Work continues on high speed rail projects to bring Europe closer together. Nina Lovelace reports.
When construction work on the UK's 108km Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) between London and the Channel Tunnel comes to an end in 2007, the line's opening will signify the UK's arrival into the world of high speed rail travel. Journey times between London and Paris will be cut, with links established into existing lines in France and Belgium.
But the CTRL, despite its size, is actually a relatively small part of a massive 1,000km European Commission high speed railway project, known as PBKAL (see box).
Signing of this first ever transEuropean rail agreement in 1989 was also a signal of things to come. The Commission was keen to encourage projects by member states, so people and freight could travel more quickly across mainland Europe, boosting general economic welfare through trade and tourism.
Money was not the only reason - the Commission hoped the new transport projects would regenerate some of Europe's more neglected regions, and in the case of the high speed rail, shift traffic off the roads.
This encouragement, together with the promise of US$20bn annual European Union funding, saw member states sign up to a further 13 trans-European projects in 1994. Together with the PBKAL, the projects became known as the trans-European transport networks (TENs).
Of the 14 projects taking shape across Europe, five are high speed railways. In each case the member state is building and providing the bulk of the funding for its own sections, supplemented by a mixture of grants from the European Union and loans from the European Investment Bank.
Snaking across Europe, new lines are being built to link Berlin with Austria and Italy, Lyon with north east Italy, Madrid and Barcelona with southern France, and Paris with Strasbourg.
The TEN projects also include new roads and conventional rail improvements, plus specific infrastructure such as the Oresund link between Denmark and Sweden.
INFOPLUS http: //europa. eu. int/comm/ transport/themes/network/ english/ten-t-en. html
Closing the gaps
This 958km project comprises a mix of new build and line upgrade between Berlin and Verona, including the construction of a new 55km Alpine rail tunnel.
Construction is under way along most of the route and it should be fully complete by 2012. Most of the work is concentrated in Italy due to the extension of the project in 2001 to include new lines and upgrades from Verona to Naples and Bologna to Milan.
This will bring Italy's major inter-city rail routes up to high speed standard and will double the number of trains running on the network.
The work will eventually provide massive extra rail capacity across these popular Italian traffic corridors, and should slow traffic growth on Italy's increasingly busy roads.
The new routes pass through a hugely varied terrain, so engineers must bridge deep chasms, span long valleys, leap rivers and tunnel through mountain ranges. All new infrastructure has to be engineered to cope with earthquakes, which can occur right across Italy.
Once completed, the new high speed line will be able to carry passengers and long-distance freight at 300km/h.
Work is under way on the Milan-Naples lines, including junctions at Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples.
Work between Florence and Bologna includes 73.3km of tunnel which is 75% complete.
One of the biggest construction challenges to come will be linking Italy to Austria through the Alps via the Brenner crossborder tunnel between Innsbruck and Fortezza.
Paris/Brussels/Cologne/ Amsterdam/London (PBKAL)
Once complete in 2007, this 1,000km project will link Paris, Brussels, Cologne, Amsterdam and London with a network capable of carrying trains at speeds of 330km/h.
The project, signed up to by France, Belgium, Germany the Netherlands and the UK in 1989, is almost completely new build.
The UK's CTRL is one of the final pieces of the jigsaw, as most of the French, Belgian and German sections are complete. Work is also continuing on the Dutch section.
Spain to France links
Spanish contractors set off from Madrid to Perpignan in 1996 on the first section of a new high speed line between northern Spain and Nimes in southern France.
Work has started more recently between Madrid and Valladolid to build a second high speed line to Dax on the French Atlantic coast.
French sections between Perpignan and Nimes and San Sebastian and Dax are in planning or early design stage. Both schemes, a total of 1,700km, are planned for completion by 2012.
Paris-eastern France and Germany
French contractors are now at work on most of this 551km TEN project which some time after 2010 will link France with Germany at speeds of 320km/h. They are into the second year of building the first phase of the SNCF's US$3.4bn high speed line between Paris and Baudrecourt in eastern France.
When complete in 2005 a 300km section of the new Ligne Grande Vitesse (LGV) Est will cut journey times between Paris and Strasbourg from just over four hours to 2 hours 20 minutes.
The journey from Paris to Nancy will take 1 hour 30 minutes instead of 2 hours 45 minutes.
The second phase of work to add a 106km line from Baudrecourt to Strasbourg has yet to start. But completion sometime after 2010 will cut journey times even further.
Paris to Strasbourg will take only 1 hour 25 minutes.
The TEN project has also triggered upgrades of 145km of German lines.
By 2005 the first phase of the LGV Est will link the Gare de l'Est in Paris to Baudrecourt in the Moselle region of eastern France, near Metz. From there trains will connect to the existing network to Strasbourg and western Germany.
Phase one involves construction of 327 structures, three new stations and the excavation of 49Mm electrification of existing track in eastern France so it can handle the new TGV trains.
High speed train/combined transport France-Italy
Main routes through the Alpine valleys in France and Italy suffer from high road traffic densities and serious pollution.
But this will change by around 2013, thanks to a new 750km high speed rail link between Lyon in France and Trieste in Italy.
The French section between Lyon and the border is still at design phase, but in Italy work is already under way on the Padua-Mestre and Turin-Milan sections. Milan-Verona is in detailed design and Verona-Padua at the planning stage.