Bottlenecks in Railway Infrastructure - Do They Really Exist? The Corridor Rotterdam-Genoa

Bottlenecks in Railway Infrastructure - Do They Really Exist? The Corridor Rotterdam-Genoa


H Drewello, University Kehl, DE; F Guenther, ETH Zurich, IRL-Institute for Spatial and Landscape Planning, CH


This paper gives a new input to rail infrastructure funding discussion with a integrated economical, spatial and technological approach, to support political decision makers with the arguments where and when to invest in railway infrastructure.


Even if freight transport is still growing rapidly in Europe, building new rail infrastructure to further support modal shift becomes more and more difficult, due to public budget restrictions, or opposition of the civil society about environmental issues. Especially financial restrictions oblige public administrations to guide the planning process of infrastructure policy more by economic rules than by political influence. Frequently transport associations or other economic stakeholders use the bottleneck argument to ask for new tracks. Parting from a local or national point of view, investments are asked to extend infrastructure first where bottlenecks are located. This approach may not solve the problem as financial or political bottlenecks in another country continue limiting the capacity. The paper starts asking from an economic point of view what a bottleneck in railway infrastructure is, to investigate the drivers of demand among different factors, describing asymmetrical effects of incentives from monopolistic structures in infrastructure and growing competition in operation. On the other hand it shows a technical and spatial overview about infrastructure and operational systems, which follows the spatial planning approach investigating inner reserves and limits of the actual infrastructure in their broader context of spatial and environmental embedding.

The definition of bottlenecks cannot only be based on the analysis of infrastructure, technical definitions, operational systems and on demand forecasts. The paper proposes a more accurate definition of bottleneck in rail infrastructure that beyond capacity discussion includes also the economical, spatial and social context. Based on economic theory a definition of a bottleneck in rail infrastructure is developed which is different to those of a bottleneck in road infrastructure. This is the missing theoretical link for decision-making in financing new railway infrastructure.

An integrated view on the phenomena of flows from the economic point of view is missing. The paper first focuses on most important insights from microeconomic theory and network economics to freight transport on rail. It includes the analysis of market form, pricing and marginal costs. It shows the premises of excess demand in railway infrastructure and their consequences.

Economic theory tells us, that a deficit can only occur on a market, where demand exceeds supply of a good or a service. Bottleneck signifies in this paper the shortage of use of the railway infrastructure for freight transport considered as a scarce good. Compared to road infrastructure, where bottlenecks or capacity shortage becomes evident to the eye of the observer as traffic congestion, this obvious kind of congestion phenomena cannot be observed by non-expert public in railway infrastructure.

In the second part of the paper the theoretical findings are used to analyse the infrastructure situation on the EU-corridor 24 Rotterdam-Genoa. While theory is dealing especially with the assumption of a homogeneous infrastructure network, in reality railway networks are characterised by different national technical and operational standards, which influence strongly the capacity sizes of infrastructure capacity depending on the network section regarded. So the theoretical background meets with the findings of the Interreg-project Code 24 which explored the Ten Corridor 24 Rotterdam-Genoa. A overview of the state of the art along the corridor shows a set of strategic information about the corridor development, about the relevant spatial and infrastructural issues, elaborated together with over 300 stakeholders in 12 workshops along the corridor.

Three main aspects revealed especially important in this project. Given the territorial scale of work it became essential to find tools able to manage information in response to the particular need to always operate at different scales at the same time. The involvement of stakeholders and experts turned out essential for gathering information and knowledge and highlighted the need to integrate quantitative information with the qualitative aspects. Their presence at this early stage offers also a guarantee for the development of the decision making process in the long run. This transparent decision-making process is needed to arrive at a common and collaborative definition of bottlenecks to overcome and priorities for their insertion on the timeline.

Based on this collaborative assessment of bottlenecks along the Freight transport corridor Rotterdam Genoa, the paper finally presents the results of this interdisciplinary theoretical approach applied, qualifying bottlenecks and proposing a priority list of section for immediate investment in rail infrastructure.


Association for European Transport