The times when trains carried as much as 80-90% of total passenger-kilometres are a distant memory. After an exponential growth—which took off in the first half of the nineteenth century and peaked in most industrialized countries around 1900—railway transport has entered a period of absolute stagnation and relative decline. Since the 1930s the railway network has not grown globally, and has contracted locally (Grübler, 1990; Grübler and Nackicenovic, 1991). Especially after the Second World War, the train's lower flexibility than that of the car and lower speed than that of the aeroplane have proved fatal for it. Underinvestment and ineffective management have added to these weaknesses, together with a generalized trend towards spatial spreading of homes and jobs. This accumulation of factors has brought rail transport into a spiral of declining market shares and profitability.
More recently, however, there have been signs of a comeback. The dominant automobile-centred transport system may be approaching saturation, possibly opening up windows of opportunity for alternative solutions (Grübler, 1990, Grübler and Nackicenovic, 1991). Concerns about the negative impacts of other modes on congestion and the environment— together with technical and organizational innovations within the railways—may lead (according to some) to the advent of 'a second railway age' (Banister and Hall, 1993). As will be shown, this is perhaps an exaggerated statement. Nonetheless, an evaluation of the future prospects of rail transport is an indispensable basis for any appreciation of station area redevelopment opportunities.
The discussion in this chapter will concentrate on passenger transport in Europe. This is by far the most relevant sector in the light of the theme of this book. Freight operations are disappearing from the passenger station areas that we have analysed. Continuing concentration and economies of scale in the freight transport and distribution sectors mean that goods are increasingly handled in a decreasing number of separate, decentralized intermodal centres. These are arguably also a type of station, but one that would require a quite different analytical approach. Indeed, it is rather the removal of freight activities from passenger station areas that is often a basic condition of the development plans discussed here.
In the following pages the current position of rail passenger transport in Europe will first be outlined. This situation will then be related to wider contextual factors in order to focus on the strengths, weaknesses and future prospects of rail transport. The section will end with an outline of the implications for station area development.
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