Potential accessibility by rail, change of relative position of regions, 2001-2006

Accessibility is an important aspect in the debate of regional development. It is used as an indicator to describe the territorial aspects of the transport system. Access to and from a region or city is considered an important aspect of the competitiveness of the location. During the last years efforts have been made to improve the accessibility of cities and regions in large parts of Europe. Many of these efforts have been related to improvements of the rail networks. 


For the accessibility by rail the quantity and quality of a region’s transport infrastructure, as well as the distance to population and/or economic centres play an important role. The concept of potential accessibility has been developed in order to cover these aspects in one indicator: the opportunities to be reached (in this case population), in a certain territory (in this case Europe) weighted by the effort to do so (in this case travel time). Potential accessibility by rail describes how easily people in one region could reach other people (business partners, clients, friends, family etc.) who are located in other parts of Europe by rail.

The map shows with regard to accessibility by rail which regions are in a better position in 2006 than in 2001 as compared to other European regions. This is based on the change of the index values of potential accessibility by rail between 2001 and 2006. Thus this map ignores the absolute accessibility values and focuses on the change of the relative position of the regions. For this, the accessibility values of 2001 are standardised to the EU27 average of 2001 and those of 2006 to the average of 2006. Each EU27 average is set to 100 and the regional values are transformed accordingly. The map then shows the differences of the index values, i.e. the change of the position of the regions relative to other regions. Positive values express an improvement of the relative position, while negative values express a loss in relative position. In doing so the map illustrates where improved rail infrastructure has contributed to improve the position as compared to other regions in Europe. 


Generally regions in the core of Europe and along high-speed rail links tend to have better accessibility by rail than other European regions. Whereas this is true both for 2001 and 2006, the improvements of rail infrastructure between 2001 and 2006 have in main cases improved the relative position of regions outside the core more than in the core.

As the map shows, in relative comparative terms, most regions in the Member States which joint the EU in 2004 and 2007 have lost index points. Also, as other regions caught up, regions with high accessibility by rail lost some of their dominance, in particular French regions. Relative winners are mainly located in southern Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain where high-speed rail projects led to an improvement of their locational position as compared to other European regions.


The map shows that improvements in rail infrastructure can change the relative position of a region as compared to other European regions. The general core-periphery picture of European accessibility by rail may slowly be reduced as areas outside the core are experiencing considerable improvements in their relative position. This underlines a process of catching up with the core. However, the regions outside the core and far away from high-speed rail links will also in future remain less accessible by rail, when considering the actual accessibility (see map on potential accessibility by rail in 2006). At the same time the EU Member States which joint in 2004 and 2007 show only moderate improvement in rail accessibility between 2001 and 2006, as a result of the prioritisation of road infrastructure development in these countries.  In this context it can be noted, that transport infrastructure investments can have substantial impacts on potential accessibility of individual regions. In particular, high-speed rail is able to reshape the European continent in terms of accessibility by brining high accessibility to regions outside the European core. 

Further reading



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