Rail Economics, Policy and Regulation in Europe

Rail Economics, Policy and Regulation in Europe

Edited by Matthias Finger and Pierre Messulam

The European railway sector has undergone profound and predominantly institutional changes over the past 20 years, due to the initiatives of the European Commission. This book constitutes a first systematic assessment and account of the recent transformations of the industry along a series of critical yet contentious issues such as competition, unbundling, regulation, access charging, standards and interoperability, and public–private partnerships. It also covers the main railways sectors including passenger transport, high speed and freight.

Chapter 6: High-speed rail in Europe

Marta Sánchez-Borràs

Subjects: economics and finance, transport, politics and public policy, regulation and governance, urban and regional studies, transport


The development of high performance road infrastructures and use of the aeroplane for medium- and long-distance services (distances above 300 km), thanks to the improvement of the road network and the introduction of jet planes, pushed railways in Europe into a declining situation in the late 1960s. The increase in speed of up to 140 km/h of commercial speed and close to the 200 km/h mark in maximum speed from the late 1960s to the late 1970s was not an effective measure for the railway to cover distances of more than 400 km, although these speeds were far higher than just a decade before. This situation made clear the necessity of building new railway infrastructures to increase commercial speed and turn railways into a competitive mode of transport. In this context, at the beginning of the 1980s, Europe began to think out the new role of railways, and references to high speed started to appear. Since then, high-speed rail (HSR) in Europe has acquired an important dimension in the rail transport sector, with 7378 km of new lines in operation (at the time of writing), which, despite representing at a national level below 10% of the total railway network, have allowed the revitalisation of long-distance rail transport, with important gains in market share. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom already have high-speed lines in operation (Poland, Portugal and Sweden, all with a high-speed line planned, should soon add to this list).

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