AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch national rail operator NS unveiled plans Friday for passengers to have access to urinal bags on trains without toilets should they face an urgent need, courting controversy with commuters and politicians.
"This is for emergency planning, not casual use, like having first aid kits onboard. We are preparing for the winter, say for example when there is one meter of snow and evacuation is not possible," NS Spokesman Edwin van Scherrenburg said.
But the plans have touched a raw nerve among some members of the Dutch traveling public upset with the lack of toilet facilities onboard some of the trains introduced in the last year to cover short distances.
"This measure may be for emergencies but every train has to have a toilet. Normally one must not have to get off the train to use a restroom and not all train stations have toilets anyway," said Chris Vonk, a representative of the Dutch association of public transport passengers.
Dutch media had a field day Friday publishing stories with images of biodegradable urinal bags and several Dutch politicians expressed disbelief and amusement with the plans, which they said showed the need for toilets on all trains.
"I read it in the newspaper and thought it was a joke," Dutch infrastructure and environment Melanie Schultz van Verkeer told a Dutch radio station. She has called for all trains in the Netherlands to have toilets onboard by 2025.
Infrastructure ministry spokeswoman Laura Kwakernaak said the government could not force NS to install toilets on all its trains, a cost estimated at 90 million euros ($121 million), before 2015, when its concession to operate the bulk of the country's rail network is due for renewal.
Under the plans, the absorbative bags would be available on the train and then disposed of onboard. The NS spokesman said staff would ensure passengers have a private space to use the bags, but would not elaborate on where that space would be and whether it would be designated for such use.
Just 16 percent of NS's trains lack toilet facilities and this is because they operate on short-distance routes on which stops are usually not more than 10 minutes apart, the spokesman added. Those trains, called Sprinter, are made by Canada's Bombardier. Some 120 Sprinter trains are run by NS. ($1 = 0.741 Euros)
Reporting By Greg Roumeliotis, editing by Paul Casciato