Scholarly article on topic 'Towards oversized high-speed rail systems? Some lessons from France and Spain'

Towards oversized high-speed rail systems? Some lessons from France and Spain Academic research paper on "Social and economic geography"

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{"High-speed rail" / France / Spain / "Territorial Planning"}

Abstract of research paper on Social and economic geography, author of scientific article — Pierre Zembri, Eloïse Libourel

Abstract France and Spain are among the countries which have the most extensive high-speed rail network. Both networks have a similar shape centered on the national capital and connecting to the main cities. They are the expression of national political priorities for territorial organization. Nevertheless, they have distinctive technical and commercial characteristics. This paper aims to make a comparison of two European high-speed rail networks embedded in different political and economic contexts, in order to assess both the endogenous and exogenous causes of the cap on growth that has now become apparent. The analysis will focus on the territorial coverage, the methods of planning and funding, and the commercial policies. Finally, the paper will highlight the models chosen in the problems encountered in tackling the issue of financing the infrastructures and in responding to the rise in intermodal competition. In both countries, high-speed rail is now reaching a threshold that marks the end of the model of development which shaped the establishment of the network.

Academic research paper on topic "Towards oversized high-speed rail systems? Some lessons from France and Spain"

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Transportation Research Procedía 25C (2017) 368-385 ■ ■ w «J «J

World Conference on Transport Research - WCTR 2016 Shanghai. 10-15 July 2016

Towards oversized high-speed rail systems? Some lessons from

France and Spain

Pierre Zembria*, Eloïse Libourela

aLaboratoire Ville Mobilité Transports, ENPC, 6-8 avenue Blaise Pascal, 77 420 Champs-sur-Marne, France


France and Spain are among the countries which have the most extensive high-speed rail network. Both networks have a similar shape centered on the national capital and connecting to the main cities. They are the expression of national political priorities for territorial organization. Nevertheless, they have distinctive technical and commercial characteristics. This paper aims to make a comparison of two European high-speed rail networks embedded in different political and economic contexts, in order to assess both the endogenous and exogenous causes of the cap on growth that has now become apparent. The analysis will focus on the territorial coverage, the methods of planning and funding, and the commercial policies. Finally, the paper will highlight the models chosen in the problems encountered in tackling the issue of financing the infrastructures and in responding to the rise in intermodal competition. In both countries, high-speed rail is now reaching a threshold that marks the end of the model of development which shaped the establishment of the network.

© 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.


Keywords: High-speed rail; France; Spain; Territorial Planning

1. Infroduction

France and Spain are among Ithe countries in Europe that; have built; the largest; high-speed rail infrastructures (according to the UIC definition, which only includes infrastructures on which tains can tavel at 250 km/h or more), whh respectively 2°36 km and 2515 km in operation at fte end of 2°14. Moreover fte ¡Spanish government announced that more ftan 10°° km of additional hack would be in operation before fte end of the year (Alonso,

* Corresponding auth°r\ Td.: +33 1 81 66 88 52. E-mail address:

2352-1465 © 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.

Peer-review under responsibility of WORLD CONFERENCE ON TRANSPORT RESEARCH SOCIETY. 10.1016/j.trpro.2017.05.414

2015). However, the models of development in the two countries are different: the Spanish high-speed network is distinctive in having adopted European technical standards (in particular a track gauge of 1.435 m) whereas the conventional network is wide gauge (1.668 m). This has produced border effects, which means that high-speed trains and other train categories cannot run on the same tracks. In fact, variable-gauge trains can move between the new and old network at a limited number of points, providing a degree of continuity, but they make up only a very small part of the system. In the French case, there is greater articulation between the new and the old networks, allowing high-speed infrastructures to be built in successive phases and above all ensuring the maximum spread of high-speed trains, most of which use existing tracks.

The late 2000s were marked by signs of crisis in the two countries' rail systems, compromising the ambitious developments previously planned. Spain had planned to build a network of almost 5500 km while the French network was ultimately to cover 5200 km. It seems clear, despite the UlC's continuing display of sections of track in its "long-term planning" category (2014), that this mileage will not be built. The public finance crisis in both countries is one obvious reason, but our argument is that there are now structural reasons why the building programme will not go through to completion.

We therefore propose to re-examine the development models for high-speed rail in the two countries, in order to look for the endogenous and exogenous causes of the cap on growth that has now become apparent. These models are based on a target level of territorial coverage, methods of planning and funding, the commercial policies pursued by the national rail operators within a still largely non-liberalised framework, as well as very tough intermodal competition. They are the expression of national political priorities for territorial organisation.

2. The original strategic national choices

The French and Spanish programs were not launched at the same time, although they share the same configuration of lines radiating out from the national capital. France's TGV (high-speed train) project, which dates back to 1967, was initially much influenced by the Japanese experience, although there was no attempt to make a major technical break with an existing network that was deemed satisfactory. Because of the perfect technical compatibility between the old and new systems, there was no need for major construction works within cities to insert dedicated infrastructures. On the other hand, the TGV's designers did not imagine that so much of it would run on the existing network. It was the customer reaction to the train changes required at Lyon following the opening of the first Paris - Lyon line that prompted the operator to increase its rolling stock and extend services to the Mediterranean coast (Marseille, Nice, Montpellier) then to the Alps (Auphan, 1997; Troin, 1995). The initial objective of the TGV was to reduce congestion on the network's busiest lines, so there was no ambition to achieve full national coverage or to replace all the long-haul trains with high-speed services, as subsequently occurred.

After the full opening of the Paris - Lyon line in 1983, the SNCF (French rail company) was invited by the government to build a Y-shaped, 279 km, high-speed route with a short shared trunk line between Paris, Tours and Le Mans, which would shorten rail links to the Atlantic coast by one hour. It was clear from the start that the highspeed trains would make most of their runs on the traditional network which, though upgraded, was limited to 200 km/h. The decision to build the third sector, radiating northwards from the capital, was made in the late 1980s, with the construction of a line linking Paris to Lille and Calais and to the English Channel and the Belgian border, with the same system of services branching out from a single high-speed trunk line. This was the first international line, built in cooperation with Belgium. In the meantime, the government had decided to extend high-speed rail across the country with the launch of a very ambitious masterplan for high-speed links (published in May 1991) which would both expand the existing infrastructures and introduce additional radial and transversal routes (16 projects for a total of 3172 km). This plan also included a link between the North, East, South-East and Atlantic lines running around the periphery of the Paris metropolitan area and providing interregional services without the need to change trains in the Paris stations, a market segment that the SNCF began to develop very successfully from 1992 (Zembri, 2008). However, the costs of these thousands of kilometers of new infrastructure were essentially borne by the national

operator, SNCF, whose massive debt brought it close to bankruptcy (Zembri, 1997). This debt has since grown further and, in 2015, continues to be borne by the SNCF Group (€45 billion at end 2014). The pace of construction therefore slowed, and the private sector became involved through PPP contracts, which are currently in place for three projects (Brittany - Pays de Loire, Tours - Bordeaux and Nîmes - Montpellier), while the public infrastructure operator remains responsible for two smaller scale projects (end section of the Paris - Strasbourg line and second phase of the Rhine - Rhône line) (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. High-speed rail infrastructures built and under construction in the two countries as of end 2015

In the Spanish case, the plan for the development of a high-speed rail network dates back to the 1980s, at the time of the inauguration of France's first line. With Spain joining the European Union, the question arose of the technical criteria to be adopted for this new network. The decision finally went in favor of the European track gauge and standards, which would provide interoperability with French lines, but raised the problem of interconnection with Spain's conventional tracks. The plan was therefore to build a modern network to European standards, which would combine with an industrial project (Coto Millán & Inglada López de Sabando, 2003) to develop new, specially designed high-speed rolling stock fitted with technical systems that could switch automatically from one track gauge to another.

The purpose behind the introduction of Spain's high-speed rail system (AVE) was not, as in France, to reduce congestion on the conventional networks, but rather to improve rail service to the big cities against the background of a declining rail system (Lentisco, 2005). The first line to be built linked Madrid to Seville, replacing one of the country's least efficient railway links and seeking to open up the economically less developed south of the Iberian Peninsula. The line was inaugurated in 1992, to coincide with the Seville Universal Exhibition. It was not until 2008 and 2010, at the start of the economic crisis, that Barcelona and then Valencia, respectively the country's second and third biggest cities, were linked to Madrid by an AVE line. Despite the budget restrictions following the crisis, investment in high-speed rail was maintained and even accelerated: the section linking Alicante to the Madrid -Levante high-speed line was inaugurated in 2013, in the same year as the connection between Barcelona and France, while in 2015 more than 1000 km of new lines are due to open. More than 20 years after the first AVE came into service, the connection to the European network that had justified the choice of the international track gauge is becoming a reality.

From the beginning, Spain's high-speed network was a political entity, transcending the divisions between the People's Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE). So while the plan for a high-speed line to Barcelona and Valencia was implemented in 1993 under the Socialist government of Felipe González, it was under the government of José Maria Aznar (PP) that the decision was taken to build a full high-speed network radiating outwards from Madrid. This organizational principle was taken up and confirmed by successive governments: in 2005, José Luis Zapatero (PSOE) promised AVE links to all the provincial capitals by 2020 (Muñoz, 2005), reinforcing Madrid's role as nucleus. These promises were backed up by his Minister of Transport, Magdalena Alvarez, who announced their intention to "bind Spain together with cables of steel" (Gómez, 2008).

In the Spanish context, this phrase was the expression of a territorial plan in which high-speed rail would be an instrument in the ongoing construction of a national territorial unity that had been politically problematic since the 18th century (Bel, 2010; Ortega y Gasset, 2006). The high-speed network was therefore designed to reproduce the radial configuration of the conventional rail system and thereby to reinforce the centrality of Madrid - on the model of France's Paris-centered network - at the very time when the autonomous Mediterranean communities, in particular Catalonia and the Valencian Community, were increasing pressure on the government and on the European Commission for the construction of a Mediterranean rail corridor that would be integrated into trans-European transport networks, but would present a threat to the primacy of the capital as the nucleus of the network.

In any case, France and Spain are now connected by a line running along the Mediterranean facade, which ultimately links Paris to Madrid with no need for a change of train or track gauge. The cross-border section (Perpignan - Figueras) was franchised to a binational operator, TP Ferro, but this franchise was cancelled in 2014 because of the lack of traffic (only 10 passenger round-trips a day and 12 freight trains a week) and the long delay in opening the Barcelona - Figueras high-speed line (opened in 2013). The two national infrastructure operators will have to take over from the failing franchise holder if the commercial court pronounces TP Ferro bankrupt following the current observation period (November 2015). This bankruptcy would constitute a worrying precedent, because there are no guarantees for the PPPs currently in preparation that traffic volumes will achieve the forecast levels.

Overall, the structures of the two networks are equivalent, with a predominantly radial configuration and ultimately designed to provide a full end-to-end service on all the major axes. Spain modelled the development of its

high-speed network on the French system (Comin Comin, 1998 ; Bel, 2010). By adopting variable gauge axle technology nationwide since the 1960s (Talgo), Spanish railways have at least partially avoided the technical obstacle created in intermediate conditions by the gauge differences between high-speed lines and conventional lines. In fact, it is surprising that, in a recent article, Andrew Goetz and Anthony Perl (2015) classify the two networks in different categories, hybrid network for France and comprehensive national network for Spain.

3. The evolving role of high speed within the global national rail service

3.1. Development deliberately independent of France's conventional network

One of the main accusations against the SNCF is its exclusive focus on the development of high-speed rail to the detriment of the other service types, and the disappearance of "as the crow flies" lines in favour of successive highspeed lines. This phenomenon can be divided into two phases (Zembri, 2008).

First, lines running parallel to high-speed infrastructures, even where the routes are markedly different, are no longer served by intercity trains. It is therefore the regions that maintained continuity of service on the traditional network, but not in all cases. For example, it is possible to travel from Paris to Lyon by regional train, but not between Paris and Nancy, Metz, Lille, Nantes or Rennes. When there is a conventional line that takes a more direct route than the high-speed network, the service is invariably reduced (less frequency, longer travel times). This is notably the case for the Paris - Brive - Toulouse, Paris - Belfort - Mulhouse, and Paris - Amiens - Boulogne lines, which serve intermediate areas where there are no real alternatives (Table 1). The failure to maintain these end-to-end services compromises rail provision to these areas, which lack sufficient customer potential. However, this is the direction in which the SNCF is going, without prompting any reaction from the state, the main funder of intercity services. The recent Parliamentary working group on the future of the intercity rail service largely accepted new proposals to reduce end-to-end provision, while proposing that routes near the capital - such as Paris - Limoges or Paris - Amiens - should be reinforced (Duron, 2015).

Table 1. Changes in high-speed and Intercity services on the Paris - Toulouse, Paris - Calais and Paris - Belfort axes

Line Last year before high High speed direct Intercity direct

(distance) speed services (2015) services (2015)

Trains/ Average HST/ Average Trains / Average

wd travel time wd travel time wd travel time

Paris - Toulouse (713 km/816 km*) 6 6 hr. 37 11 5 hr. 34 6 7 hr. 01

Paris - Belfort (442 km/504 km**) 10 3 hr. 54 16 2 hr. 24 6 4 hr. 12

Paris - Boulogne (254 km/385 km***) 13 2 hr. 44 13 2 hr. 10 10 2 hr. 41

wd : working day (both directions) ; * : via Bordeaux ; ** : via Dijon and Besançon ; *** via Lille and Calais

Second, "as the crow flies" interregional lines in competition with sections of high-speed line that require significant detours (usually via Paris), are being deprived of their most lucrative customers, those who travel the longest distances, and reclassified as regional lines since their only function is "transshipment". For example, the Nantes - Tours - Lyon line has lost most of its services since 1992, the year of the launch of the TGV links via Massy-Palaiseau (14 km from Paris), and is now reduced to two round-trip services per week. The closure of other segments on the network increasingly is increasingly forcing passengers to travel via the Paris region, which is much more lucrative for the rail operator than maintaining a direct line. It cannot be denied that interconnections between the different radial high-speed lines in Île-de-France have created opportunities relative to the previous situation, and has enabled rail to acquire market shares on routes such as Lille - Lyon - Marseille or Nantes - Lille, Nantes -Strasbourg, etc. However, the forced detours and the high prices associated with them (Table 2) have not been well

received by customers, who are turning to alternatives such as car sharing, coach services and even air travel, which is unexpectedly enjoying growing success on transversal links such as Bordeaux - Lyon, which is now the biggest domestic air route not involving a Parisian airport (Vrac, 2014).

Table 2. Examples of detours and increased costs for passengers using transversal links

Line (distance) Service 1991 Service Intercity Service HST 2015 Lowest/highest prices

2015 2015

Trains / Average Trains / Average Trains / Average Intercity HST

wd time wd time wd time trains

Tours - Lyon 8 4 hr. 55 2 5 hr. 49 5 3 hr. 15 39-63 € 66-84 €

(454 km/639 km*)

Bordeaux - Lyon 4 7 h 34 No direct service 2 6 hr. 18 76,40 € 86-120 €

(639 km/806 km**) (works)

Wd : working day ; * via Massy-Palaiseau and Valenton ; ** via Montpellier and Toulouse. There are several other combinations via Paris or Tours, more expensive (110 - 140 €).

The massive shift towards the TGV for medium and long distance journeys means that it accounts for an overwhelming majority of all rail journeys, although the proportion of intra-regional and metropolitan journeys is far from insignificant: 58.5% in 2011 (compared with a European average of 27.1%). That is a record figure. Spain is the only other country that significantly exceeds the EU average, with 49.3%, but this is explained by other factors. By comparison, Germany stands at 27.4% and Italy at 28.3%, even though their high-speed networks are well developed. What is different about France is the fact that the TGV has held a large share of the market for a long time: in 2000, it already stood at 49%, at a time when high-speed rail in Spain accounted for only 9% of journeys (source: UIC).

3.2. High-speed rail as the spearhead of the rail revival in Spain

In both countries, high-speed rail was first associated with an image of modernity. However, by contrast with France where the TGV has become part of the landscape, this modern image continues to persist in Spain. This is because the introduction of the AVE brought a sharp improvement in service compared with the ramshackle conventional network, successfully overcame its technical difficulties and opened up the prospect of connection to the rest of Europe. In the history of Spain's railways, this marked a real breakthrough and the end of a long period of network contraction. Moreover, the modernity associated with the network was matched at local level by big - and often ambitious - projects for high-speed rail stations built by many cities (Bellet & Gutiérrez, 2011), justified by the need to adapt facilities to the new trains and services. These stations were seen as an opportunity for urban renewal and for the assertion of metropolitan status through admission - relatively late compared with France's cities - to the club of cities with a high-speed rail service.

On routes with a high-speed service, conventional trains have almost disappeared: an "Intercity" link survives between Madrid and Valencia (4 hours 35 minutes as compared with 1 hour 35 minutes by AVE), but there are no more direct conventional trains between Madrid and Seville or between Madrid and Barcelona. The price differential, initially very high, has gradually shrunk since Renfe, the network operator, introduced variable pricing with several tariff categories: journey prices vary according to the number of travelers (there are reductions for groups of 4 people or more) and by age (with a youth tariff). However, there is no price variation based on the level of occupancy of trains. Nonetheless, on the main lines, the AVE runs alongside two other types of service on the same tracks, for reasons that are twofold.

First, the Madrid-Seville line quickly became a victim of its own success in towns located less than one hour from Madrid (Ciudad Real, Toledo and Puertollano), where the AVE made commuting to the capital easier. However, by

booking their seats in advance, commuters from these cities prevented reservations for terminus to terminus journeys. In order to tackle the demand differential, Renfe introduced so-called AVE lanzadera (shuttle) services, now referred to as AVANT, providing high-speed links with the cities close to Madrid (Urena et al., 2005 ; Serrano et al., 2006).

Second, on certain lines, such as the Madrid-Levante route, the AVE had trouble attracting passengers, since the distances are shorter and competition therefore fierce. In order to resolve these problems, the Avant service trials between Madrid and Ciudad Real were extended, notably running between Lleida and Figueras or between Cordova and Seville or Malaga with dedicated rolling stock. However, between Valencia or Alicante and Madrid, it is AVE trains covering the whole route that provide an "Avant" service on part of the route, which means that travelers can take trains covering the whole route for the prices charged on regional trains (Clemente Grabalosa, 2009).

The concept of high-speed regional trains, originally developed to take the pressure off long-distance high-speed trains, has been turned on its head and on the least busy lines is helping to improve train occupancy rates (Casaus Irigoyen, 2015). The high-speed network is therefore exploited by several types of service, a diversification that not only helps to justify the investment that went into its construction, but also constitutes an innovative operating model.

4. Failing operator strategies?

The aim here is to explore the way in which the rail operators designed and commercialized the high-speed product to attract additional customers, and to see whether they succeeded in increasing the market share of rail as a proportion of all journeys. In Spain, rail has had to compete with a well-entrenched domestic air transport industry (notably with an "air bridge" between Madrid and Barcelona) and with coach links developed over a long period to offset the inadequacies of the very inefficient conventional rail network. The development of high-speed rail was therefore a major shift, with the potential to affect market shares in every transport mode, but service intensity remains low, especially relative to the mileage of infrastructures built. In France, the TGV took on the plane by adopting a point-to-point strategy, by increasing train frequencies and minimizing the number of stops, which made it possible to achieve high operating speeds. It is arguable that the SNCF was a major contributor to the liberalization of the air industry in France (Zembri, 2010). However, the explosion in car sharing schemes and, above all, the liberalization of interurban coach services in the summer of 2015, spotlighted the weaknesses of the rail service, particularly its cost, and SNCF now finds itself on the back foot.

4.1. Did the development of high-speed trains increase rail's global market share?

In order to elucidate the trends in the market share of rail in the two countries considered, we compared them to two other countries with a different approach to high-speed rail, Germany and the UK. Germany has a greater mix of high-speed sections and modernized conventional sections (with a maximum speed of 200 km/h): as a result, the high-speed infrastructures are not distinct from the traditional network, and the overall structure is not centered on one particular city. This makes it an interconnected network, with provision combining ICE (Intercity Express, highspeed trains) and IC (Intercity, conventional trains partially capable of travelling on high-speed infrastructures). The UK, by contrast, only operates high-speed trains on a single line running to Kent, linking to the Channel Tunnel. The overwhelming majority of intercity trains therefore run on conventional tracks, at maximum speeds of 220 km/h.

Figure 2 shows the trends between 2004 and 2013, as supplied by the Eurostat database. We can see that the average market share of rail in Europe (UE 28) stands at between 7 and 8% and grew overall by 11.76% over the period. Spain and France were not at the same level in 2004, because of the significant gap in network development mentioned above: rail's market share stands respectively at 5% and 8.7%. At the end of the period, and despite now

similar mileages of high-speed infrastructures, the differential between the two countries remains large: 9.4% in France compared with 6.1% in Spain. More worryingly, rail's market share in Spain has still not reached the EU average, despite the fact that many countries have not adopted high-speed rail.

Fig. 2: Comparative trends in rail's market share in a selection of European countries (as a % of total passenger traffic, source Eurostat)

In Germany, rail's market share is slightly below the French level, and markedly above that of Spain. The fall recorded between 2012 and 2013 is the consequence of the liberalization of coach services, which triggered a rapid expansion in services. The counteroffensive currently being conducted by Deutsche Bahn (price cut and reorientation of Intercity provision) should lead to stabilization in 2015. This change provides a foretaste of what is expected to happen in France from 2016 (cf. infra 4.3).

Finally, the case of the UK raises questions about whether high-speed has any effect on boosting the market share of rail transport. We can see that this share rose from 5.7% to 8.4% over the period, despite the absence of any domestic high-speed service. Yet total rail transport has grown markedly with the renewal of franchises, with greater service frequency and with a significant improvement in service quality, and in the absence of any particular downward trend in prices. This growth has taken place to the detriment of coach travel, despite three decades of development in coach services.

If we look specifically at the Spanish case and compare the trends in long-distance train journeys and domestic flights between 2004 and 2014, we find that high-speed trains have brought rail onto an equal footing with air travel (Fig. 3). The severe economic crisis that Spain has experienced is not unconnected with this decline in air travel, accentuated by the fall in train prices. On the other hand, when it comes to medium distance travel, it is the coach that dominates modal share, with an average of 200 million trips a year as against 30 million by train.

Fig. 3: Comparative trends in long-distance rail and air modes in Spain (source: INE)

In the French case, a close analysis of long-distance traffic per mode over the last five years shows that rail's market share has reached a ceiling, to the benefit of air transport, which is again winning back passengers (Fig. 4). It is apparent that the progress is most marked over the 500-900 km distance range, which corresponds to traditional radial or transverse rail links neglected by the national rail operator, where high-speed offers no alternative solution.

Fig. 4: modal trends in long-distance traffic (500 to 900 km) in France between 2009 and 2013 (source: SOES)

4.2. Has high-speed rail grown beyond its relevant sphere?

This question is at the heart of recent conclusions published by France's Cour des comptes [General accounting office] (2014) in a very critical report on the development of high-speed rail. '"4s the high-speed rail network has grown, the relevance of the model and its benefits to the community have steadily decreased: the new lines are less and less profitable, the very large number of stations served runs counter to the very notion of high speed, the profits earned from this activity as a whole are falling and each year cover a little less of the deficits in SNCF's other rail activities." The main criticisms are as follows.

First, with service to 230 stations, provision is not sufficiently selective. The SNCF's 451 high-speed trains (as of July 2015) are costly to purchase and operate, and run 40% of the time on conventional lines (Table 3). These routes, where performance hardly differs from that of conventional trains, are also those where train occupancy is the lowest, since they are situated at the end of lines. The result is that the stock is oversized and poorly used.

Table 3 : Examples of TGV services primarily operating on conventional lines, at speeds of < 220 km/h

Route Paris - Toulouse Paris - Pau Paris - Brest Lyon - Toulouse Lille - Brive

HSL (km / %) Conventional (km/ %) 226 (27.7%) 590 (72.3%) 226 (28.6%) 566 (71.4%) 177 (29.0%) 434 (71.0%) 224 (40.1%) 334 (59.9%) 271 (36.5%) 471 (63.5%)

Second, high-speed trains are used over very long distances, beyond those where rail is truly competitive with air transport. Many links are more than 800 km (Paris - Nice, Paris - Barcelona but also Lille - Bordeaux or Lille -Nice). The national accounting office's analysis echoes that of Moshe Givoni (2006), who estimates that rail ceases to be competitive with air travel at distances of more than 500 km. By examining the French case through a comparative analysis of service frequency (Zembri, 2010), we qualified this 500 km threshold by demonstrating that competition remains intense for rail journeys lasting up to 3 hours 30 minutes (i.e. 800 to 900 km) because of the longer check-in times and security procedures practiced in airports in recent years. Distance counts less than the journey time by rail from town center to town center, which places significant importance on the proportion of journeys carried out on a high-speed infrastructure and is an incentive to increase that proportion in order to attract more customers.

Third, most customers who use high-speed services do not do so because time-saving is a priority: business travel accounts for only a third of total journeys. The remaining two thirds should be considered as more sensitive to factors other than travel time, such as price. The emergence of alternatives that are less costly, even though slower, therefore poses a potential threat to the fragile financial equilibrium of high-speed rail provision.

The French national accounting office therefore proposed that the proportion of TGV services should be restricted and focused on lines equipped for high-speed travel. In return, a network of lower speed intercity trains (200 to 250 km/h) should be developed to complete provision on non-high-speed lines, similar to the German IC/ICE model which combines both categories of services at the same level, under an interconnected system that offers numerous possibilities for switching between lines.

There has likewise been no shortage of criticisms of Spain's high-speed network, essentially from the research community. Daniel Albalate and Germa Bel (2011), two economists at Barcelona University, argue for example that the network was designed from a political perspective centered on Madrid, which is why it is unable to achieve a satisfactory degree of socio-economic viability. Their critiques focus firstly on the costs of building and maintaining the network, and secondly on its operating procedures. In their article, the two researchers emphasize the negative impact of financing high-speed rail by taxing demand. They also note that the formation of a new infrastructure like this has major environmental costs. Finally, they highlight the discrepancy between political rhetoric that makes high-speed a primary instrument of regional development and the feedback from France and Japan that suggests that these effects are open to question. Moreover, the initial choice of a high-speed system entirely separate from the

conventional network and built specifically for passenger traffic, now precludes the possibility of mixed traffic. In addition, while the specially designed trains can provide continuity between the two networks, it requires significant investment to introduce and maintain the equipment.

At the same time, Spain's current economic crisis is also affecting the high-speed network, resulting in a significant fall in the total number of long-distance journeys since 2008 (Fig. 4). While it would seem that rail has been less affected by this contraction than air travel, the quest for less expensive mobility solutions, such as the coach or car sharing, threatens AVE with falling passenger flows. In addition, the country is also undergoing a political crisis marked by the end of the bipartite model and the rise to power of new parties in big cities such as Madrid or Barcelona and in certain regions (Baron & Loyer, 2015). The political platforms of these parties include criticisms of large, prestigious investment projects. For example, Pablo Iglesias, head of the far left party Podemos, has openly come out against continued investment in big transport infrastructures, investment he considers should go to sectors such as health or education.

These critiques of high-speed rail in terms of priorities in the use of public money hand in hand with questions about the viability of the network and the appropriateness of its radial configuration. It would seem that at the very time when the Rajoy government is announcing a significant extension to the network and a shift in its balance towards the north and west, the Spanish model of high-speed rail is experiencing a crisis, withering before it has been become fully formed.

4.3. Does high-speed damage the rest of the rail network?

This is a recurrent accusation made against the SNCF, which has concentrated investment on high-speed rail to the detriment of the other components of the network, resulting in a level of debt that precludes the possibility of any additional effort. By way of example, during the period 1990-1994, the conventional network (approximately 32,000 km) received only 41.3% of total investment, compared with 43.6% for the few hundred kilometers of the three new lines under construction, the balance (15.1%) going to the Paris suburbs, with their massive demand for investment in capacity, safety and rolling stock. Of this total investment (€15.9 billion at 1990 values), the state and local authorities provided only 1.966 billion, the rest being borne by SNCF alone. In 1997, when the infrastructure operator RFF (Réseau ferré de France) was created, it took over SNCF's infrastructure-related debt (€27 billion). The state subsequently failed to meet its undertaking to reduce the debt gradually through an annual subsidy. RFF was therefore under extremely strong financial pressure from the moment of its creation, and was only able to finance developments on the high-speed network by taking on further debt, while doing only the minimum to maintain the conventional network. This network firmly into serious disrepair, to the point of requiring very damaging speed limits on 1500 km of track in 2006, followed by section closures for safety reasons. The Brétigny-sur-Orge accident in July 2013, on the main Paris - Orléans line, showed that even the busiest parts of the conventional network were not receiving adequate maintenance. This led to an action plan focusing on lines in the Paris region and other very busy sections of the network, which was nevertheless insufficient to maintain the integrity of the system. Indeed, the condition of the infrastructure on many regional lines is too poor to wait until SNCF Réseau (which replaced RFF in July 2015) has sufficient funds to modernize it. Some regions like Midi-Pyrénées, Auvergne and Limousin, have decided that they have no choice but to step in for RFF in upgrading the lines on their territory to save them from certain closure.

In Spain, the infrastructure operator ADIF faces the same accusations of failing to maintain the conventional network, more forceful still in that investments in high-speed rail are very controversial. By way of example, the travel time between Barcelona and Valencia via Euromed, the medium-speed service (200 km/h) running on conventional coastal tracks, increased by half an hour in 2014, from three hours to three and a half hours. Delays on this line are frequent. The deterioration in service quality can be partially attributed to poor network maintenance, but it also has two other causes: one is congestion, the other the presence of a bottleneck. The coastal line is used for

mainline trains, regional trains and freight convoys. However, between Tarragona and Vandellos, there is still a 40 kilometer-long single-track section where the oft promised second track has never been built.

Nevertheless, unlike RFF, at its formation in 2005, ADIF was free of debt, a markedly more comfortable situation that gave it greater leeway to invest in new track. In addition, in Spain, different finance options were tested for the AVE network. In the 2005 Trans-European Transport Network document (European Commission, 2005), the Iberian Peninsula's entire high-speed network was classified as a priority project. This meant that up to 20% of the cost of jointly financed projects could come from European funds. In addition, certain engineering structures were financed by Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), as was the case with the high-speed rail tunnel linking France and Spain, initially licensed to the company TP-Ferro. Finally, ADIF which - unlike RFF/SNCF Réseau in France - also owns the stations, established a funding model for the largest high-speed stations based on the sale of land released around the new station (or above, in the case of below-ground stations such as Sagrera in Barcelona) as part of a real estate deal intended to cover the infrastructure operator's costs. This "zero cost" station model made it possible to initiate construction, but its effectiveness has not been demonstrated, since it was disrupted by the bursting of the Spanish real estate bubble.

The accident in July 2013 in Galicia, although apparently not caused by network quality issues, further contributed to the critiques and questions about the safety of infrastructures that had been built very quickly. It also fed into the political debate on the justification for developing a new network.

5. A model that is sustainable in the medium and long term?

5.1. High-speed rail is barely viable for operators

An analysis of the financial statements of SNCF and RENFE shows that high-speed rail is not a decisive factor for the growth of their business. In the case of SNCF, we find that an ever-increasing proportion of the profit generated is taken by the infrastructure operator, in the form of successive increases in infrastructure fees for highspeed lines. They increased by 41% in 2008-2013, whereas high-speed rail revenues grew by only 10% (Cour des comptes, 2014, p. 113). These increases are largely attributable to the state's failure to contribute to reducing RFF's debt: subsidy levels have always fallen below forecast. RFF has therefore had to increase its fees, which are among the highest on Europe's networks (Fig. 5). High-speed is not the only rail business affected: the subsidized national and regional services also pay high fees that are borne by the organizing authorities, to the detriment of service or infrastructure development.

In its 2014 business report, therefore, SNCF warns that: "With a significant decline in profitability despite major productivity efforts (10.4% gross profit on revenue in 2014 compared to over 18% in 2007 — excluding infrastructure fees, gross profit increased between 2012 and 2014), the TGV activity's business model must be overhauled." (Fig. 6). This trend had likewise been identified by the Revenue Court, which also noted a failure to control rising production costs (in particular the wage bill) (Cour des Comptes, 2014). The result is that the operating profit generated by France's TGV has fallen to 28.5% of the company's profits, as compared with 60.2% in 2009, before RFF's infrastructure fees were overhauled. A further consequence is significant depreciation in the value of the stock: €2.1 billion in two steps since 2012, and a slight reduction in service.

Fig. 5: Comparative trends in public subsidies and infrastructure fees as a proportion of the resources of the French infrastructure operator

(source: annual reports)(unit : billion €)

Fig. 6: Comparative trends in the revenues and operating margin of the Voyages SNCF business (data: annual reports)(unit : million €)

RENFE is an overall lossmaker, and successive openings of sections of high-speed track do not seem to be improving its results. Although passenger numbers have risen sharply and rail now holds a larger market share than the aeroplane and the coach on certain routes (notably Madrid - Barcelona), the rolling stock and dedicated infrastructures are somewhat underused compared with France. So the challenge is not so much to reduce provision, which no one considers excessive, as to achieve maximum return on investment by further increasing levels of use on the dedicated infrastructures. This can happen in several ways. Initially, RENFE tried to adapt its tariff policy (by creating several price categories) and to maximize the occupancy rate on its high-speed trains by varying the services offered. For example, certain underused first-class carriages (Preferente) are filled with passengers holding Turista Plus tickets, which offer second-class services (no newspapers, no direct meal service) in first-class seats. In addition, other potential service developments are under consideration For example, there were previously no highspeed interregional services using two successive radial lines, as was the case in France until recently. Since 2012, the bypass line around Madrid has enabled trains coming from Valencia to join the Seville line without going

through the capital. However, there is no connection to the Barcelona line. The second Atocha - Chamartin tunnel under Madrid should make it possible to intensify this kind of service, in particular by linking the northern and southern lines. Finally, there are plans for AVE connections to the airports of Madrid-Barajas, Barcelona-El Prat and Reus-Tarragona, but they have not yet been implemented.

5.2. Headlong network develo/ment, whirh is not fully financed

The development of the two high-speed networks is based on highly ambitious schemes or master plans, now threatened by the crisis in the public finances. France's high-speed rail master plan dates back to 1991, and has only been marginally adjusted since then. It can be considered that the lines were built in descending order of forecast profitability, and that it is now difficult to expect more than a 3% margin on the sections still to be built, without significant contributions from public funds (state and regional authorities). The South-East (1981-1983), North and Rhône-Alpes lines, and the lines linking the North and South-East (1994) were wholly financed by SNCF, then an integrated company (RFF only appeared in 1997). 70% of the cost of the Atlantic line (1989-1990) was borne by the SNCF, with the state covering the balance. These three projects, although profitable in the medium term, contributed significantly to the French railway system's massive debt, now held by SNCF Réseau (formerly RFF). Subsequently, RFF had to bear the whole cost of the Mediterranean line (Valence - Marseille/Nîmes), opened in 2001, then the Rhine-Rhône line, opened in 2012, further deepening the debt. The funding of the European East line was shared between numerous players (16 stakeholder authorities), which was a first, because of the operation's low profit forecasts (4%). The projects currently under construction are PPP schemes, managed by three big contractors: Vinci for the Sud-Europe Atlantique line (SEA Tours - Bordeaux), Eiffage for the Brittany - Pays de Loire line (Le Mans - Rennes/Nantes) and Bouygues for the Nîmes and Montpellier bypass line.

The PPP mechanism does not prevent significant public contributions. For example, 58 local authorities (regions, dé/artements, and conurbations) were to contribute to the SEA project for a total amount of €1.321 billion (2009 value). However, some of them made their support conditional on state undertakings to build subsequent extensions towards the Spanish frontier or Toulouse, and others withdrew from the table on seeing the rail provision being proposed jointly by SNCF and by the state, which did not satisfy them. The Cour des Comptes (2014, p. 84) thus notes that €269 million will not ultimately be paid. The financial risk is therefore real, and will have to be covered either by the state, or by the infrastructure operator (by taking on further debt).

The "Mobilité 21" commission, headed by the French MP Philippe Duron (also Chairman of the Transport Infrastructure Financing Agency), ruled in 2013 on the desirability of pursuing the high-speed rail investment program. With the exception of the controversial Lyon - Turin international link, which is not open to challenge since it is covered by international treaties with Italy, only the Bordeaux - Toulouse link was considered worthy of interest in the commission's report (Duron, 2013). It constitutes a shared trunk line between the Paris - Toulouse link - which is now the second biggest domestic air link in terms of traffic after Paris - Nice - and a transversal Bordeaux - Toulouse - Montpellier - Marseille axis needs to be brought forward (in fact, it is currently used by TGV trains on the Lyon - Toulouse - Bordeaux route, alternating with Marseille - Bordeaux intercity trains) because of the existence of regional metropolitan centers capable of generating reciprocal traffic.

In 2014, therefore, the government launched a public enquiry on "big South-West projects" dealing both with this section, but also with the section running towards Dax and the Spanish frontier, forming an inverted Y. This enquiry decided against the project, on the grounds that it was insufficiently worked out and unconvincing about the scale of the potential modal shift. For the moment, therefore, it is on the backburner, and the trend is towards more limited developments, in particular north of Toulouse.

The other projects, postponed beyond 2030 by the Mobilité 21 commission, have nevertheless not been wholly Abundant, because of the pressures exerted by certain local authorities and the need to reduce congestion on sections of the network where it is becoming difficult for all the categories of traffic to coexist. So, for example, the

Provence Côte d'Azur high-speed line, initially intended to bring Nice and the Côte d'Azur closer to the rest of France, is gradually undergoing a shift to role, becoming an instrument of regional cohesion. It is now important to accelerate connections between Marseille, Toulon and the French Riviera, which entails major work on the rail nodes: construction of an underground transit station at Marseille and increase in capacity to the East, construction of a new line away from the coast between Cannes and Nice, etc. A new end-to-end infrastructure will only be considered much later. Another example further raises questions about the consistency of state action: this is the Poitiers - Limoges section grafted onto the future SEA line to speed up (by 20 minutes) relations between Paris and Limousin. This line, considered to be an economic aberration, was nevertheless declared of public utility in February 2015, though in the absence of any ideas of how it would be funded. It goes without saying that the decision is currently being opposed in the courts, and that the proceedings are very likely to resolve quite simply in the cancellation of the project.

High-speed infrastructure projects on the Iberian Peninsula have also come under threat, at least partially. Portugal has simply suspended all projects on its territory, thereby dashing the hope of a high-speed link between Madrid, Lisbon and Porto, with consequences for the Spanish network, since as an international route and therefore eligible for funding by the European Commission, it was to link Extremadura to Madrid. Spain's high-speed rail development currently continues because of the scale of European funding in its budget, but those funds will not last for ever because of the level of development now achieved by the country and recent EU expansions, which have shifted needs elsewhere.

Moreover, while the 2005 Trans-European Transport Network (RTE-T) plan considered high-speed rail development as a priority project (European Commission, 2005), its 2013 revision emphasizes 9 big trans-European corridors and therefore rules out the prospect of funding extensions to the AVE (European Commission, 2013).

The political choice to develop high-speed rail in Spain is based on the desire to create a European gauge network serving the entire country (as evidenced by José Luis Zapatero's promise to bring the AVE into every provincial capital). In this respect, the situation is quite different from that of France, since it is based on a technical choice that demands headlong progress. The lines thus built since the mid-2000s are not financially viable. Their construction was made possible by the fact that ADIF was formed free of debt and by the availability of large-scale state investment. However, the decision to build a radial network serving all the provinces was based on an idea of territorial equity and national cohesion which takes no account of the profitability of the lines, as evidenced by successive development plans that contain less and less detail on this issue. The most densely populated axis, currently with the highest traffic, is the Mediterranean coastal line. It is punctuated by big cities able to generate high levels of reciprocal traffic. There is a project for a high-speed corridor, but its construction continues to be postponed because it is perceived as a political project advocated by the coastal regions, purportedly with the aim of constituting an integrated unit in order to distance themselves from the central power of Madrid (Libourel, 2015). The development of the AVE network is therefore subject to twofold criticism: firstly, because most of its lines are not profitable, and secondly because the axis that promises the highest traffic potential is cut off from the network.

5.3. Intormodal compotition that limits pricing lovols

Another limiting factor for the development of high-speed rail is the intensification of intermodal competition which, although it does not draw off large volumes of traffic, restricts pricing levels for rail journeys in a context of steadily increasing production costs (rising infrastructure fees, higher depreciation on rolling stock, etc.). Highspeed rail has long been presented as a winning option compared with air travel, which is seen as necessarily headed for decline for excellent reasons (congested skies encouraging a focus on medium and long haul links, unacceptable CO2 emissions, etc.). In the French and Spanish cases, it is true that domestic air traffic has declined by comparison with rail: closure of numerous routes, reduced frequency, rerouting of air services to intercontinental hubs, etc.) (Zembri, 2010). However, this ignores the plasticity of the air transport industry, with the emergence of low-cost airlines (largely delayed at Paris airports because of the way slot allocation is organized, which is very favorable to

existing airlines) and their positioning on routes where they still present a challenge to rail services. Michel Vrac (2015) clearly shows how the air transport operators have repositioned themselves on transversal routes, with significant success: the Lyon - Bordeaux, Lyon - Nantes, Bordeaux - Marseille links have outperformed the train. So it is not a matter of head-to-head competition on routes where rail is now ultra-dominant.

Two competitors operating on the road network have the means to limit the ambitions of the rail operators: coach services have long operated in Spain, and have just been authorized in France (July 2015); in addition, there are now car sharing services that connect motorists and passengers, such as BlaBlaCar (present in both countries), which offer low-cost options that attract travelers not concerned with journey times. The rail operators are handicapped by their pricing structure, which is both complex and rigid, largely inspired by air transport. The aim is to maximize revenues by charging the highest prices to the most time-sensitive travelers and those with the least leeway to organize their journeys (the explicit target is business travel), while restricting the lowest prices to those who organize their journeys well in advance and can adapt to the requirements of the transport providers.

Overall, therefore, users feel that the train is expensive and that any less costly alternative, even if slower, is worth considering. This shift to other forms of mobility therefore puts pressure on the rail operators to adapt their pricing to the demand profile. Most car sharers or coach users like the fact that prices do not go up as the day of travel approaches. In fact, travel decisions are often taken a few days before departure and not three months in advance.

The Spanish example, reported by the Cour des Comptes (2014, p. 109), shows that a significant cut in rail prices can lead to a marked increase in use. "After the public rail operator, Renfe, implemented a cost reduction policy and cut prices by up to 20%, the number of passengers travelling on Spanish high-speed trains increased in 2013 by 23.5%. " An observation that prompted it to emphasize that the increases in infrastructure fees imposed on the operators along with the growth of the high-speed network could not be passed on to consumer prices. In the light of this, it would seem paradoxical to pursue expansion when the price increases that would result are likely to reduce overall use.

For its part, the French rail operator, aware that prices are at the heart of the debate, has introduced multiple initiatives to provide low-cost seats in its TGVs:

• quotas of cut-price seats in regular TGV trains (subject to very early purchase);

• IdTGV package based on seats in special compartments sold exclusively online by a subsidiary,^ therefore with reduced production costs (IdTGV compartments always travel coupled to regular TGV trains. For this reason, they do not bear the driving costs or the track fees): nonetheless, the prices are graduated and can come close to standard TGV prices in the last few days before travelling;

• and finally the Ouigo/Ouibus option,^ a new combination of coach and dedicated single-class TGV with higher density of occupancy (634 seats rather than 545), sold via another subsidiary. Prices are between €10 and €70 for the most distant destinations.

In other words, SNCF is competing with itself by testing different business models to avoid losing customers to other, cheaper modes.

t ^

6. Conclusion

A comparison of the development of the high-speed networks in France and Spain shows a certain similarity, both in the models chosen and in the problems encountered in tackling the issue of financing the infrastructures and in responding to the rise in intermodal competition. In both countries, high-speed rail is now reaching a threshold that marks the end of the model of development which shaped the establishment of the network.

The choice of an integrated and autonomous high-speed network, reinforced in Spain by the technical and political decision in favor of European gauge tracks, does not preclude interconnection with the conventional system. However, at the time when the TGV - and then the AVE - were introduced, the modern image of the technology and the potential it offered for the development of the rail industry, were central to representations. Yet after more than 30 years of operation in France and more than 20 in Spain, these investments are partially under threat because of their low and sometimes non-existent profit levels and on the grounds of territorial equity Indeed, both networks were installed in a radial configuration inherited from the 19th century, which reproduced the configuration of the conventional railways and led to the removal of the original routes. Yet, while on certain lines it put pressure on air links, for example between Paris and Marseille or between Madrid and Barcelona, high-speed rail does not seem to have led to a significant increase in the modal share of rail in long-distance domestic journeys. This outcome can be partly ascribed to the operators' commercial policies and partly to the system's funding model, which imposes high prices. Moreover, it is the political model of high-speed rail itself that is under threat. The lines with the greatest traffic potential are now in service in both countries, and the new links offer limited revenue prospects, which is putting the operators into further debt and requiring the public money to be invested in maintaining a costly network, to the detriment of conventional lines capable of providing a broader and more targeted service. In the Spanish case, successive governments have even pursued a headlong rush into high-speed rail, under the pressure of their electoral promises and the need to complete a network that has been slow to connect to Europe, despite the technical choices made at its inception. Finally, the context of crisis together with more structural changes in mobility practices and the emergence of new competing modes, such as car sharing or, in France, interurban coaches, are contributing factors in the weakness of the high-speed rail model in France and in Spain.


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