The report says the system has been constructed without proper international coordination as cross-border lines are not among the national priorities for construction, despite international agreements and provisions in the Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) Regulation requiring core network corridors to be built by 2030.

The performance audit on the long-term strategic planning of high-speed lines, cost-efficiency, sustainability and added value of EU co-funding examined France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Austria, analysing expenditure for more than 5000 km of infrastructure on 10 high-speed rail lines and four border crossings covering around 50% of European high-speed lines.

“We found that the EU’s current long-term plan is not supported by credible analysis, is unlikely to be achieved, and lacks a solid EU-wide strategic approach,” the report authors say. “Although the length of the national high-speed rail networks is growing, the commission’s 2011 target of tripling the number of kilometres of high-speed rail lines by 2030 will not be reached: 9000km of high-speed lines are currently in use, and around 1700km of line was under construction in 2017. On average, it takes around 16 years for new high-speed lines to proceed from the start of works to the beginning of operations.”

The report says countries have poorly assessed the need for high-speed rail, and the alternative solution of upgrading existing conventional lines is not often given due consideration, even though the savings achieved when this option is used can be significant.

It also found that high-speed rail is becoming more expensive, and many were not being utilised to their full potential with trains running at an average of 45% of the lines’ design speed.The auditors suggested a number of measures to improve the effectiveness of the network, including:

  • carrying out realistic long-term planning
  • making EU co-funding support linked to earmarked strategic priority projects, effective on-track competition and achievement of results
  • simplifying cross-border constructions with regard to tendering procedures, and
  • improving seamless high-speed rail operations for passengers, such as e-ticketing, simplification of track access charges and improving the reporting to citizens on punctuality and customer satisfaction data.