Case study: Time spent in the train

Journey time is traditionally considered to be time lost, and therefore valuated negatively. The average negative value of a one-hour train journey (‘value of time’) is approximately €10. Passengers are willing to invest that time to let them perform an activity that is valuable for them somewhere else. The emergence of IT in particular has caused a shift in the idea that journey time is lost time. As train passengers do not have to keep their attention on controlling the vehicle, there are a number of activities that can be carried out very well in the train. Passengers can spend their journey time usefully or pleasantly, as a result of which journey time is felt less to be time lost and may lead to time savings at another moment of the day. Reasons enough for NS to investigate what activities our customers perform in the train, what they need to let them do so, and to what extent time in the train is experienced as more valuable.
The Delft University of Technology has carried out a study for NS and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. Approximately 1500 members from the NS panel participated in the study into time spent in the train through a survey. The study helps NS make investment decisions in new trains and their layout. The insights are also useful for refurbishing existing trains. The principal results of the study are explained below.

Favourite ways to spend time in the train

Reading turns out to be the favourite way for rail passengers to spend time in the train. This applies to 34% of commuters and nearly 50% of social-recreational passengers. Most of the passengers read a book or a newspaper (88%). But they also use telephones, iPads, laptops and e-readers. In the train, readers above all need silence and a seat.
In addition to reading, favourite ways to spend time in the train are working, talking and relaxing. Besides requirements such as a laptop or iPad, the right conditions in the train are also required for working: a seat, a table, a power socket and proper Wi-Fi. People who are working do so for approximately three quarters of the journey, more often on the outward journey than on the return journey. In the study we focused on reading, working and listening to music for two groups, commuters and social-recreational passengers. For these ways of spending time, the value of the journey time with and without time spent that way was calculated for each group using mathematical models. The difference between the two is defined as the value of the pastime.
The value of working and listening to music turned out to be insignificant for the social-recreational passengers. But the value of the way of spending time is significant for the other combinations of passenger group and way of spending time. These values vary from €3 per hour to more than €5 per hour. The journey time therefore clearly has value for these passengers. The positive value of time spent in the train already is in the above-mentioned average value of €10 for the ‘value of time’. Without the positive value of the time spent in the train, the journey time valuation for these passengers would be €3 to €5 more negative, i.e. €13 to €15.

Table: Value of time spent in the train (€ per hour)





€ 4.80

€ 3.00


€ 5.30


Listening to music

€ 4.70


NS uses the insights from the study to weigh up various types of investments: for example, are we going to invest in trains that reduce the journey time by five minutes or in facilities that let people utilise their journey time more usefully or more pleasantly?

The complete study report can be found on the TU Delft website.