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Revolutionizing European Travel: The Transformative Power of High-Speed Rail

Revolutionizing European Travel: The Transformative Power of High-Speed Rail
foto: Alstom / Public domain/Alstom Avelia
15 / 03 / 2024

The major railway development projects across the European continent focus on the High-Speed Rails (HSR) offering great potential to link major cities agglomerations and may contribute to the public transport rationalization. They are to become an efficient competition for motorways, providing the passengers with good capacity, reliability, time-saving, and safety. Professor Andrew McNaughton, Director of High-Speed Two Limited, presented a set of essential capabilities and attributes of the HSR, which is the best point of departure to discuss the HSR's role in Europe.

Generally, High-Speed Rail is regarded for existing lines exceeding speeds of 200 km/h, and 250 km/h for newly constructed ones. The speed may vary based on technical solutions and can reach up to an average of 380 km/h, or even 420 km/h, with HSR expected to see further progress. Yet, speed is not the only, albeit a major, asset.

For short to medium distances, HSR can offer shorter total trip times compared to air travel, leaving personal cars far behind. A well-operated two-track HSR can achieve a capacity equivalent to either two 3-lane motorways or a Jumbo Jet a minute. Their reliability is a proven fact: existing HSRs report no more than a one-minute delay per train. And in terms of safety, not a single passenger life has been lost in a high-speed train on a high-speed line so far.

Taiwan In Cycles / Flickr

Contrary to popular belief, the major advantage of HSR does not lie in very long distances, where air travel still persists and offers somewhat better results, making long international railway travel low volume. It is precisely in the sector of short to medium distances (60-90 minutes) that HSR can make destinations easily accessible due to its need for high demand.

In his presentation, Professor McNaughton gives a table of the 3 isochrones of time, illustrating the potential of HSR:

  • At a travel distance of 30 minutes, the region behaves as a single city, offering opportunities for spontaneous meetings and the creation of cultural and social circles.
  • At 60 minutes, the region provides businesses with a common pool of skilled people and a merged supply and technology market, making it easy for people to maintain relationships without relocating.
  • At 120 minutes, businesses can take advantage of access to occasional specialist resources (e.g., finance or legal), while such a travel time is still very favorable for leisure expeditions and easy visits to friends and relatives. With the high speed of HSR, much wider regions fit within these time frames.

It is within this framework that HSR has the best potential, while its network provides other options beyond—yet in a significantly lower volume. We’ll look at the UK examples in the next article and start comparing the existing and projected systems across Europe.