DB report confirms more infrastructure is needed to reach EU climate targets
“We expect that the infrastructure that is planned or currently under construction will not be sufficient to meet the targets that have been set out” states a newly released report by Deutsche Bahn titled “Metropolitan Network: A strong European railway for an ever closer union.” It finds that achieving ambitious EU goals will require a substantial expansion of the existing high-speed rail infrastructure, and proposes the development of a European Metropolitan Network.
Deutsche Bahn (DB), in collaboration with European rail partners, conducted a study on expanding high-speed rail (HSR) in Europe, resulting in the publication of the report. Seeking an unbiased perspective, DB commissioned PTV Planung Transport Verkehr GmbH to simulate the impact on achieving EU targets for 2030 and 2050. Michael Peterson, CEO of DB Fernverkehr AG, presented the study at a dedicated event in the European Parliament on November 8, hosted by MEP Dominique Riquet in cooperation with Renfe and the Spanish EU Presidency.
Analysis of existing high-speed lines suggests that the planned and under-construction infrastructure may fall short of meeting European targets. Indeed, with the Green Deal and its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, the EU aims to slash transport-related carbon emissions by 90 per cent by 2050 for a sustainable transport system. To realise these goals of sustainable, smart, and resilient mobility, the EU has outlined key milestones, including doubling European high-speed rail traffic volume by 2030 and tripling it by 2050 compared to the base year 2015. According to the report, current efforts are not sufficient and it will require “ unconditional commitment and willingness” from all involved parties to realise these goals.
Rail is lagging behind
The report highlights the concerning lag in the rail sector’s progress towards modal shift targets. “Despite the rising demand for mobility, rail transport’s market share in Europe was merely 7.0 per cent in 2019 and has grown only slightly since 2000, while the market share of air transport increased from 6.1 per cent to 9.7 per cent,” states the report. The high-speed rail market did increase between 2015 and 2019 with a 27 per cent increase however, mostly due to crucial infrastructure and service expansionsLooking ahead to 2050, natural growth from population and economic factors is estimated to contribute a modest 16 percentage points to rail demand. However, achieving the set targets would necessitate additional measures.
According to Deutsche Bahn’s estimation in May 2022, the existing high-speed rail infrastructure, both in place and planned for construction, may only achieve around 75 per cent of the necessary traffic growth by 2030. The report thus emphasises the need for a significant expansion of high-speed rail infrastructure to meet ambitious EU growth targets, commenting that “Building an additional 21,000 kilometres of rail infrastructure over the next 27 years is an ambitious target. However, considering that approximately 20,000 kilometres of motorway was built in the EU27 between 2000 and 2020, it is clear that infrastructure of comparable size and complexity can be built in an even shorter time.
However, investment in such expansion has been slow-moving, and current efforts leave numerous metropolitan regions unconnected to European high-speed rail, representing untapped potential for traffic growth. The study establishes that the planned or under-construction infrastructure may fall short of meeting the set targets, projecting a growth of only about 60 per cent of the envisaged doubling of high-speed rail traffic by 2030. The concentration on national lines and the lack of cross-border interconnectivity characterise European rail infrastructure, indicating unexploited potential for growth. Moreover, it is crucial to prioritise capacity enhancement in the nodes, as this has the potential to facilitate frequent connections, such as hourly, between metropolitan regions. These connections are essential for stimulating additional traffic throughout Europe.
European Metropolitan Network
To effectively link EU metropolitan regions housing over 250 million citizens (approximately 60 percent of the EU population), the study advocates for a more extensive high-speed rail network. This network would cater to regions experiencing the highest transportation demand, facilitating a modal shift and establishing a unified transport quality standard across Europe. The results from the study underscore the profound impact that a significant expansion of HSR infrastructure and services, coupled with travel time reductions, would have on travel demand.
To achieve the necessary traffic growth by 2050, the realisation of the Metropolitan Network involves constructing new rail lines and expanding existing ones, covering approximately 21,000 additional kilometres. This comprehensive effort, when combined with new lines expected by 2030, aims to transform the European high-speed rail landscape. The report emphasises that while current plans for 2030 may fall short of Green Deal targets, the Metropolitan Network could facilitate additional growth of 174 percentage points, or a threefold increase in HSR traffic by 2050, highlighting the significance of a robust and expansive high-speed rail network for the future.
Positioned as a crucial element in meeting growing national and international demand, the Metropolitan Network provides an economic foundation for operating high-frequency trains. The report notes that successful HSR infrastructure, exemplified by routes like Paris-Lyon or Rome-Bologna, currently sees the highest passenger volumes—a trend expected to persist with the implementation of the Metropolitan Network. High-demand HSR corridors include Thessaloniki-Athens, connections between France and Spain, and links between Vienna, Prague, and Berlin. In addition to its transportation impact, the European Metropolitan Network is emphasised as a catalyst for convergence and integration among European countries, bringing EU citizens closer together.