Data Analysis: Trains remain underfunded in Europe

Credit: Alexia Barakou
  • Across Europe, €843 billion was invested in railway networks, from 2000 to 2019, according to OECD data. In the same period, investment in road infrastructure was €1,341 billion.
  • The difference of almost €500 billion is due to the relative prioritisation of roads, while investments in rail infrastructure mostly stagnated for 20 years.
  • The data about the length of railway lines reveals how the train network across Europe has been shrinking, with some countries losing many kilometres and therefore, opportunities to travel by train.
  • Investment data also shows that only three countries — Austria, Belgium and the United Kingdom – invested more in rail than in road infrastructure.
  • After declaring 2021 the ‘Year of Rail’, the European Union has proclaimed dedicated support for development of the rail network. Although this is reflected in some of the funds distributed by the EU, the “shift from road to rail” is not  happening.

Investments in transport infrastructure

Investigate Europe has analysed OECD data on investments in transport infrastructure in the last two decades in the member states of the European Union,  as well as the UK, Norway, and Switzerland. Despite some missing data, this database was the most comprehensive one available. Data for 2020 has not been published yet. 

Figures include both public and private investments in some countries, but these two cannot be separated as that is how institutions in charge provided it to OECD. According to some reports provided by OECD, the share of private investments seems to be low in general. 

The total amount of money invested in rail infrastructure in the EU+UK, Norway and Switzerland between 2000 and 2019 is €843 billion, while €1,341 billion was awarded to road infrastructure investments. Investment in air transport infrastructure totalled €112 billion.

In 2000, European countries saw an investment of €27 billion in rail infrastructure and double the amount — €54 billion — in road. Rail investments increased slowly, but mostly stagnated after reaching €40 billion in 2003. It peaked 12 years later, with €50 billion in 2015. 

Road investments increased at a faster rate, with a peak in 2008 of €85 billion euros invested.

The gap between investments in these two types of transport was notable between 2004 and 2013, with the biggest difference in 2008 when €45 billion was invested in rail and €85 billion in road. 

In the following years, the gap decreased, and in 2018 — the last year with reliable data — €47 billion was recorded for rail and €71 billion for road. 

Investments in rail network per country 

Switzerland, Austria, Spain, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and Hungary are the countries with the highest average percentage of GDP invested in rail infrastructure, according to the OECD data.

Analysis of infrastructure investments as a percentage of GDP shows that in Switzerland, 0.63 % of GDP was invested in rail infrastructure, followed by Austria (0.52%), Spain (0.46%), the Czech Republic (0.42%), the UK (0.4%) and Hungary (0.38%).Meanwhile, the average percentage invested in road infrastructure in these countries is 0.9% in Hungary, 0.8% in Switzerland 0.7% in the Czech Republic, 0.6% in Spain, 0.3% in the UK, and 0.2% in Austria.

Countries with the lowest investments in rail as a percentage of GDP are: Poland, Ireland (data available only till 2007, at 0.1%) and Romania (0.1%). It seems that roads play a more significant role in these countries, as the average % of GDP invested in rail infrastructure in Romania is 1.8 %, in Poland 0.9 % and Ireland 0.7 %.

Austria invests significantly more in rail than in road infrastructure, and it is the only country, along with with the United Kingdom and Belgium, that gives priority to rail.

EU funds 

According to the European Commission, there are three principal sources for financing rail projects at the EU level: the Cohesion fund, European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). Investigate Europe analysed all of them for the two funding periods, 2007-2013 and 2014-2020. There was no clear and comprehensive overview for the period between 2000 and 2006. In response to our query, the Commission wrote that it didn’t  have a usable dataset from those years to provide us with.

Investigate Europe looked into how much money from those funds was allocated for projects for rail networks, highways, and airports. We also analysed the amount of money per country from these funds for different projects in each funding period. 

The data analysis is based on Cohesion databases, which include the Cohesion fund and ERDF, and databases provided by CINEA for TEN-T projects (2007-2013) and CEF funding between 2014 and 2020.

Despite publicly-stated goals for the EU to become climate neutral by 2030 and despite naming 2021 the ‘year of rail’, trains still don’t have the adequate support in comparison to road.

Data from CINEA for TEN-T projects from 2007 to 2013 shows that €3.3 billion went to building rail networks. From 2014 onwards, the TEN-T financing happened via the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). We can assume that the CEF fund is rail-oriented, as it shows higher amount of money being awarded to rail projects than to other transport infrastructures. More than €16.5 billion from the CEF fund went to rail projects in 2014-2020, while €2.1 billion was given for road and €1.5 billion for airports.

According to the cohesion data (CF and ERDF) in 2014-2020,  almost €19 billion was spent on rail projects, of which for €12 billion was for TEN-T. 

The corresponding amount amount for road projects was €33.7 billion, of which €19.5 billion was for TEN-T.

Even if there is more public support for rail, that is not what the data shows. Although the gap is smaller compared to the previous period (2007-2013) — where €23.2 billion was given to rail and €46.5 billion to road — the railway is not yet a priority. 

According to the CINEA databases for TEN-T (2007-2013) and CEF (2014-2020),  €19.9 billion was given to rail projects, while Cohesion data shows that for the same period,  CF and ERDF provided €42.1 billion to rail, of which €28.8 billion was for TEN-T.

Analysis by Investigate Europe has shown that at least €62 billion were given for the development of rail networks across the European Union between 2007 and 2020, of which €48.6 billion was for TEN-T. In the same period, from the same EU funds, €82.5 billion went to building roads and motorways, of which around €43 billion was for TEN-T. 

Besides analysis of allocation per transport modality from each fund, Investigate Europe looked into the biggest projects supported with these funds and the countries that benefit the most from the latest financing.

Projects with the highest amount of money from the CEF fund

According to the database of all rail projects supported by the CEF fund, the project that got the highest amount of money is one that is part of the Brenner Base Tunnel, which is along the Scandinavian-Mediterranean corridor. This project alone costs €1,098 million, with almost €880 million from CEF being allocated to Austria and Italy (the total cost of the tunnel is over €8 billion). It is on-going and should be completed by mid-2023. 

In second place is the project for the cross-border section of the new Lyon-Turin Rail Link Mont Cenis Base Tunel, with almost €814 million for Italy and France. The completion date is December 2022 and it is part of the Mediterranean Corridor. 

Almost €590 million went to Germany for a project called Upgrade and construction of the Stuttgart-Wendlignen line, including Stuttgart 21 . This project is part of the Rhine-Danube corridor and it is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. The total costs of this project are €1.9 billion, with 30% supported by the CEF fund for the period 2014-2020. 

Nearly the same amount, €589 million, was allocated to Denmark for the Fehmarnbelt tunnel project — the fixed rail and road link between Scandinavia and Germany. It is part of the Scandinavian—Mediterranean corridor and has a scheduled completion date in December 2023. Total costs are around €1.4 billion, of which 40% is supported by the CEF.

These are not final amounts of money allocated for sections, as some of them include more projects. Here, we analysed individual projects with the highest value.

Cohesion fund and ERDF

Poland is the major beneficiary from these EU funds, according to Cohesion data, with €6.3 billion decided for rail projects, followed by the Czech Republic with an amount three times smaller — €2.1 billion,and Romania with €2 billion. Next are Sweden with €1.8 billion and Italy with €1.4 billion for rail.

Some of the projects supported by these funds are the Madrid Lisbon high-speed railway, upgrades of the railway line in Romania to the Hungarian border, integration of transport modes in the cities of Gdansk and Gdynia and modernisation of the railway line between Warsaw and Lublin in Poland.

Shrinking railway network — lines over years

According to the Eurostat data on the length of railway lines, France is the country that has lost most kilometres — 3,558 of its railway network — between 2008 and 2019. The total length of lines increased the most in Spain, which recorded2,173 km more in 2019 than in 2008.

Looking at the total length of rail lines, the European railway network has lost around 3,300 kilometres since 2008.