An ICE train in Koln station

Andrew Curry writes:

This is one of those unexpected pieces of data. According to figures just released by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), more miles were travelled by train in the UK last year than in any other year, at least in peacetime. The total mileage – just over 30 billion passenger miles – topped the previous record figure set in 1946. In fact, rail has been growing much faster than car mileage since 1995; the reasons include greater road congestion and rising car costs, investment in new trains, and more accessible information and booking (through online, for example).

ATOC marked the occasion with a booklet, The Billion Passenger Railway (opens in pdf). As it happens, it has been involved in a recent scenarios project we’ve run for the rail sector on the future of a sustainable industry, and through this I was invited to contribute a picture of rail in 75 years time – a story I thought might well be about European connections. That future scenario, ‘A Europe of City States’, is below the fold.

Image by Atlan at his Cityscapes and Skyline Photos blog.

Europedia Le Monde September 2083

Dateline : Mayors’ Convention, Vienna

The annual gathering of the Mayors’ Convention in an Inter City Express (ICE) terminus complex in a leading European city is always a good time to take the mood of the modern Europe. For the Mayors are both the beating heart and the economic engines of the re-shaped Europe, in which nation states have largely lost all but administrative powers.

If co-operation is the public face of the Convention, the smell of competition is always in the air. These women and men know that membership of the Convention is not bestowed lightly; it goes only to the 30 cities which have the most dynamic economic, social, and cultural influence across the Union as a whole. A year or two of poor performance and another contender is knocking at the door.

With the internet long hamstrung by crime and fraud, and air travel the preserve of the hyper-rich, the cities which keep their place at the table are those which have solved four problems, according to Vienna Mayor, Kristal Stangl, the host of this year’s event.

“We must make sure that our cities have enough energy to function, to be sure, and that resources like water are secure. There must be enough food. They need to be good places to live. A lot of cities can make these things happen, even in our present conditions of scarcity. But the economic part is about getting the best brains to work on the complex problems which need to be solved to build new knowledge and value. That needs good transport links, and the cities which invested in high speed rail in the first part of the century are the best placed to compete”.

Some cities have slipped off the map as the European periphery has grown and the core shrunk. Most of the ‘Euro-30’ come from the ‘Golden Diamond’ between London, Hamburg, Krakow, and Marseilles. Some long-standing rivalries have been settled; Madrid is no longer a member, while Barcelona holds on to its Convention status. Rome plays second fiddle to Milan. Manchester’s high speed link to the tunnel has helped it stay in the club, while Glasgow’s failure to gain one has exiled it to the fringes.

INSEAD’s public policy professor Regis Bertrand argues that nations are no longer tthe right size. “Europe has taken over migration and manages the single currency. Solving the energy and food issues has required a much more local focus. But the economic aspect needs both good local environments and long-distance connections. The fact that ICE sponsors the Convention isn’t just good marketing. It is a shared interest.”

London’s representative at the Convention, Mayor Nasr Hysen, an economist by background, says it comes down to labour markets. “With closed borders and a single economic framework, labour has to be able to move around, to follow work. But often this migration is temporary, for a few weeks or months, for a project. That’s why rail links are so central. But you need to remember that a lot of the money that’s earned goes back to their homes. It’s not perfect, but it helps to equalise incomes across Europe.”

Looking forward, the overall direction may be back to the future. Bertrand observes that ‘In the 19th century the railway built the nation state by standardising time and reducing regional differences. By the 22nd, as long as Europe can maintain the security of its borders, Europe will be more like the city-states of the Holy Roman Empire”.

2 thoughts on “The next age of the train

  1. Jo Phillips says:

    Another reason for taking the train is time efficiency. With the ubiquity of laptops, blackberries and, increasingly, free wifi (National Express) and affordable dongles for internet access, it is easy to work. Travel time can legitimately be counted as office hours rather than dead time. Similarly ipods, PSPs and portable DVD players (not to mention the traditional magazine and novel) make it easy to play. In fact many people value train time as the only me-time they get and are prepared to pay more (than the equivalent cost to travel by car) for it.

  2. Jake Goretzki says:

    I was especially moved by the ATOC projection of the network of the future as it mooted the idea of a Liverpool to Dublin rail tunnel in mid 21st century, which had me instantly flicking through a mental calendar, checking whether I’ll still be around for it!

    There is something doubly poignant about those two fair cties being physically united. Firstly, there’s a bittersweet sense of role reversal (in the 19th and 20th centuries the human and economic traffic was pretty solidly one-way to England – whereas today, well, Celtic Tiger / incomes higher than the UK…need I say more!). Secondly, the idea of the Republic of Ireland and the Republic of Liverpool (with all its Irish heritage) being physically connected… ooh, it’s the stuff of romance.

    Sadly it’s likely to be a wait to rival the jounrey time between Surbiton and Waterloo on a bus replacement Sunday. Aw well.

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