The Fast Train to a Beer!
We’re off to Erlangen in Bavaria this weekend to visit the famous “Erlanger Bergkirchweih” beer festival. If you’ve never been you really should make a point of taking it in. Second in size only to the famous Oktoberfest in Munich, the atmosphere, location and of course the local brews really make for a great time.
As I write this from the German High Speed ICE train we have just completed the Cologne to Frankfurt Airport segment, a distance of 110 miles in roughly 50 minutes. I always find this part of the journey serves as a beacon to the many benefits of High Speed Rail.
Getting on board
First of all I think of the convenience factor. Cologne main station is directly opposite the cathedral in the city centre, it couldn’t be in a better location. From here you can travel directly to all parts of Europe. For example, there were trains to Innsbruck (Austria), Paris and Amsterdam on the departure board this morning, and with a simple change in Brussels you can reach London in 4 hours and 40 minutes with the Eurostar. Bearing in mind airports require you to check in 1 hour before departure and that it takes 20 minutes to get to Cologne airport, calculating how long the journey takes via air quickly stacks up.
A Window Seat
Then we have the route itself. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to hype this leg of the journey and compare it with the Glacier Express, in Switzerland, or travelling from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh in Scotland, but at 300km/h there are some great vistas of the Taunus area of Germany. For those of you who appreciate great engineering, how the line darts and weaves past Montabaur and Limburg, and through the many tunnels and viaducts opposite the A3 autobahn, is a minor marvel.
Inter-Modal Connections a Must
After the scenery we come to another serious advantage of the line, Frankfurt Airport Railway Station. To me this is a prime example of how transport should be planned, just take a look at the satellite image of the station and airport. In our lifetime it is seriously unlikely that only one mode of transport will emerge and serve us for all types of journey, therefore many of us will still need to change modes on longer journeys, and the convenience factor is king. The railway network, several autobahns, and Frankfurt’s local transport system all converge on the international airport, but this was the intent.
Investing 6 billion euros in to a high speed rail line is a serious commitment, and these days taxpayers demand a decent Return on Investment (look no further than the current wranglings over HS2 in the UK, or Stuttgart 21 in Germany, for example).
The cost of a ticket is favourable as well. Saver fares can be purchased for 29 euros, but more importantly a walk-up ticket costs 61 euros (about 54 pounds). Not so cheap? Compare that to 74 pounds (83 euros) for a walk up ticket between Birmingham and London, a journey that takes place over a similar distance, taking over 35 minutes more.
The point of it all?
Spending, or should we say investing, taxpayers money is a contentious issue, but the line between Cologne and Frankfurt Airport demonstrates what planners need to take into consideration. Convenience, value add, attractiveness and accessibility. HS2 (a High Speed Rail project currently being discussed in the UK) is a great idea, however the current planned route avoids both Heathrow Airport (Europe’s busiest) and Birmingham’s own airport. There are also concerns over how people who don’t live in the centre of Birmingham or London will access the service. This leads me to the point of this post.
It’s no good simply building a railway line anymore, in as much as it’s no good building just an extra runway at an airport or a new motorway. The project needs to deliver against the pure fact that people need to “Get to it” and “Get from it”.
We need to be able to make intermodal connections. Designing a transport system with just 1 mode of transport in mind is short sighted and corrupts the future viability of the project. We need to ask but how it will effect the demands of travellers on the other modes which in my mind is just as important. Failing to acknowledge the bigger picture leaves taxpayers understandably sceptical.