Another day, another depressing study.

Greenpeace looked at rail and motorway investments across Europe, and found 66 % more budget spent to extend roads than to extend railways. Between 1995 and 2018 there was a 60% increase in the length of Europe’s motorways – more than 30,000 km – while European rail lines shrank by 6.5%, or 15,650 km. The Greenpeace report is here (PDF), the consultants’ report is here (PDF), and there is a good write up in The Guardian. There is more along similar lines for Germany here – where the reduction of the length of the German network has nevertheless not stopped passenger numbers on the railways increasing by 40% over the same period.

The news about railways versus roads follows on the back of Greenpeace’s work earlier in the year documenting how much cheaper flights are for many routes in Europe than taking the train.

So what do we do about all of this?

Well that’s where it all falls down.

Germany has just put plans for a new line between Hannover and Hamburg on hold – despite the old route between these two cities being a major bottleneck on the German network. Even smaller efforts – like trying to re-activate the Wiehltalbahn in Nordrhein-Westfalen – hit seemingly intractable barriers.

At EU level, an initiative of moderate scope – the Multi Modal Digital Mobility Services Regulation (MDMS) that was supposed to free up timetable and ticketing data to allow multi-modal travel planning tools to be built has this week been shelved – until at least after the next European Parliament elections in 2024, although I fear in its current form it will never see the light of day. Railway companies didn’t want it and lobbied hard against it, because it would oblige them to collaborate – also with private rivals. That it would be to the benefit of passengers did not really feature in the discussion.

My #CrossBorderRail project has detailed all of this in depressing detail – places where simple measures could be implemented, and make a major impact. Where priorities not lined up between different Member States of the European Union mean passengers lose out.

Border bridge between Zgorzelec (Poland) and Görlitz (Germany) – note where the masts end on the bridge. Poland electrified its line, Germany did not.

And so that leaves me rather stuck, and forlorn.

We know now even better than we did before how bad our predicament is. We know broadly what needs to be done – more passengers out of cars and planes, and into trains. But our understanding of how to do it is woefully poor, and the political opportunities to actually get on and do it seem to be fleeting and small.

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