Trainspotting: Europe’s railway lines


Passenger transport in Europe is largely dominated by cars. In the past decade, cars kept a consistent share of around 83 per cent of the modal split within the European Union, followed by buses and coaches (around nine per cent in most recent statistics) and trains (between seven and eight per cent). The modal split describes these modes of transport as ‘transport kilometres travelled by all inland passengers’. In the debate about sustainable development, this is an important measure to monitor the environmental and social impacts of the specific modes of transport.
Cars are generating the most emissions and pollution per passenger kilometre and also have significantly higher accident rates. Mass transit and public transport, including buses and coaches as well as trains, are therefore regarded as the more sustainable alternatives and have regained importance in urban and regional planning.
Buses rely on the same transport infrastructure as cars, while trains require railway tracks in order to maintain or improve the existing transport capabilities. Recent trends showing a slow but steady revival of passenger transport by train in Europe therefore have to be seen in the context of its existing transport infrastructure. New railway infrastructure is costly and requires time-consuming planning procedures.
A look at the railway infrastructure in Europe (beyond the EU) shows that across the continent there are approximately 250,000 km of tracks, just slightly lower than the length of tracks in the USA, where train travel plays a subordinate role in passenger transport but serves mostly freight transport.

Cartogram: Statistical map of European Railway Lines
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20’s not so plenty: Road safety in Britain

“20’s Plenty for Us is a voluntary organisation that campaigns for the introduction of a default 20 mph (32 km/h) speed limit for residential streets and urban streets. By seeking to obtain implementation across a complete local authority or community then the organisation believes that worthwhile speed reductions can be achieved without the usual physical calming features.” (Wikipedia) In collaboration with Rod King of 20’s Plenty and Danny Dorling of Oxford University we looked at how far the campaign has gotten so far with convincing local authorities to implement a speed limit of 20 mph in residential areas. Today 12.5 million people live in areas where cars travel more slowly. Although nationally pedestrian deaths on the road are still rising, it marks a first step towards more road safety by a very simple measure. Looking at the spatial patterns, the implementation can be observed all across the United Kingdom, though there appear to be very little on a conventional map. Looking at the issue through an equal-population projection reveals the real extent and puts a spotlight on these areas that really matter for this measure: the most densely populated areas. Here it can be seen that the majority of Scottish people live in areas where 20 mph zones are prevalent, just as the Liverpool-Manchester region (and Sheffield) have seen very successful campaigns, while in other parts of the country the red patches are still covering very large shares of the population:

Cartogram visualisations global forest production, consumption and trade
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High Speed 2

The British government announced a £9.4bn package of investment in the railways in England and Wales today, which – if it is realised as proposed – adds to the recent efforts to bring the motherland of rail transport up to the standards of many other countries around the world. The announcement comes in a year in which another major railway infrastructure project is widely discussed in the United Kingdom: “High Speed 2 (HS2) is a planned high-speed railway between London and the English Midlands, Northern England, and potentially the central belt of Scotland” (see Wikipedia).
Phase 1 of HS2 has been discussed widely earlier this year, after the latest route plans from London Euston to Birmingham/Lichfield were proposed as part of the HS2 public consultation.
The detailed route proposal shows the geographical location of some of the most critical parts of the line that has some considerable opposition amongst various interest groups. While a high speed rail network requires space for the fastest legs of the journey – usually to be found in the countryside – the shorter parts of the line are not without problems either: As the line connects the most populous areas of the countries, it has to go through some densely populated areas as well, which are less visible on the overview maps of the project (another map is featured on the BBC website). The following map therefore takes advantage of the fisheye perspective of a gridded cartogram that shows the proposed HS2 (phase 1) route plotted on an equal population projection map. The map also includes the average speeds in an area, demonstrating the (obvious) slowdown effect of densely populated areas, mainly London and Birmingham as the main destinations that this line connects in the initial stage. The map also shows nicely how the fastest part of the journey squeezes through the least populated corridor between these areas, and it also gives an impression of ‘travel time’, i.e. where one spends much of the time in a high speed train. Its not the landscapes that fly past the window while travelling at highest speed, but the urban landscapes that one creeps along quite slowly when leaving and approaching the major cities:

Cartogram / Map of the proposed High-Speed 2 railway line in the UK
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