Oss Tragedy Flowers

A Tragedy of Errors | Ministry Mistakes Responsible for Oss Deaths?

William Macmaster

Over a month on from the deaths of four children at a level railway crossing in the sleepy Dutch city of Oss, there are still serious questions to be asked of the Ministry of Infrastructure.

On September 20 2018, four young children travelling from their nursery were struck by a train when their “stint” failed to stop at a level crossing. For days after the crash, people were still travelling from miles away to visit the site, with the sole purpose of paying their respects. The area dedicated to the victims was covered with flowers, and mourners walked up and down the road wondering how this tragedy came to be. To this day, there are still no answers. Investigations into the incident are still ongoing, but two factors seemingly contributed, stints and level crossings in The Netherlands.

The investigation has primarily raised questions surrounding child transportation methods in the Netherlands. Specifically stints, electric-powered wagons driven by a standing driver with space to carry medium-sized loads. Formerly used to transport goods, they have been used since 2011 to transport children to and from day-care centres.

In a telephone interview with The Stand a week after the incident, the then-spokesperson for the Minister of Infrastructure, who oversees the use of stints, Emrys Dijkhuis-Reuvers, (who is no longer in this position) stated, “We sent a letter to parliament stating that we don’t have information that would force us to forbid the stint, it has been accepted on our roads since 2011, and we don’t have information now at would indicate otherwise” she explained.

This policy was reversed on the 1/10/2018, when Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen ordered stints be taken off the road. This backtracking raises new concerns about the safety of stints, their involvement in the events in Oss and general confusion in the ministry overall.

Edwin Renzen, the owner and founder of the stint slated the decision as “premature”. Speaking to Dutch news organisations, NOS, he doubled down on comments made The Stand, stating, “No research has been carried out on the wreck, they are based on a working hypothesis, but that should not be a reason to prohibit immediately all stints on the public road.”

He had previously explained to The Stand that stints are fitted with three separate brakes, including an emergency brake, emphasising that the main break is connected to the throttle, so letting go of the throttle would bring it to a stop. He also found fault with the idea of electrical interference that was sighted as the cause in the early investigations into the incident.

“If there was radiation going on, I think every person with a pacemaker would die immediately over there”. He said. “To think there was enough radiation to take over the vehicle that has driven for over one and half years across the same track almost sounds like wishful thinking. Why would it only be the throttle? Why were the lights not flashing when they are all wired to the same system?” It is Mr Renzen’s belief that the “The commercial parties are looking for someone to blame.”

While he admitted that there have been some incidents with stints in the past due to gradual wear and tear, he believes the accident cannot be solely blamed on the stint itself. Noting that since stints have been legalised on Dutch roads, the amount of money paid out for insurance claims due to injured children is zero.

Meanwhile, questions also remain over the safety of level crossings within the Netherlands, a longstanding issue in the country.

A report from July 2018 by the Dutch Safety Board (DBS), established that level crossings in The Netherlands were fundamentally unsafe prior to the tragic incident in Oss. The report highlighted issues with both guarded, such as the one in Oss, and unguarded level crossings in The Netherlands. The report followed on from another report published 15 years earlier raising similar issues. Level Crossing Oss

A member of the DBS, Marjolein van Asselt, who oversaw the report, spoke to The Stand discussing these new findings in relation to the previous ones. “The Ministry should have taken the lesson from that first investigation and they didn’t. Maybe due to time, money, or other choices in policy.” She explained. “The parties involved in railroad crossings should have safety at the top of their minds because 11 dead (per year on railway crossings) is not something to deny.”

The Oss crossing is certainly a busy one, located adjacent to the Oss South train station, serving as the middle point between Oss and nearby stations such as Arnhem and S’Hertegenbosch, with around 5-10 trains passing every hour.

René Vegter, a spokesman for ProRail, who looks after the maintenance of Oss railroads defended the level crossing at Oss, saying, “The level crossing functioned the way it should be, we drew that conclusion almost immediately. There doesn’t seem to be an issue on that part.”

However, despite the Oss level crossing being the site of one of the most deadly rail incidents in Dutch history, he also stated that “it was not a big priority on our list and was not known as a very dangerous one.” When questioned about how the Stint managed to go underneath the barrier, as it reportedly did, he mentioned that while “at some locations in the Netherlands we do have something below the barrier to avoid people drive under, that’s not always the case.”

Mr Vegter went on to confirm that the situation with level crossings in the Netherlands is not ideal. “We have a saying here at ProRail that ‘the safest level crossing is no level crossing.’ We would like to get rid of them, but you have to be realistic as it takes a lot of money.” He stated. “We don’t have money on our own, everything we do is paid by the government, so what we can do about safety is limited to how much money we get from the government.”

Vegter declined to comment on the fact that the DBS report identifies the Ministry of Infrastructure as chiefly responsible for the maintenance of level crossings.

While a substantial sum of around €400 million has already been spent on renovating level crossing since 1999, it has seemingly not been enough. According to information provided by Carlijn Van Donselaar, the spokeswoman for railroads in the Netherlands, a further €200 million from the government budget has since been announced to be invested before 2028 to eliminate the remaining issues. However, this figure was announced just two weeks prior to the publication of DBS’s report, which was far too late for the victims in Oss.

While the incident in Oss remains under investigation from several parties, including the Dutch Safety Board and Pro Rail themselves, it seems there are still more questions to be asked of the Ministry of Infrastructure. This new information about stints combined with the on-going doubts over the level crossing points the finger of liability to those responsible for ensuring a harmonious flow of traffic within the Netherlands.

Red light Groningen

Window of Opportunity | Business in Red Light Groningen

by William Macmaster

 

While some cities, such as Utrecht, have removed them due to safety concerns, Red Light Districts can be found in nearly every major Dutch city, including Groningen, where it’s business as usual.

Down a narrow road off of one of Groningen’s most bustling streets, Folkingestraat, tourists may not have realised it was even there. In comparison to the likes of Amsterdam, it is a very modest set-up, with 30 to 40 windows, some of which are being renovated, where you will find girls working night and day.

On the street, “maintenance” men are looking after the day to day operations. One of these maintenance people, TJ (50), openly spoke about the situation. For TJ, who operates a significant section of the Red-Light District, his windows are a family business that he inherited from his parents.

He explained how the girls hail from South America or Eastern Europe and claimed they all asked him to work, with no coercion on his part. If he didn’t accept, “they would go just somewhere else… Everywhere is safe in Holland, so it doesn’t matter.” When asked if he thinks he is helping the girls, smiling slightly, TJ said, “Of course,” but he refused to talk about money.

Businesses in close proximity have no concerns either. Redmar Schoen, the assistant manager of popular fries outlet Frietwinkel, situated on the corner of the Red Light District, explained that they “don’t really notice it. Sometimes the girls come and buy fries or some shady guys, but during the day, no, and I don’t think it bothers tourists.”

Public opinion in the city, however, seems split.

“The women get treated badly, so for that reason, I don’t agree with it. I’m not sure if they really know what they get themselves into and don’t make a lot of money,” explained Simon Rapp (27). While Ella Gapp (18) said, “I like it because it’s easier for people who are struggling to make money. I don’t think it’s nice to have sex for money, but I understand why people do it.”

For the municipality, it’s a moot point.

“There’s no question about ending the Red-Light District.” The mayor’s Press Spokesperson, Niko Bwett, explained, “It fits well and there are hardly any problems, so why should we? It’s like anything else, also with taxes, it’s just a business, it’s a part of city life, it’s no question of morality.”

Regardless of social opinion, sex sells, so while taxes are paid, and other businesses aren’t affected, it’s here to stay.


*None of the workers were willing to comment.

International Student House Target of a Series of Break-ins

By Dimitra Karapanagiotou

 

Over the past few weeks, a series of break-ins and robberies in the international student house in Vondellaan, a street in the south of Groningen, was reported, raising concerns and spreading fear among the residents.

On a Tuesday night, Mireia Antolin Estefania, an exchange student from Spain, went to the kitchen for a glass of milk, only to find her laptop, mobile phone and money missing when she returned to her room. “My door was open and the lights were on,” she says with her voice breaking, barely holding back the tears. “When I saw that all my things were gone I immediately called the police, but they couldn’t do much.”

Her room is cold and there is no mattress on the bed. “I don’t sleep here anymore. I sleep in my friend’s room. I don’t feel safe,” she says.

The incident alarmed the students and made them particularly careful, but locking their door was not enough as David Pauly, a student from Germany, soon found out. On a Saturday night, a little after midnight, David was asleep in his room when he heard a noise coming from his window. “At first I thought it was one of my friends calling me to join them in the basement so I didn’t react” he says, “but then someone broke and opened the window.”

The intruder fled without stealing anything or causing any harm once he saw that David was in the room, but the incident raised questions among the residents concerning the security of the building.

According to the contract between the tenants and the landlord, the latter is supposed to provide a safe environment and constant supervision. Most students noted that the owner of the building is usually impossible to reach. “I’ve been trying to contact him for a week” says Mireia, “he didn’t care about me, he didn’t ask if I’m ok or what happened. When I complained about the lack of security, he said that I am lucky to have a room at all.”

With the housing crisis in Groningen leaving over 300 students homeless by the beginning of the academic year, it is no wonder that many students find it hard to demand better living conditions once they finally find accommodation.

In fact, in Vondellaan, half of the building is still under construction, the internet connection is weak and the security of the building non-existent. “It’s still better than sleeping in tents,” notes David, “but the landlord is earning a lot of money through us, he should be able to do something”.