Rail Transport In Europe

The transportation network in Europe facilitates the movement of close to seven hundred million people. It is important to note that since the industrial revolution, a number of European countries have cooperated in a quest to enhance as well as expand the region’s transport system. Today, it is possible for individuals to travel across the region with significant ease and freedom and this has largely been made possible by the cooperation between intergovernmental organizations including but not limited to OSCE, the Council of Europe as well as the European Union. In this text, I concern myself with the rail transportation in Europe.

Europe’s Transport System

Across Europe, the most prevalent transportation systems include air, rail and finally, road. According to Rodrigue (2009), Europe acts as home to some of the busiest airports as well as ports in the world today and indeed years ago; it hosted the first motorways and railways in the world. It is important to note that apart from the examples I give above of the most prevalent transportation systems in Europe, we also have sea and river transport though not as popular as the rest especially when it comes to the movement of people from one place to the other.

Even so, cargo is mainly hauled through our (especially in areas lying along the English Channel) by the seaway. Indeed, Huntington (2009) noted that the English Channel has come to be regarded the one of the busiest seaway around the globe given that the number of ships that use this seaway (mainly cargo) number more than four hundred.

Rail Transport in Europe

As one of the most diverse transport modes in Europe, the rail transport in Europe has come a long way to become one of the best maintained railways in the world. It is important to note that parts of Central as well as Western Europe have better coverage in terms of railways than Southern and Eastern Europe. Further, when it comes to the former, maintenance is largely enhanced. When it comes to the voltage we have European rail transport operating at significantly different levels of voltage which most commonly vary between 750 volts and 25,000 volts.

Indeed, according to Brian (2010), the varying voltage levels have over time been cited as the main challenges to cross-border traffic. Another challenge to cross border traffic is the varying signaling systems which essentially use significantly different approaches from country to country.It can be noted that some of the challenges that have over time hindered cross-border traffic are being addressed at various levels of government and recently, the European Union has demonstrated its willingness to ensure that cross-border operations are made less challenging by liberalizing the markets in such a way the competition is enhanced between national rail networks.

Indeed, as a result of a directive (Directive 91/44/EEC), EU member states were effectively able to separate two things, that is, infrastructure management and transport services management. As with most railway systems around the world, railway transportation in Europe is divided into freight operations and passenger service. However, this is not all.

When it comes to the customer operations, we still have other subdivisions including regional operations and long distance operations. The reason for the categorization of the passenger operations into either long distance or regional services is because in some instances, we have the regional operations falling under the auspices of public services. On the other hand, when it comes to long distance operations, subsidies are not commonplace.

Country Differences

As already noted in the earlier sections above, there are some inherent challenges that have been experienced over time when it comers to cross-border operations between EU countries. Though efforts to standardize the rail tracks are ongoing as at the moment, current current-operations have largely been hindered by differenced in gauge tracks with some countries like Spain preferring to use 1,520mm broad gauge tracks which largely differs with what is considered to be the standard gauge. It is also important to note that there exists some differences when it comes to the use of electrification of lines.

Countries which as at the moment have differing electrification of lines include France, Netherlands, Austria as well as Germany with some countries like Germany using 15kV AC while 1500 V DC remains what is largely used in some countries including but not in any way limited to Netherlands. This according to Hanson (2004) is one of the issues which has been making the development of locomotives that are largely pan-European an uphill task. It therefore follows that until these issues are resolved, traveling across the region uninterrupted could end up being an uphill task.

However, he European high-speed rail network that is still under development is helping overcome some of the most challenging issues and it is hoped hat he completion of the same shall g a long way towards facilitating the resolution of some of the outstanding issues.Indeed, according to James et al. (1996), it is highly possible that by the year 2020, it shall be possible to travel across the region from Netherlands to Portugal to England by use of high speed trains and hence eliminate any kind of reference for multi-voltage systems. Something else which cannot be left out is the need to have signaling systems that are in one way or the other compatible.

Indeed, the incompatibility of signaling systems has been fronted as yet another inter-compatibility barrier. To highlight the challenges that are at lay, it might be good to note that 19 totally distinct signaling systems are in existence in the European countries. However, on a lighter note, efforts are been undertaken to ensure that the signaling system for all the European countries is unified in an attempt to eliminate the incompatibilities when it comes to signaling across Europe.

The system being fronted to eliminate this problem challenge is widely known as ETCS which stands for the European Train Control System. This system is beneficial for a number of reasons including but not limited to train protection, train control as well as train signaling. With signaling unification in the Europe rail transportation, most are optimistic that the future shall bring about better as well as a more enhanced pan-European rail networks.

Operations: Cross border

It can be noted that in Europe today, there are several international trains doing business. These deserve a mention here;To begin with, we have the Intercity Express. The intercity express represents the train sets (high-speed) operating mainly in Germany and environs. It is important to note that though the ICE trains have mainly been in operation only in Germany, recent trends have shown tendencies of operations expansion with some operations being established in countries neighboring Germany. Some of the counties in which the Inter-City Express has shown interest in include but is not limited to Denmark, Netherlands as well as Switzerland.

There has been some instances of accidents involving the ICE trains but in most circumstances, no person has been injured or hurt. Most incidences I this case have been revolving around instances of derailing and accidental fire occurrences. No major incidents have been reported.Apart from ICE, another intercontinental high-speed train in full operation in Europe is Thalys. The Paris-Brussels track is most common with Thalys though we still have some other high-speed trains sharing the route.

Thalys international owns the Thalys brand of high-speed trains. Incidents involving Thalys have been relatively few save for the 1998 (9th May) when a Thalys high-speed-train bound for Amsterdam hit a truck instantly killing the driver of the truck. In this particular incident, about six passengers incurred minor injuries.

We then have the Enterprise train service which is mainly a cross-border train operating in a number of routes including Ireland and Dublin. It avails to its passengers two primary services i.e. first class and second class. The train service has over time added peripheral services to its core services with modern trains in its fleet coming with a dining car which makes servings of a wide range of drinks as well as food.

However, it can be noted that the Enterprise train service has been one of the services prone to complaints from customers for a wide range of service issue including but not limited to delays and frequent breakdowns. Further, it has come under criticism for failure to adjust its fare prices.It can be noted that apart from the train services I mention above, here are also a number of international train services wit operations in Europe including but not limited to TGV, Euro City and finally, Eurostar. At the local level, we also have cross-border trains.

The future of rail transportation in Europe

According to Rodrigue (2009), rail transport in Europe shall be driven by efficiency as well as convenience. With that in mind, it can be noted that in the recent past, we have seen the emergence of high-speed rail preference and it is hoped that in future, we shall have more convenient as well as reliable cross-border train networks especially with the standardization of rail tracks as well as electricity on lines.

To show commitment towards the revolutionalization of the rail industry in Europe, we had the European railway operators’ consortium in 2007 coming together to enhance high-speed cross-border train network. It is also noted that in future, significant investments shall be made towards the development of rail transportation network infrastructure including but not limited to bridges as well as tunnels.


In conclusion, it can be noted that one of European Union’s sated goals is the advancement of a Trans-European high-speed rail network. This is a clear indicator that the European Union Countries are dedicated towards the revamping of the railway network and towards that en, having the same as an EU stated goal goes a long way to unlock EU funding possibilities.


Rodrigue, JJ. (2009). The geography of transport systems. Taylor & Francis

James, E., Gauthier., & O’Kelly, M.E. (1996). Geography of transportation. MORTON O’KELLY

Hanson, S. (2004). The geography of urban transportation. Guilford Press

Brian, L. (2010). Rail Transport in Europe: Eurasian Land Bridge. General Books LLC

Huntington, E. (2009). The Geography of Europe. BiblioLife