Monday, September 26, 2005

Transalpine Madness

The above graphs show the development of freight transports in and across the French, Swiss and Austrian Alps, with rail traffic in black and road traffic in grey. It is quite striking that Switzerland does something right the two EU members don't at all. All three countries are in the process of building giant railway base tunnels, but present trends indicate they'll only suffice to maintain rail's already low share in the EU-member two...

Actually, what's not too apparent on the Swiss graph is that while road's share grew after the opening of the Gotthard Road Tunnel in 1980, this slowed in the nineties, and turned around after 2000. This was achieved by restrictions for heavy trucks, quotas and passage charges on one side, and fairly high-quality railfreight and trucks-on-railcars transport on the other side.

This is not for the wisdom of Swiss leaders - the group think of the political class is active there, too. Instead, it's direct democracy: Swiss voters have repeatedly, and consistently voted for expensive transalpine and local rail network projects, financed by taxes and road charges, and against more road construction in a number of referendums. Just a year ago, when another right-populist/industry proposal of re-starting major road construction was tabled, and the government's constitutionally-demanded 'opposite' proposal was for even more construction, both were voted down.

And what happened in the other two? For Austria, you can see a blip around 1990: that's when they too tried to restrict road traffic, with road charges and later quotas. But, border-crossing rail transport wasn't well developed - and, even at the time Austria was only applying for membership, the EU exerted persistent pressure to reduce and abolish the charges/quotas, citing internal market rules of 'fair competition'. No matter that the road charges only added (part of) the external costs (pollution, noise etc.) to trucker's prices.

(A more general rant on current EU rail policy in the previous post.)


At 2:16 AM, Blogger answer-man said...

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