The Benefits of International Railway Links
GOEVERDEN C D van, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
Since the start of railway building in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Western European railway network grew steadily until the 1930's. Then it reached its highest density and soon began to shrink, mainly due to closures of regional lines th
Since the start of railway building in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Western European railway network grew steadily until the 1930's. Then it reached its highest density and soon began to shrink, mainly due to closures of regional lines that could not compete with the bus. Railway closures are still going on, although in the last decades some new railway lines have been built, especially within and between large urbanized areas. Moreover, improved market conditions have resulted recently in the reopening of formerly closed railway tracks by local initiative.
It is remarkable that in the building phase of the European railway network, international boundaries seem to have been no barrier for the network development. The 'densities' of international (cross-boundary) links were similar to the densities of the domestic networks. In order to make comparisons with domestic networks, the density of cross-boundary links can be considered to be the density of a grid network for which the distance between parallel lines equals the average distance between the cross-boundary links.
On the other hand, during the shrinking phase intemational boundaries appear to have been important barriers, at least in Western Europe. The number of international links was reduced to a considerably larger extent than were domestic links. Most domestic networks in Western Europe were reduced by 10 to 40 %, while the number of international links at many frontiers was reduced by more than 50 %. For instance, the length of the Dutch passenger railway network has been reduced by 20 % since 1930 (26 % was actually closed, 6 % is newly built or reopened), while the number of international railway links for passenger transport to the neighbouring countries was reduced by 70 % (67 % of the links to Germany and 75 % of the links to Belgium).
Nevertheless, there are also examples of small cross-border reductions. These are found at the borders between German-speaking countries and at the borders that coincide with important natural barriers, for instance the Italian borders. Between France.and the United Kingdom the number of international rail links even increased, from zero to one.
The relatively strong reduction of international railway links is still going on. It results in present densities of international railway links that are considerably smaller than the densities of domestic railway networks. In the Netherlands, today the density of cross-boundary links is only 30 % of the domestic network density.
The causes of the relatively strong reduction in international railway links may be related to both the demand side and the supply side of the travel market. It is conceivable that the demand for international trips showed a relative decline in this century, for instance because of nationalism and the great wars. However, it is unlikely that such a relative decline is still going on. The last few decades there is a clear policy to level out the frontiers between the EU-countries.
Developments at the supply side may give a better explanation. In the era of railway building there were a lot of private railway companies in a country that wanted to have their own links to neighbouring countries. After they merged in national companies in the first half of this century, some parallel links became superfluous. Furthermore, the development of national railway companies whose territory exactly cover the national territories caused a further reduction of international links. Firstly, railway companies tend to minimize the number of links to neighbouring companies, because such links require consultation regarding to timetables, prices, and so on. When .the territories of the companies cover the national territories, the tendency to mmlmlze the links between companies implies a minimization of international links. Secondly, international boundaries become even higher barriers for persons travelling by train, reducing the actual demand for international travel by train, as crossing a border means dealing with more companies. In general, this makes it more difficult to get travel information and buy tickets. Moreover, because special fares offered by compames are not valid beyond the frontiers, international train travel is rather expensive. A small actual demand then leads to a further reduction of international links. In fact, a small actual demand is the usual argument mentioned by railway companies or governments when they decide to close an international link.
The paper questions whether the ongoing reduction in international links for passenger transport is desirable from an economic point of view; it does not discuss political arguments pro or contra the reduction. In particular, the discussion concentrates on the validity of the small actual demand argument for closing international railway links. Section 2 deals with the matter theoretically and in section 3 a case study illustrates the theoretical findings.
Association for European Transport