Quo vadis, international long-distance railway services? Evidence from Central Europe
|Year of publication
|Article in Periodical
|Magazine / Source
|Journal of Transport Geography
|MU Faculty or unit
|Passenger railway transport; International railway services; Long-distance trains; Transport spatial reorientation; Central Europe
|International railway passenger services have seen considerable changes in Europe over the past few decades. Using international railway connections within and reaching outside the V4 countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) in 1990?2019 as a sample, our paper explores trends and patterns in that matter in Central Europe. We have found that the characteristic focus on relatively very frequent short or medium-distance connections using the best equipped railway corridors ? paralleled by a considerable reduction of the remaining services ? has also been clearly in evidence in this part of the world. However, trends and patterns in Central Europe are not necessarily a mirror image of what has occurred in Western Europe. For instance, although a considerable shortening of travel times has indeed been observed, it has been achieved ? characteristically ? thanks to the improved permeability of state borders after the enlargement of the EU in 2004, with only moderate improvements to infrastructure being made. Central Europe therefore seems to be the prime example of an area in which contextual, political and geopolitical factors are the keys to understanding the dynamics of changes in transport systems. On the other hand, evidence from this region may give rise to some reflections on the possible roles for the European long-distance rail transport in the future. To begin with, our results show 800 km to be the threshold beyond which the competitive position of rail becomes significantly lower. Secondly, competitive pressure from innovative newcomers (Regiojet, LeoExpress, Arriva) clearly makes national incumbents more flexible and pro-active. Thirdly, the noticeable spatial re-orientation of international railway connections from the V4 countries towards Vienna and Munich (at the expense of Berlin) that we have observed is partly related to the appeal of these cities as multimodal gates with excellent locations within European transport networks. It would therefore seem that the railways in this part of Europe have been attempting to become an integral part of the international multi-modal long-distance transport system.