The railway is the transport mode of the future – in the area of the Czech Republic and Europe it can be the most convenient, fastest and most ecological transport mode.
The development of railways, especially high-speed lines, can fundamentally and positively change the face of our country. Improved rail mobility prevents rural depopulation, helps trade, reduces traffic density on the motorways and improves the environment. The Czech Republic is located on 3 of the 9 main European corridors in the trans-European network TEN-T. Developing these opportunities can make us a real center of Europe.
Like most fields of human activity, railway transport sets its partial short-, medium- and long-term goals, defines its strategies and visions and tries to reflect development trends in society and in its own field. So what are the ideas about the railway of the 21st century? We call it “Vision of Railway 2050+”. What should it look like and how can we fulfill the visions? So let’s try to introduce one of the possible visions.
People’s perceptions of railways, of the processes they follow, of the activities that people do with it, are very diverse and different. It is not necessary to say what the railway looks like, probably everyone knows that, but it is necessary to say what it should be in the future. This needs to be explained to the general public.
System of systems
The railway was, is and will remain a package of many diverse systems. Infrastructure cannot exist without vehicles, vehicles cannot move without infrastructure. Transport and transportation have been, are and will continue to depend on willingness and need of people to travel and transport goods. Vehicles and infrastructure must be safe, accessible to all users, sufficiently robust and accurate. It is therefore impossible to create individual components separately, everything must be consistent and must communicate with each other accordingly. Rail transport is a sub-sector of transport critical infrastructure. This is related to the need to define and modernize rail routes used to bypass the main lines, access to the transport route for roads and railways, and thus of the conditions of fees for roads and railways. The driver-free train system should also be emphasized; as well as hybrid and battery trains in relation to the carbon footprint issue.
The backbone of public transport and mobility
Railways must be the main transport mode for mobility. Just as the backbone keeps the body of animals and humans in the position most useful to them, so the mobility of people and goods must be held by rail, the transport mode that is the only one capable of transporting large numbers of passengers and goods over short, medium and long distances in a liberalized market.
The railways will have to change their approach to users, passengers and carriers. Railway undertakings will have to change their business models, they needs to be more customer oriented. In all respects, the customer’s wishes must be fulfilled, if possible at all. Without customers there is no demand for services, without demand for services there is no use for vehicles, and subsequently for infrastructure. And the whole system would fall apart, becoming inefficient.
Speed is not a dogma
The speed of transport seems to be the factor that will bring more passengers on the rail. However, this is just an illusion. As transport speeds increase, so do transportation costs. That is why the golden rule should always be observed: “We move trains as fast as we need, not as fast as we can.” The Czech Republic should be connected to Europe through state-of-the-art technologies that enable efficient and ecological travel.
Stone, concrete, steel or digital technology?
This point may seem incomprehensible, but it is very much related to the sufficient capacity of the railway infrastructure. Above all, the existing infrastructure must be equipped with modern technologies to ensure running of trains, increase capacity and improve operational systems. The implementation of a new generation of GNSS-based ERTMS is a basic precondition for proper functioning of the infrastructure. At the same time, vehicles must be equipped accordingly. Construction of a completely new infrastructure should begin only when these measures cannot sufficiently guarantee the capacity.
Security and trust
Transport safety and security is and will be the cornerstone of modern railways. This does not mean only physical security, but also cyber security. Steps to ensure safety must be transparent, fast and correct, because that is the only way to achieve customer confidence in rail transport. In addition to that, railway employees’ confidence that the systems and processes used to ensure safety are set up correctly will ensure that the human factor risk is kept to a minimum.
Through cooperation to competitiveness
The railway system as a whole must be designed in such a way that the individual actors do not compete with each other at any level. Only cooperation in all systems of the railway sector will make the whole sector competitive with other transport modes.
One market space = one railway system
The EU is built on the principles of the Single European Area (4 attributes – free movement of persons, goods, capital and services). Railways must become an intra-community system, uniform throughout the future Single European Railway Area. The division of rail transport into international and national must disappear. The real creation of a Single European Railway Area must be achieved quickly = the Single European Railway Area must be applied by 2030. However, a single railway system does not mean that competition ceases to exist. It means that there will be no monopoly or dominant position of any actor in the railway system. This principle will be meaningfully reflected in the fact that travel and transport of goods will be a very simple process, practically the same everywhere in Europe.
The railway system must not be dependent on political decisions if it is to function efficiently and correctly and deliver all the benefits outlined in the previous paragraphs. The railway system must be set up in such a way as to achieve continuity in the application of interoperable solutions to all subsystems and in a way so that the railway system is not used as a social policy tool in different ways in individual Member States, but uniformly. Railway users must be indifferent to who makes political decisions, as the transport of people and goods from point A to point B must be independent of political influences.
Attractive sector for the young generation
Railways must invest heavily in research and innovation, they must be completely rebuilt into new technologies. It must become an attractive and dynamic field that will allow future generations to try to carry out all their plans – even those that may be too visionary. Only in this way will it be possible to achieve that the railway is perceived as a modern and progressive mode and that new ideas will also be implemented in terms of point 1), thus closing the whole circle. This will create an open, modern, technologically advanced system that will be able to survive for at least another 200 years.
Vision of the 50+ railway
The Czech Republic lacks a clear and understandable vision for the coming decades, and this needs to be worked out. Its backbone can form the ten points defined above.