Europe’s rail systems can only be successfully revived in a joint effort
The EU’s 2011 White Paper on the future of transport set the objective that the majority of European passenger and freight transport over medium and long distances should take place using the environmentally-friendly transport modes of rail and waterways by 2050. At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions from transport should be reduced by 60 percent compared to 2005. Together with project partners representing policymaking, administration, industry, railway companies and academia, the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI examined under which conditions these goals can be achieved. The international study shows that the railways cannot manage this huge task alone. Instead, there has to be a new orientation of our mobility culture that includes the consistent implementation of livable cities and regional concepts. How this “RAILmap 2050” can be implemented and financed was demonstrated in the LivingRAIL research project.
To start with, the LivingRAIL project identified desirable objectives for mobility in 2050 and what role rail can play here. This positive vision encompasses the increasing importance of sustainable lifestyles, green towns and cities, progressive pragmatism in how we use cars, short innovation cycles in the rail industry, rail companies as customer-oriented total mobility service providers, and high quality, personalized information that is available round the clock.
The current market situation of European rail does not indicate that things are moving in the direction of the EU’s White Paper objectives: There are some positive developments, such as increasing cross-border passenger transport in west Europe, successful regional railways, and attractive and well integrated city railway stations, but the market share of passenger rail is stagnating around nine percent according to figures of the European Union’s Statistical Office. In freight transport in 2013, seventeen percent of tonne-kilometers were transported by rail, but with a declining tendency.
By applying complex transport models, the LivingRAIL research team calculated that faster rail links alone only increase the market share by two to five percentage points – if this is done without simultaneous improvement of the entire travel chain, for example, by expanding regional and local public transport, or integrating car and bike sharing. If, on the other hand, rail prices are cheaper than roads, this leads to an increase of around ten percentage points. The biggest effects on the railway‘s market share are achieved by “soft measures”: first and foremost, close cooperation of the EU, Member States and local authorities in transport and town planning strategies, and consistent orientation of rail’s business policies towards the needs of their clients in passenger and freight transport. Other measures include faster and more convenient access to stations, automation in all areas, and simple booking sites for European freight transport. Dr. Claus Doll from the Fraunhofer ISI, who coordinates the project, emphasizes: “We can only achieve the objectives specified in the EU’s White Paper if targeted and coordinated measures in the rail sector, policymaking, companies and society interact.“
To achieve this, the “RAILmap 2050” developed in the project suggests several strategies: First, the EU has to further advance the already begun process of rail reform in the direction of a standardized and liberalized rail area. This will require the full support of the Member States, in order to abolish the compartmentalization of the national rail companies due to technological and legal barriers. Coordinating regional, national and European transport development plans, strengthening regional control, fair prices, and a stronger regulation of road and air traffic can be supportive here.
Simultaneously, however, rail companies have to transform themselves from state-owned companies to customer-oriented market players. Intensive market research, the standardization and automation of processes, company cooperations, shorter innovation cycles, and actively realigning company cultures are essential if they are to manage this.
However, without massive investment in European rail systems, the EU’s objectives as laid out in the White Paper on transport will remain unattainable: The total cost of investments and other measures for the whole of the EU from today up to 2050 are estimated at 37 to 57 billion euros per year. These would be offset by 57 to 71 billion euros each year in increased revenue of the railways, and 10 to 20 billion euros due to cross-subsidization from road pricing charges. Claus Doll sums it up as follows: “In the long term, financing using the railways’ own income is definitely possible with moderate cross-subsidization from road and air traffic“.
Successful implementation of the modal shift objectives of the EU’s White Paper would lower CO2 emissions by 45 percent. Three quarters of the EU’s White Paper climate target for transport as a whole would be met by 2050. The remaining quarter would have to be achieved through improvements and traffic avoidance in road and air transport. Additional benefits of the modal shift objective would be an 80 percent drop in air pollution and 25 percent fewer road fatalities.
More information is available at www.livingrail.eu.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.