Investments in rail network: great disparities on country ranking

If comparison mean sometimes distorsion, the latest barometer of investments per capita rail network presented by the german website Allianz pro Schiene shows however significant disparities between countries. According to specialist consultant SCI Verkehr, some European countries offer a three-figure public investment per capita for their rail infrastructure. Switzerland occupies unsurprisingly the first place with €365 per citizen, followed by Austria, which invests €218 per inhabitant. For years, the two Alpine countries have spent more money on their rail networks than on their road infrastructure. This may be the effect of the extent of these two networks in a difficult topography of mountains. The group which is very close to Austria, is unsurprisingly the three Scandinavian countries and … Great Britain. Sweden invests €172 per citizen, network spending in the United Kingdom is €116 and the Netherlands €135 per capita.

Under the €100 mark, investments are also booming in other European countries: Italy spends 93 euros on its network, while Germany spends only 77 euros per citizen, which means that it is not yet ready to reduce the vast financing gap that separates it from that of these neighbors, except France (40 € / inhabitant …). Surprisingly, Belgium, which is « in the heart » of Europe, is not included. Statistical problems?

The table above also tells us that per capita investment is falling by more than half for all major networks except … in Great Britain. Scale effect? France (30.000km), Germany (33.300km) and Italy (16.700km) obviously can not be compared with Austria (4.850km) and Switzerland (5.500km in total, of which 3.230 for the only SBB). The Netherlands is in between.

Interesting data for this study also concern the politic priority given to rail: we see in the table below that Austria spends more on its railway (in blue) than on the road (in red). Switzerland is practically at parity. We can translated that by a political will, but we must also take into account the expensive rail tunnels that the two countries are still finalizing at this time, which would then distort comparisons, given the topography of the alpine countries. The huge cost of Ceneri tunnel in Switzerland or the Brenner tunnel in Austria play surely a great role.


In summary, a beneficial exercise but probably a little bit simplistic, which must be taken as a simple picture. Was the index of living standards taken into account ? If the cost of living is 122.67 in Switzerland, it is only 74.62 in France and 66.57 in Germany. The lenght of the network per capita also plays: 649m of line per inhabitant in Switzerland, 563m in Austria, 452m in France, 409m in Germany and only 243m per inhabitant in Great Britain. It must be added the intensity of use of the tracks, their wear, the frequency of maintenance interventions, the costs of maintenance, etc …

In addition, Germany and France are major car manufacturing countries, and we do not doubt the weight of the lobbies on the respective governments. We must still add the cost of the social model, and we all know that the Latin models, applied to the railways, are very greedy in public money, which means much less subsidy available for investments in the way. It is also reasonable to think that the size of the railway infrastructure managers also plays out: there are nothing in common between SBB or ÖBB networks, with SNCF Réseau, ADIF (Spain) or Network Rail. Nevertheless, the two alpine countries have high-level railway policies, which puts them at the top of the list.