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15 years of international railway infrastructure benchmarking

In 1996, UIC, the International Union of Railways, started the process of collecting railway infrastructure cost, performance and use data from a broad group of European railways. civity played a significant role in facilitating this process and helped guide the project team towards achieving its objectives.

A total of 15 railways in Western European have been involved in this project since the beginning and have contributed key data to make the analysis possible. Following 15 years of benchmarking (from 1996 to 2010), a comprehensive report is now being published which shows trends and developments from a European perspective. This follows the publishing of a brief extract from the report in the Railway Gazette International in August 2012.

From a user perspective, growth in European rail demand has increased significantly since 1996, both in passenger and freight transport (+25 % and +10 %, respectively). Additionally, rail’s mode share in the transportation market has increased over this time period. In terms of the supply of rail services, passenger train frequency has increased at nearly the same level as demand, resulting in only a slight change in passenger train utilisation over this time period. (5 % increase in passengers per train). In freight transport, on the other hand, higher volumes of goods are being transported today while concurrently reducing train mileage, which has led to significantly improved usage of trains (20 % increase in tonnes per train).

More frequent use of rail infrastructure means increased wear and tear, which results in shorter service lives. In recent years, annual expenditures to replace infrastructure systems and equipment have risen by approximately two-thirds. This development is also reported to be the result of efforts to prevent the network from becoming obsolete and to address the existing backlog of infrastructure renewals projects.

Despite increased wear and tear, expenditure on infrastructure maintenance decreased approximately 10 % as a result of more efficient work processes and a reduction in network complexity and therefore susceptibility to infrastructure failures.

Analysing individual developments of these countries can provide further insights that might be overlooked when looking at the European network as a whole. Considerable discrepancies can be seen when it comes to cost and performance indicators. For example, the analysis highlights that spending per track-km differs by a factor of more than three when comparing the two countries that spend the most and the least on rail infrastructure. This takes network complexity and utilisation into account.

Since the increase in rail transport volumes is expected to continue in the foreseeable future, the continuation of this study will provide the participating railways with a solid platform to help them identify trends and their potential for improvement.