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Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS)

Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS)

National rail operator of The Netherlands

On an average work day, more than 1,000,000 customers utilise NS services and travel by train.

NS International is the international subsidiary of NS, offering train travel to destinations abroad. NS International services include high speed trains such as Thalys, ICE International, Eurostar and TGV.

NS subsidiary Abellio provides train and bus travel in a number of countries in Europe. Abellio is active in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Czech Republic.


As neighbouring countries Germany and Belgium joined England in laying more tracks, and the Netherlands did not want to be left behind. King William I (king from 1815 to 1840) decided to investigate whether a rail network was needed in the Netherlands. The decision was made that a network was necessary, but there were difficulties financing the new railways. The King then made an important decision. He was confident about the new form of transport and gave it the green light: the Dutch government would contribute funds. This also helped to encourage the first few hesitant businessmen to participate.

In 1835 the government granted private individuals permission to construct a railway between Amsterdam and Haarlem, encouraged by the fact that both cities were very important to the economy at the time.

On 8 August 1837, two years after the King's decision, the first railway company, the Hollandsche IJzeren Spoorweg Maatschappij (HIJSM), was founded. The HIJSM can be regarded as the predecessor of NS. They started construction of a railway between Amsterdam and Haarlem, and two years later, in 1839, this railway was opened. The two locomotives that pulled the first trains were called the 'Arend' and the 'Snelheid'. These locomotives came from England, as did the drivers, John Middlemiss and Thomas Mann. There is a replica of the 'Arend' in The Railway Museum in Utrecht.

The construction of new railways was not exactly taking off. In 1860 there were only 325 kilometres of track. The government decided to give the march of civilisation a nudge by laying a national railway network. The Maatschappij tot Exploitatie van Staatsspoorwegen (SS) was founded; a private company that was permitted to utilise the majority of the public railway tracks. This speeded things up. In 1885 there was 2,610 kilometres of track, and by 1900 the railway network as we now know it was almost complete. Meanwhile, many railway and tram companies had emerged, and new stations had been built. For the first time, large groups of people were mobile and the opportunity to discover the Netherlands was open to all.

When the First World War (1914-1918) broke out in 1914, railways all over Europe turned out to be of huge economic and military significance.

During the First World War, railways took on a national significance. The importance of cooperation also grew, particularly with regards to national timetables. From 1917, the SS and the HSM started to work together as an interest group with the name Nederlandsche Spoorwegen, abbreviated as: NS. Both companies remained independent and continued to do their own work.

In 1937 the HIJSM and the SS merged to form NV Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), an independent company whose shares were state-owned from 1 January 1938. Then the Second World War broke out, ushering in a turbulent and much discussed period in history, during which activities, for better or for worse, eventually led to the railway strikes of September 1944. But it was also a period of great sacrifice, with dire consequences for the rail network. On 5 May 1945, more than 60% of the routes were inoperable and 220 railway bridges had been destroyed. Many trains had disappeared or been damaged. On 5 May 1995 (50 years after the war) the NS employee magazine 'de Koppeling' published a special supplement entitled: 'Rijden of staken?' (Drive or strike?), detailing the period from 1939 to 1947. You can download this supplement below.

After the war NS began to rebuild with the help of the American Marshall Plan. At the same time, the railway network was being increasingly electrified. The Netherlands was the forerunner in Europe in this respect, and all over the country electric trains were running at speeds of 130 kilometres per hour. In 1958, the last steam locomotive was moved to The Railway Museum in Utrecht.

Income from lucrative freight transport dropped, both as a result of the rise in popularity of heavy goods vehicles and of the closure of the coal mines causing coal transport to disappear altogether. Due to the public importance of rail transport, the Ministry of Transport provided financial assistance. NS came up with a rescue plan 'Spoorslag 70'. The ambitious plan for the 70s gave the railways new momentum and introduced new timetables. Partly as a result of this plan, NS managed to transport 20% more passengers, even though this meant that the trains had to travel one and a half times as many kilometres. The increasing deficits were covered by the state.

Road traffic became increasingly impeded by traffic. The airspace was also getting more and more full. Concern for the environment was high on the list of priorities, and as a result there was renewed interest in the railways. In 1986 in France the first high-speed train travelled between Lyon and Paris at 250 kilometres per hour. In 1988 NS presented its vision for the future; Rail 21. The company asked for investments and an expansion of the rail network in order to be able to offer an alternative to road transport. This proposal was welcomed by the government, but only partially implemented. In the Netherlands, the decision was made to build the Betuweroute and the HSL-Zuid.

In 1992, before work was well and truly underway, politicians began discussing granting greater autonomy to NS. The direct cause originated from Europe: a new EU directive required member states to clearly separate railway construction and maintenance from transport operations. A competitive market was to be created. Following the advice of the Wijffels Committee, the Senate and House of Representatives voted to grant NS greater autonomy in 1992.

In 1995, at the behest of the government, NS split into a commercial NS Group and three task groups; Railinfrabeheer, Railned and Railverkeersleiding. The latter worked for and were funded by the government, and were responsible for construction, maintenance and management of the railways. In 2003, the three groups joined up to form ProRail.


May 5, 1995
On 5 May 1995 (50 years after the war) the NS employee magazine 'de Koppeling' published a special supplement entitled: 'Rijden of staken?'


Further Resources



September 23, 2019
Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (TOKYO: 6503) announced today that it has been awarded a contract by Spanish train builder Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, S.A. (CAF) to supply high tech traction equipment for 88 Sprinter New Generation (SNG) Electric Multiple Unit trains for the Dutch rail operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen. With the company having already received an order to supply electrical equipment for 118 of the new train units in FY2015 (April 1, 2014 - March 31, 2015),...


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