Like air transport, the rail sector will take about five years to recover from the Covid crisis in terms of business and leisure traffic on regional, national and international routes.
On the positive side, the industry has been pursuing its ecological transition for many years, thanks to electric traction. The next step is hydrogen trains, which are already in use in Germany. Changes in the locomotive fleet also include dual-mode engine types (electric/battery), after the locomotives have been adapted. Given that these remain in operation for three or even four decades, it will take time to fully renew these fleets.
While technology is important in this change, regulators and public authorities retain a leading role. This includes the ability to subsidise loss-making lines, regulate calls for tender, and introduce or remove barriers to entry for private or foreign operators.
Although rail deregulation has become a legal reality in Europe, few operators dare to venture outside their own national borders in the face of commercial uncertainties. A wait-and-see policy will prevail for several more years.
Director of the City, Mobility and Transport Laboratory (École des Ponts Paris Tech and Gustave Eiffel University joint research unit)
- 29,000 km of lines: the French rail network is the second largest in Europe (after Germany).
- 9%: share of rail in multimodal transport in France.
- -42%: decline in the number of rail passengers in France in 2020.