Statement NCPN concerning the serious train accident at Voorschoten

8 May 2023

NCPN Central Committee

The serious train accident at around half past four in the morning of Tuesday April 4th near Voorschoten has led to dozens of injuries and one fatality so far, namely the crane operator of the crane whichthe passenger train and a freight train collided with. Our condolences go out to the victims, their families, and colleagues.

Maintenance work was taking place at the site of the train accident, which is outsourced to contractors by ProRail. The crane belonged to rail contractor BAM. A freight train from DB Cargo collided with the crane, after which an NS intercity train also collided with (debris from) the crane and derailed.

This accident raises questions about the safety of the railway, both for those who work on or near the tracks and for passengers. The specific cause or causes of this train accident are being investigated.

In this investigation, the principles that have led to the overall situation on the railway should not be overlooked: the liberalization that successive governments and the EU have implemented in recent decades. As a result of that policy, the railway, trains, and maintenance have been pulled apart. Responsibility for the railways is fragmented among various parties. And that is a choice, not a given.

The goal of current policy is to make railways profitable for private companies. The government and the EU do not see the railway as a public utility that should be available to ensure that everyone can travel safely and affordably. Instead, it is seen as a commodity. The part with the largest costs, the maintenance and management of the tracks, has been left to ProRail, whose shares are owned by the state, which outsources the work to private contractors. The part of the trains and transportation, which is still largely in the hands of the NS, is increasingly being divided and privatized.

The commercialization and privatization of the railways are in conflict with the safety of workers on and around the railways, as well as passengers. Employees at NS, ProRail, freight transport companies, Railinfra, and regional transport providers have been reporting for years that market forces on the railways have had disastrous consequences. The FNV states that if commercial interests take priority, other issues will be relegated to the background, such as social and railway safety, good working conditions, and routes that are socially important but not financially attractive. Safety, service, and working conditions are not subjects that can be competed on.

In practice, this is evident from the fact that the Dutch and German governments requested a waiver from the European Commission for various safety measures on the railway line between Maastricht and Aachen in July 2022, which was granted at the end of February. The European Directive regulating railway safety provides that these safety regulations can be disregarded “if there is a risk that the economic viability of the project is jeopardized.” In other words, safety can be ignored if it is too “expensive” and profits are threatened.

This is also evident from numerous other problems raised by unions. For example, the prolonged and unnecessary exposure of workers in the rail sector to toxic substances, even in the absence of personal protective equipment. The high workload that workers have been reporting for years. Also, the privatization and outsourcing of occupational health services led to a focus solely on sick leave, rather than prevention and supervision. There are more examples.

Safety issues arise throughout the EU where railways are liberalized and privatized. In late February, 57 people died as a result of a major train accident in Greece. According to statistics, there were 1389 railway accidents in the EU in 2021, resulting in 683 deaths.

With the resources and technology available in our time, it is absolutely unacceptable that people’s safety is at risk, that people are injured, and even that lives are lost. We support unions in their demands for maximum railway safety to prevent train accidents and ensure the safety and health of workers and passengers.

This requires that the railway, trains, and maintenance be in the hands of society, so that safety, working conditions, and good and affordable service are at the center, rather than being viewed as “costs” that hinder the profits of capital.