Most of the Netherlands is densely populated and urbanised, and there are frequent train connections to most major cities and large towns and villages in between. There are two main types of trains: Intercities, which only stop at major stations, and Sprinters, which stop at all stations. All train types have the same fares. There are also high-speed trains called “Intercity Direct” between Amsterdam and Breda, which only require an extra ticket between Schiphol and Rotterdam. The journey from the north of the country (Groningen) to the south (Maastricht) takes about 4 hours.
The spoorkaart is a map of the railway system and shows all services. Services with only one train per hour are shown in thinner lines.
Most lines offer a train every 15 minutes (every 10 minutes during rush hour), but some rural lines only run every 60 minutes. When several lines work together, the frequency is of course even higher. In the west of the Netherlands, the rail network is more like a large city network, with up to 12 trains per hour on the main lines.
Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) operates most of the lines. Some local lines are operated by Syntus, Arriva, Veolia and Connexxion.
Due to the high frequency of services, delays are quite frequent. However, the delay is usually no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Trains can be crowded, especially in the morning rush hour. Seat reservations on domestic trains are only possible on Intercity Direct.
One particular mistake tourists often make is boarding the wrong part of a train. Many trains consist of two parts with different destinations. Somewhere on the way to the final destination, the two parts are separated and continue on their own to their respective destinations. In this case, the signs above the platforms indicate two destinations and which part is going where: achterste deel/achter means backwards and voorste deel/voor means forwards, which refers to the direction of departure. Do not hesitate to ask other passengers or a staff member.
Another common mistake is driving from Schiphol to Amsterdam. From Schiphol you can go to Amsterdam Centraal or Amsterdam Zuid (South). These stations are not directly connected and many tourists who want to go to Amsterdam Centraal end up in the south. Therefore, you should always check the destination of the train. From Amsterdam Zuid you can take the metro to Centraal, or the train to Centraal with a change at Duivendrecht station (2nd floor).
There is a convenient night train connection (for party-goers and airport traffic) between Rotterdam, Delft, The Hague, Leiden, Schiphol, Amsterdam and Utrecht, all night long, once an hour in each direction. North Brabant is also served on F-Sa and Sa-Su nights. You can travel to Dordrecht, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Eindhoven, Tilburg and Breda.
Most trains have two comfort classes (1st class and 2nd class). Some regional lines do not have first class. First class and second class are usually distinguished by different colours. Signs with “1” or “2” next to the outer doors and cabin doors indicate the class. Some areas on the train are silent zones. In these zones, noise must be kept to a minimum. They are indicated either by a stylised silhouette face holding a finger to its lips or by a yellow oval with “Ssst”.
Free Wi-Fi is available at almost all major stations and on many Intercity trains. Power sockets are only available on a few Intercity trains, and then only in first class.
There is a uniform national fare system for rail travel. You do not need separate tickets for other operators. All railway companies in the Netherlands now use the OV chip card: paper train tickets are no longer issued. Travellers have the following options for issuing tickets:
- Anonymous or personal OV chip card: both cost €7.50 per card. Please note that if you have already bought one of these cards from a non-NS provider, you will need to activate it for NS train travel. This happens automatically when you load money onto the card at one of the NS ticket machines.
- A one-way OV chip card for each journey. They are sold at ticket vending machines, but the price of the ticket is one euro higher than the price of a one-way ticket. Note that a one-way ticket can be bought for a single journey or for a return journey, so in this case one return journey (1x €1 surcharge) is cheaper than two return journeys (2x €1 surcharge).
- Electronic ticket. There is no surcharge for these.
International trains arriving in or departing from the Netherlands can use separate ticketing systems. Also international discount cards like the Eurail card do not use the Chipkaart system.
The price of the ticket is uniform and depends on the distance. The tickets are valid for Sprinter and Intercity connections – there is no price difference in either case. However, for domestic travel on Intercity Direct or ICE trains, you have to pay a surcharge, which you can buy at the ticket machine and use directly. With Intercity Direct, this surcharge is only required for travel between Schiphol and Rotterdam. The most common tickets are single tickets (enkele reis) and return tickets (return). The latter is only valid for a return journey on the same day, but the price is the same as two single tickets, so a return journey offers no price advantage over buying single tickets (except when using a one-way OV chip card).
Tickets are valid on any train along the route (as opposed to a single fixed train). It is permitted to take a break at any station along the route (even at stations along the route where it is not necessary to change trains). As in many countries, there is a difference between first and second class. A second class ticket costs about 60% of the price of a first class ticket. The main advantage of first class is that it is less crowded and the seats and aisles are generally wider. A Railrunner ticket can be purchased for €2.50 for children between the ages of 4 and 11 accompanied by an adult.
Purchase train tickets
You must buy a ticket before you travel – since 2005 you can no longer simply buy a ticket from the conductor, as in some other countries. If you buy a ticket on board, you have to pay the normal price plus a penalty of €35. If the ticket machines are broken, contact the driver immediately when boarding. The conductor has no discretion with this policy, although being polite and pretending to be an ignorant tourist can help you get away with an invalid ticket. In the worst case, if you don’t have enough cash or your passport, you could be arrested by the railway police.
- From an ATM. Tickets can be purchased at ATMs in stations with Dutch bank cards or Maestro debit cards. A fee of €0.50 is charged for payments with Visa or MasterCard. Some machines, at least one in each station, also accept coins (but not banknotes). Only the larger stations have a ticket office. The ticket machines offer menus in English. A common mistake made by foreigners is to accidentally get a 40% discount ticket (“korting”) from the machine. These tickets require a special discount card, but you can also travel with other people’s discount cards. If you have difficulty using the ticket machine, ask someone else for help; almost everyone speaks some English and will help you.
- Online. Tickets can be purchased in advance online (e-tickets), requiring a Dutch bank account for payment (iDEAL). Please note that tickets purchased in advance are personal and conductors may ask for identification. There is no price difference compared to travelling with an anonymous or personal OV chip card, but e-tickets are €1 cheaper than a disposable OV chip card. E-tickets can also be bought on the website of the Belgian railway SNCB Europe, also on some Dutch domestic routes, usually for the same price as on the Dutch NS (to be checked). Unlike the Dutch NS website, it accepts foreign bank cards, but charges an additional fee (2 euros) per transaction if a credit card (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) is used. However, there is no surcharge for a debit card (e.g. Maestro).
Reduced rail ticket
Visitors planning a rail trip in the Netherlands should use the Eurail Card with the Benelux Package (see eurail.com). This package allows unlimited train travel in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg for several days. Europeans who cannot benefit from the Eurail card should ask about Inter Rail Pass cards, which give them discounts on their train journeys (see interrail.eu).
For tourists planning a rail trip of several days, it may be worthwhile to take out a Dal Voordeel PassOff-peak discount), which gives the cardholder (and three other accompanying persons) a 40% discount on NS trains for one year, except when travelling during peak hours (weekdays 6.30-9.00 and 16.00-18.30, except public holidays). Price 50 € for one year (2014). The subscription includes a personal OV chip card, which takes 2 weeks to process. If you already have one, the subscription can be charged to your personal OV chip card. Don’t forget to always check in and check out, the discount will be applied automatically depending on the time of check-in.
NS also has monthly and annual subscriptions for free travel on weekends, off-peak or during the entire subscription period, including peak hours, as well as a subscription that offers a 40% discount for the entire period, including peak hours.
Travellers who only want to spend one day in the Netherlands and see a large part of the country by train can buy a Dagkaart (day ticket, €51). But beware: it can be cheaper to just buy a ticket. The Dagkaart takes about 6 hours of train travel in one day. Shops like Hema, Blokker, Kruidvat or Albert Heijn also have special offers on the Dagkaart that you can buy at a reduced price (€13-16) and then print out at home. It is important to note the validity of these tickets (e.g. not valid during morning rush hours, and valid for all days or only from Saturday to Sunday, and the period for which they are valid). Using one of these tickets is probably the cheapest way to travel by train in the Netherlands, especially for return journeys.
At the station
Most stations are small, with only one or two platforms. Stations in towns or villages are usually not staffed. However, cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht have large main stations with up to 14 platforms. It can take 5 or even 10 minutes to get from one platform to another, especially for people who are not familiar with the station.
The platforms are all numbered. When platforms are so long that two or more trains can stop on the same platform, the different parts of the platform are indicated with lower case letters a/b/c. In some stations, capital letters are used to indicate which part of the train stops at which part of the station. Do not confuse lower case and upper case letters.
Timetables can be found in the station concourse and on the platforms. All train boards are normally yellow, except for deviating timetables during planned maintenance (blue) and on Queen’s Day (orange). Departing trains are printed in blue (on the yellow boards), arriving trains are printed in red. Unlike other countries, the boards themselves are not sorted by departure time, but by direction (please note that it is actually by line, from large stations some cities are served by several lines! Tourists better ask someone which line is the fastest for your destination). In some cases, several tables are needed to cover a single day for a particular direction. Also, most stations are equipped with blue electronic screens showing which trains are leaving within an hour.