New investment highs in existing Swedish rail infrastructure
The increase of rail transport in Sweden has been positive for a long time on an aggregate level and the development has been the strongest in passenger traffic. Since the early-1990s train travel has doubled whereas the corresponding rate of increase in car travellers has been 10-15%. Railway infrastructure developments and investments in new traffic systems have been decisive factors in this growth. Maintenance and re investments, however, have not kept pace with traffic trends and the shortcomings in the rail system are becoming increasingly apparent. Björn Westerberg, CEO of ASTOC – the Association of Swedish Train Operating Companies – details current work and future plans for Sweden’s rail investments.
Efforts to achieve the environmental goals of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are about to fail if we do not act now. Sweden’s climate target for the transport sector by 2050 means that the net emissions of greenhouse gases must decrease to a level close to zero. Energy efficient vehicles and an increased proportion of renewable fuels can dampen or even reverse the negative trend, but this still won’t be enough. There is an urgent need for us to radically change our entire approach to transport and planning. However, today’s transport system lacks the prerequisites needed to enable a greater shift towards sustainable transport. Capacity shortages in both the road and the rail systems lead to delays, congestion and increased costs. The Government Agency for Transport Analysis concluded in its annual follow-up of the transport policy goals that the transport system does not in any way reach its long-term sustainability goal.
Should Swedish railways be compared to a product cycle, we have now reached the ‘maturation phase’ or ‘peak’. Development has been in a growth phase for a long time, but capacity and quality problems are now threatening continued growth. For a period of time railways can survive going hand-in-hand with road use, but demand for new and more efficient transport solutions will inevitably increase, meaning railways risk losing market share. To avoid stagnation, or even decline, the expansion of next-generation railways should have already begun.
The worn infrastructure reduces both confidence and profitability and may speed up a downturn. In order to seriously step into a new growth phase following a short decline, infrastructure must be re-developed. In the short-term, a certain margin may be created through more efficient utilisation of existing infrastructure. Several actions have been discussed (and questioned), including such technical solutions as track access charging, administrative instruments and minor remodelling that, for example, enable the railway system to handle longer and heavier trains. However, to achieve a cracking effect in development, extensive and thoughtful developments are required. The national rail network must be expanded to meet future demands for a sustainable and competitive transport system.