Sustainability is one of the big concerns of this world. A
fast-growing and more industrialized world population raises
serious worries about the future of our planet. Scientific
evidence convinces us that something has to be done and
rail can and will contribute to the sustainability challenge.
NS is the main rail passenger operator in The Netherlands
and has already made some major efforts to improve the
sustainability of the rail business and will continue doing so.
Brief Profile of NS
NS operates on the main network (about 93% of rail passenger
market) in The Netherlands, carrying 15.5 billion passenger km
in 2007. The company also operates international trains
to Belgium, Germany and France with its subsidiary NS
Hispeed and is starting operation of high-speed trains from
Amsterdam to Brussels and Paris soon. The domestic rail
passenger market is mainly short and medium distance
with train frequencies of at least two per hour and up to ten
services in both directions in the core region. In addition
to the rail passenger business, NS operates nearly 400
stations and owns important areas of real estate in station
areas. It is a rail operator that is fully separated from the
infrastructure manager. In 2007, profits reached €337 million.
More comprehensive information about NS is available on
our website (http://www.ns.nl). NS uses about 1400 MWh
of electricity per year, or about 1.4% of total electricity in the
Netherlands. About 85% is for traction; diesel traction plays a
very small role in the NS business (about 2% of passengers
are carried by diesel trains).
Why Focus on Sustainability?
A focus on sustainability is not so obvious in a world where
profit maximization is a key factor in economic progress.
However, a strategy focusing on sustainability should not
be confused with charity or lack of focus on profitability.
Sustainability is an integral part of the NS business approach
for three reasons.
First, the responsibility to contribute to a sustainable
world is part of NS’s identity where staff and management
have a strong positive attitude about contributing to social
objectives. This is reflected in our policy towards people
with reduced mobility and in the way NS contributes to
regional mobility policy going beyond profitability. As such,
contributing to sustainability is incorporated in the company
identity. Environment is also a factor that makes sense for NS
as an attractive company to work for—an important factor in
a scarce labour market. Obviously, NS management takes
its responsibility to integrate sustainability into the company
Second, customer perspective is an important driver in
strengthening our efforts towards sustainability. In 2007, we
interviewed more than 1400 people, both rail customers (using
the train most for distances over 5 km) and regular car users
(using the car most for distances over 5 km). Remarkably,
we discovered that 52% of our (potential) customers treat
the environment as an important feature in their choice of
transport mode (Figure 1). Although NS realizes that other
basic quality factors, such as travel time, punctuality, comfort
and information are very important, the environment cannot
be denied as an important feature when travelling by rail.
Even if rail in The Netherlands is already the most sustainable
transport mode, it is important to keep sustainability high
in our (potential) customers’ minds by communicating the
advantage and progress of NS sustainability.
Third, the competition perspective is of real importance.
In the domestic market, NS competes mainly with cars.
Although the car industry claims it is making major progress
in sustainability, this is not the reality in Holland where larger
and more comfortable cars have completely offset any
sustainability progress so far. Nevertheless, the car industry
is continuing work on more sustainable cars. Assuming that
car drivers (potential customers) view the environment as
important, there is an obvious need for further improvement
in rail passenger sustainability. From a social perspective,
the environmental advantage of rail is important. It is one
reason to invest in more rail infrastructure capacity using
public funds. Infrastructure capacity is needed to facilitate
the growing demand for mobility by rail. Recent hikes in fuel
prices reflecting growing scarcity will help us find better
cost-benefit cases to invest in increased rail capacity and in
measures to further increase rail sustainability.
Although the competition perspective asks for improved
sustainability, clearly the environmental advantage of rail
is a key value of NS. In passenger services, rail is almost
three times more environment friendly than the car. In 2007,
the average CO2 emission per train passenger-km was 41 g
(Figure 2), compared to 120 g per car passenger-km (CBS
Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, Netherlands Statistics). In
the long-distance market, high-speed rail is three times better
than flying. For these reasons sustainability is part of the NS
marketing and communication strategy as explained later.
Saving Energy Consumption
|In 1997, NS committed itself to reduce traction energy
consumption by increasing energy efficiency—measured as
energy used per seat-km—by 10% between 1997 and 2010.
This commitment has been developed as part of a long-term
agreement between NS and the Ministry of Economic Affairs,
which is responsible for energy policy. In addition to the
commitment on energy efficiency, part of the agreement was
a commitment to have a 5% share of renewable electricity
used for traction by 2010. Between 1997 and 2005, NS has improved energy
efficiency by 15.6%, going far beyond the original targets
in the long-term agreement. In 2006, NS revised the
targets for energy efficiency between 1997 and 2010 to
20%, achieving 19% by the end of 2007 (Figure 3). The
most important measure responsible for this achievement
was the introduction of new double-decker rolling stock
with much better energy use per seat-km. Introduction
of regenerative braking and modifications to temperature
and ventilation systems are examples of other measures
contributing substantially to these energy savings. Here, we
must mention that all these measures were decided based
on normal business criteria. Energy savings simply lead to
reduced costs of energy and beyond that also create lower
|Figure 1: Importance of Environmental Aspects in Choice of Transport Mode
Figure 2: CO2 Emissions per Passenger-km
Reduction of Greenhouse-gas Emissions
|In addition to the NS commitments on energy efficiency, in
2007, the company made a very strong commitment to a
20% reduction in CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2020.
NS was the first Dutch company to respond voluntarily to
the EU political agreement on this commitment, which is a
20% reduction in absolute terms, meaning a 20% reduction
whatever the business figures until 2020. This commitment
must be considered in the light of the three main drivers
explained above, considering sustainability to be an important
key in the future of NS.
The reduction in CO2 emissions has been achieved in
• Production of electricity has become much more CO2
efficient. Between 1990 and 2005, CO2 emissions of
Dutch electric utilities dropped by 22% from 667 g/kWh
to 521 g/kWh, obviously helping NS make its strong
commitment on CO2.
• NS’s better energy efficiency from 1997 to 2005 further
contributed heavily to reduced CO2 emissions.
• Moreover, between 2005 and 2008, the share of renewable
energy in the total mix increased from 2.5% to 10%.
All these developments helped strongly reduce CO2
emissions in absolute terms from 1990 to 2007 but NS has
certainly not yet met its 2020 commitment. The challenge
is at least to absorb all increases in CO2 emissions up to
2020 resulting from growth of the business. As an indication,
increasing the business by up to 50% (not unrealistic) between
now and 2020 means that CO2 emissions per passenger-km
must be improved by about 33% in the same period. Clearly,
this is a very ambitious goal that can only be achieved using
The best contribution NS can deliver to global
sustainability is to shift people from the car and plane to rail
(or from 120 to 41 g of CO2 per passenger-km). Although
a reduction in rail passenger business could help NS meet
its commitments, obviously this measure is excluded as a
rational option. The ambition is still a 20% reduction in CO2
emissions by 2020 while simultaneously increasing the rail
passenger business as much as possible.
|Figure 3: NS Energy Efficiency Trend
Current and Future Efforts Towards Fewer
Obviously CO2 efficiency per passenger-km has to be
improved. One important tool in achieving this is efficient
driving. For example, 30% of NS trains arrive more than
30 s early, meaning they have wasted energy, so this
is a very important topic. Energy-efficient driving has
become part of each driver’s initial and ongoing training.
International cooperation in this field is being performed in
Trainer, the European train driver programme. Together with
the Dutch infrastructure manager ProRail, tools are being
developed to provide relevant information to train drivers
to make better decisions about using power equipment.
Automatic comparison between the planned timetable and
rail running time could help maximize the traction efficiency
without causing delays.
Since heating trains uses about 11% of the total energy,
its optimization can lead to important savings. Lowering
temperatures, decreasing ventilation—while avoiding
unpleasant effects on passengers’ comfort—and recalibrating
thermostats all gave good results on older rolling stock. On
the new NS Sprinter EMUs, the doors close automatically 10
seconds after the last passenger has passed, preventing loss
of warmth, especially during longer intermediate stops and at
the terminus. Although hard to believe, it has been proved
that air conditioning helps reduce energy consumption of
trains. The fixed windows prevent loss of warmth and the
consequently better surface streamlining reduces the energy
needed for accelerating and maintaining speed, explaining
why air conditioning is or will be provided on new and
refurbished NS trains.
Together with ProRail we are developing technical
solutions to reduce energy supply losses. Storing
regenerated braking energy is a key topic in this field. So is
reducing points heating in winter, especially when no trains
are running. Energy saving has become an important issue
in our dialogue with the rail industry.
The new Sprinter EMUs built by Bombardier/Siemens
are over 30% more energy efficient than the trains they
are replacing. Recent press releases from the rolling stock
industry clearly show an even larger potential to save
A very important operational measure is improved load
factor. Due to the 40% peak hour share, the average load
factor of the 30,000 NS trains running each week in Holland
is less than 30%. Further reduction of train length during
evenings and weekends would not only improve energy
efficiency and CO2 emissions, but also NS’s financial results
and customers’ feelings about security because nobody
benefits from only 100 passengers travelling on a 600-seat
train late in the evening.
Another measure to contribute to reduced CO2 emissions
is increasing the share of renewable energy, which currently
stands at 10%, making NS one of the five largest private
consumers of renewable electricity in The Netherlands.
More on Sustainability
Obviously, use of energy and emission of greenhouse-gases
is not restricted to driving trains. About 20% of NS’s energy
use is for facilities like stations, offices and workshops. Here,
savings will be achieved by introducing solar panels like
those on the roof of the new Utrecht Central Station.
While sustainability is focusing a lot of attention on several
other major topics, such as noise and barrier-free access,
small issues are important too, such as using sustainable
FSC-paper for train tickets, using biodegradable soap for
cleaning trains, separating paper from other litter in trains
and stations, green purchasing, and more.
The social perspective is quite important for NS, which
delivers most train services in Holland and contributes heavily
to the accessibility of urban areas and regions. In several
urban corridors during peak hours, NS trains serve more than
50% of the market. The social value of urban rail transport
is large because it provides accessibility, saves space, and
helps reduce local air pollution. NS is developing stations into
places that actively contribute to the social structure of cities
forming the heart of a green lifestyle. In close cooperation with
regional authorities we are focusing on improving regional
services, and security and service levels on stations.
The people perspective contains a strong policy on
diversity, focusing both on women and immigrants. Further,
NS is contributing actively to an anti-vandalism campaign. A
large part of our sponsorship activities is promoting healthy
lifestyles by eating healthy food (in stations) and being active
in sports (sponsored Dutch Olympic team).
|Photo: New Sprinter
Figure 4: Comparison of Freight Emissions
Figure 5: Long-distance Freight Emissions
NS Sustainability Label
Climate change has become an important policy objective of
the EU, which now acknowledges that supporting a greener
transport strategy is crucial. The increasing focus on transport
is partly due to growing awareness of the problems it causes
in trying to meet the EU’s climate change targets; transport
accounts for 27% of total greenhouse-gas emissions
in Europe, and while overall emissions fell by almost 8%
between 1990 and 2007, those of transport increased by
25%. Consequently, the Commission’s Legislative and Work
Programme 2008 states that, ‘Tackling climate change will
be an integral part of the Commission’s priorities in 2008
to secure sustainable prosperity for Europe ... Particular
attention will be given to measures to encourage the greening
of the transport sector.’
In January 2007, the EU published an agreement to
reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the period 1990–2020
by 20%, achieving a 20% share of renewable energy and
consuming 20% less energy. The Climate Change Package
released on 23 January 2008 by the Commission outlines
how the Commission intends to implement the 20% cut in
1990 levels of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020, including
use of binding national reduction targets for those sectors
(including transport) that fall outside the Emissions Trading
System. This envisages a 10% average cut varying from
–20% to +20% per country, depending on per capita GDP.
However, this is regarding the 2005–20 period, because
after establishing the initial objectives for 1990–2020, the
Commission realized that the figures for the period 1990–
2005 are not simple to define. For this reason, it assumed that
a 10% reduction in CO2 levels had already been achieved
for 1990–2005 and so started to agree targets for 2005–20.
The Commission has also clarified that the targets are likely
to be tightened in 2009 when the successor treaty to the
Kyoto Protocol is signed in Copenhagen, because the EU
has already agreed to raise its target for 2020 to a 30% cut in
levels of greenhouse-gas emissions in the event of reaching
a global agreement.
The European rail sector supports the EU commission
in these targets and we regret that there are no clear targets
on the transport sector. Despite good European policy
intentions to reduce auto emissions, progress on bringing
airlines under the European Trading Scheme and introducing
the polluter pays principle has been disappointing so far.
Even a proposal to abandon the prohibition to charge for
environmental costs in the road sector (which has the largest
share of greenhouse-gas emissions in the transport sector
by far) is politically difficult and can only be achieved with
major compromises. Most of the consequences are generally
perceived as threats, and the benefits for the environment,
economy, and quality of life are ignored. There is a perception
that mobility is some kind of ‘public good’ that comes for free
or at a very low price. But society cannot afford to think like
this any more. Nevertheless, I believe there are good reasons
for hope because of the growing awareness of transport
users about climate change.
A modal shift from road and air to rail is delivering the
highest reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions because
rail is four to eight times better in terms of emissions than
the competitors (Figures 4 and 5). Creating a fair and level
playing field between all transport modes is a precondition for
achieving a stronger role for rail in Europe both in freight and
passenger transport. For our part, NS is keen to contribute to
the modal shift by improving services, investing in new rolling
stock and information technology, etc. As an example, the
members of the Community of European Railways (CER) have
committed to a voluntary target of an average sector-wide cut
of 30% in specific emissions over the 1990–2020 period. As
CER chairman, I’m proud of this. While respecting the need
for healthy profits, the railway sector is clearly showing its
sustainable nature by this commitment.
NS Green Campaign ‘Nature has something to say. Take the train now and then. This way, you can
Finally, I would like to emphasize the need for proper
communication about rail’s environmental features. NS is
communicating in three domains: on awareness about the
environmental performance of NS; on the perception of NS
as a sustainable company; and on marketing of sustainable
To achieve better awareness about our environmental
performance, we developed a corporate campaign based on
the sustainability labelling consumers know for other products
like washing machines and cars. The advertising focuses on
greenhouse-gas emissions, but nevertheless incorporates a
broader view by mentioning sustainable paper for tickets and
biodegradable soap for cleaning trains. In the perception
domain, we work mainly by sponsoring events and other
products, such as the ‘live earth’ event in The Netherlands,
and the Dutch version of the film Earth. The 2008 marketing
campaign was devoted completely to the green nature of
our services. Our ‘Nature has something to say’ slogan was
elaborated in both commercial and corporate advertisements.
In the business-to-business market, NS together with car
leasing companies is developing combined services for
business travellers. This combined service allows them to
use their lease car and train passenger services in a very
flexible and easy way, depending on their day-to-day needs.
In this way business travellers can contribute to sustainability
while respecting the business need for flexible and high quality
I hope this brief article will contribute to improved awareness
about sustainable possibilities in the business of railways. On
the other hand, I call on politicians and decision makers to
support and invest in rail as the sustainable transport mode
for planet earth!