European countries are spending more on road building than on ever shrinking railways, according to a new study by the European Mobility4All campaign.
It may seem that railways are growing, with high profile stories of new sleeper trains and pan-European intercity routes frequently in the news. But researchers for Mobility4All, who are represented by Greenpeace in Central and Eastern Europe, found that, in fact, Europe’s rail network has been cut back drastically in the last 30 years. At the same time, road investment has seen significant increases.
66% gap in spending
European countries have been spending more on roads than on rail for decades now. Between 1995 and 2018, the block spent 66% more on roads than rail. Though the gap in investment had narrowed to +34% spending on roads between 2018 and 2021, the report makes clear that damage had already been done.
Railways “shrank by 6.5 per cent, or 15,650km, and more than 2,500 stations were closed” reports Euronews. The authors of the study say that figure is probably higher due to “unknown cases of closed stations along open railway lines, especially in the three Baltic states and Poland.”
Meanwhile, motorways spread by 60%, or an additional 30,000km, the German thinktanks Wuppertal Institute and T3 Transportation found.
Biggest railway losses
Germany saw the greatest “absolute losses” in railways over the period, with the report putting Poland, France and Italy second, third and fourth for railway decline. It also noted that “smaller countries such as Austria, the Baltic states and Portugal had substantial closings.”
Despite losses, France, the UK and Spain retain the longest total networks.
The EU, Norway, Switzerland and the UK paid out a colossal €1.5 trillion on road infrastructure over the period 1995-2020, when just €930 billion was invested in rail.
Some figures show how stark the effect of the different levels of investment has been. Motorways doubled in some countries, in fact 50% of the countries studied, including Greece, Norway and Spain. The biggest motorway expansions happened in Ireland, Poland and Romania, while Belgium, Latvia, Lithuania saw the least motorway development.
By comparison, only ten European countries report even a net increase of their railway networks’ lengths. These are Belgium, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland.
Greenpeace EU’s senior climate campaigner, Lorelei Limousin, highlights what the reality of the growth in roads and the cutbacks in rail mean for people’s everyday lives.
Millions of people outside cities have no option but to own a car to get to work, take kids to school or access basic services, living in areas with little or no public transport.Lorelei Limousin, Greenpeace EU’s senior climate campaigner
Lorelei Limousin added: “This is a direct result of governments dismantling local and regional rail networks while pouring money into roads.”
Re-opening closed rail lines?
With the encouraging suggestion that as much as 13,500 km of closed rail lines could be re-opened “relatively easily”, the report’s authors recommend that road and rail funding priorities should shift.
In a note of warning however, they also point out Europe’s obligations “to reduce energy and transport poverty” as well to stay under the global warming threshold of the Paris Agreement. Without significant investment in railways, they note, fare-based incentives to get people off the roads and onto railways will be insufficient.