Posted by: Richard Lenthall | July 19, 2010

Amsterdam: The GVB Undermines the City, Again!

Amsterdam has a hard time with tunnels. A city built on reclaimed land which sits behind protective dykes requires intensive care when you bring out the shovels. The city council’s attempts to dig a new metro tunnel from the Northern suburbs to the financial centres at Station Zuid have been particularly embarrassing as the estimates prove inaccurate, project costs rocket, delays escalate and historic buildings subside dramatically. When I arrived in 2008 the new Noord/Zuid metro lijn was scheduled to be operational in 2013. Now after setbacks its 2017 and will cost a €1bn more. Last week though it was the existing metro tunnel that which caused the furore.

In Amsterdam public transport schedules change their frequency during Summer to allow extra vacations to be taken by employees and more intensive maintenance work to be carried out on sections of infrastructure. This service change is known as the “Zomerdienstregeling” or Summer Service Schedule. I don’t agree with it because large numbers of people are squashed onto an even smaller number of peak services as the ratio of vacationing drivers to “Still-working” travellers isn’t accurately measured.

Transit Planning

Another reason why Zomerdienstregeling doesn’t work is that making early commitments to large scale service alterations before agreeing the actual work risks leaving stakeholders and passengers with no plan B to fall back on as the normal service would have already been compromised. This is exactly what has happened.

July 10th saw Zomerdiesntregeling start and the closure of the metro tunnel that runs from Amsterdam Centraal Station to the Amstel Station. This was to allow improvements to be made to the fire safety provisions inside the tunnel. Unfortunately it now emerges that the contract for the work had not been formally agreed or signed as certain information was not exchanged between the contractor and the GVB (Amsterdam’s municipal transport company). Due to the start of the Zomerdienstregeling an abnormal number of metro drivers that cover the 3 lines operating through the tunnel have been granted vacation so it’s now impossible to operate those lines into the city.

The consequence of this shambles, which has left commuters with no metro service to Centraal Station for 5 weeks, is that no improvement to safety will be made and no fall back option can be implemented as shuttle buses have already been paid for and ordered. As a result the GVB have now been reported for an investigation by local government over their management of this situation. An utter embarrassment. Basic project management educates us that you should have the contract sorted out months in advance and only then allow your drivers and other support works to take holiday. Not the other way around!

The shuttle buses are not an adequate a replacement. The route avoids one intermediate stop altogether (Nieuwmarkt) due mainly to the extra journey time the surface transport takes. Large queues are forming at Centraal Station during peak hours as the bus services struggles to cope. Also travellers using their OV Chipkaart “Pay As You Go” balance are being charged more for the journey as the kilometres travelled via bus is longer than that of the direct tunnel. If you add into that extra hassle the fact that this is all for nothing it’s not surprising the public are beginning to demand an enquiry. This is in effect, a failure of very basic project management.

Finally it shines a very bright light onto NoordZuidlijn and begins to show observers how that larger scale project got so out of hand over the years, a fact that residents on the Vijzelgracht would be aware of as theirs was one of the properties to suffer large scale subsidence during the tunnelling works and the council had to buy their houses, adding further cost to the project.

The Metro Tunnel is due to reopen on August 15th.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Richard Lenthall, Richard Lenthall. Richard Lenthall said: #Amsterdam's #GVB closes metro tunnel for 5 weeks, for nothing, as no safety contract signed #Metro #NoordZuidlijn […]

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