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Development prospects 2: high-speed trains and inter-metrop mobility

At the intra-metropolitan scale, the issue appears to be one of holding onto market shares. At the inter-metropolitan scale, the introduction of high-speed trains (HST) has been perceived by many as a real breakthrough for the train, if not the trigger of a 'new railway age' (Banister and Hall, 1993). There are expectations that, in Europe, HSTs could capture as much as 80-90% of all trips in the distance range between 160 km and 500 km, and about 50% up to 800 km (Hall, 1991). That share of the market is currently held by airlines. HSTs have already had a strong impact on travel patterns in the countries where they have been introduced. In all cases, however, the outstanding performances of the first lines, often linking the two main national centres, were followed by less striking results of subsequent additions to the system. For example, the success of the Paris-Lyon TGV has been beyond expectations. So has the success of the Hanover-Wurzburg and Stuttgart-Mannheim ICE and the Madrid-Seville AVE. But there have also been somewhat poorer performances for subsequent expansions of the network, such as the TGV Atlantique and the TGV Nord in France.

In both France and Germany—the European nations that are moving most rapidly and consistently towards the implementation of a national HST network—the first lines had a 15% return on their investment, but these figures have since been steadily decreasing. The expected return for the TGV Méditerranée, for instance, is 8%, mainly because of environmental impact mitigation measures. Installation costs are rising rapidly. While the TGV South-East cost Fr 26 million per kilometre, the cost of the TGV Atlantique climbed up to Fr 42 million per kilometre (Troin, 1995). Because of these trends the alternative use of high-speed tilting bodies on existing lines—a solution that is both less intrusive and less expensive, though not as fast—is gaining favour. This solution has been successful in Italy (the Pendolino) and Sweden (the X 2000). Following their example, this technology was recently chosen for the upgrading to high speeds of the Boston-Washington North East Corridor (NEC) in the USA.

These trends suggest both an acknowledgement of strong but selective impacts, and wariness of easy generalizations. Is it also possible, on this basis, to sketch the future prospects for HSTs in the context of rail travel as a whole? The experience is still very limited. In 1991, HSTs accounted for just 1% of total train travel world. Two-thirds of that share was in Japan alone, and one-fifth in France. Gains in overall market share due to the introduction of HSTs have been relatively modest so far. For example, long-distance travel by train increased in Germany in 1992 following the introduction of the ICE, showing slight growth: it rose to 15.5% afterwards as compared with 15.1% before the introduction of ICE. However, these modest results have to be placed in the context of structural decline, as sketched in the preceding sections. Perhaps most significantly, these results must be viewed from the perspective of future developments, and above all the probability of a continental HST network. It is expected that with the implementation of a European HST network—including crucial links such as the Channel Tunnel, Transalpine and German east-west connections—average speeds on international journeys within Europe could improve from the current 98 km/h to 154 km/h, and that market share would follow. The crucial question is when and in what measure such a continental network will be in place. Assuming that those plans will go ahead, the next question is how inter-metropolitan transport share will be redistributed between airline carriers and high-speed trains.

Most studies assume that there is, and will be, a certain amount of competition between train and air transport on selected routes. Experience in France and Japan suggests that analogous trajectories on the main links of first substitution will be supplemented by a stabilization of the modal split. Four years after the TGV line was opened, 75% more personal and 175% more business trips by rail were recorded between Paris and Lyon. Rail accounted for a 10% increase of personal trips and a 20% increase of business trips in the corridor. Initially, nearly half of the passengers previously travelling by air shifted to the train, but by the beginning of the 1990s both flights and trains were travelling at full capacity. In the period 1980-1985, 30% of the growth of TGV passengers had come from air and 18% from car trips, but as much as 49% was autonomously generated traffic. A similar development unfolded in Japan on the Tokyo-Osaka line. After the opening of the Shinkansen in 1964, Nagoya airport (lying in between the two terminals) lost three-quarters of its passengers. But after seven years Nagoya returned to its initial traffic levels. From 1969 on, the train-air modal split has remained constant (Brotchie et al., 1991).

A report of the Institute for Air Transport in Paris (Railway Gazette International, 1992) draws several conclusions. Below 250-350 km, the TGV is faster. The modal split would be in favour of rail up to 600 km. Above 1000 km, the plane would always be better. It should thus be expected, according to the study, that as a result of HST development there will be less road traffic and conventional train traffic but more complementary train-air traffic and autonomously generated HST traffic. Other studies reach similar conclusions (Brotchie et al., 1991). In France, the redistribution of passenger shares between aeroplanes and HST in favour of the former after deregulation of internal air travel is a clear sign of the limits of a purely subsitutional perspective (Zembri, 1997).

Finally, we should mention a political argument in favour of HST-air integration. A diffused improvement of accessibility in Europe would also require integration rather than competition between air and HST (Lutter, 1994). By itself, HST would strengthen inequalities and polarization, as has been demonstrated for the French case (e.g. Boursier-Mougenot and Ollivier-Trigalo, 1993). The current orientation of train and air operators in Europe reinforces these points. An example is the collaboration between Air France and SNCF, which is manifest in the connection of the airports of Paris-Roissy and Lyon-Satolas to the TGV. The idea behind this collaboration is that the TGV will act as (inter)national feeder for (inter)continental flights. Outside France, Amsterdam and Frankfurt airports will also soon be connected to the HST network, and similar collaborations are under study.

If complementarity appears to be the way forward with regard to air travel, integration of HSTs in the regional transport system is also important. The French experience is particularly interesting in this respect. The HST system was initially developed solely according to the commercial logic of SNCF, that of 'the fastest connections between the biggest traffic generators' (Zembri, 1995). For all those places in between, the TGV was like 'a plane in the sky'. When it became apparent that, unlike planes, it would disrupt local activities and natural or historical environments, opposition picked up momentum, as in the case of the TGV Méditerranée (Troin, 1995). It is now clear that to gain the necessary acceptance in France, the TGV has to be more than a plane in the sky. Progressively, and mostly thanks to the pressures of local and regional governments, it is being integrated into the regional transport systems. A good example of this shift is the construction of Euralille—pivot of the North European HST network—next to the existing central station rather than on the peripheral site initially proposed by the French railways. SNCF seems to be learning from the mistake of building TGV stations that are disconnected from regional networks. Now, SNCF speaks explicitly of the TGV 'irrigating a territory'. Passengers are responding well to this strategy: in 1996, 4 900000 passengers travelled by TGV between Paris and Lyon. In the same year, however, a striking 21 000 000 passengers used the TGV on the same line to get to other destinations (data cited by SCNF chairman L.Gallois at the Eurocities conference in Lyon on 13 June 1997).

The most recent and promising orientations of HST development all point in the direction of enhancing its network impact by improving connections with other modes and the conventional railway system, and by increasing the flexibility of both the infrastructure and the rolling material, Two very clear examples of this emerging approach are the recent radical reconsideration of the French approach to TGV development and the exploitation strategy for the future Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) between London and the Channel. In the first case, next to the scaling-down of the ambitions of the original Schéma Directeur, new directives advocate the introduction of tilting trains and improvement of integration of the TGV network in the conventional railway network (Zembri, 1997). In the second case, it is envisaged that new fast commuter services will also use part of the high-speed link, and that through international services towards the North of England will bypass the main London terminal at St Pancras and continue on conventional rail.

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