‘We should be borderless’: Why Europe’s rail travel is delayed

In many ways, the lives of Europeans are more intertwined than ever. Freedom of movement has made it easier for people to move and work across borders, projects like Erasmus have fostered cultural and linguistic exchanges, and the EU has linked politics between member states. like never before.

But, as a new research project reveals, there is one very real barrier to the dream of a truly interconnected Europe. Many rail connections between different countries are not suitable for service.

“We are supposed to live in Europe without borders, but when it comes to rail transport, borders still exist,” said the activist who founded the Cross-Border Rail Project, which highlights the problems of rail transport in Europe. Blogger John Worth said.

What is his message to the European Commission? “The EU’s transport policy is failing.”

Also Read: ‘Something always goes wrong’: What I learned traveling by train across Europe with my two kids

Worth first became aware of the problems of cross-border rail transport while traveling through Europe on a job as a telecommunications consultant.

Services vary by EU state, but regardless of location or country involved, traveling across borders by train was often unnecessarily difficult and inconvenient.

This observation became the seed for an ambitious new project. Traveling by train across all EU borders and the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). In doing so, he wanted to paint a picture of the scale of the problem across Europe.

“First you have to know there’s a problem. Then you have to actually start solving that problem and figure out what to do about it,” he told The Local. I didn’t realize that this was the purpose of my project, but basically I was just trying to cram some hands-on experience in the field and take it to policy makers and say that this needs to be fixed. increase.”

30,000km rail journey

Travel over 30,000 km by rail, 186 different train types, 900 km by bike, 1,500 km by ferry, taxi and bus, from the coastal routes of Italy to the mountains of central Sweden, with gaps in rail services occurred.

By experiencing the route first hand, Worth realized that cross-border services suffer from four main problems. Repair work was required on critical sections of the track, there was no passenger traffic in some areas despite good infrastructure, schedules were inconsistent between countries, and there were ticketing bugs. That’s it. Making it difficult for people to find and book services.

For example, passengers traveling from Germany to Strasbourg often had to pay more than double the actual ticket price due to a bug in Deutsche Bahn’s fare system.

Berlin to Kehl super place Tickets normally cost €61.90 and the regional connection between Kehl and Strasbourg costs only €4.30. A person who has booked the full trip will be charged a bill of €147.80 for a full priced ticket.

“This is especially ridiculous because Strasbourg is home to the European Parliament,” Worth explained.

Elsewhere, including some routes between France and Spain, service was good, but the information was not available on many booking platforms.

This is because Spanish operators Euskotren and Rodalies de Catalunya have not uploaded their timetables to UIC Merits, the timetable system used by trip planners such as DB Reiseauskunft and ÖBB Scotty. As a result, only travelers with sufficient local knowledge of rail services will even know the trains are running.

“You see these kinds of data gaps everywhere in the EU,” Worth explains.

“Simple Solution”

In some cases, a small investment seemed like the solution.

Like the small town of Seiffenersdorf in Saxony, Germany, no trains go to the Czech Republic because the crossing needs repair.

Or, ironically, in the French town of Valenciennes, seat of the EU Rail Agency, where 2 km of track has been lost, there is no direct route to Mons, Belgium, and the remaining one route is ineffective. Requires a long detour with regular train service.

In Lithuania, there is a gap in connectivity between the two countries with trains waiting hours in Turmantos and returning to Vilnius without continuing the remaining 25 km to Daugavpils in Latvia. In Worth’s view, a little extra fuel is enough to solve this problem.

In other cases, countries have failed to coordinate their train schedules, making this service largely unusable.

This is a major problem between Tallinn, Estonia, and Riga, Latvia, where northbound passengers face almost three-hour delays when transferring at Valga, while southbound passengers have to wait almost four hours for connecting trains. must be

Worth found a similar problem when traveling from Marseille, France to Genoa, Italy. There is no direct long-distance service via Nice and Ventimiglia, and regional trains are very poorly coordinated, so anyone intending to make the trip has to wait an hour in Ventimiglia. 55 minutes eastbound, 52 minutes westbound.

These examples (and a few others) were compiled into a list of 20 case studies that Worth claims can fix problems quickly and easily.

“What I want to show is that there are many problems that can be solved without a lot of money,” he said. “Many of these problems have easy solutions.”

Also Read: How cross-border trains boosted house prices in Switzerland and France

“Practice what they preach”

Every day during his 40-day trip to Europe, Worth sent a postcard to EU Transport Commissioner Adina Varian, but has yet to receive a reply.

“I want the EU to solve these problems, but at the moment the EU (the European Commission is special) has the necessary knowledge and the necessary political will to really solve the problems. “The EU says they are in favor of improving international passenger transport, but I’m not sure they are fully implementing what they preach.”

His questions, which he constructs through first-hand travel experiences and conversations with local activists, what he describes as “a head full of knowledge and a hard disk full of images,” are: Didn’t the Commission officials do this? “

Specifically, Green Party activists want the EU to “get their hands dirty” and intervene where necessary to ensure that communities along Europe’s borders are better served by rail networks. . A much-needed project puts the brakes on.

“At the moment, the European Commission doesn’t know what’s going on on the ground most of the time,” Worth said.

For Worth, solving Europe’s cross-border rail problems depends on having the political will to cooperate across borders and how reliable rail services can affect the lives of local residents. Two factors are important in having a clear sense of what is possible.

One example is the ease of travel between Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden. In Malmö, trains run him 24 hours a day with his 20 minute intervals.

“I met someone who was going to the dentist in Malmö from Copenhagen,” Wirth said. “It basically shows how much people’s behavior has changed because they have a reliable train. We have to be able to change our lives.”

Regardless of whether the railway is a private or state-owned enterprise, run by Slovakia, Austria or Spain, the first priority is for governments to agree that “this is the function they want the train to provide”. said Worth.

“It’s only after you’ve been to some of these places that you can fully understand what it really takes to solve these problems,” he said. That aspect is very important to me.”

The Local has reached out to the European Commission for comment.

Also Read: Yes, Train Travel Across Europe Is Much Better Than Airplanes – Even With Kids ‘We should be borderless’: Why Europe’s rail travel is delayed

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