What’s going on with 2nd and 1st class trains in the Netherlands?

What on earth is going on with first class trains in the Netherlands? We don’t understand. For a country that prides itself on equality, it seems positively medieval to have a separation between first class and second class on trains in the Netherlands. 

1st class trains in the Netherlands: Class Division on Wheels

The morning commute to that delightful office job we all cherish so much is hardly anyone’s favorite part of the day. Standing on the crowded railway platform, you’ll see people around you silently wishing for two things: 1) that the night had two extra hours for sleeping, 2) that trains would be at least twice as long so that we won’t have to squeeze ourselves in between complete strangers for the next half hour. Or even better, what if we got rid of all those oppressive first class compartments in order to make more room for the common man…? What is the point of 1st class trains in the Netherlands?

1st class trains in the Netherlands
That’s a lot of empty space you got there. Image: Wikimedia Commons. 

What’s the difference between first and second class train seats?

Oh trust me, we have all been wondering the same question. Even when you google it, it’s hard to find official differences (that are convincing anyway). Nobody seems to know what 1st class trains in the Netherlands entails. If you get International trains from the Netherlands, you’re looking at newspapers, complimentary meal and drinks, power outlets, lots of leg room, lounges and TV’s. With normal NS trains, you barely get anything. You pay considerably more for the privilege of first class over second class. For example, to go from Rotterdam to Amsterdam on a normal intercity NS train, it would cost you around €15p/w. This jumps to €25 – a hike of €10.

What do you get? A private carriage, peace and quiet and a bit more leg-room and that’s pretty much it. If you’ve been smoking weed in Amsterdam you might wanna check what carriage you’re in before you end up in Brussels.

A Brief History of Public Transport Class Struggle

Supporters of these egalitarian ideals may be encouraged knowing that we are in fact already on a path to class-free traveling. Originally, the Dutch railway system had no less than three classes. Some considered this a reflection of 19th-century Dutch society, made up of dignitaries, citizens, and workers. This was reduced to the now familiar two classes in 1956.

Some would like to take this one step further, as calls for a complete ban on public transport’s class division happen every now and then. The SP (Socialist Party) took this matter to parliament a few years ago, arguing that the current first/second class division is both outdated and inefficient. Letting travelers sit wherever they want would be a win-win scenario: travelers happier and Dutch railway companies richer. Sounds good. Then again, we all know what happened last time the socialists wanted to abolish a class system, right?

Сла́вься, Оте́чество на́ше свобо́дное!

1st class and 2nd class train traveling in the Netherlands: The debate continues

A more a serious note, any argument in favor of classless trains inevitably provokes arguments to leave the situation as it is. Giving travelers the option to pay more or less money for a ticket depending on how much comfort they want should not be a controversial thing. After all, we can choose how much money we want to spend on a seat in a theater, concert hall, or sport stadium. Others may argue over whether or not leveling the ticket price would in fact improve the overall train quality. Railway companies charge 40% extra on first-class tickets, and a loss of that income has to be compensated somehow.

So like a lot of often returning discussions, the final stop hasn’t been called on this ride. Maybe the class division is here to stay. Or perhaps one day… we will see the humble laborer sitting side buy side with the stately millionaire. Awkwardly avoiding eye contact by staring at their smartphone.

Here because you’re after cheap trains? We can help you out with that too.

What are your thoughts on the class division in Dutch trains? Let us know in the comments below. 

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on 2 March 2018 but was updated for your reading pleasure on 15 January 2020. 

Feature image: NS. 

Frank Kool
Frank Kool
Born and raised in Holland, spent his time procrastinating and studying Psychology and Philosophy. Frank harbors a special interest in weird social phenomena (which are ALL social phenomenon if you think about them long enough).


  1. This has nothing to do with classes. Just market. When you want more space and comfort you simply pay for it. Same you do by many airlines.

  2. It is the same as economy, premium economy, business and first class in air travel. Yes, the passengers get more comfort and better food during the journey, but the real reason is that the non economy classes are a much better profit opportunity for the carriers. The same applies to train travel, and the funny thing is that it is always about bringing everything down to the lowest common denominator. It is a stupid attitude, that completely disregards that some people can only afford a Trabant whilst others can afford a Bentley. Note that it is never the Bentley drivers who have a compelling desire to drive a Trabant, it is always the Trabant drivers who want everyone to drive one, as if that is going to improve anything. Product of misplaced jealousy.


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