The tunnel, seen from station Vijzelgracht
Today, the last 7,5 meters of Amsterdam’s new subway line, the Noord/Zuidlijn, have been drilled after 32 months of digging. The new line is nowhere near finished, however, being planned to open in 2017. Nevertheless, it is a milestone at a time public opinion seems to change for the better, after a difficult decade.
The fact that the drilling is finished is quite a relief for the city. It has been a huge and hugely problematic project for over a decade. The plan was approved by the city council in 1996, at a budget of 1,5 billion euro’s and scheduled to be finished in 2005. That didn’t work. There were a lot of protests, some dystopian reports were published, a referendum followed and the plans were changed. Construction started in 2003. In 2008, several historic buildings along Vijzelgracht subsided and were damaged because of the construction works. The estimated total costs now are at 3,1 billion, and the line will open 12 years later that planned initially planned.
How PR changed perceptions
After thisextremely difficult start, Amsterdammers, and people all over The Netherlands were sceptical. Noord/Zuidlijn was a running joke for quite some years. There was hardly anyone to be found who was positive about the project. This has changed over the past years. Not that people are hailing the project as the best thing that could happen to Amsterdam, but here is less cynicism and sarcasm. I dare to say that Amsterdammers are slowly starting to feel some pride and are looking forward to start using the new metro line, especially because it connects the upcoming Noord district (according to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal) to the rest of the city.
Tunnel boring machine “Molly” at Vijzelgracht station
The way of communication seems to have contributed to the change in opinion. In 2009, the PR team of the project took on a new approach: tell the entire story, make sure people are up-to-date about the progress of Noord/Zuidlijn. An information centre was opened at Central Station and a social media campaign started, with the protagonists being the construction workers, explaining in detail what they were doing. The complexity was demonstrated and every milestone (a new station reached by the tunnel boring machine, a new tunnel lowered into the IJ river) was publicly celebrated. There’s a website where you could live follow the location of the drilling, with accompanying explanations by the workers on site. Every new station and it’s project leader got a Facebook page and YouTube, Flickr and Twitter were used to make the project as transparent as possible.
The Facebook page of Rokin station and project leader Ries
My favorite element of the campaign was the viewpoint that was created at Rokin station, where you can get it during the day and watch the construction works in the station, a 26,5-metres deep and hundreds of metres long space full with workers and machinery, beautifully lit and very ‘underground’. Very sci-fi, very smart PR.
The viewpoint is open Tuesday to Sunday, 13:00h to 18:00h. If you happen to be in Amsterdam anytime soon, this has to be on your top five visits list. It is right at Spui stop on Rokin, look out for the big red ‘M’ on the sidewalk. That is where you go down. It is free of charge.
Rokin station, where you can go and have a look
It is interesting to see public opinion is slowly changing, after a changing attitude of the city’s Noord/Zuidlijn project towards media and citizens. If the construction will continue without any major problems, the story might just get an unexpected happy end.
All pictures are from the Noord/Zuidlijn Flickr page.
Amsterdam is Smartening Up