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A railway renaissance?

How is rail transport faring in Europe at the end of the twentieth century? The statistics are not particularly encouraging (Cornet, 1993; Batisse, 1994; Railway Gazette International, 1994; ECMT, 1996). Market shares have been declining in all sectors, with the exception of high-speed and commuter services. Whereas in 1970 trains accounted for 10.4% of Europe's passenger-kilometres, by 1993 that figure was down to 6.6%. These figures lie in between those found in Asia and the USA. Japan is the industrialized land where travel by train has the largest market share by far. There, about 150 railways carry 19 billion passengers each year, or half of the world's total. In contrast, passenger transport by rail has virtually disappeared from the USA, with the partial exception of the North East Corridor (NEC). In 1991, while Europeans averaged 760 km of train travel per person per year for a total of 0.381 billion passenger-kilometres, Japanese travelled an impressive 3040 km per person and totalled 0.37 billion passenger-kilometres, and Americans only 80 km for 0.03 billion passenger-kilometres. Within the European context there are significant national variations, however (Figures 3.1 and 3.2; Tables 3.1 and 3.2). Perhaps more importantly, there are areas of relative weakness (such as international and suburb-to-suburb relationships) and relative strength (such as high-speed trains and radial commuting).

What structural factors lie behind such a picture? Without understanding these underlying factors no improvement is possible. In the following sections, we shall touch on the two most important ones. On the demand side, we shall consider the unfavourable mobility and urbanization context (section 3.1.2). On the supply side, we shall examine the instabilities of the rail operators (section 3.1.3).

Fig. 3.1 Passenger transport by rail in selected European countries, in passenger-kilometres: 1970 = 100. (Source: own elaboration of ECMT, 1996)

An unfavourable context

Many of the factors that explain the declining trend sketched above are structural in nature and largely exogenous in origin. Without understanding this development, any effort to revitalize the railways (and with them the station areas) would remain wishful thinking. In Europe, contextual forces unfavourable to the development of public transport in general and of the train in particular have been highlighted elsewhere (e.g. Salomon et al., 1993; Orfeuil, 1994; Banister, 1995; Pucher and Lefevre, 1996). It will be useful to summarize these points here. In general, the continuous growth of personal wealth is paralleled by an ongoing increase in car ownership ratio, while processes of social differentiation and emancipation bring about more complex mobility patterns, for which public transport is often ill equipped. Trends in the job market (such as short-term contracts, part-time work, multiple-income households, and the participation of women) also contribute to an increasingly multidirectional, diffused mobility. Furthermore, the locational preferences of many if not most firms and households seem to be for low-density, car-oriented, suburban and exurban locations. The decentralization of activities and the growth of automobility appear to reinforce one another, following a trajectory that is proving extremely difficult to change.

Reinforcing the problem, and turning to the supply side, administrative fragmentation makes it difficult to manage mobility at its 'natural' regional scale, or to integrate transport and land-use policies. In addition, and paradoxically, while more control of transport and land-use developments is advocated, there is a general trend towards the retreat of the state. As a result, public transport companies, including the railways, are torn between (very material) pressures

MC IBU tWO 1W4

Fig. 3.2 Passenger transport by rail in selected European countries, share of rail in total passenger-kilometres, 1970 = 100. (Source: own elaboration of ECMT, 1996)

Table 3.1 Passenger transport by rail (thousand million passenger-kilometres)

Fig. 3.2 Passenger transport by rail in selected European countries, share of rail in total passenger-kilometres, 1970 = 100. (Source: own elaboration of ECMT, 1996)

Table 3.1 Passenger transport by rail (thousand million passenger-kilometres)

Country

Year

1970

1980

1985

1993

1994

Austria (A)

6.28

7.38

7.29

9.61

9.20

Belgium (B)

7.57

6.96

6.57

6.69

6.64

Switzerland (CH)

8.17

9.18

9.38

11.68

12.09

Germany (D)

38.48

40.50

42.71

58.00

61.30

Spain (E)

14.99

14.83

17.07

16.49

16.14

France (F)

40.98

54.66

61.72

58.60

58.90

Italy (I)

32.46

39.59

37.40

47.10

48.90

The Netherlands (NL)

8.01

8.89

9.01

14.79

14.44

Sweden (S)

4.56

7.00

6.80

5.97

6.05

United Kingdom (UK)

30.41

30.26

30.38

30.36

Source: ECMT

to become profitable, and (too vague?) pressures to contribute to an environmentally and socially sustainable mobility.

Given the quantitative weight of mobility at the regional scale (see below), particularly important issues among those cited are the emerging diffused distribution of activities within vast conurbations, or urban fields, and the conne exponential growth of criss-cross (auto) mobility (as extensively documented by Salomon et al., 1993). In recent decades, population growth and (increasingly) employment growth have been maximal in peripheral, car-oriented

TRANSPORT DEVELOPMENT PERSPECTIVE: NODE 25 Table 3.2 Passenger transport by rail as a percentage of total passenger transport

Countrya Year

TRANSPORT DEVELOPMENT PERSPECTIVE: NODE 25 Table 3.2 Passenger transport by rail as a percentage of total passenger transport

Countrya Year

1970

1980

1985

1993

1994

Belgium (B)

11

9

8

7

1

Switzerland (CH)

15

12

12

13

13

Germany (D)

9

7

7

7

n.a.

Spain (E)

15

9

10

7

6

France (F)

11

10

10

8

8

Italy (I)

12

9

8

6

n.a.

The Netherlands (NL)

9

7

6

9

8

Sweden (S)

6

7

7

6

n.a.

United Kingdom (UK)

8

6

6

5

4

a There was no information available for Austria Source: ECMT

a There was no information available for Austria Source: ECMT

locations all across Europe, including cities as diverse as Paris (Orfeuil, 1994), Manchester (Haywood, 1997, unpublished), and Amsterdam (Van der Berg, 1996; Louter, 1996). In the Netherlands, for instance, since 1960 the population trend has been one of increase outside and decline inside the four major municipalities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague (Van der Berg, 1996). At the same time, growth has been highest in municipalities without a railway station (Bakker, 1994). Between 1987 and 1993, employment has grown by only 4% in the four major cities but by as much as 21% in suburban areas (Louter, 1996). In the Amsterdam region, only 75 000 out of a total of 500 000 jobs are still in the central city. Meanwhile, several subsidiary employment centres in the suburbs and beyond have been rapidly growing. The booming airport area already counts 60 000 jobs (Lambooy, 1994). Similar pictures can be found elsewhere in Europe (Salomon et al., 1993).

The implications for mobility patterns are far reaching. Commuting data on the Dutch and French situations, among others, are quite revealing in this respect. Suburban and exurban trips already account for a significant share, as shown in Tables 3.3 and 3.4; and they are also growing the fastest (Jansen, 1993; Orfeuil, 1993). The problem is that trains and public transport tend to be stronger where the flows are declining: that is, on radial, centre-to-suburb trips. In the Netherlands, trips between the central city and the surrounding area accounted in 1987/88 for only 14% of all trips and 45% of all travelled kilometres in the four large metropolitan areas (Korver et al., 1993). In Paris, public transport in 1984—with a share of about 30%—was a serious competitor to the car only for trips between the central city and the suburbs. But these were merely 11% of all trips within urban areas of more than 20 000 inhabitants (Orfeuil, 1993).

Trends such as those outlined above are neither fixed nor unavoidable. They are constantly evolving, and can be to some extent reinforced or weakened by public intervention. Indeed, policy variables explain to a significant degree the striking differences that still exist between the mobility patterns of Europe, Japan, and the

Table 3.3 Commuter flows in Ile de France, Paris, 1982 (percentage share)

Place of residence Place of work

Central Suburban Exurban Total city ring area

Central city 17 4 1 22

Suburban ring 13 24 2 39

Exurban area 8 7 24 29

Total 38 35 27 100

Table 3.4 Commuter flows in Amsterdam metropolitan area, 1985 (percentage share)

Place of residence

Place of work

Central

Suburban

Exurban

Total

city

ring

area

Central city

36

4

4

44

Suburban ring

10

21

3

33

Exurban area

16

7 excluded

23

Total

62

31

6

100

USA (Orfeuil and Bovy, 1993; Pucher and Lefevre, 1996). Also, within Europe 'supply factors' are possibly the single most important explanation for internal variations in the modal split (Bovy et al., 1993). In this respect, on the continent differences are still significant, harmonization pressures from the EU notwithstanding (Salomon et al., 1993; Pucher and Lefevre, 1996). However, the relevance of unfavourable mobility and urbanization patterns does imply that any reversal of the decline in public and train transport cannot come from within these sectors alone. A different set of contextual conditions is also needed. Furthermore, this implies that, if a mobility and urbanization context is given, any change or attempt at developing public transport—including the train—threatens to be marginal if these contextual factors are not taken into account.

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