(CNN) — Breakfast in Paris, lunch in Frankfurt and dinner in Vienna — all with out the effort and frustration of flying.
Imagine a network of recent, super-fast and cozy trains hurtling between each main metropolis within the European Union, offering a dependable, snug and sustainable various to air journey.
That was the imaginative and prescient outlined by rail trade leaders in Lyon, France, on June 29, amid formidable European plans to double high-speed rail use by 2030 and triple present ranges by 2050.
Only a large — and accelerated — growth of the high-speed network can obtain these massively formidable targets, however are they a practical and reasonably priced proposition?
Unlike many components of the world, Europe already has 1000’s of kilometers of devoted high-speed railway.
France’s world-famous TGVs, Germany’s ICE and Spain’s AVE have reworked rail journey during the last 40 years, however they continue to be largely centered on home markets.
That’s no shock. When international locations are investing billions of euros in new infrastructure, political stress to squeeze out the utmost profit for taxpayers is inevitable.
Building traces throughout worldwide borders, even throughout the European Union, creates rigidity over who pays for what, how the contracts are allotted, conflicting nationwide requirements and rules and a host of different obstacles.
For many years it has been too simple to kick tough tasks down the street till they change into another person’s downside.
Thalys intercity trains already join France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.
Nathan Laine/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Even the place worldwide high-speed traces have been constructed — usually at monumental value — nationwide loyalties, stifling forms and excessive entry expenses are stopping some routes from fulfilling their potential.
Others, corresponding to Paris-London through the Channel Tunnel and Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam/Cologne are extra profitable however may — and may — be luring many extra passengers away from short-haul air journey.
Now a physique of European organizations have dedicated to a new examine highlighting the quite a few advantages of an expanded high-speed rail network connecting nationwide capitals and main cities.
These embrace the European Commission, the Community of European Railways, the European Rail Supply Industry and ALLRAIL, which represents non-state-owned railways.
Most importantly the group will examine how to pay for tens of 1000’s of kilometers of latest traces and the way a radical transformation of the continent’s rail network will help the EU ship on its “Green Deal’ objective of carbon neutrality by 2050.
Some of that expansion will come on new routes that are planned or under construction but many more will be needed to facilitate the vision of European leaders.
Alberto Mazzola, executive director of the Community of European Railways told CNN Travel the group wanted a “masterplan” showing the socio-economic benefits of high-speed links between the continent’s major cities.
Spain has invested closely in its personal high-speed rail network.
Jesús Hellín/Europa Press/Getty Images
And that’s where the first round of battles will be fought.
Reaching an agreement on which routes to prioritize, which cities will benefit (and which will miss out) will cause huge arguments between competing interests.
With the shape of the final network likely to have a massive influence on the future development of Europe and its cities over the next 100 years, cities will be desperate to stake their claim.
While some EU officials have hailed the proposals as the future of sustainable travel in Europe, provided operators can make it efficient and cost-effective, others have struck more cautious notes.
Eurostar trains from Paris to London will not be linked seamlessly to a new excessive pace north-south line being constructed within the UK.
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“Until I see actual concrete tasks, rolling inventory orders and timetables, I’ll reserve judgment,” says Jon Worth, a campaigner for cross-border rail.
“Unfortunately we have heard all of it earlier than and this sounds just like the railways over-promising once more. Experience tells us that they can not ship this type of network within the timescales they’re suggesting.”
Nevertheless, France, Spain and Italy have well-established high-speed rail networks linking their biggest cities, plus more lines planned or under construction.
More than any other country to date, France has invested in new links with its neighbors, building international routes to Belgium, the UK, Germany and Spain.
The Lyon-Turin route now under construction, controversial because of environmental impact and questions over financial probity, will add a fast link under the Savoy Alps between France’s second city and the industrial cities of northern Italy.
But the biggest benefits could be felt elsewhere, in countries currently without any high-speed railways. The Czech Republic is working with the French railway industry to develop new 350 kilometers per hour (217 mph) lines that will revolutionize journey times between Prague, Brno and Ostrava and deliver much faster international links between Austria, Slovakia, southern Poland and eastern Germany.
Germany has its own Intercity Express (ICE) high-speed train network.
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Poland also plans to join the high-speed club with routes planned to radiate from Warsaw to Lodz, Wroclaw and Poznan. Extensions towards Prague and Bratislava are also planned in co-operation with its neighbors, although they are not likely to materialize until the 2040s.
More problematic are busy international routes that cross the Alps or the Pyrenees — natural barriers that have been a challenge to travelers for centuries.
A good example is Munich in southern Germany to Milan in northern Italy. These industrial powerhouses are less than 500 kilometers (300 miles) apart, closer to each other than to their respective national capitals, but separated by the Alps.
Slow rail and road connections mean that airlines pick up most of this short-hop inter-city business, but faster, direct trains could flip that share in rail’s favor.
When it opens in 2032, the 64-kilometer-long Brenner Base Tunnel between Innsbruck, Austria and Fortezza in Italy will cut around 70 minutes off existing schedules.
According to EU statistics, 17 of the 20 busiest air routes in Europe cover distances of less than 434 miles (700 kilometers) — exactly the kind of distances where city center-to-city center trains can offer faster, cleaner and more sustainable journeys — if the right infrastructure exists.
A Paris-Berlin flight generates at least six times the carbon dioxide emissions of a similar train journey, according to a joint report from environmental organizations in Germany, Poland, Spain and France. Flights of less than 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) between and within European countries are estimated to create 28 million metric tonnes of CO2 every year.
And according to Alberto Mazzola of the Community of European Railways, carbon emissions trading could be a key tool in funding the massive investment required to complete a Europe-wide high-speed rail network.
“The EU’s complete CO2 emissions are round 3.8 billion tonnes yearly — transport accounts for multiple billion tonnes of that. But if we scale back the present carbon allowances for the aviation and street sectors the extra income might be used to fund enhancements to public transport.”
Excess carbon emissions from airliners, trucks and cars are currently charged at 50 euros per tonne in the EU, but this could soon rise to €80 per tonne. If just 10% of that revenue is re-invested in transport it could add around 8 billion euros a year to the pot for rail upgrades.
“I sense that there is a actual optimistic willingness to spend money on modal shift now, however we’d like to transfer shortly,” Mazzola adds.
France’s TGV trains have been delivering high-speed services for decades.
Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images
Just as important as civil engineering and sleek new trains, technologies such as digital signaling, automatic train operation, big data and improved ticketing will be critical to improving rail travel and attracting millions of new passengers.
A top priority for the Community of European Railways is the creation of an independent ticketing platform by 2025, bringing together all available fares and timetables across Europe.
By 2030 this information could be integrated with other transport modes, offering travelers door-to-door information and fares for their journey, whether it’s by train, bus, bike or tram — or a combination of modes.
This level of integration is already standard in Austria and Switzerland and, to a lesser extent, Germany, but elsewhere in Europe the quality of information is patchy to say the least.
Despite the best efforts of some governments and state-owned operators, competition on high-speed routes is proving popular with passengers in Italy and Spain, delivering improved services, higher frequencies and lower fares.
Organizations such as ALLRAIL are pushing for similar reforms elsewhere in the EU, but progress is frustratingly slow.
“We need to see high-speed trains with 1,000 seats every connecting locations round Europe on a frequent foundation,” says Nick Brooks, secretary general of ALLRAIL.
“This will lead to low fares and excessive income. While different competing long-distance transport modes are setting themselves ‘internet zero’ emission targets, rail can do it larger and higher. The outcomes of this examine should allow high-speed rail to change into the spine of long-distance journey in Europe.”
Networked cross-border high-speed trains may replace air journey.
Jesús Hellín/Europa Press/Getty Images
Expanding capability by constructing high-speed railways creates extra space on present traces for freight and regional/native trains.
When essential roads reached capability after World War II, international locations constructed highways and autobahns. High-speed traces are the railway’s equal of motorways, taking the quickest long-distance site visitors away and creating capability on present traces.
While glossy high-speed trains steal the headlines and appeal to funding, many extra folks will straight profit from the modal shift doable via higher native and concrete prepare providers and transferring freight from roads to rail advantages everybody.
However, delivering such a wide-ranging, formidable and dear bundle of latest rail tasks throughout greater than 20 international locations with differing priorities and budgets is fraught with problem, particularly in instances as unsure as these.
Collectively, it is estimated that European railways misplaced greater than $52 billion throughout the pandemic. Compensation from the EU and nationwide governments has thus far crammed solely round one-fifth of that massive gap.
Equally worrying is the estimated 20% drop in common weekday commuter site visitors, the long-time spine of railway income. Although long-distance and leisure journey has recovered way more strongly, railway managers fear that cuts may change into inevitable if they do not shut the hole.
The sheer scale of the proposals additionally means that it’ll take a few years to ship the mandatory work, even when issues go as deliberate.
Financial assist from emissions buying and selling and the EU will probably assist in many circumstances, particularly in Eastern and Central Europe, but it surely stays to be seen whether or not the European Union can comply with China’s instance in constructing a massively formidable network of high-speed railways in such a quick timescale.
Top picture: An Italian Frecciarossa high-speed prepare. Credit: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images