Public transport derailed

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A few weeks ago it was time for the exams. For the exams it is important to arrive on time, especially for someone like me who does not live in Nijmegen. Unfortunately due to the weather there were less trains than usual. Instead of a train departing every 15 minutes, there was only one every half hour. Of course this should not be a problem; you could just take a train earlier. However there still are problems, like that the train rides slower and that at some places the train just stops riding for a bit. In this year alone I have had many problems with public transport. Oddly enough the NS, the Dutch railways company, released surprising news at the end of last year. Apparently, last year the trains arrived on time even more than usually. The NS said that in 2018 92.6% of all the trains arrived on time. Only 2.4% of the trains had more than a quarter of an hour of delays.

Now I do not mean to be rude, but I do not believe these statistics completely. I have experienced enough delays to doubt these numbers. Furthermore it also occurs that a train only rides to Arnhem and you have to catch another train at that station. These delays happen more often lately due to the winter. Maybe my train is not representative of all the trains in the Netherlands: it could be that the train is worse between my stations than between the other stations in the Netherlands. After some research there seems to be another conclusion: if a train is cancelled it cannot arrive too late. This means that even though a train never arrives on your station and you have to wait 30 extra minutes, this does not have to count as a delay. If a train never arrives there is no delay, so this of course alters the statistics.

On the other hand it seems a bit childish to act as if we have some horrible train system in the Netherlands. The British government website Rail and Road shows that in the UK 85.6% of the trains arrived on time. Furthermore, in the UK many regions have their own train service. We also have other services outside of the NS, like Arriva, but in the UK there are many more different companies that do not necessarily need to have connecting services.

In America the situation is different altogether. There the distances between cities are often so big that it is faster to go to the airport and take an airplane than to travel by train. Additionally the railways in the United States are often used for shipping cargo. Passenger trains have to wait on these cargo trains, and for some journeys it is normal to have delays of more than one hour and thirty minutes. Personally, if I had the choice, I would rather have the NS where I might have to take another train as mine stops halfway along the route than have a train system like in the United States where such humongous delays are common.

After some more searching on the internet it appears the situation in the Netherlands is not as bad as thought. On the website vertraagd.com you can find the percentage of trains that are currently on time. The data of the past few weeks is also visible, and yes on the one day I had an exam there were more delays than usual. I also found that the stations at which I depart and arrive the trains should arrive on time more than 90% of the time, so I may have been too critical.

It is important to keep in mind that statistics can give a wrong view of reality. There is the following saying: “A statistician walked into a river full of confidence, as  on average it was 1 metre deep – and he drowned.” Luckily for me I arrived on time for my exam, but of course with some delays.