In accordance with EU priorities
(Rail over Road), the current TEN-T projects are aimed at covering
Western Europe with high-speed railways. In contrast, the area
beyond Berlin presents itself as a vacuum, because the two lines
crossing the European plains, E20 (C2) and E30 (C3), are envisaged
for 160 km/h only. The other eastward Rail Projects (6. 17, 22)
bypass the European plains (i.e., Poland). The lack of initiative
on the Polish part should not discourage EU planners from considering
the advantages of the flatlands of Polanda country expected
to reach the present GNP level of Western Europe by 2030. Therefore,
the time seems ripe for planning high-speed lines in Eastern Europe.
Like in the West, these lines should be integrated with the major
airports of the area. The ultimate aim is to secure all-round
complementarity of Road, Rail and Air, also in the East.
How to connect better the major Trans-European transport axes to the neighbouring countries and regions?
The integration of the 25 member
countries is a formidable task, laid out for at least one generation
(30 years). Cursory stock taking indicates that under the current
TEN-T extension programme, the all-too-obvious vacuum in the geographic
centre of Europe will persist even after 2020, or the year of
the most advanced planning to date. Indeed, the current growth
of the West European network will make the contrast even more
glaringas evident from all available maps of ongoing
and oncoming projects.
The fact is that somewhere along
the river Elbe, in any case just beyond Berlin, runs a dividing
line between the bulging transport network of the West and
the rickety network of the East.
This divide is reflected in the West-centredness
of EU planning, as demonstrated in the official terminology of
the EU, where, for instance, the fourth French LGV Paris to Strasbourg
is designated "High-speed railway axis east". The "axis",
in fact, reaches as far east as ... Mannheim, or a couple of miles
beyond the river Rhine, and as such is a showcase of France-centred
thinking. How deeply entrenched this mentality is, shows a slip
of the tongue gleaned from a 2002-document, the TEN-Invest Final
Report by PLANCO, covering the period 1996-2010, where on p. 38
we read: "The extension of a European high-speed network
will continue, e.g. in Germany the link from Cologne to Frankfurt
will become operational as a high-speed line and in Central
Europe the connection between Paris via Brussels to Cologne
and Amsterdam will be partially operational." [our bold
print]. True enough, for core-Europeans, Central Europe extends
precisely from Paris to Cologne!
Where are the neighbouring countries and regions of EU-25?
The formidable task that underlies the title-question
of the present public consultation has its roots in the inherent
human drive to expand and transgress all past achievements, in
other words, in the irresistible urge to test the limits of the
feasible. As much as the founder members of the European Community
strove to embrace all the regions of western Europe, from the
polar circle to Sicily, and then immediately grasped the opportunity
to extend the EU to the eastern states that had freed themselves
from the grip of the morbid Soviet empire, so will the EU-25 seek
to widen its sphere of influence to the rest of Europe, and beyond.
The further expansion of the EU cannot
be accomplished, however, without integrating the newly acquired
territory, particularly in terms of transport. Like an army
that must consolidate its territorial gains, the affluent Western
countries must shore up their new possessions and lay firm tracks
for their future advances in eastern and south-eastern Europe.
Leaving a vacuum anywhere behind the front lines, would spell
Assuming the obvious: that the term
neighbouring countries and regions embraces the remaining
territories of Europe, beyond the present borders of the Union,
we must first look at what lies between the "old" EU
and those borders, that is, at Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary,
Slovakia and the three Baltic states.
In particular, we are curious to see
what the EU is planning in the way of better road and rail
links to the (true) East, in the period covered by the Trans-European
Transport Network: Revised proposals on guidelines and financial
rules 2004, that is, up to 2020.
Of the new EU acquisitions, Poland makes up about
50 per cent, in terms of territory as well as in population. Geographically,
the relative importance of this territory is greater than that,
because Poland lies between the three Baltic states and the West.
Also, much of the traffic along the eastern fringe of the EU,
from Scandinavia to Austria and the Balkans, passes through Poland.
Can we expect the present pan-European
corridors that cross Poland to do the job? These are:
longitudinally, C1 and C4, converging into rail Project No 23,
and C6 as motorway Project No 25, and latitudinally, C2 and C3
Admittedly, there is more in
the pipeline [though marked informal usage in dictionaries,
this happens to be the favoured English term of EU transport experts],
but only around, not through Poland: Rail Project
No 6 from Lyon via Trieste to Budapest and on, to the Ukrainian
border, Rail Project No 17 from Paris via Stuttgart to Wien and
Bratislava, and Rail Project No 22 Dresden - Praha - Wien - Budapest
- Sofia - Athina. Incidentally, the 2004 revision of TEN-T projects
has changed nothing in those plans.
The convergence of the three rail
projects upon Budapest, from where No 6 progresses towards the
Ukraine, suggests that Europe may be better served by railway
lines that cross mountains and hilly territory than by those
that run straight through the European plains (which extend, as
we know from school manuals, from the Atlantic to the Urals).
The conclusion is
that, in the face of a visible passivity of the Polish contributors
and stakeholders, alternative routes have been sought
and found, by which Poland can be effectively bypassed on the
way to the East.
No matter how dubious the rationale
behind this strategy might be, there is obviously not enough strength
behind the common-sense truth that straight routes mapped
across flat (and relatively less urbanized) country are to
be preferred to circuitous ones running over viaducts and through
How is it that intermodality does not embrace air transport?
Whereas the term intermodality
is current in the EU Transport business, nowhere amongst the 29
TEN-T projects do we come upon any reference to airports.
Clearly, the perennial departmentalization of officialdom has
found a comfortable domicile in Brussels. The recently established
Air-Rail Intermodality Facilitation Forum seems not to have affected
EU Transport planning yet.
Though insiders do know that Rail
Project No 2 is supposed, among others, to interconnect airports
(PBKAL) and that the (completed) Öresund fixed link runs through
and under the Kastrup airport, there is still no direct
reference to airports in those plans.
Likewise, EU Transport planners seem
to have overlooked the dramatic shift in the modal split
between Rail, Road and Air, brought about by the growing popularity
of high-speed trains en route between Madrid and Sevilla, Brussels
and Paris, Paris and Marseilles ..., that is, places as far apart
as 750 km.
Fortunately, for the past ten years it has been an established
policy of the EU to favour Rail over Road, and there is, hopefully,
nothing in sight that might derail this policy.
Under the circumstances, a strong boost should be given to the
set of projects for Poland (as the centrepiece of the new EU territory),
outlined in the web site <www.airport-on-rails.org>. Essentially,
it is one project, though it seeks to integrate airports with
high-speed railways and motorways. On the time scale, it proposes
that planning should start in 2006, the first high-speed rail
line (laid 30 years ago!) should open in 2010, and the other,
the trans-European railway, in 2015. The same year should see
the first module of the Central Poland Airport enter service.
Why has this project not been submitted
by Poland to the appropriate EU body yet? Because the Ministry
of Infrastucture in Warsaw received the project only last
November, and the aforementioned departamentalization makes the
necessary coordination of appraisals a Herculean task.
Airport with central terminal accessed by high-speed trains from all four sides
To have high-speed trains stop under
an airport terminal is a recent development. The pioneer in this
respect was once again France, where a TGV station was inaugurated
under the Charles de Gaulle airport in 1994 (though its
advantages are diminished by the scattered distribution of the
14 terminals). If all goes well with the BBI project, Berlin will
have the first airport in the world where high-speed trains stop
right underneath a central terminal.
Two hours (by high-speed train) further east, Poland could inaugurate
such an airport around 2015. Built from scratch in a perfectly
flat location, only a couple of miles from the A2 (east-west)
motorway, the Central Poland Airport (CPL) could hold two intersecting
high-speed railways in its belly: a south-north line (its southern
section, E65 within C1, built nearly 30 years ago) and an east-west
line (within C2), the first section of which would link Poland's
two major cities, Warsaw and Lodz (the latter on the way to Berlin).
A future northern extension of the former line could have a similar
underground station at Gdansk airport, on the Baltic coast. The
existing southern section of E65 needs an extension across hilly
country towards the Czech border, and on its way south it would
intersect with the E30 (within C3) right between Katowice and
Krakow, near a location where a third international airport could
be built, again on top of the extended E65 and (a new, high-speed)
E30, next to the A4 east-west motorway.
The details of the project are presented in the web site <www.airport-on-rails.org>,
where a schematic map shows the high-speed lines as envisaged
by Polish Railways 10 years ago.