Several trains could not run this week due to a staff shortage at ProRail traffic control.

The rail manager has been struggling for some time with a lack of sufficient traffic controllers.

Earlier this year, trains were also canceled due to understaffing.

Five questions about the personnel problem at ProRail traffic control.

What is going on?

  • On Wednesday, a sick report at the traffic control post resulted in fewer trains running around Utrecht Central from early in the morning until well into the afternoon.

  • On Thursday evening, train traffic between Utrecht, Arnhem, Ede-Wageningen, Barneveld and Rhenen came to a standstill after a sick report.

    As a result, planned works could not go ahead.

  • On Friday, the sprinter could not drive between Driebergen-Zeist and Veenendaal Centrum.

  • On 17 June fewer trains ran around Amersfoort as a result of sick leave at ProRail traffic control.

What is the cause of the staff shortage?

The main cause is that, on the one hand, staff members are retiring or moving on to another position and, on the other, it is very difficult to find new people, says a ProRail spokesperson.

The problem is particularly acute at the traffic control post in Utrecht, which accounts for the busiest part of the Dutch track.

"We had to deal with a sick report on Wednesday. Normally we can accommodate that, but unfortunately not now. We are very thin in our jacket," he says.

To what extent does corona play a role?

"It makes us a lot more careful. Where you can normally continue working with a runny nose, you now have to stay at home. It provides an extra factor, but the problem of understaffing has been going on for some time," said the spokesperson.

Did ProRail not see the pension wave coming?

"Now we can perhaps say that we should have accelerated our personnel policy. Although a few years ago we did not know that we would end up in such a tight labor market. Of course we also look at ourselves. How could we have done this better? and how can we do better in the future?"

Trade union FNV Spoor believes that ProRail should have better anticipated the outflow of staff.

"We have been saying this for six years," says driver Henri Janssen.

"You can't tell me that if you can keep the track safe 24/7, you can't see people retiring," he says.

"That can't come as a surprise. As an organization, you have a reasonable idea when it's someone's birthday."

The traffic control post of ProRail in Utrecht.

The traffic control post of ProRail in Utrecht.

Photo: ANP

Why is it not possible to find enough train traffic controllers?

"It is very difficult to find new people. The train traffic controller training lasts nine months and there is a high chance that someone will not pass. So people are more likely to opt for security, for a job where they can start immediately," explains the spokesman.

Traffic control currently has sixty vacancies.

According to the spokesperson, thousands of applicants come to this, but the majority drop out early.

About a hundred people are now in (paid) training, for which an average of about 5 percent pass.

"The training is really tough, comparable to that of air traffic control," he says.

In the Netherlands, trains run on an automatic system.

"If nothing is wrong, you monitor. That can go on for hours on end, but if there is suddenly an incident, you have to go from 0 to 100 and be able to act immediately. Not many people can do that," said the spokesperson. .

What is ProRail doing to tackle the shortage?

ProRail has increased the recruitment budget and will also expand the training capacity.

The rail manager is also trying to temporarily redeploy recently retired people and train traffic controllers who are now working elsewhere in the organization at locations where they are badly needed.

In addition, ProRail will shortly be updating train traffic controllers from other parts of the country about the Utrecht rail network.

Colleagues cannot simply help out.

"You really need to have knowledge of certain stretches of track for that."

Ultimately, ProRail expects to be at full war strength again in 2023.

Until then, it is expected that trains will be canceled more often due to the staff shortage.

According to the spokesman, ProRail will do everything it can to prevent this.

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