RANT: FYRA and the Dutch ‘Poldermodel’

A few weeks ago, the new high-speed train connection between Amsterdam, Schiphol Airport, Rotterdam and Breda (and a possibility to take you to Antwerpen and Brussel) called ‘FYRA’ made its first commercial ride. Five years later than expected, it is supposed to take you from Amsterdam to Breda in 67 minutes, 35 minutes less than taking a normal intercity train. It is owned by the ‘High Speed Alliance’, a consortium of NS (90%) and KLM (10%). It is operated by NS Hi-speed, a NS subsidiary. They opted for trains by an Italian company called AnsaldoBreda to construct the trains, because it was the cheapest they could find.

If you know the Dutch railways like I do, this should set off some alarms already. HSA offered to pay 166,5 million euro annually to the Dutch government for the rights to operate the trains. Because not enough people took FYRA as an alternative to their regular train, the project almost went bankrupt. Luckily for them, the Dutch government thought it be a good idea to decrease the worth of the contract (which runs until 2024) by 60 million. That’s a tax write-off worth 780 million euro.

Minor detail, total cost of construction and the purchase of the 19 trains is nowhere to be found. They’re probably ashamed, trying to hide it from the public.

So, not only do we have a multi-billion euro project, it is already an aged product, nobody seems to want to use it, both government and HSA are perpetually losing money on it… Which makes you think. Why did they even bother?

Let’s give a little history lesson on the subject. Since 1973, government has been trying to get this project started, with a high speed track going to Brussels (HSL-zuid), to Germany (HSL-oost) and to the northern provinces (HSL-noord, or Zuiderzeelijn). However, late 70’s, early 80’s, the Netherlands where hit by an economic downfall (the ‘dutch disease’), and government didn’t want to burn their fingers on a risky project like this.

Ultimately, Dutch economics came to a growth once again through which we now know as the ‘poldermodel’. This means that everyone works together for mutual benefits. This also means that everyone has to agree on every subject, or else things don’t follow through. Government, citizens and corporations all working together to make the Netherlands both socially and economically strong. Sounds great, huh? Well, it does lead to projects like FYRA. Allow me to explain.

If you want something, lets call it ‘A’, the other person has to agree with you. But if the other person wants ‘Z’, you would have to make a compromise. You end up somewhere in the middle, like ‘M’ or ‘N’. But you don’t want M, or N, you wanted A. And neither does the other person, he wanted Z. So somehow, you end up with something neither of you really want, but in order to keep everyone happy, you go for M (or N).

Which is exactly what happened here. HSL-oost and HSL-noord where cancelled, and only a crappy version of HSL-zuid was decided to be built, as a compromise.

Because the first few trains started making commercial rides last week, this means the project finished five years late. Due to ‘technical issues’, trains had to be carefully test-driven along the rails. After a few years of testing, you’d think they got all of the bugs out of their system. But no. Tonight, again, a train broke down between Schiphol and Breda. The minister of transportation, Wilma Mansveld, refused to intervene in an interview today (Decembre 13th, 2012). I guess FYRA is running as it is supposed to run: late.

People of the Netherlands: this is why we can’t have nice things. Instead of “go big or go home”, Dutch government has adopted a policy of “go small as to not upset anybody”.

I long for the time when government-projects where grand, visionary and really adding to the nation. Does it really have to take another destructive war?

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