Why is there a first and second class on trains in the Netherlands?

The morning commute to that delightful office job we all cherish so much is hardly anyone’s favourite part of the day. Standing on the crowded railway platform, you’ll see people around you silently wishing for two things.

One, that the night had two extra hours for sleeping. And two, that trains would be at least twice as long so we wouldn’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 first-class for trains in the Netherlands? 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.

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

Oh trust me, we’ve all been wondering the same question. Even when you google it, it’s hard to find any official differences (that are convincing anyway). Nobody seems to know what first-class train carriages in the Netherlands entail. If you get first-class tickets to an international train departing from the Netherlands, you’re looking at newspapers, complimentary meals and drinks, power outlets, lots of legroom, lounges and TVs. Now that’s something!

However, with normal NS trains, you barely get anything for your fancy ticket. Still, you pay considerably more for the privilege of first-class over second class. For example, to go from Rotterdam to Amsterdam on a normal NS intercity train would cost you around €15 each way. This jumps to €25 for the same commute in a first-class carriage — a hike of €10.

What do you get for those extra €10? A private carriage, peace and quiet, and a bit more leg-room. While that’s neat, that’s pretty much it. Oh, and if you’ve been smoking weed in Amsterdam, you might wanna check what carriage you’re in before you end up in Brussels.

photo-empty-first-class-train-carriage-in-dutch-ns-train
That’s a lot of empty space you got there. Image: NS 

A brief history of public transport class struggle

So what do we want? Class-free train travel! When do we want it? Now!

Supporters of these egalitarian ideals may be encouraged knowing that the Netherlands is, in fact, already on a path to class-free travelling. 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 Dutch politicians would like to take this one step further, and 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.

They argued that letting travellers sit wherever they want would be a win-win scenario: travellers would be happier and Dutch railway companies richer. Sounds pretty good! Then again, we all know what happened last time the socialists wanted to abolish a class system, right?

Сла́вься, Оте́чество на́ше свобо́дное!

First class and second class train traveling in the Netherlands: the debate continues

On a more serious note, any argument in favour of classless trains inevitably provokes arguments to leave the situation as it is. Giving travellers 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 theatre, concert hall, or sports stadium.

Others may argue over whether or not levelling 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. And no one wants to lose the possibility to score on cheap train tickets.

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 labourer sitting side by side with the stately millionaire. Awkwardly avoiding eye contact by staring at their smartphone.

What are your thoughts on the class division in Dutch trains? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: Madeleine Ragsdale/Unsplash

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March 2018, and was fully updated in August 2021 for your reading pleasure.  

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).

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What do you think?

4 COMMENTS

  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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