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FOCUS: Global rail revival - why and where?

by ASC Staff on Sep 12, 2017


Peter Newman, professor of sustainability, Curtin University.
Peter Newman, professor of sustainability, Curtin University.

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There is a major rail revival around the world, including light rail, metro rail, heavy rail, and high speed rail. At the same time car use has peaked and is in decline in most cities. Why is there a reversal in the historic transport patterns? Where is it happening? Will it continue?

Every city is now full of traffic as cars take up a lot of space. Congestion has meant travel times are going down and we are desperate to save time as time is money. So, we are putting our money into fast trains that can go around, over or under the traffic and take up about 1/20th of the space. We are also not so keen on living in far distant suburbs where very little happens so the trend is to build back into the city, especially for young people and those no longer with children in the house.

In Europe, 68 cities built new or expanded light rail systems between 1980 and 2014; 160 European cities have light rail with France doing most to create new systems and Germany converting old street-running trams into sleek light rail lines in separate right of ways. Metro rail systems in Europe are the best in the world with new lines under construction in many of the larger European cities. Europe has also rapidly expanded its network of high speed intercity rail lines.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the growth of rail in the Middle East where cheap oil meant the car was king. But traffic has outgrown capacity and so new rail lines are going in everywhere.

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