European rail industry must overcome obstacles to shine

15 May 2024 3 min. read
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The rail industry could provide a larger contribution to Europe’s net-zero emissions goal by 2050. But in order to achieve that, rail travel needs to be more reliable and competitive with low-cost air travel – and that means overcoming operational challenges.

Better and more effective rail travel is an essential part of the European Regional Policy, a set of priorities that aim to better integrate the members of the bloc. That is according to analysis from Roland Berger, which paints a picture of a European rail system struggling to achieve these established policies.

“European rail networks must address numerous operational challenges to achieve these goals,” said Roland Berger partner Casper Veenman in a report titled ‘The changing landscape of rail travel’.

European rail industry must overcome obstacles to shine

“The landscape of rail travel is undergoing scrutiny as operational performance of rail lines struggles to match alternative modes of travel. Despite a rising demand for mobility, Europe’s rail market share is below 7% and has not increased since 2000,” Veenman continued.

Across Europe, the Covid-19 pandemic presented another major problem for the rail industry. The change in working and traveling behavior made it increasingly difficult to predict patterns of demand.

After a serious dip in passenger numbers around the time of the pandemic and associated lockdowns, the figures have only just started to recover to pre-2020 levels. The rebound could continue, but some serious issues need to be addressed, including a looming infrastructure gap.

“Europe aims to double international high-speed rail by 2030 and triple it by 2050. However, meeting this goal means overcoming significant challenges: only around 75% of the required traffic growth by 2030 can be met by existing or planned high-speed rail infrastructure,” said Veenman.

European rail industry must overcome obstacles to shine

Different regions in Europe face unique issues with their local rail systems. But some operational challenges are shared across different countries.

For example, train punctuality is down across the board in different European countries. The Roland Berger analysis shows how in Germany, France, and the Netherlands, trains are on time less often after the disruptions caused by Covid-19, which are still lingering.

Another key issue that the rail industry faces is aging infrastructure. Frequent maintenance tends to cause extended amounts of down time. A solution to this requires strategic, long-term planning to modernize parts of the rail network.

European rail industry must overcome obstacles to shine

Like in other industries across Europe, there is also a shortage of labor in the rail industry. That affects both the operational workforce and the skilled personnel that are required to manage railway assets.

“As the railway industry seeks sustainable improvements in operational performance, an operational performance program is essential,” said Veenman.

“Despite the complexities posed by varied organizational structures, a collaborative effort and strategic partnerships are key to overcoming operational challenges. By focusing on planning, rolling stock, personnel, infrastructure, transport control, and external effects, railways can pave the way for a future where operational excellence is synonymous with rail travel.”