- Europe generally has a dense rail network, but there are differences between regions in the density of the network.
- Even though they are important for European integration, cross-border connections by rail are limited in many parts of Europe, usually only connecting main urban areas.
- EuropeÔÇÖs rail network is an environmental-friendly alternative for congested roads and transport by air. However, as air transport becomes increasingly competitive, high-speed connections are necessary at European level.
Observations for policy
Europe is characterised by a dense railway network. European policies promote the development of faster more environment-friendly and cross-border connections. A state-of-the-art infrastructure network is important for a balanced Europe, connecting peripheral and core areas to increase trade and to enhance EuropeÔÇÖs competitiveness.
Northwest and Central Europe have the most dense rail network with most cross-border connections. Here the focus is on sustaining the accessibility. This could be done by focusing on high speed rail connections and improving interconnections to other modes of transport such as roads, airports and waterways.
At EuropeÔÇÖs fringes the rail network is less dense. Here the improvement of important cross-border links and converting lines to dual tracks has higher priority. It could also make the network more competitive for commuters and long-distance travellers.
Transport is a main sector policy of the EU and encompasses all modes of transport. It aims at the creation of faster, more environment-friendly and growth-related transport facilities across Europe. According to the sixth Cohesion Report, 2.369 km of railway lines are reported being improved by the end of 2012. This includes electrification, modern signalling, conversion from single to dual tracks and so on. Throughout the years, the EU has promoted the rail sector regarding transnational integration of rail networks, building on core infrastructure which connects regions in different European countries.
The Common Transport Policy aims at developing competitive modes of transport that help to reduce the peripheral nature of regions as well as the development of lagging regions with poor endowments of transport networks and high transport costs. This policy aims at a core European network connecting 94 main ports to rail and road links, 38 key airports with rail connections, 15.000 km of railway lines upgraded to high speed and 35 cross-border projects to reduce bottlenecks. In addition the European Commission aims to complete and possibly further develop its high-speed rail network. This includes the development of new lines outside EuropeÔÇÖs core as well, mainly in Spain and Portugal, but also in Poland and Greece. Territorial connectivity and removing bottlenecks in infrastructure are also addressed in the Territorial Agenda 2020 and EU Cohesion Policy 2014-2020.
The map illustrates the density of the European rail networks. Almost all European regions are connected to each other by rail. However, there are regional differences with regard to the density of tracks and the type of tracks.
Central and Northwest Europe are the two areas with the most connections with respect to main multiple tracks. Most of the cross-border connections as well as the domestic rail networks consist of railways with multiple tracks. The regions to the East, the very North and South of Europe are dominated by main lines of single tracks. Secondary lines are to be found all over the territory since they are tasked with connecting the main lines with further destinations. In these parts of Europe the railway connections across borders have often less capacity than domestic lines. Connections serving capitals have in general a higher capacity than other lines. This is for example true in Spain, the Czech Republic and Romania. Rail ferries are mainly built in order to facilitate connections between coastal areas, especially across the Baltic Sea, connecting the British Isles and Corsica.
Within countries the capital cities regions have the most main rail connections, together with industrial or tourist regions such as Southwest Scandinavia (Oslo-Gothenburg-Copenhagen), the Western Mediterranean coastal corridor (from Southern Spain to Northern Italy), the Rhone valley, Southern Italy, Saxony and Upper Silesia.
Concepts and methods
Four main rail connections are distinguished in the map. These entail main lines with multiple tracks, main lines with single tracks, secondary lines and rail ferries. The distinction of railway tracks characterises the capacity of the connection. Multiple tracks have higher capacity than single tracks in terms of number of trains and in most cases also in average speed of the train on these tracks.