possible for ICE trains to Germany with departure times between 6am and 4pm. This does not apply to the direct Intercity Amsterdam – Berlin, but about the Intercity Express (ICE) route, for which Dutch passengers heading to Berlin change trains in Duisburg.
An NS spokesperson said to RailTech that this was “unfortunate communication”, as the measure is not yet final. “With all the good intentions of ‘let’s communicate early’, it had already been put on the website, but of course before that you have to take certain steps and find out it you can actually do this legally, for example. We are not at all sure yet whether it is all allowed, because Interrailers assume that you can just travel.”
Before next summer, NS will announce whether Interrail users will actually be barred from ICE trains as part of a package of measures against overcrowded trains.
Passengers with reservations left behind at station
Indeed, the reason that this consideration is being made by NS is the fact that last summer, ICE trains were overcrowded, and even passengers with seat reservations were left on the platform in Utrecht and Arnhem, the NS spokesperson says. These were both Interrail travellers and people who had simply bought a ticket separately. So the decision is mainly due to crowding on ICEs to Germany in the Netherlands itself. “The Germans also really see it as a Dutch problem”.
At the same time, NS does not blame last summer’s travellers. The spokesperson therefore agrees with the Interrail travellers, as the ICE was faster and the journey planner indicates this, but “it creates an extremely unpleasant situation in the ICE”. “This is not pleasant for either passenger group, so we have to do something about it.”
Works in Germany part of the problem
A factor here is that there are works on the route of the direct intercity Amsterdam – Berlin, near the German capital, which continue into this year. This makes intercity train’s travel time longer, and despite changing trains in Duisburg, the ICE route is faster. “Berlin is a very popular destination for Interrailers. If it then saves you three-quarters of an hour to an hour in time, they will do it, only it is quite unpredictable how they will travel and when, and that makes the crowds very difficult to regulate.” In doing so, many Interrail travellers in particular board in Amsterdam, which means the train is already crowded in Utrecht or Arnhem.
This problem of overcrowded trains had already been discussed with Eurail, the company behind the Interrail passes, but not yet to definitively ban Interrail travellers, according to NS. Commenting, a spokesperson for Eurail said it “always advocates for a fully open rail network without restrictions across Europe to ensure the best possible travel experience for Eurail and Interrail passengers and carriers”. However, Eurail also says that it is willing to work with rail carriers. “We also recognise that there are peak times when problems arise and we are willing to work with the railways to find the best possible solution together.”
Dutch travellers’ association Rover says it is “surprised” by the possible move, and has asked NS for clarification. The organisation says it was unhappy with NS International’s solution last summer. “Travellers should assume that trains for which they bought a ticket are running and that they can take it”, they said. On the other hand, they too recognise that a repetition of last summer must be avoided, and therefore call on passengers to speak up and submit their ideas to the problem.
Additional trains ordered, but will take time
The main solution for the overcrowded trains are more trains, sees also NS. Deutsche Bahn last year ordered new trains from Spanish manufacturer Talgo, which will be used on the Amsterdam-Berlin route, among others. The so-called ICE L trains are scheduled for delivery by the end of 2024. “Until then, we cannot deploy additional trains however, as the number of ICEs is limited,” said the NS spokesperson. “Also, one ICE caught fire last year, which makes it even more difficult.” On top of that, the current ICEs are “of age”, and may also break down, making consecutive trains even busier.
NS has thus not yet decided whether the measure will go ahead. “We are talking to partners in Europe, but we have no choice but to tell Interrailers now that we are currently closing the ability to reserve ICEs from the Netherlands next summer in the Interrail app to avoid disappointment in case the measure does go ahead.” This means that if someone buys an Interrail pass now and goes to look for trains to take in the summer towards Berlin, the ICE international cannot be selected as an option, and the only trip visible is the direct intercity to Berlin.
Travellers can still take an earlier or later ICE, i.e. before 6am or after 4pm. “And if you don’t want to go to Berlin but to the south of Germany, you can still travel via Liège, for example. There are still plenty of options to travel, we just can’t all take that ICE, at that time of day”, the NS spokesperson said. “In the coming period with the limited capacity, we want to have a lot of people travelling with pleasure, and it was not enjoyable last year.”