Switzerland host Europe's top train systems despite Nordic challenge

27 April 2017 Consultancy.eu 4 min. read

Insights from a new report have revealed the best railways in Europe. Swiss railways have been rated number one consistently over the past five years, while elsewhere Nordic nations dominate the top ten.

According to recent analysis from BCG’s latest Rail Performance Index (RPI), which updated research last published in 2015, Switzerland has retained its crown in terms of the best performing railways on the continent.

Despite having significantly lower levels of safety than its nearest rival, Denmark, along with equal standards of service, Switzerland was able to hold on to top spot in BCG’s analysis by way of its rail network’s intensity of use. Due to researchers factoring in the potential risks of each system along with how regularly it is utilised by commuters and freight alike, to come up with a comprehensive overall RPI score, Denmark could only rank second. Compared to Switzerland’s small size, along with its continental centrality, Danish rails were used far less intensely.

The RPI comprises weighted measures across critical dimensions

In terms of quality of service, Denmark’s Nordic neighbours of Finland excelled, being listed second only to Spain – as the nation continued to rise through BCG’s ranking to third. Finland stood sixth in 2012, and fifth in 2015 previously.

Safety first

Safety meanwhile saw top-spot, shared by Luxembourg and Denmark, both achieving a 3.0 evaluation. Great Britain achieved its best result in the test in this area, with the third highest safety rating of the 25 nations listed, scoring 2.8.

While the UK only scores a ‘good’ rating for intensity of use, due to a relatively low level of freight utilisation across its rail network, the country’s excellent safety rating boosts their overall score has an excellent rating to 5.4, meaning it avoids a further drop from 2012’s listing, where it was positioned 7th.

The UK’s consolidation is also thanks in part to a general fall in RPI ratings amongst key competitors, including France, Germany, Spain and Italy. However, while the BCG report cites the size of those respective systems as placing strain on networks and resultantly lowering standards, only the UK and Italy have seen a decrease in the quality of service they provide travellers. Punctuality of local and long-distance trains, the country’s proportion of high speed rail services, and price per passenger per kilometre all contribute to this criteria.

Country Performance on the RPI

France increased their quality rating to 2.0, while Germany climbed to 1.5 and Spain remained unchanged at 2.1, the highest standard of service in Europe. Italian rail service quality may have fallen slightly to 1.5 meanwhile, but it remains steadfastly ahead of Britain’s rating, which fell a further .2, to hit 1.0. The rating sees the UK’s rail system slump to being joint 6th worst of the 25 countries examined in terms of value to passengers.

Stagnant service

BCG’s analysts also found that a number of European nations were offering a poorer performance despite increased public costs.

Belgium offered the worst value for money of the nations analysed, its public cost having jumped drastically since 2005, while its performance has decreased the second most, behind Italy – though the Mediterenean nation has increased public cost the least over that time, still putting it within a line of best fit for average value for money. Both Italy and Belgium have announced large public investment campaigns in order to improve their performances, though the effects are yet to show.

At the other end of the scale, Finnish railways look likely to put Swiss competitors under significant pressure over the coming years, if present patterns are to continue. While Swiss public cost has increased the most of any nation listed, it has had almost no impact on the performance of the network, similarly to Norway. Finland, contrastingly, have increased public cost less than both, while delivering the most improved service of any country examined.

Increased public cost correlates with Performance Improvement

In terms of cost to commuters on European lines, the UK are said to have the worst value for money in Europe. According to a further report by the Action for Rail group, a lobbying group for re-nationalisation of British railways, from 2017 UK commuters are due to spend the largest chunk of their salaries on travel in the continent.

Travellers between Luton and London for example are projected to spend 14% of an average wage on rail fares – while similar commutes across a number of European capitals sampled would cost less than 8% of an average worker’s earnings.