Opinion please – Train station lock down

For the last five years the Dutch railway company, NS, has been struggling with the implementation of gates at Dutch train stations.

So far 36 train stations have the glass gates, which can only be opened with a OV-chipkaart used to travel by train. The doors however always remain open. The NS wanted to close the gates within a year after implementing them. That was five years ago. Last week the Dutch newspaper, NRC Handelsblad, called it a ‘Poortjesdrama’ (Gate drama).

One of the reasons that the NS is so unsuccessful is due to the fact that many train stations are used as passageways to get to another part of town. At Leiden CS for example the train station connects the city centre with several university buildings.

The local government is against sealing off the station with gates and has summoned the NS to remove them.

The NS holds to its original plan, however. “It’s ridiculous that NS won’t change its plans. Train stations should be accessible for people who use it as a passageway. The passages should be public space that’s not only used by travellers. In the 1990s, many train stations, like Amsterdam Bijlmer, were built especially as a passageway,” says assistant professor of Urban Design, Stefan van der Spek (Architecture). He wrote a dissertation on train stations as connectors.

The NS doesn’t want to let go of the gates at Leiden, because it wants 90 per cent of the passengers to pass through a closed gate during travelling. Leiden is essential to meet that target. “There’s nothing wrong with setting targets, but there is always the risk of perverse effects: reaching the target might become more important than reaching the goals behind the targets,” says professor of Transport Policy, Bert van Wee (TPM).

Prof. Van Wee is not against the gates: “I think we should take all pros and cons into account. Advantages are a probable decrease in the number of fare dodging, pickpockets and homeless people at stations. Disadvantages are the already mentioned difficulties with the passageway, less liveliness at the station, especially early in the morning and at night, and it probably means less income for shops, and it takes more time for passengers to reach the train.”

Van der Spek emphasizes that NS should find another way to ensure that the gates do not completely seal off a train station: “Many stations are also shopping malls, passageways and transfer points of trams and buses. The NS control everything on and around the station. They make the train the most important part of the train stations and seem to forget that there are other interests as well. This is wrong.”

Prof. Van Wee and Van der Spek stress that the NS should have recognized the interests of all parties involved, like shopkeepers, local governments and passengers. “Instead of just implementing the gates,” says Prof. Van Wee. “I plea for an evolutionary approach: to experiment at a train station and study the consequences.”

The NS strives to close the gates this year, but no one knows for sure if they will manage to finally pull it off. “They’ve been trying to close them for five years; it’s clear that the introduction of the gates and the OV-chipkaart takes much longer than expected. I wouldn’t call the NS naïve, but I do think they have been too optimistic in setting goals with respect to the planning.”

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