Revolutionizing Europe’s railways has been on the EU agenda for years. Although progress has been slow, Italy made progress in July 2022 with new high-speed rail links linking Rome Fiumicino airport with Naples and Florence.
As carbon emissions from flights and all other aspects of daily life rise, it is clear that investing in and encouraging the use of trains must be a priority for the bloc.
In the EU in 2017, direct aviation emissions accounted for 3.8% of total CO2 emissions. The aviation sector creates 13.9% of emissions, making it the second largest source of transportation GHG emissions after road transportation.
Could high-speed rail networks eventually replace airplanes in Europe?
That’s the vision outlined by rail industry leaders in Lyon, France, on June 29 when announcing plans to double the use of high-speed rail by 2030.
The continent’s first high-speed rail (TGV) lines, built in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, dramatically improved journey times on intra-national corridors.
So how many high-speed rail projects are there currently in Europe and are there more on the way?
The main high-speed train lines in Europe
France‘s high-speed train network, TGV, is renowned throughout Europe for its efficiency. The service is operated by the national SNCF network and carries approximately 110 million passengers per year.
The TGV system extends to neighboring countries, either directly to ItalySpain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, or via TGV spin-off networks linking France to Switzerland (Lyria), Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands (Thalys) and the United Kingdom (Eurostar).
The network goes to Charles de Gaulle airport and even stops at Disneyland Paris.
Several future lines are planned, including extensions in France and to neighboring countries.
Part of the TGV, the LGV Méditerranée is a special high-speed rail line that connects the south of France. The new LGV lines expected in the coming years are the LGV Bordeaux-Toulouse to be completed by 2030, the LGV Bordeaux-Spain (crossing to Spain) to be completed by 2032 and the LGV Montpellier-Perpignan to be completed by here 2035.
High Speed 1 (HS1) is currently Britain’s only high-speed rail linking London to the Channel Tunnel, which connects the country to France. The main train company operating on HS1 is Eurostar. But the same line is also used by high-speed commuter services from Kent to the capital.
11 million international passengers and 15 million domestic passengers use the HS1 every year. The line is 67 miles (108 km) long and the trains reach speeds of 225 kilometers per hour.
A second line, High Speed 2 (HS2), has been under construction since 2019 between London and Birmingham – with later extensions to Manchester and Nottingham. It will link London to major cities in the North and Midlands and reduce journey times to Scotland.
The London-Birmingham leg was due to open at the end of 2026. But this is now scheduled for between 2029 and 2033. The second phase was due to open in 2032-33, but has been pushed back to 2035-2040.
The ICE (InterCity Express) is a high-speed train that connects all major cities in Germany. With speeds of up to 300 km/h, it’s one of the fastest ways to travel between cities such as BerlinHamburg and Cologne.
The network also extends to Austria and Swiss and the trains run at speeds of up to 305 km/h.
A new 25 km long Stuttgart-Wendlingen high-speed railway is currently underway and is expected to be completed by 2025.
However, the ICE network has received a lot of criticism regarding the slowness of trains in Germany. Some claim the tracks, many of which were built in 1991, are not designed for high speed. While modern ICE trains can run at 300 km/h, many tracks only allow 200 km/h.
FrecciaRossa high-speed trains are the most common travel all over Italyreaching top speeds of 300 km/h.
They are operated by Trenitalia and serve directly the heart of the most important cities, from Milan to Bologna, from Florence to Romeand Naples to Turin, shortening travel time for many commuters.
In July 2022, FrecciaRossa unveiled direct high-speed rail links from Rome Fiumicino Airport to Naples and Florence. The schedules are integrated with those of the intercontinental flights passing through the airport.
While Frecciarossa trains are the most modern trains, there are also Italo EVO high-speed trains trains you can explore – which are faster.
The EVO is known as a “green” train, as the models have been built with recyclable materials and designed to guarantee reduced CO2 emissions.
Some lines are not yet completed, such as the Milan-Genoa link – which should be completed by 2023 – and the Naples-Bari link which should be completed in 2027.
The Spanish high-speed railway, AVE, is famous. High-speed trains run at a maximum speed of 350 km/h and also connect France and Portugal.
AVE trains have been in service since 1992, when the Madrid–The route to Seville has started to operate. Since then, 10 other lines have been opened, including the 621 kilometer long Madrid-Barcelona line.
As of December 2021, the total length of the network was 3,622 kilometers, making it the longest in Europe and the second longest in the world after mainland China.
There are still other lines that are not finished yet. LAV Murcia-Almería and LAV Madrid-Santander will be completed by 2025.
A new cross-border railway will connect Paris to Berlin by 2023
In addition, the French rail operator SNCF and Deutsche Bahn plan to launch a direct high-speed train between Paris and Berlin at the end of 2023.
The new railway line was announced by the boss of the French company, who came to Strasbourg to celebrate 15 years of Franco-German high-speed cooperation.
“We want to launch a Paris-Berlin TGV in December 2023,” SNCF CEO Jean-Pierre Farandou told AFP.
“It’s logical because we see that people are accepting longer and longer journeys. There are really people who are ready to spend five hours, six hours, seven hours in a train”, he said. he explains.
“In this case, Paris– Berlin is at seven.”
“A few years ago, we thought it was a bit long and we were afraid of not having anyone. There are more and more people for whom this is not a problem, so much the better!” he said, stressing that “taking the train is a way of reconciling mobility and the protection of nature”.
How many trains will run between Paris and Berlin in 2023?
For starters, there will be one round trip per day to this link via Frankfurt. It will be operated as part of a partnership between SNCF and Deutsche Bahn with German high-speed trains ICE, according to Alain Krakovitch, director of TGV-Intercités at SNCF.
In the future, a second daily round trip could also be carried out with French TGVs (High-speed trains), he added.
“It’s quite symbolic of the evolution of our society, and of the fact that many of our fellow citizens prefer the train,” the official said.
Day and night trains between Paris and Berlin in circulation in 2023
The Paris-Berlin day TGV will be added to a night rail link between the two capitals. It will be operated by Austrian railways ÖBB in cooperation with SNCF and Deutsche Bahn and will also start at the end of 2023.
“It will be both the night train and the day train. We will have the choice according to taste,” said Jean-Pierre Farandou.
“We are making Europe somewhere, everyday Europe”, he added. “We are making peace in Europe with the railway.”
“I am convinced that we need more railways in Europe and that a strong Europe needs a strong interconnection on the rails”, echoed his colleague from Deutsche Bahn, Richard Lutz.
The development of railways is “indispensable to reach the climate goals“, he pointed out.