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For many intercity commuters the train is quicker than the plane
By Nicholas Newman
Not only in the UK but also in Europe, many intercity commuters are changing the way that they are getting to work or to meetings. They are fed up with the poor reli-ability of plane services, caused often, by such excuses as the wrong type of weather or congestion, which seem to get worse every year. In many cases it is now quicker to take High Speed Trains from one European city to rather than take the plane. The Eu-rostar train is a case in point, especially for city centre to city centre journeys. Accord-ing to the trade press Eurostar has a 24% better reliability rating than competing plane journeys on the same routes. Commuters are realising that they are not burdened by tedious journeys to out of town airports such as Heathrow, followed by wearisome long waits at the check in counter.
This has resulted in Eurostar capturing 60% of the intercity market between London and Paris. Eurostar is expected to increase its share of the market by 2007 when the completed Channel Tunnel Rail Link cuts journey time further from 3 hours to two hours 25 minutes. The Eurostar experience of capturing a dominant portion of the intercity market is reflected elsewhere in Europe as on the routes between Paris and Brussels. Thalys High Speed Rail service carrying five million passengers a year, states Bernard Frelaté, Chief Executive Officer of Rail Europe.
Eurostar and Thalys are not the only rail services taking on the intercity plane ser-vices. Such trains are operating between 200 and 300 kph, reducing journey times in many parts of Europe, including Spain to Madrid from Seville from six hours to two hours fifteen minutes, and in Italy from Rome to Florence to one hour fifteen minutes from three hours. Other high-speed links are due to open in the next few years cutting journey times between Paris to Marseille in Summer 2001, Rome and Naples 2003, London and Glasgow in 2005, and Bologna – Florence by 2007. In effect, states Günter Ellwanger, Director of High Speed Rail at the International Union of Rail-ways, “Europe is experiencing a true revolution in the making, the age of the Homo Mobilis has begun. For many European citizens Europe is getting smaller.”
The impact of such high-speed rail services has begun to have a dramatic impact on Europe’s Regional Airlines, which at last have begun to face true competition. Air-lines such as Air France and Lufthansa AG have decided to replace many intercity routes with rail services, working in cooperation with rail operators rather than in competition, as in the case of short distance routes as Paris to Brussels, and Frankfurt to Stuttgart.
Simon McNamara of the European Regions Airline Association argues that the rail industry has an unfair competitive advantage due to 38% of European Rail Services income is derived from state sources in 1997. McNamara further argues that air ser-vices cannot begin to compete until rail subsidies are scrapped. However McNamara’s argument that there is not a level playing field is disputed by Caroline Lucas UK Green MEP for the South East Region of England she states that: "The air industry gets away almost scot-free when it comes to contributing tax income to society. The result has been that other more environmentally- sound forms of transport such as railways are at a serious disadvantage." She contends that aviation fuel is virtually tax-free with airlines paying as little as 17p a litre as compared to the heavily taxed energy costs that the rail industry face today in Europe. Indeed, the Green Party has calculated that the European aviation sector receives about £30 billion by in-direct subsidies. It could be argued that Government rail subsidies are merely trying to cre-ate a more level playing field for rail industry because the aviation industry has failed, for decades, to pay, the true but, often hidden costs, of plane travel.
As to the future, for many European intercity commuters, travel by train will become quicker than by plane.
To contact: Caroline Lucas UK Green MEP for the South East Region of England firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dreaming Trams of Oxford
|Tram system proposals for Oxford, appear to be more for its own sake, rather than being a means to solving Oxford's transport problems. Will such plans for a new Oxford tram system mean that Magdalen Bridge needs to be widened again for the second time in a century? In 1910 in an earlier attempt to modernise Oxford's transport system, then a horse drawn system, plans failed due to opposition to the widening of Magdalen Bridge for a second time. Oxford's experience of efforts to modernise the transport system, illustrate how difficult it is for Oxford to cope with major change, let alone the construction of a new tram system.
There are a number of questions that tram promoters never answer; including is Oxford big enough to support such a system, when cities such as Luton have opted for a guided bus way? Guided bus-ways have advantages over trams, including greater flexibility in meeting the needs of users, and lower capital costs.
Tram promoters in Oxford seem not to have answered the questions of how viable such a scheme would be? Have cost benefit analysis studies and examination of the impact such a system would have on local travel patterns been made? How such a tram system would be integrated into existing transport services, including cycles, buses, trains and cars?
Lastly, have the land-use planning implications been studied. The tone of many who have discussed such proposals appears to be more about having a tram system in Oxford for its own sake rather than a means to an end, i.e. Providing a clean efficient transport service that enables people to travel to work, home and leisure quickly and efficiently.
Is Transport Policy, much spin about nothing?
|Did you know that despite great promises of future progress in public rail transport spending, current investment today is at a lower level than in the last year of the Major government? Though current planned expenditure is moving upwards, many experts regard it as even now inadequate. However, the European Commission investment of over £600 million in the national rail network since 1997 should help in efforts to update Britain’s railways.
Governments has only allowed three new stations to be opened on the national rail network since 1995 and at this current rate Oxfordshire County Council will have a very long wait for its long promised stations at Wantage /Grove and Kidlington to become a reality. Recent proposals by the Rail Passenger Watchdog for improvements to Oxfordshire’s rail network with the rest of the country appear to many rail users as just another distraction from the lack of actual action by the government. Such plans will probably to be added to the pile of past plans and proposals waiting in the pending tray for action by Government.
Many experts described as unadventurous the current plans by operators of routes serving Oxford and Paddington, since there are no plans for electrification of lines running through Oxfordshire, while in the rest of Europe, electrification continues apace. It would appear to many that Oxfordshire still has in many respects, a Nineteenth-century railway rather than one suited for the needs of the twenty first century. Many doubt, Oxfordshire will ever see electrification in the medium term future.
Regional plans for the reopening of the long awaited East-West Oxford to Ipswich rail route look like being further delayed in this never ending saga, due to developers proposing to build an international-size boating lake across the section of the proposed route between Bedford and Sandy. The boating lake developers have now launched an anti-rail campaign. Will we have to experience even further delays before these long promised services comes into being?
Despite the so called good news from Chiltern Rail, about the opening of negotiations for renewal of their franchise, with the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority (SSRA), the current proposals for Oxfordshire appear more like a promise rather than reality. When one studies the available details of the current proposals by Chiltern Rail, it is very likely that we will have to wait until the end years of the 20-year franchise.
For many members of Headington Forum who commute every day to London these promises appear to be more about spin. It is time for the Government and the County Council to get its act together and start providing an integrated transport strategy today.
Improving European Rail Freight
Europe’s rail freight systems are considered to have disappointed, if not failed the customer. In a speech to the French parliament, commission vice-president Neil Kinnock highlighted the delays which rail freight faces in Europe as trains await changes of locomotives and drivers. The Dutch post office has recently given up using mail for the distribution of mail, while the UK’s mail service expresses dissatisfaction at the quality and reliability of the service provided.
This, together with the cost of using rail services for distribution, “makes it cheaper to use road haulage for journeys under 300 miles, especially where door to door delivery is required”, wrote roger Bennett in his recent book European business.
Such experiences may help explain the overall downward trend in rail’s share of the European freight market. This same sense of disappointment, experienced by both traditional and new customers of rail services, has been widely reported in trade journals.
Making this sense of pessimism worse has been the well-documented failure of railway administrations to manage the major infrastructure projects for which they are currently responsible effectively.
The UK is unfortunately not the only case. Stories of poor project management have been heard from Germany to Spain, and have been reported to the European parliament’s transport committee.
Now there are doubts the rail infrastructure has the capacity to cope with the expected increases in freight traffic, when much of the European heavy haul network is still in the development stage. Many tunnels and bridges have still not been adapted to meet traffic growth forecasts.
The rail industry claims that insufficient investment has been available until now, but many politicians are becoming more curious about what has been spent in the past – especially where promised productivity gains have been disappointing.
Kinnock said recently that, “gradual marginalisation that the railways have experienced is ending. Change to a brighter future has begun.” This is a result of the long and patient work of the commission’s common transport policy reform efforts such work has included the launched development of some 30,000 kilometres of high-speed mainline track to create a rail based trans-European network. Parts of it are already in place, including sections linking London with Lyon and next year, Marseilles.
One major success for the European union has been the europeanisation of the railway industry by encouraging separate railway administrations to work as a team rather than as isolated organisations. In the UK, the impact of the reforms has been felt in the separation of the track authority from the rail carriers.
Paradoxically, the challenges that face Europe’s road trucking industry as it adjusts to the full impact of trade liberalisation and environmental policies may ultimately provide the catalyst for Europe’s rail services moving into the modern era.
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