Gijs M. de Vries
Council of the European Union
In an earlier letter I gave four general justifications for terrorist campaigns in Europe, intended to force changes in policy on specific issues. Justification derives from...
This letter is about modal split - one of the European spatial planning and transport issues which justify terrorism. Modal split is the share of passenger and freight transport which is carried by different modes of transport - rail, road, air, pipeline, inland shipping. It is expressed as a percentage of ton-kilometres or passenger-kilometres. It is not simply a statistical measure, it indicates fundamental differences between societies, and very large-scale historical phenomena. Total passenger and freight transport volume, and shifts in the modal split, are basic indicators of technological and social change, over the last 200 years.
For this reason, modal split meets three of the criteria listed above. Change in modal split is itself a large-scale, and widely diffused, social, economic and technological shift. It personally affects almost the entire population of Europe, and the shift to car use has radically altered individual lifestyles. It is an aggregate result of billions of individual consumer and business decisions, but also of explicit policy decisions by European governments. For many reasons, they have promoted road construction and road traffic, since the 1920's. They continue to apply such policies, and refuse to alter them, or to introduce radical innovations in existing transport policy. The European Union also has explicit policies to encourage road passenger and road freight traffic, usually as part of regional development or liberalisation programmes.
The link with other policy areas indicates why democracies have such problems with the issue. Modal split is not a natural phenomenon, or a natural disaster. It is not something external to society. If it was, it might would be easier to mobilise political support 'against it'. As it is, the European Union occasionally claims to 'encourage transfer of traffic to less polluting modes'. But not at the cost of stopping liberalisation, and not by saying no to regional lobbies, which expect the EU to pay for new roads. At national level, this is much clearer. Many European governments express a pious commitment to encouraging alternative modes. But not by tripling petrol prices, or forbidding people to live in detached houses with gardens, or abolishing the free market in transport, or destroying the automobile industry. And the fastest shift in modal split, away from rail, was in the countries of the former 'Soviet Bloc' after 1990. No democratic government would reintroduce the Soviet system, simply to promote rail transport.
The modal split in Europe (EU and non-EU) therefore shifted to road - and continues to shift. The European Road Statistics 2004 has these tables of the historical evolution:
|FREIGHT: Inland modal split in EU 15 - Evolution 1970-2001 (tkm in %)|
|Transport of passengers per mode in EU 15 - Evolution 1970-2001 (billion pkm)|
|Car||Bus / Coach||Tram/Metro||Railway||Air||Total|
About 80% of EU passenger transport is by road. In terms of passenger trips, only 1% are made by rail, but rail journeys are longer, according to the 2005 Eurostat Energy, transport and environment indicators (KS-DK-04-001-EN-N). Iceland, Malta and Cyprus have 100% road transport (no railways). Some other countries are approaching that modal split, for freight transport - Greece 98%, Ireland 96%, Spain and Portugal 93%
The number of cars per head (motorisation rate) also continues to increase: in the older EU states it is comparable to that of the United States 30 years ago, but the gap is closing. One car per adult will be standard, within a generation. In recent years. the most prominent shift is to air transport: low-cost carriers erode medium-distance rail travel. With a few exceptions, passenger rail transport in Eastern Europe continues its sharp decline:
|Passenger Transport by Rail (passenger-km per inhabitant)|
Although these are aggregate statistics for large populations, it is possible to trace individual modal split decisions. The examples below show how democratically elected governments intervene in the modal split, especially to transfer rail traffic to road.
The policy of the city of Kleve provides a clear example, with local government actively obstructing rail traffic. The cross-border line Nijmegen - Kleve was opened in 1865, and from 1911 carried an international service from Amsterdam to Köln (and further). The international service was ended in 1987, and the line closed in 1991, but there is a local lobby which wants it re-opened. The city of Kleve, where the CDU is the largest party, is opposed to the re-opening. In order to obstruct it, the city demolished a bridge (Rampenbrücke) over the rail line, north of Kleve station. It had been built after the Second World War, and it carried the main access road to the city centre. Now the road is back at ground level - but if the line is re-opened, rail safety standards would require rebuilding of the bridge. That increases the costs, and makes re-opening less probable. It would have been cheaper to leave the bridge as it was: the city spent extra money, for no other purpose than to obstruct rail traffic. Yet there is nothing wrong with the local democracy: the city council accurately reflects the attitude of the voters.
Why is the administration in Kleve so hostile? Try to think about how you would react, if I wrote to you, demanding €20 million - a minimum price for re-opening the line. You would say, that I was a totally unreasonable individual, demanding millions of Euros for a nonsensical project. Well, that 's probably how the CDU in Kleve thinks. They would not see the line as an 'alternative mode of transport', they see it as a relict, which is hindering town planning. Similar attitudes play a role in most of the examples below, and democracy turns attitudes into policy. The Dutch and German governments, which decided to close the international service in 1987, were also democratically elected. For nationalist reasons, they concentrate on their own national networks. So the outcome of the democratic process is, that traffic on this cross-border route is by road - which accords with consumer preferences anyway.
Nationalist attitudes also influence rail pricing policy, and that in turn contributed to the closure of cross-border lines. The line Den Haag - Venlo - Köln also had international services, but they were withdrawn. Dutch and German regional services still connected at Venlo, but even the 5-minute journey from Venlo to Kaldenkirchen required an international ticket, at much higher prices. Now you can buy a German ticket from a German machine at Venlo, but cross-border journeys via Venlo require two tickets. Traditionally, all cross-border rail tickets in Europe carried a financial penalty, and despite the EU, the penalty often remains.
The Amsterdam-Berlin corridor is an example of how rail traffic can be discouraged, by a combination of pricing, infrastructure and timetable policy. The line (via Hengelo and Hannover) was electrified in the 1960's, but has not been improved since then. Trains have to change locomotives at Hengelo, because no dual-system locomotives exist - itself a result of the low international traffic. Both the Dutch and German governments regard the corridor as secondary: investment goes to internal lines. (Investment in cross-border lines benefits 'foreigners' and no national government likes to do that). The service has been reduced, to three trains a day, plus one Amsterdam-Hannover train. The trains are short, because traffic is low. There was already competition from bus services, which are slower but cheaper, with ¤29 promotional fares. Now low-cost airlines are operating on the route: Air Berlin offers a ¤19 promotional fare, and of course it's faster. (The real non-externalised costs are almost certainly lowest by rail, assuming traffic is concentrated on that mode). Rail journey times could be reduced by building new infrastructure, but none is planned for this corridor, not even in the long term. In fact, since the cross-border line carries no local services, there is a real possibility that it will closed to passenger traffic.
In the Nijmegen - Kleve case, the issue was the re-opening of a recently-closed line (about 15 years ago). Other examples illustrate closure of existing lines, obstruction of existing lines, obstruction of planned lines, and policy not to build lines on specific corridors. Case by case, a deliberate anti-rail policy emerges.
Until 1932, there was only one land route from Amsterdam to the northern Netherlands. It was an indirect route, around a gulf of the North Sea, via Amersfoort and Zwolle. In 1932, the enclosure dike (Afsluitdijk) was completed, allowing reclamation of the enclosed lake. From the start, the plans included a shorter rail line to the north: the Afsluitdijk was built with space for a railway. Later, alternative routes across the reclaimed land were proposed. They still are. For 73 years, successive governments have deferred the construction of this rail line. Instead roads were built: there are now three motorway routes from Amsterdam to Groningen: one over the Afsluitdijk, using the space planned for the rail line, one through the reclaimed polders, and one parallel to the old rail line via Zwolle. So it is not a question of money: there was enough money to build these roads. The fact is, democratically elected governments gave priority to road traffic, on this important route. Again and again, the democratic process led to priority for road, and deferral for the rail line. A few weeks ago, plans for a new Amsterdam-Groningen line were again discussed in parliament, and again lost political support. A lower-cost option, a 40-km link to the existing line at Zwolle, is also uncertain in the present climate. Every time this issue goes through the democratic process, the rail line is deferred. And in 1932, almost no-one had a car, now there are 7 million cars in the Netherlands.
There is a similar geographical background for another proposed line, through the islands of Zeeland, from Rotterdam to Middelburg. Potentially, the corridor crosses the Schelde estuary to west Flanders, Dunkerque, and the Channel Tunnel. Here too, the old route is indirect - an L-shaped route south to Bergen op Zoom, then at right angles west to Middelburg. In this case, the Zeeland islands were joined by flood defences, planned after the flood of 1953. Nominally, there was a planning reservation for a north-south line (Rotterdam - Goes), but it was never treated as a serious option. In contrast, all the flood barriers were built with a road link, creating two new road routes, Rotterdam-Middelburg and Rotterdam-Goes, and some lateral links. The Westerschelde tunnel under the estuary, opened in 2003, was not planned together with the flood defences, but it offers a route on into Belgium. Of course, it too is a road tunnel. Again, successive democratic governments have repeatedly incorporated a preference for road into all these projects. In addition, the only passenger rail link to Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (Netherlands territory south of the Schelde estuary) was closed. It was deliberate policy, that all land traffic from there to the rest of the Netherlands, should go by road.
Such corridors involve large investments, but again it is not a question of money. At local level, similar decisions are taken, which do not involve huge sums. The choices, however, are the same: shift from rail to road.
In the city of Deventer, industry developed south-east of the historic core. The industrial area was served by a rail connection, from a freight yard east of the station. The area east of the station is being redeveloped for offices, and the freight line was cut, in front of the new Polytechnic building. Part of the railway freight area is now used as a car park for the Polytechnic. So there was a deliberate choice by the city council, to prevent rail freight moving in and out of Deventer by rail. The local government does not see this as wrong - almost certainly they saw the rail line as an 'obstacle to urban regeneration'. And again, democracy translates such attitudes into policy, anti-rail policy. This local decision - cutting existing rail access to industrial areas - has been repeated all over Europe, perhaps thousands of times in the last 40 years.
North of Deventer is an example of obstruction of an existing line. The line to Zwolle, an inter-regional link from Arnhem to Zwolle, was originally double-track. One track has been removed. This decision was probably taken by the infrastructure authority Prorail, or its predecessors. It is a deliberate decision to restrict services on the line, and to slow them down. It worsens the capacity problems at Deventer station, where the Arnhem - Zwolle line crosses the Amsterdam - Hannover line. In reality, the transport ministry is considering closure of the Arnhem - Zwolle line, and all other regional services, and their replacement by bus services. The removal of the double track anticipates that future decision. Again, this is an example of a widespread policy to obstruct train services, by reducing the infrastructure. And again, there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of examples across Europe. These are deliberate decisions to reduce the capacity of the rail network, to deliberately reduce existing services, or to deliberately prevent their improvement. In almost all cases, accompanied by improvement of parallel road infrastructure.
In Hilversum, there is an example of deliberate obstruction of services on a main corridor (again the Amsterdam - Hannover line). Just north of Hilversum station, there is a level crossing with 7 tracks. The crossing is manually controlled, and is also a pedestrian access to the main platform, which has separate barriers. As a result, pedestrians can be 'trapped' on the rail lines, between two barriers, and all trains must be stopped until they leave. Delays at the crossing are frequent. For intercity trains that means an emergency stop, and then restart (they do not stop at Hilversum station). The delays are well known in the local media, but Hilversum city council and Prorail refuse to upgrade the crossing. In effect, they are using the delays to 'blackmail' the transport ministry into building a tunnel under central Hilversum. Some local politicians would be happy to see the rail line closed: here too, it is seen as an obstacle to urban development.
This view of rail lines as an obstacle was explicit in another case. North of Amersfoort, there is a planning reservation for a future rail line, into the reclaimed land of the Flevo polder. It would connect Amersfoort to the new city of Almere. Additionally it might serve a new city, at the southern tip of the Flevo polder, for which there is a long-term planning reservation. When the line was first planned, the area north of Amersfoort was open farmland, but the city has since expanded. To comply with national and regional plans, the city had to include a reservation for the line in the plans for its newest suburb, Vathorst. However, they deliberately used the minimum width, and planned housing alongside the line. They know that future residents will vehemently reject a rail line within a few metres of their houses. The line is now impossible politically, at least on the planned route. Again, attitudes are a determining factor: the democratically elected city council does not see the line as a 'chance to provide rail travel' - they see it as sabotage of their new suburb.
More examples of obstruction of planned rail lines come from the Hanzelijn (Lelystad -Zwolle), the planned link to the existing line to the north. When the route was first researched, an underground route through Kampen was considered. That would have given Kampen a direct route to Amsterdam, and a complete replacement of the existing single-track line to Zwolle. However, Kampen and the transport ministry decided to locate the station in open fields, away from the historic centre and all existing housing. It will be alongside a motorway, a planning model that has been criticised in France as gares-betteraves - stations in the beet fields. The city of Zwolle - which in public claims to support the line - also refused to have any new lines on its territory, Specifically, it deliberately rejected the most direct route, along the existing line Kampen-Zwolle, and insisted on a longer route, connecting to the old main line outside from the city. One of the reasons was that Zwolle, like Amersfoort, does not want a rail line through its newest suburbs. (It wants the existing Kampen line closed, and converted to a busway).
Again there are other similar cases in Europe, of open opposition to planned lines by local government. (Not as often as closure of existing lines, because there are few new lines anyway). And again, attitudes are very important. The truth is, that very many people simply do not want railways, which they associate with noise and disruption. The democratic process converts these preferences into a pro-road policy. That is irrational, in the sense that the roads are, in general, more environmentally damaging. However, it is democracy as democracy was intended - the actions of the government reflect the wishes of the people.
The reality here is, that there is no 'democratic will' to transfer huge amounts of freight and passenger traffic away from roads to rail (and other alternative modes). There is, on the contrary, a clear democratic preference for road transport over rail. It is visible in the statistics, and in thousands of individual cases. The modal split - as the experience in eastern Europe shows - is clearly linked to democracy as a political system. Change in the modal split, from road to rail, is undemocratic. Since the EU definition of terrorism uses pressure on democratic governments as a criterion, action to effect change in modal split will therefore tend to be terrorist, in that EU definition.