FOSTER Rail presents the full picture of suburban and regional railways


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  • EU Policy

Regional and suburban railways are the 'unspectacular' side of the rail business. Stakeholders tend to showcase fancy high speed stations and 'bullet' trains offering a service competing successfully with airlines for medium-distance travel. It undoubtedly has contributed to raise the image and profile of railways, but the lion’s share of the rail business is made up of commuters and local travellers. They represent 90% of railway passengers in Europe. This is 10 times more than air travel in Europe[1], and yet, this railway activity is largely under-estimated and under-exposed in media and European policy making.

In the FOSTER Rail project, the partners provide an accurate overview of the importance of regional railways in Europe. The publication Regional and Suburban Railways (RSR) in few figures is:

  • 217 railway companies of all sizes from global giants to small local businesses;
  • More than 360,000 direct jobs in train operating companies only;
  • 2,6 billion train-km;
  • 8,9 billion journeys – 90% of total railways and 30% growth in the past 10 years;
  • 220 billion passengers-km – 50% of total railways and 14% growth in the past 10 years;
  • 10 times more passengers than airlines in Europe (Eurostat 2014 data).

The RSR rail segment ensures economic development, social cohesion and sustainable mobility.  

Moreover, the research shows that France, Germany, Belgium and UK have recorded significant RSR ridership increase over the last 10 years, with the UK almost doubling its figures owing to massive (infrastructure) investments, while on the other hand Spain and Portugal have lost up to 15% of their ridership due to the economic crisis and policy changes. The countries that rank at the bottom either have very small rail networks and a small population (e.g. the Baltic States), or have disregarded this rail segment in the past years (Bulgaria and Romania). 

The study gives an insight into the supply and demand figures, the nature of the contracts governing these services (mostly PSO), productivity figures and infrastructure/assets aspects. This segment suffers from unbalanced competition with the private car and has still a large potential for growth as leverage of sustainable land use and suburban/regional mobility policies. In addition, this study presents clear arguments as to why, instead of disregarding it or even allowing for its dismantlement, the European Union and national policy makers should provide this rail segment with the necessary investment and regulatory framework, as this is a vital source for regional mobility, decongestion solutions, environmental action and economic competitiveness.

This report is an update of the 2006 edition. It was prepared as part of the European project FOSTER RAIL, benefiting from the EC funding, and its purpose is to do justice to this rail segment and highlight its critical importance for every day mobility needs in European cities and regions. The study also supports the European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC) in promoting the strategic outlook on rail research at the European level.

You can read the full document here.

For more information about this study please contact:

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[1] With an increase of around 6% per year, air travel passengers figures are however growing faster than those for rail travel


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