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More high speed rail coming to a European city near you?

October 18, 2010

Travelers in Europe are used to boarding trains that are staffed by employees of the national rail company and pulled by locomotives bearing the emblems on these railways.  There has been a slow change as some trains have started to cross borders without having to endure the sometimes lengthy process of changing locomotives and crews, but the European rail industry may be on the verge of a major change.  This weekend, the German railway Deutsche Bahn (DB) ran its first ICE high speed train through the Chunnel connecting Britain with Europe.  Previously, only Eurostar had been allowed to run trains through the tunnel, but Europe is set to open its railroads to competition, and Deutsche Bahn has been pushing to expand service.

This new openness on the railways would allow DB to compete with the French national passenger railway, SNCF, by offering high speed trains from Frankfurt and Cologne to London, and from Frankfurt to Lyon and Marseille.  This would break a sector full of monopolies across Europe, since travelers could potentially choose different airlines to fly between cities, but rail routes are usually still controlled by a single rail company.  As if to demonstrate the power that a single rail company has over rail transport between destinations, Eurostar was forced to offer very limited service today, as workers for the Belgium rail network went on strike today.

Of course, national interests could put still try to prevent a truly open rail market.  As The Economist reported, while DB and SNCF have worked on some agreements, the two companies are also sparing over routes across Europe.  DB accuses of France of protecting its rail industry, and there does appear to be some truth in that charge, as France objects to Eurostar’s decision to buy carriages made by the German company Siemens instead of the French firm Alstom.  SNCF in turn accused DB of maintaining close ties between its passenger division and its arm that maintains the actual railroads.  The European Union might be called in to settle the disputes.

As a result, while opening the rails to all comers may eventually make transportation options cheaper and more plentiful for travelers, do not expect self-interest to not make the rails rather bumpy, at least in the short term.

One Comment leave one →
  1. eubeyer permalink
    October 19, 2010 7:16 am

    DB continues to press its case for access to the Chunnel, as it has brought an ICE train to London’s St Pancras station. For more information about DB’s plan to run trains from Frankfort, Germany to London in five hours, visit “German rail firm DB competes for Channel Tunnel routes” (

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