Comparison of planned high-speed rail (HSR) lines in the Czech Republic with the actual performance of high-speed rail lines in Spain and France.

Why compare with Spain? Because it has the longest HSR network in Europe and also received the largest share of EU funding for HSR construction.

We chose France because the Railway Administration in the Czech Republic intends to use French HSR construction technology.

Data from the Railway Information System RAILISA [1], which gathers information not only about railway transportation from around the world, shows that in 2019, before Covid, more than 41 million passengers travelled on Spanish high-speed rail lines. The total number of railway passengers in Spain in 2019 reached approximately 625 million. High-speed rail lines thus transported only 6.5% of all railway passengers. The length of high-speed rail lines in Spain is the largest in Europe, reaching approximately 4,000 km. Spain has more than 46 million inhabitants, and as I recently heard on the radio, more than 80 million tourists visited the country last year.

According to an article [2] recently published on the website, the number of passengers on high-speed trains reached a record of over 8.5 million in the third quarter of last year. If we multiply this number by 4, it means that last year a maximum of about 36 million passengers used Spanish high-speed rail lines.

From these numbers, it is clear that the average Spaniard does not ride on a high-speed rail line even once a year, not to mention the significant contribution of foreign tourists to the number of passengers.

Czech plans or dreams?

When planning the high-speed rail project, the Railway Administration assumes that more than 125,000 passengers will be transported daily along the main backbone route Dresden – Prague – Brno – Ostrava/Břeclav [3], (Train into the Future), and in its presentations, it even states a value of up to 150 thousand passengers daily. This represents roughly 40-50 million passengers annually.

Let’s compare these numbers with the reality in Spain. The Czech Republic has about 10.5 million inhabitants, which is about 4 times less than Spain. Even the number of tourists surely will not reach 80 million annually as in Spain. Nevertheless, the Railway Administration states in its presentations that the number of passengers on high-speed rail lines will be the same as in Spain (40 million). So, in the future, the average Czech will ride on a high-speed rail line more than 4 times a year. Data from the Railway Information System RAILISA [4] show that even France or Japan, where high-speed rail lines have a long tradition, do not have such a frequency of rides annually.

As the Railway Administration states on its website in the file Benefits of HSR in France, the number of passengers on HSR reached approximately 145 million in 2017 [5] With a population of 68 million in France, this means that the average French person rides on HSR about 2.2 times a year. According to data from the Railway Information System RAILISA [6], the number of passengers on HSR in France in 2019 was “only” about 112 million. In the same year, the French railway transported a total of 1,238 million passengers. From these numbers, it would appear that the average French person rides on HSR only about 1.6 times a year, and the proportion of HSR passengers from the total number of railway passengers is approximately 9%.

Czech Railways  [7]  transported approximately 193 million passengers in 2019 (before Covid), and in 2022 it was approximately 173 million passengers. If 40-50 million passengers are to be transported annually on HSR, this means that more than 25% of railway passengers will use high-speed rail lines. Such a proportion is not achieved anywhere in the world.

So what assumptions does the Railway Administration base on when planning high-speed rail lines in the Czech Republic? How is it possible that the number of passengers projected on HSR is intentionally inflated in order to achieve a positive result in the economic analysis of the feasibility study of individual HSR sections?

We ask as taxpayers who will largely finance the entire HSR project?

With a project costing 1.5 trillion CZK (including the reconstruction of the main railway hubs Prague, Brno, and Ostrava) at current prices [8]Financing options for high-speed lines, Tomáš Janeba, President of the Association for Infrastructure Development, 30 March 2023, Railway Conference, 26th edition, the Railway Administration should be the first to publish studies comparing the economics and actual operation of high-speed rail lines in different countries. There should be a broad public discussion about whether this project, which will burden our state with debts in the hundreds of billions of crowns and significantly increase the amount for servicing the state debt, is really viable. However, this is a matter for the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Finance, which only express themselves in general phrases regarding the HSR project and its overall impact on our state’s debt. Where is the impact study of HSR construction on the state budget? Many questions arise with such an extensive project, but the Railway Administration and the involved ministries remain silent.