February 26, 2015

Europe has lost its way on cross-border train services

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THIS Sunday sees the demise of another European cross-border train service with the withdrawal of the three daily Regional Express services between Dresden, Germany, and Wroclaw in Poland.

The RE 100 Dresden Wroclaw Express was launched in February 2009 and in November 2013 German Rail (DB) subsidiary DB Regio signed a four-year agreement with Poland's Regional Railways (PR) to continue operating the service until 2017. At the time, DB Regio was confident about the future of RE 100 – the service had achieved double-digit ridership growth every year since its launch and passenger numbers were forecast to reach 80,000 in 2014.

However, last week Lower Silesian regional transport authority UMWD announced that budgetary constraints meant it can no longer afford to fund the service, which would be withdrawn immediately.

The curtailment of RE 100 comes less than four months after the loss of the Eurocity Wawel service from Wroclaw to Berlin and Hamburg, and leaves the largest city in Western Poland without any direct rail links to Germany.

Indeed, there has been considerable retrenchment of international services right across Europe this winter, the most notable being extensive cutbacks to DB's City Night Line sleeper and Autozug motor rail services.

Meanwhile cross-border infrastructure is a key priority for the European Commission, with €26.25bn from the EU's 2014-2020 budget allocated to TEN-T projects through the Connecting Europe Facility. While few would deny that significant investment is needed in international rail corridors, particularly in those member states eligible for Cohesion Funding, it is bizarre that tens of billions of Euros can be allocated to infrastructure when existing cross-border train services are routinely sacrificed for the sake of a few million. This is an issue as much for national governments as it is for the EU, and mechanisms are urgently required to secure funding for what already exists.

International cooperation between regions also has an important role to play. Last December hourly services were launched on the line from Fortezza in northern Italy to Lienz in Austria, together with two daily direct Bolzano – Innsbruck trains, as part of the Euregio initiative between the Austrian province of Tyrol and the Italian autonomous region of South Tyrol. Cross-border services between South Tyrol and Austria have increased from 16 trains a day in 2012 to 33 a day and the two regions are planning to take their cooperation further with plans for direct Trento – Innsbruck services and the launch of a new multi-modal ticket for cross-border journeys.

This demonstrates that regional initiatives can go a long way towards strengthening and developing cross-border rail links (where financial resources permit), but there is a need for a more holistic approach at national and international levels. The German federal government should be concerned by the loss of links to Poland because there is clear demand for cross-border travel, with all the economic benefits this can bring for both countries. The EC should be concerned because the loss of international connectivity is contrary to the goal of closer integration between Member States, one of the founding principles of the European Union.

It is inconceivable that Saxony and Lower Silesia should have fewer cross-border rail services than they did in the Cold War, but thanks to a lack of joined-up thinking this is now the unfortunate reality. A truly European rail network is as much about retaining and developing what exists now as it is about building better cross-border infrastructure and reinstating missing links. Without concrete steps to strengthen these links, it is hard to see how many cross-border services will survive in the longer-term.

Keith Barrow

Keith Barrow joined IRJ as News Editor in 2006 and was promoted to Associate Editor in 2008. He was previously editor of employee publications for the Welsh Assembly Government, G4S, and Thomsonfly, and has written for a range of other publications including the Derby Telegraph. He graduated from Lincoln University in 2002 with a degree in journalism.

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