Easing the future load on airports is above all an environmental imperative. The anticipated rise in carbon dioxide and similar greenhouse gas emissions
threatens to destroy the human habitat in the lifetime of the next two generations. In the congested countries of Europe and South-East Asia both Air and Road transport are the chief culprits.
We must seek rescue by substituting a fair portion of the two with railways, fast and comfortable enough to become an attractive alternative. The present competition among the three modes
of transport must give way to their harmonious cooperation. An effective integration of Air, Road and Rail will be achieved only when the major airports are interconnected by high speed
trains reaching stations located right underneath the central terminal. In addition to offering easy access to the airports, such trains will eliminate most short-haul flights and most intercity car
journeys. To start with, this model should be put to the test in the new member countries of the EU.
The future of transport in Europe can be viewed from a number of angles. The narrow approach adopted in the working document Airport capacity, efficiency and safety in Europe reflects
the outlook of those concerned with the present state and the nearest future of the choking (West) European airports. Admittedly, the gravity of the situation has induced the authors to look beyond
the confines of Air transport, to other modes, specifically Rail and Road.
The approach proposed in the present contribution is more balanced in the sense that all three modes, Air, Rail and Road, are viewed in the long run as capable of engaging in a harmonious
cooperation, to eventually achieve a perfect symbiosis.
The bearings of such a comprehensive approach were provided four years ago in the EC White Paper European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide. There, in the opening chapter
("Shifting the balance between modes of transport"), all actors, not just in the aviation sector but in all three sectors of transport, are encouraged to rethink.
It is being argued here that the urgent need for such rethinking in the aviation sector ensues not only from airport capacity, or efficiency, or safety, but above all from environmental
considerations. Now is the time to realize that the unimpeded growth of air traffic, combined with the disastrous effects of the swelling road traffic, are developing into a lethal threat to our habitat
and human life in generalin the more crowded countries of the world, in any case.
A compelling argument against unimpeded air traffic growth has been proffered by the UK-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
(report released 21 Sep. 2005)
Noting that in the next twenty years air
traffic in the British Isles is expected to grow nearly two and a half times (from 180m to 425m passengers per year), the Institute warned that even if aviation's current growth is halved from today's level,
the rest of the British economy will require carbon dioxide cuts far beyond Government targets for 2050.
In the light of these and many similar findings, we cannot escape the conclusion that environmental considerations should induce us to work frantically on an all-round
integration of Air, Rail and Road, with a view to promoting public transport on rails (notably high speed trains) as a convenient substitute for all short-haul flights and most
long-distance motoring as well as for much of the urban motoring that is increasingly clogging our cities today.
Short-haul flights are uneconomic
A civilian aircraft (airliner) is meant to transport people and/or goods over distances too long to be covered by land or sea in a reasonable span of time. The time gained or saved must justify the
extra expenditure, for the customer as much as for the service provider (airplane operator). The critical factor is the amount (and hence cost) of the energy spent on the operation.
Aircraft operators are about to realize that short-haul flights are not just less economic than other flights, but outright uneconomic. The high cost of the aircraft itself, the extra fuel needed to take off,
ascend and gather speed, and the fees charged by airports, make it obvious that flying short distances means wasting money. After all, airplanes are built to fly, and the ratio of flying time to the time
spent on the ground (boarding, loading, taxiing, queuing etc.) must be kept within limits. A plane that is 20 minutes in the air and then spends an hour on the ground simply doesn't earn you money.
The low-cost carriers have profited so far from the inflated overheads of the veteran airlines and the lower charges at secondary airports. It remains to be seen whether they can win against high
speed trains, over routes where such trains already compete against airplanes, considering that the vexing security checks at airports will remain in place for long, if not forever.
In addition to the flight expenditure (on equipment, servicing, airport facilities and fuel), there are the external costs for the environment. The latter factor will have to be included in the cost
calculation, now that governments are contemplating extra charges or taxes on environment-degrading operators.
The argument that "transfer" passengers are well served by feeder flights to hubs from where they begin their long-haul flights, will hold water only where there is no convenient rail
service to the hub in question.
From competition to cooperation
Even before the publication of the EC White Paper European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, in 2001, the Union's declared transport policy has been to overcome the
chronic imbalance between, on the one hand, Road and Air and, on the other, Rail and Shipping (as the "real alternatives to road haulage"). Trying to "shift the balance
between the modes of transport", the programme outlined in the 2001 White Paper proposed to establish a "regulated competition" by measures such as revitalising the
railways, developing the rail infrastructurechiefly by building new high speed linesand creating a single European railway system (presupposing full interoperability) by 2020.
In line with this policy, the EU has for years consistently favoured railways over roads and has stuck to the iron rule of 55 to 25 in the allocation of funds to Rail and Road.
The principal consideration behind this policy of sustainable development has been preservation of the environment. Europe is well aware by now how much is to be gained from
a substitution of a fair amount of the environment-hostile air and road traffic with environment-friendly railways and shipping. A further, but not secondary, consideration is the stark contrast in the
amount of energy consumed per passenger by the three modes: Air, Road and Rail.
Aiming at an "integration of air and rail transport services and airports" (p. 50/51), the 2001 White Paper was enthusiastic about the chances of a trans-European high speed rail
network and expressly encouraged "rail companies, airlines and airport managers not just to compete, but also to cooperate".
And indeed, the first signs of a displacement of short-haul flights by trains are in evidence by now: (a) High speed trains bring passengers to and from Charles de Gaulle airport from places as
distant as Brussels, Liege, Lyon. (b) The 85 minutes you can spend comfortably on a TGV or Thalys between Brussels and Paris have caused Air France to cancel flights between the two capitals
and sell rail tickets instead. Has this brought losses to the French airline? On the contrary, it has saved them money, previously wasted on those short-haul flights. (c) A similar modal shift
is in progress between Paris and Marseilles, where a train trip of 3 hours has caused easyJet to cancel flights as of April, 2005, following SNCF's new pricing policy (cheap tickets, like with airlines).
High speed trains can relieve civil aviation in at least two ways, namely, as substitutes for both feeder flights and for short-haul flights (if, by a stretch of imagination, distances of up
to 1000 km can pass for short-haul flights).
From complementarity to integration
The three basic modes of transport are still jealous of each other, having been rivals in both passenger and goods traffic, over distances of from 200 to 500 miles, for much too long. But
the hard facts of (economic) life should make them appreciate their mutual complementarity. In other words, they will have to learn how to coexist in perfect harmony, while bracing each
Railways offer an economic alternative to flights provided they are comfortable and fast enough. The speeds achieved on the Japanese, French, Spanish and (partly) the Italian and
German high speed networks, give the train an edge over flying as well as car driving. Historically, the advantages of Rail over both Air and Road have come into evidence first in Japan,
then in France, later in Spain (Madrid/Sevilla), and, more recently, in Germany.
Whereas the newly established Air-Rail Intermodality Facilitation Forum seems not to have affected EU Transport planning yet, at least two of the 30 Priority Projects of the DG Energy &
Transport are related to airports. Rail Project No 2, also known by the designation PBKAL, is meant to interconnect five airports: Paris, Brussels, Köln, Amsterdam, London. And the (already
completed) Öresund fixed link runs through and under Copenhagen's Kastrup airport.
Some countries have undertaken to interconnect their major airports by high speed rail. A showcase can be found in Germany, where a high speed railway was built across hilly country, to link
Frankfurt Int'l airport with Köln (Cologne) and some other places of the PBKAL triangle.
To make such Air-Rail interconnections truly effective, and hence Rail truly competitive against Air, the high speed railway station must be situated under the airport. The existing
solution at Charles de Gaulle airport does not meet this condition because the TGV station there is placed between just four of the total of fourteen terminals.
The model airport has yet to be built, but there is already one project meant to implement this idea: BBI, or the future Berlin airport (in fact, an extension of Schönefeld), where ICE trains will
come to stop right underneath a central terminal.
From congestion to symbiosis
The model airport must meet more requirements than just a high speed train station under the airport. It must have a truly central terminal (no extra piers out of reach for passengers
on foot) located on top of (at least) two intersecting trunk lines, offering quick, direct services to conurbations and between airports as far away as 500 km (i.e., within two hours).
Furthermore, such an airport must offer easy access to/from nearby motorways.
Because of these requirements, the model airport cannot evolve from an existing airport; in fact, only a greenfield project can meet all the specified requirements. This bland assertion seems
to exclude the densely populated areas of Western Europe from the Garden of Eden. Well, not exactly, because the ideal solution may be approached gradually, at enormous cost, of course,
starting with 'makeshift' solutions, like the ICE station at Frankfurt Airport, the TGV station at Charles de Gaulle, the express train station at Zurich Klöten, and (prospectively) the high speed
train station at Amsterdam Schiphol.
The ongoing expansion of the high speed train network will eventually ensure direct services between those and many other airports where rail stations exist or will be built near the (main) terminal(s).
Though less conveniently located than the 'ideal' high speed train station under the central terminal, such stations can still become integrated into what will become the European airport network, as
part and parcel of the future integrated European transport network.
This vision may not come true before 2020 (which might explain why it is missing in the 2001 paper European Aeronautics: A Vision for 2020), but it is certainly worth the effort and expense.
The obvious testing ground for such all-round Air-Rail-Road integration lies east of the tightly knit network of the 'old' EU, that is, east of Berlin.
A look at the
UIC map of the European HS network envisaged for 2020
reveals the planned extension of high speed railways as far as Berlin and Vienna, but not beyond. What actually lies beyond, are lands ideally suited
for large-scale projects of the greenfield type.