The tide turns
In the 1960s the automobile became accessible to large sections of the population. The train lost a share of the market to private car ownership.
From 1960 to 1994
Income from lucrative freight transport dropped, both as a result of the rise in popularity of heavy goods vehicles and of the closure of the coal mines causing coal transport to disappear altogether. Due to the public importance of rail transport, the Ministry of Transport provided financial assistance. NS came up with a rescue plan 'Spoorslag 70'. The ambitious plan for the 70s gave the railways new momentum and introduced new timetables. Partly as a result of this plan, NS managed to transport 20% more passengers, even though this meant that the trains had to travel one and a half times as many kilometres. The increasing deficits were covered by the state.
Road traffic became increasingly impeded by traffic. The airspace was also getting more and more full. Concern for the environment was high on the list of priorities, and as a result there was renewed interest in the railways. In 1986 in France the first high-speed train travelled between Lyon and Paris at 250 kilometres per hour. In 1988 NS presented its vision for the future; Rail 21. The company asked for investments and an expansion of the rail network in order to be able to offer an alternative to road transport. This proposal was welcomed by the government, but only partially implemented. In the Netherlands, the decision was made to build the Betuweroute and the HSL-Zuid.
In 1992, before work was well and truly underway, politicians began discussing granting greater autonomy to NS. The direct cause originated from Europe: a new EU directive required member states to clearly separate railway construction and maintenance from transport operations. A competitive market was to be created. Following the advice of the Wijffels Committee, the Senate and House of Representatives voted to grant NS greater autonomy in 1992.
NS Group and ProRail
In 1995, at the behest of the government, NS split into a commercial NS Group and three task groups; Railinfrabeheer, Railned and Railverkeersleiding. The latter worked for and were funded by the government, and were responsible for construction, maintenance and management of the railways. In 2003, the three groups joined up to form ProRail.
From 1995, NS focused on phasing out government subsidies and increasing revenue. Initially, this was so successful that privatisation became a topic for discussion. Some even speculated about stock market floatation.