Will high-speed rails boost post-COVID Europe?

Railways could be a powerful tool for the European economic recovery after the corona crisis. High-speed rails especially. Therefore, Europe should be linked with a new and extraordinary network of high-speed routes. It will have a total length of more than 18,000 kilometres and will provide an average speed of 250–350 kilometres per hour.

In order to boost the economy after the coronavirus lockdown and the following crisis, the European Commission is planning a huge financial bailout. 2 trillion euros could be injected within the Recovery Fund. The final destination and purpose of this amount is still under consideration. Meanwhile, some think tanks have their own vision of this issue.

Thus, the Macroeconomic Policy Institute (IMK) in Düsseldorf, the Observatoire français des conjonctures économiques (OFCE) in Paris and the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (WIIW) proposed their joint 10-year investment programme for 2 trillion euros to be be allocated to public health, transport infrastructure and energy/decarbonisation. More than a half of this amount could chanelled in railways.

Ultra-Rapid-Train network

As for the railway investments, three institutions called for the creation of the Ultra-Rapid-Train network throught Europe. It will have a total length of 18,249 kilometres and will consist of four high-speed routes (see on the map below): from Dublin to Paris with a ferry link between Cork and Brest; from Lisbon to Helsinki with a loop around the Baltic Sea; from Brussels to Valletta and from Berlin to Nicosia with ferry link between Piraeus and Paphos.

Map of the Ultra-Rapid-Train network in Europe, source: the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies

“The URT network should be a new double-track high-speed railway system that is complementary to the existing networks. However, where suitable, also existing lines could be adapted. An average speed in the range of 250–350 kilometres per hour should be achieved. This would allow passengers to halve the current rail travel times, for instance, from Paris to Berlin to about four hours, making air travel for a large part of the intra-European passenger transport obsolete,” the joint paper reads.

Cost details

According to the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies and its partners, the entire URT network will cost around 1.1 billion euros or about 60 million euros per kilometre. This estimated amount is based on the country-specific construction costs at 2019 prices. The largest investments should be chanelled to three countries: around 186 billion euros to Germany, around 172 billion euros to France and around 116 billion euros to Italy. These states will operate one-third or more than 6,600 kilometres of the proposed URT network.

To provide better financing of the project, the researchers proposed to incorporate a Ultra-Rapid-Train Trust (URTT) as a public limited company. “While the URTT (owned by the participating EU and Western Balkan countries or alternatively the EU) could rely on a public guarantee when it comes to issuing long-term bonds, it would formally be part of the private sector, especially as it would have sufficient income of its own from private customers (i.e. various types of tickets and tolls),” the economic institutions stated.

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Author: Mykola Zasiadko

Mykola Zasiadko is editor of online trade magazines RailTech.com and RailFreight.com.

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