Waiting on a Train
Contemporary Physical Implications of High Speed Rail
Beginning with Japan in the 1960s, carried on by France and Germany throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and implemented more recently by Spain, China, and South Korea, high-speed rail (HSR) has had profound physical implications on the contemporary city. This section unveils how high-speed rail has contributed to the physical form of cities at multiple scales, starting with that of the nation and ending with that of the human.
The Evolution of Representations of Distance and Time
Part 1 of Riding the Rails ended with a discussion of nineteenth century representation techniques specific to a shrinking world, so it seems appropriate to begin Part 2 with a discussion of twentieth century techniques and a personal foray into twenty-first century techniques.
The "annihilation of space” was a common expression used in the nineteenth century to conceptualize the changes being wrought by the railroad. Though commonly attributed to Karl Marx, Alexander Pope first used the expression in a poem, lamenting, “Ye Gods! Annihilate but space and time, And make two lovers happy.” Throughout the twentieth century writers and philosophers began to describe the social, economic, and spatial implications of new mobility technologies: not just trains, but aircraft and communications technologies as well. Donald Janelle first coined the term “time-space convergence” to discuss the ways in which different places around the world were actually closer to each other than they used to be—maybe not as measured in miles, but certainly in minutes. The impetus for this idea was borrowed from Einstein’s theories on relativity in the mid-twentieth century, which challenged the traditional Newtonian idea that position and space are absolute: In modern physics and philosophy, distance is no longer considered a universally valid parameter for describing the relationship between points, events, or particles in space. For the physicist to describe such relationships, it is necessary that he view them in time-space and that he knows their positions, their velocities, and the direction in which they are moving.
Janelle’s work on time-space convergence suggests that “four inextricably linked dimensions (three dimensions of space and one of time)”, means that we should no longer think of time and space as separate phenomena, but instead as a unified concept “time-space.”
Later in the late twentieth century, social philosopher and geographer David Harvey coined the term "time-space compression" to capture this sense of overwhelming change in the very dimensions of space and time. Although his work focuses on economics and capitalism, he produced a map to highlight the historical eras and their mobility technologies that have contributed to time-space compression. The earth is shown growing proportionally smaller as speeds increase, and the map optimistically treats time-space compression evenly across the globe. For example, in this map Africa is being pulled as closely to America as Europe in units of time. Yet we know in practice that most places in Africa remain quite remote, geographically and temporally, and certainly much further than Europe from America. While the world may be shrinking, it isn’t shrinking uniformly.
Ideas such as time-space convergence and time-space compression challenge the hegemony of geographic distance in cartography, though cartographers have only just begun to experiment with maps that privilege relativity over absolute distance. One example of such a representation is a form of cartogram often called an anamorphic map. A cartogram is a type of map in which some variable distorts the areas (area cartograms) or distances (distance cartograms) of the map. This distortion of area or distance is intended to convey important thematic variables of concern, such as time-space compression.
Japanese graphic artist Kohei Sugiura produced an early example of anamorphic maps dealing with time-space compression in the late 1960s. As in the nineteenth century, Sugiura’s topic for studying the spatial implications of time-space compression is the railroad: this time the technologically superior Shinkansen in Japan. He created maps and diagrams at many different scales, from the city to the globe, but the most popular diagram is that of the distortion of the Japanese archipelago after the introduction of the Shinkansen in 1960.
Suguira’s maps are rather violent, suggesting an upheaval of land that is egocentrically reorganized around a fixed point. The familiar shape of the archipelago is warped and compressed, sculpted into the silhouette of an alien flower. When one presupposes absolute distance as a given, the map is simply a scaled tracing of the ground condition and, therefore, is naturally static. But when relative distance is the presupposition, the ground plane is twisted, skewed, and warped to reflect travel time from a particular starting point.
While the Shinkansen anamorphic maps were laboriously created by hand, continuous developments in technology have made the creation of these cartograms much easier. In the example below, created by the author, the country of Spain is rendered through the lens of a series of transportation modes: a typical car journey at 9:00AM on a Monday in 2015, a typical AVE high-speed train journey in 2015, and a typical AVE high-speed train journey in 2020 (post HSR network completion). Each map is warped and distorted based on time distance to major cities using a specific mode of transportation. [Or rather, each map more accurately depicts relative distances based on time-space compression.]
For example, in the case of Spain, the hub-and-spoke organization of the rail network pulls all connected cities closer to the hub, which is Madrid. But because there is no direct high-speed connection between, say, Barcelona and Bilbao, those cities are not closer to each other in relative space. Madrid is the beneficiary of both connections in terms of time-space, and logic would also suggest it as the ultimate economic beneficiary as well. Geography, and position within the railroad network, grants certain temporal, as well as economic and political, advantages.
Through these anamorphic representations, the explicit advantage of one position in relative space over another highlights an important feature of the contemporary landscape: an increasing disparity in the difficulty of overcoming what David Harvey has termed the ‘friction of space.’ When construction on the Galicean high-speed network is complete, Madrid will be just over two hours from Ourense. Yet Porto, in Portugal, which is similar in absolute distance from Madrid, will remain five to six hours from Madrid by car, and a shocking twenty-one hours by train. From the perspective of Madrid, Porto is trapped in space whereas Ourense is unlocked, the friction of space reduced to the cost of a ticket.
Nation//City & City//City
2015, high-speed rail was in operation, or under construction, in twenty countries
across the world. These countries are shown below using the best UTM projection
for each location, with a common scale for comparison.
A variety of economic, cultural, geographic, topographic, and political conditions influence the organization of these systems. Although each system is unique, the following network typologies have emerged over time.
In almost all cases, HSR networks reproduce at least some amount of the pre-existing conventional-rail network. Tom Zoellner notes the fundamental influence of nineteenth-century railroad networks, declaring: Under the skin of modernity lies a skeleton of railroad tracks. Both physically and in terms of persistent cultural and political development trends, the conventional railroad “skeleton” of the nineteenth century shapes the HSR networks of the twenty-first century in several important ways.
Firstly, it is much more difficult today to implement brand new national or territorial scale infrastructure corridors than it was 200 years ago. Public sentiment towards eminent domain or land condemnation towards large-scale transportation projects has soured, and more stringent labor regulations and the rising cost of materials makes these projects challenging. There are a variety of other factors as well, such as: lack of political will or political disagreement towards system design or implementation, strong anti-rail lobbyists from competing transportation modes, NIMBYism, lengthy processes for environmental reviews, and the lack of availability of capital to name a few. Therefore, expanding existing conventional-rail rights-of-way is usually easier and more expedient than forging new connections through private lands, especially in developed urban areas.
Secondly, pre-existing conventional systems typically have already linked all the important economic, political, and cultural centers in a given country. Any HSR route will travel along the same, or similar, path as the conventional network. (In fact, the existence of an important conventional rail connection was usually a historically important factor in the ability of one city to thrive over another in the same region.) There are important exceptions to this observation, however, such as in Germany and France.
Finally, geographical constraints are the same now as in the past: high-speed trains are most efficient over flat terrain, as were their steam and diesel forbearers. Mountainous terrain requires more expensive civil engineering designs, including tunnels, bridges, and viaducts to create a straight and even rail bed for the network. To the extent possible, high-speed networks tend to avoid geographically challenging areas just as the conventional network designs of the nineteenth century.
Despite these hurdles, the introduction of contemporary HSR networks do more than just reproduce the routes of the past: these high-speed networks establish a new operative scale for designers, conflating the traditional scale of the city and the region or even nation. In order to understand this emerging scale of design, we need to understand the historical development of both the conventional and high-speed rail networks in several cultural contexts. Below is a brief history of the development of conventional and high-speed rail networks in Japan, France, Germany, and China.
first country to develop a true high-speed rail network was Japan in 1964. On
October 1st, nine days before the Olympic Games were scheduled to begin in
Tokyo, the first Shinkansen trains departed for Osaka and Tokyo to the fanfare
of hundreds of citizens and visitors. To the awe of the world, these trains
would arrive at their destinations a mere four hours later. Only the day before
the same journey would have taken seven hours. In the summer of 2014, my own
journey along this route took only two hours and fifty-five minutes, with a top
speed of 300km per hour. Japan has dramatically compressed the relative distance
of major urban areas.
As the pioneers of HSR technology, the Japanese still set the bar for the safest, most timely, and most efficient train service in the world. Since 1964, an estimated 5.6 billion passenger trips have been made on the train without a single fatality. Delays are within one minute on average, even during rain and snow. The network has earthquake-sensing technology, which halts the train in the early stages of an event. During rush hours, the network is capable of running one train every three minutes on each line.
In the last fifty years the Shinkansen has expanded outward from the original Tokyo-Osaka connection on the Tokaido corridor. To date there are an additional seven high-speed routes, including two “mini-Shinkansen” that branch off the Tohoku corridor in the north. Three additional Shinkansen routes are under construction, extending the system to the tips of the Japanese archipelago. In 2015 approximately 1,487 miles of track were operational.
Though Japan wasn’t one of the first countries to adopt conventional rail in the nineteenth century, the geography and population distribution on the archipelago were, and are, ideal for train travel. The islands are nearly 2,000 miles long in total, and relatively narrow: Honshu Island, the major landmass, varies from 31 to 143 miles wide. The mountainous geography further narrows the inhabitable area of the islands, gathering most of the population to the coasts. Japanese historian Nobutaka Ike describes the region in the late nineteenth century, writing: [B]y the time the Western impact began to be felt in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Japanese economic system was already sufficiently developed to be able to sustain as well as profit from a railroad system. By this time, too, the potentialities of an increasing passenger traffic were favorable, since Japan had a high population density when compared to the countries of contemporary Europe. This then forms the background against which the development of the railroads should be viewed.
The Japanese welcomed the new technology from Europe, but not without a few caveats, as Nobukata describes: In 1867, an official of the Tokugawa government actually gave permission to...an American diplomatic official to build a line between [Tokyo] and Yokohama. But this [permission] was revoked, over the protests of the American Minister, by the new Meiji government, which was determined that railroads be built by Japanese and not foreigners. As such, construction of this first line was slow, but within ten years the Japanese were constructing and operating their own railroads with little Western involvement. Although the idea of the railroad was planted there by Westerners, the Japanese alone were the architects, engineers, and operators of their own railroad from the very beginning. This knowledge goes a long way towards understanding how the Shinkansen has become a national symbol of Japan.
After construction of the first line, the government opened up construction of railroads to private development. While this strategy had the effect of encouraging development, it also created problems. For example, investors were naturally interested in maximizing profits, and the most profitable scenarios for railroad construction were in areas of either high population density or low construction costs. This left vast territories without the hope for railroad service through private development. As in America, privately developed routes were discontinuous and long distance freight charges were difficult to estimate if the route involved multiple carriers. Although Japan had adopted a common narrow gauge design for the tracks, other design elements such as platform height and width were not standardized. Early private efficiencies on the local scale resulted in regional obstacles to good rail travel.
This was frustrating for passengers and the military alike, which increased support for nationalization of the railway companies. In 1904, a bill was passed allowing the government to purchase private railroads, and by 1910 the government controlled 90% of all railroads in Japan. Growth of the network continued under government ownership, especially after the 1922 Railway Construction Law. Importantly, this growth was in response to local constituencies and politicians’ concerns, which Nobutaka describes, writing: [I]t led to a situation where some lines zigzagged from one town to another or looped in a huge half-circle through several towns rather than merely linking larger cities.
It is in this landscape of national railroad ownership and operation, with a high degree of catering to local constituencies with a relatively narrow gauge track, that the idea for a high-speed train came into the Japanese imagination. In the 1930s, the Japanese colonial empire extended to Korea, Manchuria, Taiwan, parts of China, Indonesia and Polynesia. A political propaganda scheme in alignment with Japanese imperialism and anti-western sentiment emerged called the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” In this political hallucination, the Japanese would be the elite leaders of a bloc of Asian countries free from Western interference.
The key to this imagined future, physically and in the collective Japanese imagination, was the dangan ressha (弾丸列車): literally translated to “bullet train” (in reference to the envisioned speed of the train, but also the colonial and world wars of the time). The dangan ressha would link Tokyo, the Japanese political, economic, and cultural capital, to all the nations of the Co-Prosperity Sphere at the highest speeds imaginable for rail transportation. It would catalyze Japanese colonization and resource development throughout the territories, creating a connected Asian transportation loop. A quote from the PWR article above captures the excitement of the age: Imagine, we are on our way’ we say with bag in hand, boarding a train that goes to Shimonoseki, Keijo [Seoul], Mukden [Shenyang], Beijing, Canton [Guangzhou], Hanoi, Saigon [Ho Chi Minh City], Bangkok, and finally, without ever having gotten off, we arrive in Shonan [Singapore]. Wouldn’t that be wonderful...and yet, this wonderful dream could very possibly come true in our lifetimes.
It was not the ship, nor the plane, nor the automobile, but the high-speed train that became the shared imaginary of modernization in Japan. World War II halted development of the routes, though land was purchased and a few tunnels even constructed before Japanese efforts were diverted to the war. Post-war reconstruction followed, further delaying the development of the dangan ressha. The idea was resurrected before the Tokyo Olympic Games of 1964, this time under the moniker of Shinkansen (新幹線), which translates to “new main network” or “new trunk line.” This name alludes to the choice of gauge for the new network, which would be designed at the international standard gauge instead of the narrow gauge of the local routes. This technical decision ensured that the Shinkansen would never integrate with the local routes, operating at a scale between the city and the nation without entering into local scale.
While the post-war Shinkansen plans leverage the imagination of the dangan ressha, the scope is more national in focus. Instead of connecting Tokyo to its colonies, the Shinkansen would connect Tokyo with the hinterlands of its home islands. According to a recent Guardian article: All previous railways were designed to serve regions. The purpose of the Tokaido Shinkansen, true to its name, was to bring people to the capital. Takashi Hara, an expert on Japanese railroads, has stated: The purpose was to connect regional areas to Tokyo...and that led to the current situation of a national Shinkansen network, which completely changed the face of Japan. Travel times were shortened and vibration was alleviated, making it possible for more convenient business and pleasure trips, but I have to say that the project just made all the [connecting] cities part of Tokyo.
These quotes suggest that the Shinkansen has expanded the boundaries of the city into the nation itself, collapsing the scale of the territory and conflating the traditional scales of nation and city. This phenomenon is seen in other examples throughout the research, but it should be noted that this condition of “nation as mega-city” is particularly suited to Japan’s culture, geography, and business practices. For example, in the traditional paternal culture Japanese corporations often pay for employees’ commuting costs. Since the Shinkansen makes the suburbs temporally proximate to Tokyo, and cost of the ticket isn’t a primary factor, the extent of the city is expanded. The nation itself is relatively small, fitting easily in one time zone. Socially and culturally, the notion of homogeneity is perceived as positive. Journalist Allison Hight states: There is little emphasis placed on the individual, and people instead derive their worth and usefulness from their ability to work as part of a team.
In short, the development of Japan’s rail network exhibits the market forces of the private sector, and the inclusiveness of the public sector. While the Shinkansen makes the collapse of "nation-space" into urban space possible, the phenomena is heavily reinforced by the Japanese geo-cultural tendencies. “If you look closely, you will notice that the most dramatic change enveloping Tokyo is in the kinds of people found here. This is a natural and inevitable result of the extension of modern transportation,” says Tayama Katai in Thirty Years in Tokyo. The Shinkansen changed the face of Tokyo and reorganized space on the island nation.
Although the historical conditions were quite different, the development of the French Train a Grande Vitesse (TGV) high-speed rail network has much in common with the Japanese Shinkansen network. Both use a hub-and-spoke diagram to connect second-tier cities to a populous and expansive national capital. Both employ dedicated high-speed passenger networks, though France does have some amount of blended access in urban station approaches and at route branches near the end of the lines, and the TGVs are equipped to travel on local routes at slower speeds. Both networks achieve a substantial collapse of the scale of the territory and conflation of the traditional operative design scales of nation and city. Unlike Japan though, France’s development has nearly always been centrally planned by the government in some form, and the Shinkansen was an important motivator for the French in the creation of their own TGV.
In early-nineteenth-century Europe, railroad development was thriving in industrialized and laissez-faire economies such as in the UK, Belgium, and Prussia (Germany). But in France, conditions for private development of railroads were not favorable. At the time, France was less industrialized than her neighbors, and lacked the important natural resources of coal and iron ore that propelled the UK’s industrial revolution and railroad construction. Iron production was slow also, which further hindered industrial scale track construction. France had ample natural waterways too and had invested heavily in the construction of canals, and the water transportation industry lobbied against the new railroads. The country was still recovering from the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), which shifted focus to the reconstruction of important cities. Additionally, the lack of a strong unified national government caused lengthy delays towards developing a national policy for rail development.
In the early years a few lines gained the required capital and approvals for operation. Permission was given by royal decree in 1827 for construction of a line from Saint-Etienne to Andrezieux for goods, extended to Lyon in 1830 for passengers. The first dedicated passenger train was opened in 1837, from Paris to St. Germain. It was an enormous success, carrying 18,000 passengers on its inaugural day of service. Despite these few lines (totaling only 354 miles) operating in the early years, a national effort towards developing a railroad network wasn’t really begun until a railroad law was passed in 1842.
This law conditioned the development of the railroad network through the following parameters:
- The state would acquire the necessary right-of-way, design the railroad through the Ponts et Chaussees (a sort of national engineering department), and prepare the roadbed, bridges and tunnels.
- Private developers would supply the tracks, rolling stock, stations, and operate the lines.
- Long term leases were granted: 37 years to begin, later extended to 99 years.
This arrangement eased the way for private development of railroads, but the national government determined which routes were given consideration. So it comes as no surprise that all major routes radiated from Paris, France's political, cultural, and economic capital. The small companies that undertook initial construction of the lines were eventually bought and consolidated into six major rail monopolies: Nord, Est, Ouest, Paris-Orleans, Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee, and Midi. These companies built grand terminal stations in Paris, but did not connect with each other and no two lines operated out of the same station. Their routes into Paris did not merge with each other, remaining separate and terminating at what was then the periphery of the city. This urban arrangement of stations can be seen in many cities, including London, Vienna, and contemporary applications in Beijing and Shanghai. (This development pattern is an important reason historic train stations tend to be typologically designed as terminal stations, whereas high-speed rail has largely invented the contemporary through station.)
This was not an efficient system. For passengers whose destination was not Paris, a lengthy transfer across town by foot or hired carriage was always required. Goods had to be offloaded and transported similarly to other stations for further destinations. East-west movement across the country was still difficult, requiring an unnecessary trip into Paris. At this time, the conventional railroad network did a good job of connecting cities to Paris, but a rather poor job of connecting second-tier cities to each other. The network design fragmented the country into wedges, each defined and monopolized by private railroad operator.
Although successful and integral to the movement of goods and people through the country, all the major railroad companies were operating at a deficit in the early twentieth century. It was determined that the largest railroad monopolies would be nationalized in 1937 into the Societe national des chemins de fer francais (SNCF), a public-private entity. World War II brought occupation by the Germans and significant destruction of the railroad system, requiring SNCF to cut service to secondary lines after WWII in an effort to stem financial losses and improve service on the primary network.
Paris has always been the central location of political, economic, and demographic power within France, which produced and was reinforced by the nineteenth-century spoke-and-hub organization of the railroad. However, certain events in the mid twentieth century challenged the traditional dominance of Paris and encouraged reflection on the role of the French territory. In 1947 geographer and professor Jean-Francois Gravier published an important and influential study titled “Paris et le desert francais” (“Paris and the French Desert”), which highlighted the disparities between rural France and the capital. He cautioned that, “Two-thirds of France is slowly dying” and encouraged economists and politicians to address the strong imbalances between Paris and the country at large. Later, an exode rurale between 1952–1962 of rural to urban migration was a further cause of concern to politicians, geographers, and economists alike. Jacob Meunier cites: By 1968, some twelve million French men and women had migrated from the country to the city. France, 46% rural immediately after the war, was only 34% rural by the end of 1960s.
This concern led to a large scale program of incentives for industrial, demographic, and cultural decentralization along with agricultural modernization overseen by a new and powerful government organization, the Delegation interministerielle a l'amenagement du territoire et a l'attractivite regionale (DATAR), which still exists today under a slightly different acronym. DATAR’s strategy to address the powerful hegemony of Paris was to designate eight regional capitals for targeted development: Lille/Roubaix Tourcoing, Nancy/Metz/Thionville, Strasbourg, Lyon/Saint Etienne/Grenoble, Marseille/Aix-en-Provence/Delta du Rhone, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Nantes/Saint Nazaire. Along with plans to incentivize demographic, industrial, and economic growth, DATAR advocated for transportation development within these metropoles (usually highways) and would often find itself naturally at odds with the SNCF, which was cutting service to secondary lines in these areas. Furthermore, DATAR supported another high-speed rail technology under development by Jean Bertin at the time called the Aerotrain.
Within this condition of existing tension between the urban (mainly Paris) and the rural, and between SNCF and DATAR, the Shinkansen made its inaugural run from Tokyo to Osaka in Japan. Like Germany and the United States and, indeed, most countries at the time, France was inspired by the Shinkansen in the 1960s and unsettled by the oil crisis of the 1970s. SNCF began research into a high-speed rail system for France and soon developed the technology for a TGV high-speed train compatible with both existing conventional lines and a new network of Lignes a Grande Vitesse (LGV) high-speed lines. The first route from Paris to Lyon, also known as the LGV Sud-Est, was wildly successful and led to an expansion of the network to the south (LGV Rhone-Alpes and LGV Mediterranee), and new lines in the west (LGV Atlantique), north (LGV Nord), and east (LGV Est).
The LGV network doesn’t trace the primary conventional routes exactly, but it does establish a similar spoke-and-hub network that recreates the inherent difficulties of the conventional system. For example, the LGV Atlantique departs from Gare Montparnasse to Le Mans and Tours, the LGV Nord departs from Gare du Nord to Lille, and the LGV Est departs from Gare l’Est to Strasbourg. TGVs terminate in Paris at the historic conventional stations, so as it was throughout history, it’s easy to get to Paris but harder to simply go through Paris. The separate lines functionally create “wedges” of TGV service extending from Paris into the hinterlands, but do little to connect the regions to each other. Despite the creation of DATAR and its advocation for decentralization, east-west movement across the country remains difficult and usually requires a trip through Paris. Furthermore, investment in the LGV network has come with certain costs for the conventional network.
Michael Bunn states: The thirty years of the TGV in public service have been a fabulous success, with 220 towns served, journey times reduced and a very high level of reliability and passenger satisfaction. However, there is no doubt that the development of the TGV network has been at the expense of investment in the classic [network]. Given SNCF’s policy of privileging main network service over secondary lines/local interests to maximize profit, the development of the network in this way is not surprising. Still, DATAR and local interests have had some effect on the quantity and location of TGV stations, if not the design of the overall network. One example is the case of the first LGV from Paris to Lyon.
During initial route planning in 1973 SNCF created several alternatives. Option one largely followed the existing conventional network to Lyon, establishing new tracks only to Dijon and utilizing the existing quadruple-tracked route from Dijon to Lyon. The second option was similarly routed through Dijon, though not parallel the existing route at all times. The third option included new, dedicated track to Lyon via Troyes and Dijon. The fourth option suggested new, dedicated track in an almost straight line to Dijon, bypassing Troyes and then heading south to Lyon. Options five and six called for new high-speed lines from Paris to a point on the conventional rail network near Dijon, at which point branch service would accommodate Dijon and trains would continue to Lyon. Option seven was SNCF’s preferred route (see above), which bypassed Dijon in order to create a nearly straight-line solution to Lyon. Branch service off the new line at Aisy and Macon would serve mid-size cities in the Burgundy region, as well as service to Switzerland and the south of France.
To the dismay of Dijon and DATAR, SNCF prevailed and the preferred option was constructed. It is important to note that intermediate stations at the small cities of Le Creusot and Macon were not intended by SNCF. Instead, these cities were incidentally near the straight-line path from Paris to Lyon, and city stations were only later included at the urging of DATAR and local governments. In order to accommodate these cities, new TGV stations were constructed not at the city centers, but at the city periphery such that the route was deviated as little as possible, and station construction costs were minimized. The French have a term la gare betterave to describe these stations, which translates to “beetfield stations.” This station typology will be discussed further in later sections, but their existence provides a good conclusion for this discussion of France and the conflation of scales: City//Nation, or rather in this case: Paris//Nation. Although SNCF operates some 230 TGV stations, many of them are small, rural gares betteraves with limited service. Only large regional cities have new or renovated city-center stations. Coupled with the national hub-and-spoke organization, the overall effect of the TGV in France is to bypass the region in favor of direct urban to urban connection with Paris.
Unlike France and Japan, the German high-speed rail network is not organized around a single primary city. Rather, the organization is polycentric, characterized by the dispersed location of several equally important hubs throughout the country. As previously mentioned, in most instances high-speed rail networks are influenced by the conventional rail development of the nineteenth century. In the case of Germany, however, the rail network is also heavily influenced by persistent cycles of unification and separation, the political/administrative disunity of individual German states (of which there are many), and significant fluctuations of the national borders over time. Railroad development by both state and private developers began before the German Empire was first unified in 1871.
The first steam railroad was developed between Nuremberg and Fürth in Bavaria in 1847 by a private company that made the pragmatic decision to adopt the UK’s standards for track design for both rail profile (shape of the rail) and gauge (width between rails). Development continued throughout the individual German states using these standards as a model. Surprisingly, even though the system was constructed and operated by individual states and private owners, most of the major cities were linked by the 1890s. Unification of the many German states in 1871 spurred state level consolidation and cooperation among the Lander (individual states) into a comprehensive main network that serviced all of the states. Moreover, private railways continued to develop complementary services in the form of local and secondary lines. By the First World War, the country had established a comprehensive, non-centralized, distributed railway network.
The German economist Frederick List was the first to lobby for a unified national planning initiative in 1887. In his network proposal
, the edges of the country are left vague and uncertain. The focus instead is on Berlin, the capital, and it’s relationship to the other important cities in the nation and especially in the northwest. List’s design shares structural elements of the hub and spoke typology established in France. Berlin is positioned as the hub of the German Empire, with spokes radiating out to important cities. (Note that in the late nineteenth century, Berlin is much more centrally located within the boundary of the country than its current location today.) An important variation is the design of the system in the west, with the inclusion of circumscribed ring routes connecting cities to each other, as well as to Berlin. This design recognizes the importance of interdependence among those cities even in the nineteenth century, and is a prescient glance at the future high-speed network in the twenty-first century.
Germany’s defeat in WWI triggered a political upheaval with important ramifications on the operation and development of the railway. After the war, the individual states would no longer have control of their own lines. Instead, the system was further consolidated into one nationalized system in 1924, called the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German National Railway). The Reichsbahn was organized as a commercial company that would operate to turn a profit, which would largely be used to pay war reparations. The company was a complete success, by some accounts the most successful in the world at the time, and definitively the largest transport company in the world. The backbone of the company was freight transportation. Although the Reichsbahn flourished and was able to undertake modernization projects, locomotive technology standardization, and the development of communication networks along the right-of-way, it eventually felt pressure from the growing automobile industry in the early twentieth century.
On this high note, the Reichsbahn entered the period of WWII and was quickly absorbed into the National Socialist agenda. The DB museum describes this period: Just a few years after the [national] socialists seized power in 1933, the Reichsbahn had already become a tool of the Nazi dictatorship. The employees were brought into line by means of systematic dismissals, massive propaganda, and ruthless intervention in the corporate structure. The Reichsbahn was now obliged to fulfill additional tasks, ranging from job creation schemes to organizing the “Kraft durch Freude” (strength through joy) holiday trips and providing basic logistic support for the mass rallies of the Nazis. This appropriation reached a climax when the state-owned railway was put directly to use in World War II to perpetrate the crimes of the Nazi regime. Neither the war of extermination in the East nor the deportation of millions of people to the concentration and extermination camps would have been possible without the Reichsbahn.
At the end of the war, the German Empire was divided into four separate zones controlled independently by the allied forces: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union. By 1949, the French, American and UK divisions in the western part of the country were consolidated as the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), or the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD). The railways in the BRD were consolidated under the new name of Deutsche Bundesbahn. The zone controlled by the Soviet Union was renamed as the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), or Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). The railways in this zone continued to operate under the national railways’ previous administrative title of Deutsche Reichsbahn.
The period of separation lasted until German reunification in 1990. During this time, the growth and development of the railroad network took two different paths under the governance and economic policies of East and West Germany.
In the beginning, substantial work needed to be undertaken in both East and West Germany to repair war damage. East Germany was politically isolated and was therefore plagued by lack of resources, including elements for the production of iron and steel, appropriate materials for structurally sound concrete, and ample supplies of coal to produce steam power. The Reichsbahn shifted briefly to the production of diesel locomotives until the oil crisis of the 1970s, after which it labored to electrify its railway lines. Although the Reichsbahn faced developmental hardships, its passenger base was assured due to the lack of other available transportation methods in East Germany. Personal automobiles were rare; there was a long wait to purchase one, and parts used for repair were scarce.
The Bundesbahn in West Germany did not face the same shortage of resources as East Germany, because of its participation in the global market. Still, the Bundesbahn faced steep competition from the car, which at the time was an important symbol of freedom and modernity and coveted by the population. In addition, for social welfare reasons the ticket prices remained quite low, hindering potential profits. Through the late twentieth century, only one new line was constructed in West Germany, while most services were offered on the existing nineteenth century network upgraded for electrical power supply. Because of the high quantity of freight transported from the northern ports, and the limited opportunity to connect east/west across the inner border, investments were focused on the north/south routes across the state. In 1971, the first intercity (IC) services were offered and eventually expanded from first class only, to hourly service at all class levels.
The commencement of the TGV high-speed rail services in France in 1981 spurred a comprehensive plan for high-speed rail in West Germany, with the first lines constructed from Hannover to Wurzburg before reunification. Even with modernization and expansion of services, West Germany's share of intermodal transportation decreased from 1950–1990: 37% to 6% for passenger services, 56% to 21% for freight.
For both East and West Germany, the cold war was a time of limited network growth. In Japan (and later in France), high-speed rail reinforced the pre-existing hub-and-spoke territorial organization and compressed the scale of the nation into the scale of the city. In post-war Germany, the greater railroad network was severed from Berlin, its de facto hub. Thus, the network reorganized around a more dominant north-south axis and strengthened its polycentric network characteristics, compressing the boundaries of individual cities into each other.
Although it was difficult for East Germans to leave the country, over time visits from Westerners and West Germans to the East were allowed with special visas. The two railroad administrations had to productively interact for this to occur, with changes of train crews at each crossing and collaboration over timetables. Local transportation in Berlin faced similar challenges due to the political separation of the city as well.
Reunification in 1990 offered a unique opportunity for the railroad in Germany. Although independently the Bundsbahn and Reichsbahn were both struggling financially, the newly unified government saw an opportunity for reform as the two states merged. As east-west transportation across reunified Germany became possible, an influx of freight and passenger demands across Europe were expected. Sensitivity to environmental issues was at a peak in the late twentieth century, which also added to the potential for success. Railroad reform involved changes to the constitution, seven new laws and more than 130 other legislative changes. At the end, the two railroads consolidated and Deutsche Bahn AG emerged as a joint stock company with an entrepreneurial approach to the business of transportation.
The contemporary high-speed rail system in Germany is heavily informed by the specific development conditions of the politically un-united Lander of the nineteenth century, the outcomes of the two World Wars in the early twentieth century, and the cold war at the end of the twentieth century. When the newly formed Deutsche Bahn AG began to plan for new high-speed rail services, it did so within the established trend of convenient inter-city services to a region of closely-knit mid-size cities. While investment had been made to north-south routes and freight was an important generator of revenue, the east-west connections were in poor repair.
Unlike France, in which most high-speed lines are dedicated and connect Paris with second tier cities with few intermediate stops, or Japan with its completely dedicated network connecting second tier cities to Tokyo, in Germany the system is almost always blended with commuter and freight services, and the schedule makes stops at most mid-size cities. Even though portions of the system operate at high speeds, the German system is much slower on average than either the Japanese or French systems. However, German cities have better connectivity with neighboring cities due to the polycentric nature of the network.
Whereas France and Japan, with their respective hub-and-spoke network organizations, challenge traditional notions of scale by collapsing the size of the nation to the size of the city, the German high-speed rail network establishes more profound city-city connections. Although traversing the entire country is still rather time consuming, getting from one city to another within the same region is quite easy. In addition, the design of the stations focus on inter-modality with local bus and streetcar routes making it easy to get to a final destination. The high-speed rail network in Germany is more like a very comprehensive intra-city subway system that just happens to connect the whole country. This network design is in response to, but also reinforces, the settlement patterns of the country in which a multitude of mid-size cities agglomerate to form substantial conurbations and regional politics demand HSR stations in most cities.
China’s railroad network developed in fits and starts at the end of the nineteenth century. Like Japan, China was initially wary of the new technology and, indeed, of the Westerners promoting it. In 1864 and again in 1876, the Qing government dismantled operational railroads constructed by the British and Americans, respectively.
The first successful railway was dedicated to coal transport, and located in Hebei Province in 1881. However, significant development of railroads did not really commence until Chinese defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War when the government realized modernization was necessary. Pressure from foreign powers resulted in the large-scale construction and operation of railroads by the British, American, French, Belgians, Germans, and Russians. The first domestic railroad was constructed from Beijing to Zhangjiakou, and by 1911 there were almost 5,600 miles of railroads in China. Most of these conventional routes established Beijing as a hub, extending out into the rural country to the north, south, west, and to the port city of Tianjin to the east.
Public sentiment never caught up with the need to modernize, however, and displeasure over a government ambition to nationalize the routes was a major motivation of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, leading to the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. At this point, the new administration appointed Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a revolutionary and a planner, as the Director of National Railway Planning. Over the next few years, Sun Yat-sen developed and promoted an ambitious transportation and economic development plan for China (which included Mongolia at the time) that would rely heavily on foreign investment for completion. He viewed railways as the key to China's economic development, and railroad construction in the United States could provide an appropriate model for China. In a 1912 speech, Sun noted that the American railway network was 200,000 miles in length. (China's network at that time was only 5,600 miles.) Since China was five times as large as the United States, logic dictated that they needed a million miles of rail lines.
Internal chaos and invasion by the Japanese hindered continuous rail development until the 1940s. But Sun Yat-Sen’s vision remained a planning influence for many decades, and some claim even the contemporary high-speed rail network owes much to this plan. China doesn’t have what might be called a “National Transportation Strategy.” Instead, the modern development of the railroad started in 1949 with a series of Five Year Plans produced by the Ministry of Railways that outlined specific development goals for the network. Lines were expanded and modernized, but by 1990 demand for freight and passenger service still far outstripped supply in most areas.
Part of the reason for this is China’s ever-growing demand for energy, and in this case the dominant fuel source is coal. Mining capacity has been called the first bottleneck to adequate power supply. Freight transport capacity is the second bottleneck. Other long-distance freight products important to the national economy include raw materials for factory production, such as coke, metal ores, iron and steel, petroleum products, grain, fertilizers and other bulk products. Freight rail has approximately 60% of market share for inland transportation. In order for China’s economy to continue to grow, both of these bottlenecks would need to be relieved.
To begin, the government commenced several rounds of “speed up” campaigns to improve speeds on existing routes throughout the country. Five rounds of upgrades from 1993 to 2004 improved passenger service on 4,800 miles of existing track, which were upgraded to reach speeds of 100 mph. A final round in 2007 brought 155 mph service to approximately 263 miles of track, and 124 mph service to a further 1,865 miles of track.
In 2003, the government issued its Mid- to Long-Range Network Plan (MLRNP) to address the persistent shortfalls of the transportation network through to 2020. Critical to the plan was the goal to create more capacity for both freight and passengers through a separation of services by building high-speed passenger dedicated lines (PDL) and an upgrade to strategic freight corridors. Another important political goal was to connect all provincial capitals with a population total over 500,000. The PDL network would consist of four north-south routes and four east-west routes totaling 7,500 miles operating at speeds up to 218 miles per hour, with an additional 12,500 miles of mixed traffic high-speed lines upgraded to 200 km per hour. The MLRNP also specifies three key regional conurbations for transportation development: the Yangtze River Delta region (Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou); the Pearl River Delta region (Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen); and the Bohai Sea Ring (Tianjin, Beijing, Qinhuangdao).
the network is presented as a grid, it may be useful to view it as a series of
corridors in response to population and resource distribution. The population
of China is concentrated in the south and east along the coast, as are the
important conurbations of Bohai, the Pearl River Delta, and the Yangtze River
Delta. The north-south lines might be seen as primarily connecting those
larger, more prosperous population centers as well as the industrial centers of
the northeast. The east-west routes, then, provide access to rural agricultural
areas in the west and far west, creating a stronger connection with resource
rich hinterlands such as the Tibet Autonomous Region.
combination of speed-up campaigns and the implementation of the MLNRP has
resulted in the world’s largest national railroad network. Like Spain and
Germany, a political desire to connect provincial capitals influences the
network design to some extent. The necessity to balance freight and passenger
traffic is similar to Germany (although in Germany, freight and passenger lines
are mixed causing the construction cost per mile of track to be exorbitant.)
Like France and Japan, China’s solution involves the construction of new
passenger dedicated high-speed lines.
Throughout China the core railway function is closely monitored by the Ministry of Rail (MOR) to manage the integrated and coordinated national railway system that is branded as China Rail. The State controls the two key levers of investment (through the MOR) and pricing (through the NDRC) and there is little or no intra-rail competition in the system. This is perhaps inevitable given the acute shortage of capacity that has persisted over the past two decades, but such strong control at the top levels of government has its draw-backs for customer experience: it is policy to concentrate traffic and operations towards maximized throughput, rather than divide the market through competition. Therefore, managers operating day-to-day services focus on asset productivity rather than customer service. The experience of travel as a passenger on Chinese high-speed rail feels more akin to rationing than a free market economy.
In examination of the national high-speed rail networks of Japan, France, Germany, and China, emphasis was placed on the notion that this technology challenges the traditional scales of urban planning. In the case of Japan, the Shinkansen effectively collapses the scale of the nation down to the scale of the city, Tokyo specifically. Few parts of the country are more than an hour or two from the capital, expanding practical commuting distance to the point where it can be argued that the entire country has become one temporally extended city.
In France, a similar time-space collapse occurs with Paris as the hub. The geographic context is different, however, because the overall proportion of the country is not linear and the hub is well north of the country's center. It is quick and easy to reach the capital from anywhere in the country by hopping on a TGV, but connectivity between other urban centers is slower and more challenging. In other words, while the benefits of spatial collapse seem to be evenly distributed in Japan due to the proportion and relationships of the islands, in France there are many parts of the country that do not feel a proportional amount of benefit.
Germany’s political history and the resulting polycentric high-speed rail network exhibits the collapse of boundaries between multiple urban centers into interconnected productive regions, rather than reinforcing connectivity to one dominant city as in Japan and France. The ICE network is the backbone of several scales of efficient German transit, connecting regional airports to S-Bahns, local U-Bahns, streetcars, and even bicycles.
Each country exhibits some form of spatial compression, as result of the combined forces of technology, culture, history, and geography.
As the train began to permeate western culture in the late 1800s and early 1900s, writers, artists, and philosophers gained a potent new topic to analyze and discuss: the train shattered previous conceptions of space through the increase of speed. In 1909, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, leader of the futurist movement, wrote in his manifesto, “Time and space died yesterday.” With these poetic words, he asserts that time is no longer a metered and inexorable progression, but rather a medium shaped and manipulated by technology.
This was a cause of excitement for some, and of lament for others. As railroad historian and philosopher Wolfgang Schivelbusch recounts, “That in-between space, or travel space, which it was possible to 'savor' while using the slow and work-intensive eotechnical form of transport, disappears on the railroads. The railroad knows only points of departure and destination.” This optimism wasn’t shared by all. “They...only serve the points of departure, way stations, and terminal, which are mostly at great distances from each other,” writes an anonymous French author in 1840, continuing, “they are of no use whatsoever to the intervening spaces, which they traverse with disdain, providing them only with useless spectacle.”
Indeed, much has been written (usually with a sense of foreboding) about the changing role of the territory with the advent of new train technologies, both in the nineteenth century and the twenty-first century. Geographer and professor Eric Sheppard likens the changes in positionality wrought by ever increasing speeds to the phenomena of a wormhole. “The relationship between positionality and physical distance is complex. Positionality often leaps across space and thus cannot be read off easily from conventional cartographic images of relative location. I find the wormhole to be a useful metaphor for capturing this complexity. When two relatively isolated places become closely connected, meaning that their positionality becomes closely interrelated, then a worm-hole opens between them.“
While it is true that trains, especially high-speed ones, forge new temporal connections between cities and collapse traditional scales of planning, the use of the worm-hole as an analogy is misleading and overlooks the unique physical parameters, sequences and processions, and unique spatial implications of every transit mode. Travel has unique physical and temporal parameters depending on the technology. Jets and airports foster different spatial experiences and have different spatial implications than a train and a train station, or even a car and a highway.
Trains connect the human scale with the territorial scale in important ways that, because of their specific technological parameters, cars and planes do not. The spatial implications of high-speed trains will be further unpacked throughout the remaining portion of Part 2, but here I will focus primarily on the affective qualities of the train in motion in specific geographic contexts, and secondarily on the physical parameters of the train itself and how those parameters mediate the experience of the territory. Like the futurists, I will use representation as a tool to investigate this relationship of the human and territory at speed.
Amtrak Southwest Chief
Somewhere near Odessa, Texas. March, 2015.
A train ride is not a road trip. In a car, territory is encountered and traversed frontally. The subject is usually a driver, is in charge of the route, and has responsibilities for alertness. The route is an asphalt strip accommodating moment-by-moment route adjustments. The vector of movement is in alignment with the direction of a person’s gaze, like walking—one foot in front of the other.
On a train, territory is experienced laterally and peripherally through a window to the right or left, viewing out the sides of the train car. The subject is usually a passenger with limited responsibilities, the rail and track a restricted substitute for the spontaneity of asphalt. Territory is confronted perpendicular to the vector of movement, and the windows continually reframe the landscape.
De Certeau insightfully describes these primary mediating geometries of the train, stating, “Between the immobility of the inside and that of the outside...a slender blade inverts their stability.” The blade he refers to is the train window, and the double immobility (passenger and landscape) is resolved by the rail itself. The plane of the train window and the line of the rail are the primary mediating geometries of the train.
Southwest Chief, like most long-distance Amtrak trains, is a double-decker with
coach seats, café car, lounge car, and sleeper cars. The speed is slow, even
lumbering as compared to the high-speed trains of Europe and Asia. The
landscape through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas is dry and vast, though not
barren. The sunrise is pink and yellow, the sunset deep blue and orange. For a
stretch near Odessa, the train clings to the national border and Mexico is
clearly visible. Although there is no physical boundary between the countries (besides the Rio Grande),
the change in urban form and material at the border is significant: on the US
side, the structures are sturdy masonry. On the Mexico side, sheet goods and
corrugated metal dominate.
Shinkansen Tokaido Corridor
Somewhere near Tokyo, Japan. July, 2014.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Shinkansen.”
This calming phrase inaugurates every Shinkansen journey, and each station stop is heralded by a cheerful musical jingle. The conductors whisk efficiently through the train, pausing at each entry and exit for a brief bow to the passengers. The ride is smooth, punctuated by the occasional darkness of tunnels. In Japan, the train is ensnared by topography: mountains to the north and oceans to the south bracket most of the routes. The train seems to ricochet between these two boundaries, occasionally being swallowed up by the terrain into dark tunnels like the throat of some sleeping dragon.
The experience of riding a train—the combination of the line of the rail, the plane of the window, and the removal of responsibility for motion from the individual—has been described by many with both fondness and curiosity. Author James McCommon describes this phenomena as “train time” and likens it to a sort of waking restfulness, while author Tom Zoellner calls it “train sublime,” stating that trains: “[H]ave the power to invoke odd spells like this...the tidal sway of the carriages, the chanting of the wheels striking the fishplates...the glancing presence of strangers on their own journeys, wrapped in private ruminations.”
TGV LGV1 Corridor
Somewhere near Lyon, France. June, 2015.
France was the second nation to adopt high-speed rail. Given its success in the country, it is no surprise that the TGV has become a national symbol of France. The TGVs are not as roomy as the Shinkansens or even the Amtrak Superliners, but they are still more accommodating than an airline seat. The café cars are lively and offer excellent* wine, cheese, and chocolate.
The topography of France, as compared to Japan or Spain, is relatively flat and the LGV routes are remarkably straight. Many of the busiest routes employ double-decker trains to accommodate the huge demand for travel. The TGV experience, especially from the second level, is of the train cutting a quiet, consistent slice through the mostly agricultural landscape, which is visible for miles beyond the window. There very few tunnels or viaducts. The sense of speed is communicated mostly through a quiet humming of wheels on rail. Conversations on the TGV are mostly muted, perhaps because of the lulling effect of the humming wheels.
A passenger in a train may, at times, feel like the audience at a movie: the scene outside the window shifting like frames in a reel of film. But a train ride is not a movie. The passenger is still, the landscape is still, and the film effect is created by the speed of the train, which constantly reorganizes the relationship between viewer and viewed.
*At least to my American palate.
AVE Madrid–Barcelona Corridor
Somewhere near Tarragona, Spain. June, 2015.
Spain is aggressively constructing high-speed rail throughout the country. Although the network is incomplete, demand hasn’t quite caught up with supply and many of my train rides were only half full. The trains and the stations are shiny and new. (On one trip a group of raucous, drunk businessmen insisted I join them for dinner back in Madrid while the conductor looked on apologetically.) Spain’s topography is much more dramatic than France, so the AVE alternates between frequent short tunnels and low viaducts over expansive desert views.
Although the train exists within the territory, it also defines its own distinct space from the territory: a moving island within an ocean. The space of the train is highly ordered, each seat numbered, each passenger ticketed, with limited freedoms or the necessity for individual spatial negotiation. This schism of independent space in motion, within an existing territory, challenges the typical singular, static relationship of human to place. The passenger belongs to both the space of the train and the place of the territory.
CRH Qinghai Railway
Somewhere near Lhasa, Tibet. August, 2015.
The Qinghai Railway in Tibet is technically not a high-speed route, yet it is the highest elevation route in the world. Both the tracks and the rolling stock are specially engineered for the higher elevations and to accommodate the extensive areas of ecologically sensitive permafrost along the route. Much of the line is constructed as a viaduct with columns extending deep into the earth. Where not elevated, the track is built on a tall, ventilated granite embankment that is shielded from the sun with shading panels. “Cooling sticks,” long pipes filled with ammonia pierce the ground below the embankment. As temperature increases, liquid ammonia becomes gas and pulls heat from the ground, cooling the substructure. Global warming threatens the entire line, as a consistent increase in temperature of just one to two degrees Celsius could destabilize the permafrost. The rolling stock is oxygenated, increasing the oxygen level from 21% to 24–25% to mitigate the effects of hypoxia.
Much of the route is captured in a narrow valley between the Tibetan mountains. Because the topography is so steep, there is much activity that happens in this valley. A river winds its way through, flanked closely by agricultural fields. A highway and the train line skirt the edge of the mountains on the opposite sides of the valley. The elevated position of the train, on embankment and viaduct, lend a unique perspective through the compressed valley.
ICE Frankfurt–Cologne Corridor
Somewhere near Frankfurt, Germany. July, 2015.
In Germany, the organization of cities is relatively decentralized. Rather than one large, dominant capital city such as in France and Spain, Germany has many medium-sized cities that form larger urban agglomerations. Still, the distinction between urban and rural is quite pronounced, with little of what Americans know as “suburban sprawl.” The train connects city-center to city-center, but in between it slips passed tight groups of houses and wide agricultural fields. As author Ruth Levy Guyer describes: “Trains go where cars cannot: into canyons, along rivers, through mountains, sidling up to back yards and into town centers.”
High-speed trains have gotten faster, but are still strikingly similar in form and function to conventional steam trains. George Stephenson, the Englishman responsible for large-scale implementation of the railroad in the early nineteenth century, would recognize high-speed trains if he were alive today. Trains still involve all the conventions and processes that have existed since the beginning: the purchase of a ticket, the departure from a platform in a (usually large and architecturally significant) train station, a ride in a seat with the landscape sliding passed from left to right in a window. The train still runs on rails attached to sleepers on a layer of rock or gravel ballast. Travelers are still welcomed in stations by relatives and friends, usually right on the platform.
Clearly, high-speed rail has much in common with its steam and diesel ancestors. So the question is then, Has HSR made a significant spatial impact beyond the existing impacts of the conventional railroad? Yes and no. Some of the spatial implications are new, and have to do with the train and its integration with contemporary modes of transit (such as airplanes and cars) or contemporary urban organizations (suburbs and edge cities). Other implications are simply amplifications of conventional impacts. For example, a new train station was always a boon for a small town, focusing growth and activity at the station. But the intensity of urban development planned around new stations today is unprecedented.
Moreover, the engineering of the tracks and the routes for high-speed trains is more complicated than conventional trains. The high speeds require the routes to be as straight as possible, and for any curves to have extremely large radii. Elevation changes are undesirable yet achievable with higher energy input. Because speed is such an important consideration, and construction costs per mile are high, even small reroutes for stops in smaller towns are often highly contested. These technical limitations, along with the high cost of constructing stations in existing cities, have led to HSR station development in peri-urban or non-urban sites.
This section uses specific case studies to document the roles of HSR station development (in various locations relative to urban centers) in the organization of a territory. This list of cases is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to highlight a variety of examples.
Historic Urban Center
In some cases, stations within historic urban centers are modified to accommodate high-speed rail service. At times the station is almost entirely re-utilized with little modification, at others only a small portion of the historic station remains. The advantage of reusing central city stations is the location: direct downtown connection. The disadvantages include the technical complexity of expanding rail corridors, or developing the station area with other land uses (like hotels and office space) that are compatible with HSR stations.
The following case studies highlight several examples of station development in historic urban centers.
New Urban Center Stations
A new urban center station is characterized by substantial city development around an HSR station where there was previously minimal development. Often these cases take advantage of decommissioned military sites or formerly industrial sites: locations that are near the historic city center, with large parcels for HSR friendly development and few stakeholder groups that might be negatively affected by development. It is commonly held that HSR stations, in and of themselves, are not capable of producing a new urban center. Rather, successful new urban centers are created only when new stations are accompanied by reciprocal investment in local transit, economic development, housing, hotels, etc.
The following case studies note the development scenario in which HSR was one factor in creating a successful new urban center.
Urban Periphery Stations
Given the complexity of locating HSR stations in dense urban environments, sites on the edges of existing cities are sometimes selected for station development. When these sites are designed with a good urban framework, an appropriate mix of land uses, thoughtful consideration of site opportunities and limitations, and good public transit, these types of sites have the potential to develop into viable neighborhoods or new centers.
The following case studies highlight HSR stations that have been sited at the periphery of a city (with varied results).
Usually, when we think of a journey by train (high-speed or conventional), we think of zipping through the countryside passed farms and crops and tiny houses dotting the landscape, arriving at our destination firmly inside a city center. We don't imagine stopping in the country, let alone in a suburban environment. But contemporary HSR stations have been developed to address a wider range of scenarios than just the city, inventing new station typologies to accommodate contemporary urbanization patterns.
The following case studies highlight HSR stations in suburban environments.
A unique term for rural stations was coined by the French: la gare betterave, which translates directly to “beetfield station.” In other words stations located in the middle of nowhere. There are many reasons that HSR stations would be located in a rural setting: less overall route deviation means faster connections between major cities; upgrading or expanding rail corridors in existing cities is often complex and costly; and land acquisition for complementary development around a new station is more difficult inside a city. Given the auto-dependent nature of the built environment in America, access to more rural locations could require stations similar to those presented here.
The following case studies document HSR stations in rural locations.
Suburban//Urban Networked Stations
When developing an HSR network, one of the first major considerations is the station location. Centrally located urban stations offer convenience, while peripheral or suburban stations offer lower construction costs and fewer development difficulties. In most European and Asian examples, central city locations offer the most access to the greatest number of potential travelers. But in the US, where a greater number live in suburbs, that may not always be the case. Traditional development patterns suggest that successful rail development should address both conditions, urban and suburban, in the design of an HSR network.
In the following case studies, a central city station and a suburban or periphery station work in tandem to provide access to both urban and suburban populations.
High-speed rail is often advertised as an alternative to air travel. However, in both European and Asian precedents, stations have been incorporated into (or near) new and existing airports. In these cases, HSR has been used to establish intermodal hubs, to complement international or long haul flights, and to increase airport access throughout a given region. Most HSR airport stations present themselves simply as stops along a given route, while in other cases direct HSR links have been specifically developed to connect a major city to an airport.
Urban Station Typologies
There are two broad categories, or typologies, of urban train stations: terminal stations and through stations. A terminal station is a structure that is positioned at the final destination of a railroad and is more typical of historic train stations. The structure is often a grand, cathedral-like building with vaulted ceilings and train platforms right at street level. You can step off the train, slip through a bustling station, across a plaza, and right into the heart of the city.
Over time, as private railroads were nationalized and train technology shifted from steam to electric, the through station became the more typical station typology. A through station, quite simply, is a station that is not the final destination for the route. The tracks extend through and beyond rather than terminating at the station. The passenger’s path from station platform to city usually involves some amount of vertical transition, requiring tunnels or bridges perpendicular to the direction of the trains. A through station is more typical of contemporary HSR stations.
Terminal stations and through stations produce distinctly different urban situations and passenger experiences. With a terminal station, trains must enter the station and then back out if they are to continue along a route. This takes extra time for the train, though the advantage to the passenger is a continuous, same-level flow from train to street with no escalators or elevators to navigate (with cumbersome luggage and parcels). With a through station, arrival is at a platform island in the middle of a sea of tracks, connected to the station by a narrow tunnel or bridge. The procession from train to street is less grand, often a confusing experience led by way-finding maps instead of architectural cues.
This tendency towards through station construction, even in the most important cities, represents a global shift in thinking about the role of cities from destination to network. In the nineteenth century, major cities were the financial and cultural hubs of the region and thus, usually the final destination for passengers. In contrast, HSR stations are usually through stations—even major cities are simply a stop on the way to somewhere else.
Other stations typologies include a crossing station, which is a station situated at the intersection of at least two main routes, or a hybrid station, which acts as a terminal station for one route, and a through station for another route.
This section uses specific case studies to document new forms of integration between the city and the station.
Networked Urban Stations
MULTIPLE TERMINAL STATIONS
Historically, it was not unusual for a large city to host several terminal stations. In most countries, railroad development in the 1800s was a private endeavor, not a public one. Each company would construct a railroad with a large, luxurious terminal station at each end in order to attract the most passengers. There was no incentive for these companies to share stations, no matter how close their route termination points in the city. (Although many of these terminal stations appear centrally located today, during construction in the 1800s these stations were actually located on the periphery of the growing metropolis.)
Four major stations in Paris act as high-speed rail terminal stations. (There are also three important TGV stations located in the Paris suburbs.) Each has been renovated and expanded to accommodate high-speed trains, and also incorporate metro and commuter rail service. In most cases, long distance travel in France requires an urban transfer in Paris. For example, a trip from Strasbourg (extreme east of the country) to Marseilles (extreme south of the country) would require a trip into Paris with arrival at Gare L’Est, then a local metro transfer to Gare de Lyon, where a train can be boarded for Marseilles. In this way, the multiple terminal station organization favors Paris over other important French cities.
Great Britain has just one high-speed route, HS1, which connects London to the European continent via the Channel Tunnel. St. Pancras, a historic terminal station, was renovated to receive high-speed trains as the final destination for the route in London. (The other major terminal stations in the city are destinations for commuter and long distance trains with destinations throughout England and Scotland.) The next proposed high-speed route, HS2, would depart from Euston station with a destination in Manchester to the north. Like Paris, regional rail terminal stations are only connected to one another via local subway or light rail.
China is unusual in that most of its HSR stations are designed as through stations, but function as terminal stations. Beijing, for instance, has four stations for passenger trains, three of which offer high-speed options: Beijing West Station, Beijing South Station, and Beijing Central Station. From Shanghai, high-speed trains will only arrive at Beijing South (not west, east, or north stations) and will not continue on to other stations. (The map above uses Open Street Map data, which is incomplete for Beijing.)
MULTIPLE THROUGH STATIONS
Several examples have adopted a strategy of high-speed rail integration that utilizes multiple through stations within the city center. A through station always privileges the larger network over the individual city: trains may continue on a route easily, instead of backing out, as is the case with a terminal station. A city with multiple through stations allows for maximum ease for the passenger arriving and departing, especially in cities with dispersed locations of relative importance.
Berlin is a stellar example of integrated transit systems, including HSR, commuter rail, local subways, buses, and bicycles. The city has five main HSR stations: a new central station circled by a main station in all four cardinal directions. As is common in Germany, all the primary stations are through stations, not terminal stations, which allows trains to make brief stops at the edge of the city on all HSR journeys bound for the city center.
The HSR routes form a cross through the city, circled by the Ringbahn, which is a local elevated transit line that encircles the city. Situated at the intersection of the north-south and east-west HSR routes is the new central station. Berlin Hauptbahnhof opened in 2006 as a large urban station with the usual mix of shopping, restaurants, a large public plaza, and efficient local transit integration seen in most contemporary stations. The area surrounding the station is currently being redeveloped with a complementary mix of uses: hotels, office space, housing, etc. The station and the new north-south transit line are part of a larger city planning effort undertaken after German reunification.
The four other primary stations in Berlin are located at the city’s periphery in somewhat less urban scenarios. Of particular interest is Berlin Sudkreuze (southern cross), a suburban station situated at the intersection of the southern HSR route to Munich, and the Ringbahn, which is a local transit line that encircles the city. The character of Sudkreuze is very different than the Hauptbahnhof. While the station has a few shops, food kiosks, and a public plaza, it is much more modest in scale (in response to its suburban location). Much of the station is dedicated to parking; the station is well connected to transit, but naturally many of the passengers arrive by car to this station. Similar to Gare Aix-en-Provence TGV, the station is largely situated above the tracks themselves. But here the parking is accommodated within the station, rather than around the station in surface lots. This leaves the adjacent parcels unencumbered for future development, and the overall footprint of the station is more compact and friendly to its neighboring parcels.
Berlin Sudkreuze is a more convenient station for those who live in the southern portion of the city, and those who arrive to the station by car. Moreover, it is a more convenient departure point for those travelling from the south whose final destination is in the east and west portion of the city, because of the convenient connection to the Ringbahn. Rather than travelling into the city center and then back out to the periphery, the Ringbahn acts as a sort of shortcut to the final destination in these places.
Brussels is a key example, due largely to its position as the capital and economic center of Belgium and its strategic location between the UK to the west, the Netherlands to the north, Germany to the east, and France to the south. Although many pan-European routes travel through Brussels, these trains are often bound for other final destinations, such as Amsterdam, Paris, London, or Frankfurt. Within the city, there are three primary stations with access to the high-speed rail routes: North, Central, and South Stations.
Until the 1950s only the North and South Stations had been developed largely as terminal stations with only a single track linking the stations. Although it took nearly half a decade for design and construction, the connection known as Line 0 is now the busiest railroad tunnel in the world and services over 1200 trains per day with six tracks. In addition to the tunnel, Central station was constructed midway along the route to accommodate the central city.
Conveniently, most national, regional, and local trains through Brussels make stops at all three stations. International services such as Thalys, Eurostar, and TGV make a stop only at Brussels South, though German ICE trains make stops at both North and South stations. This allows passengers to choose the departure point most convenient for their final destination, many times eliminating further transfer to the local metro and saving overall travel time for each passenger.
Tokyo also has three primary stations that service the high-speed Shinkansen trains: Shingawa Station, Tokyo Station, and Ueno Station. However, these three stations do not work as an interconnected network in the same way as the multiple primary stations in Brussels or Berlin. Instead, Tokyo station acts as a terminal station and the final destination for all Shinkansen routes to the north, west, and south of the country. Shingawa is an urban station in Tokyo that services all Shinkansen trains travelling on the Tokaido route from Tokyo Station. (This station is also the planned terminus for the new Osaka-Tokyo Maglev train.) Similarly, Ueno is an urban station in Tokyo that services all Shinkansen trains on the Joetsu, Nagano, Tohoku, Yamagata, and Akita routes from Tokyo Station. Narita Express (NEX) trains also service Tokyo Station and Shingawa Station.
Tokyo has a comprehensive and efficient metro network, it is often more
convenient for passengers to depart the train within the city, but before the
final destination at Tokyo Station. Shingawa and Ueno Stations allow passengers
to disperse into the metro system more efficiently than relying on a single
central station, which is important because the Shinkansen network is so
Other examples of multiple through stations within a city include Dresden, Cologne, and Hamburg among others.
HISTORIC TERMINAL STATION + CONTEMPORARY THROUGH STATION
Another variation for cities with multiple stations is a combination of a historic terminal station with the development of a new, contemporary through station. In some cases, only the through station accommodates high-speed rail, while the historic station acts as a hub for commuter services and local metro access. In others, the historic station accommodates some high-speed rail as well as conventional services. The decision to develop a new station in addition to a historic station is often made to facilitate the opportunity to develop complementary land uses in areas outside of the historic core.
Such is the case in Lille, France. With the construction of the Channel Tunnel in the 1990s the industrial city of Lille found itself strategically positioned at the intersection of HSR routes to Paris, London, and Brussels. Although the city was home to Gare de Lille-Flandres, a large and elegant historic terminal station in the center city, it was determined that a former military site near the existing station would provide a better location for developing a contemporary through station and complimentary programs, as well as resolve a number of infrastructure challenges. The site could be described as peripheral, located at the edge of the historic city and the suburbs and occupied by a highway ring road.
Many research organizations declare HSR does not create economic development in and of itself. Although a new HSR station can become a catalyst, it must be accompanied by other methods of development in order to create a robust urban amenity. Such is the case with Lille: not only was a TGV station constructed, but a variety of complimentary uses were developed in one cohesive planning effort. The city was formerly an industrial center, and yet the local government made targeted investments to develop the city’s service sector, which is better suited to make use of a high-speed rail station.
The site of the new station, Gare de Lille-Europe, is just a quarter-mile walk from the historic station. The short stretch of land between hosts a variety of new development: two new commercial office towers, the Grand Palais (a major convention center and concert hall), the Triangle des Gares which includes shops, offices, apartments, a theater and a new park, a major shopping mall, and the Espace le Corbusier, a new park. Gare de Lille-Flandres remains as a primary station for regional trains, and transfer to the international TGV station can be made in about ten minutes. The close location of the former military site to the historic station and the existing city center was key to the success of the Euralille plan. The two stations act as poles of activity with the distance between the stations available for complimentary urban development.
The scenario in Turin also involves a concerted shift from industrial activities toward knowledge, tech, and service economies. The city has historically been an important manufacturing center for the Piedmont region in northern Italy. Unused factories on large parcels of land dotted the city center, and the at-grade train tracks divided the city into halves. Instead of expanding the city to accommodate the new service industry, the city launched a planning effort to rebuild within the city on the old industrial properties. A series of large-scale development projects ensued under the vision of “La Spina,” a new spine for the city. International events such as the Winter Olympics of 2006 provided incentive for some of the projects.
Although the historic terminal station Porta Nuova serviced regional rail from the city center, there was no local metro in the city. A new through station, Porta Susa, provided a number of opportunities: to accommodate high-speed lines from Milan and Paris, to rationalize the existing rail transportation network, to provide an underground metro line for the city, and to bury the existing tracks and above create a grand public promenade. This project was undertaken as part of “La Spina” as the “Spina Centrale” project.
the Italian high-speed trains (Frecciarossa) from Milan make two stops in the
city: first at Porta Susa and a final stop at the historic terminal station.
International high-speed trains from Paris only call at Porta Susa. The new
through station also provides access to most of the city’s regional trains,
while Porta Nuova is the sole access point for the regional route to the south.
The new metro connects both stations.
New Sectional Experiences
As discussed in Part 1, the shift from steam to electric power in the early twentieth century challenged the necessity of the most iconic architectural feature of the stations: the train shed. Locomotives were no longer puffing copious amounts of steam and smoke into the air, and so the large volume of space above the platforms was no longer necessary. Trains could now be routed below grade, giving over the ground level for other types of spaces.
In part because of the switch from steam to electric, and in part because of the emergence of the megalopolis and conurbation, HSR stations tend to be designed as through stations, while historic stations for conventional rail were more often terminal stations. By necessity, through stations involve some amount of vertical circulation in order to allow for movement over or under the tracks. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and many contemporary HSR stations employ inventive circulation strategies creating new sectional experiences for the passenger. Historic stations that have been renovated to accommodate HSR, metros, and other forms of transit often employ interesting sectional strategies as well.
Wide corridors of railway tracks tend to divide a city and create disparate conditions on either side: a condition described with accuracy by the common expression “the wrong side of the tracks.” The development of HSR through a city can be an opportunity to address these disparities with a station designed as a bridge.
The existing Tiburtina station—located at the periphery of historic central Rome—was demolished to make way for the new station in 2007. Although smaller than Roma Termini, the historic terminal station in the city center, the intent is for Tiburtina to accommodate a majority of the high-speed trains in and out of Rome. The 800 foot-long, 165 foot-wide station floats nearly 30 feet above 29 platforms, providing a physical connection between two districts historically separated by the railway line—the Nomentano district and the Pietralata urban park. The “landing points” at both sides of the station feature urban plazas, transfers to both local and long-distance buses, taxis, and access to the local metro.
The station is conceived as an “urban gallery,” a double height glass bar building programmed with the usual mix of restaurants, shops, and station functions such as ticketing and waiting areas. The procession from street to the main concourse is quite grand: a large glass volume contains multilevel escalators up to the bridge level. Suspended sculptural volumes hover above the bridge concourse, providing space for first class passenger lobbies and other functions.
Turin’s Porta Susa is similar to Tiburtina in it’s goal of reconnecting neighborhoods historically divided by a rail corridor. In this case, a major urban project called for burying the rail corridor and creating a grand urban avenue above.
The station structure is 1,250 feet long, 100 feet wide, and varies from 42 to 62 feet in height. It lies parallel to the tracks, and the platforms are accessed via several bridges that lie just below the avenue level. A bus transfer area is located to the east of the station, below which a multilevel underground parking garage is being developed. The metro is accessible on the lowest level. Surrounding development includes a hotel tower at the south of the site.
The length of the structure is divided into several functional zones that align with the city streets running perpendicular to the length of the station. Entrances to the station follow the grid as well, reconnecting the city through the station itself. Prominent open arcades throughout Turin inspired the open gallery concept.
HISTORIC STATION ADDITIONS
Strasbourg TGV station in eastern France began as a historic through station built by Germany during a period of occupation in the late 1800s. To accommodate the LGV Est, the station would need to to be replaced, or renovated, modernized, and expanded accordingly. Rather than demolish the station, a large glazed canopy was added to the front facade to create interior space for a modern concourse.
Although the canopy is the most striking feature of the renovation, even more interesting are the additions on several below-grade levels under the canopy and entrance plaza. On the lowest level, access is provided to local trams, buses, and the metro. Above are shops, cafés, and an expansive bicycle rental facility (Strasbourg is the cycling capital of France!). A large underground parking garage is located just below the plaza. The levels are connected with an atrium open to the glazed canopy above. The multilevel addition, most of which is below ground, provides space for the additional facilities and amenities required of a modern HSR station.
Antwerp Central Station, often cited as one of the most impressive historic train stations in the world, is another example of a grand terminal station renovated to accommodate high-speed rail through an interesting sectional strategy. Constructed in phases at the turn of the century, the city grew around the massive station such that today it feels quite centrally located. Like most historic stations, Antwerp Central was designed to be a terminal station. In this case, trains arrived at the station on a raised viaduct through the city instead of at grade, and the terminal platforms were on level 2 of the station.
A major restoration and renovation in the 1990s and early 2000s added two levels below the original station to accommodate a lower level of terminal platforms, and a set of tunneled through platforms for HSR routes extending north to Amsterdam. The lower levels feel more contemporary, creating a striking contrast with the cathedral-like main levels from which light spills into the lower levels. A second, contemporary entrance atrium was added on the southeast end of the platforms, which increases neighborhood accessibility. The station is often used for cultural events, such as concerts, dances, and even a party to celebrate the birth of a new baby elephant at the nearby Antwerp Zoo.
OPEN STATION (LILLE)
The challenge for Lille’s new TGV station was the complexity of existing infrastructure at the site, a former military barracks positioned between the historic central city and the nearest suburbs. A ring road bisected the site, and the program called for new TGV lines, a metro stop, and parking garages. The inventiveness of the site plan was discussed in previous subsections, yet it is the sectional organization of the station that is of note here.
The station functions are programmed into a plinth structure, with commercial towers above that act as landmarks for the city. The TGV tracks are at grade, and high-speed trains are visible through the glazed facade facing the historic city center. A bridge bifurcates the station towers and connects the suburbs at a higher level, to the city center at a lower level.
SECURITY IN SECTION (CHINESE STATIONS)
Chinese HSR station design is heavily influenced by rigorous national security protocols, which involve a sectional separation of passenger arrival and departure flows. The circulation process is as follows:
Some Chinese stations are round, others are rectangular or even square in plan. Despite the differences in shape, the security protocols are the same at every station in China and the sectional experience is similar as well. Given the vast public plazas and highways which usually surround the structures, the mono-functional nature of the stations, and the crowds of passengers thronging the security queues, Chinese HSR stations often feel simultaneously crowded and isolated. Service feels rationed, not purchased.
Blurry Scales: The Reinvention of the Station Square
Train stations have always been hubs of activity in city centers, even for people who aren't travelling. But as high-speed rail stations have grown in size and programmatic variety, the scale of these structures has begun to blur the distinction between station and city.
Kyoto Station was completed in 1997 and designed by Hiroshi Hara with Atelier 5. Covering nearly 10 acres in the center of Kyoto, the structure itself is enormous; the height varies with a maximum of 210 feet, and the longest side of the building is over a 1/4 mile. Given over 2.5 million square feet of space, facilities for the Shinkansen account for less than 10% of the building area.
Any multi-block structure of this size naturally has implications on the urban fabric. But the design of Kyoto Station also brings the city into the station in several interesting ways. There is a modest plaza at the building’s main entrance known as Ekimae Square. But there are also several locations within the station that function as urban gathering spaces, and even have urban titles such as East Square, Karasuma Square, South Square, South Promenade, and Muromachi Square. Some of these spaces are covered, under the Central Hall's atrium roof, while others are exposed to the sun and rain. The circulation between the squares is public, open and continuous. The main atrium space is terraced and visual connection to the city beyond is framed and curated throughout the space. Traversing through the station squares, gradually shifting from sheltered to unsheltered space in a seamless loop, is an experience that challenges the typical distinction of inside/outside, and of city/station. To that end, Hiroshi Hara describes the station as a “geographical concourse.”
GUANGZHOU SOUTH STATION
A similar situation exists in a few rare locations in China. As a rule, train stations in China are not open to the public: entry requires an ID and ticket check by security guards. Although the stations attract a large quantity of users, the national security protocol barring public access means the stations never really become an amenity to the surrounding neighborhood. However, in a few of the more recently constructed stations, a portion of the building has been made accessible to the general public. This is the case for Guangzhou South station.
The high-speed trains approach the station on a viaduct at the mezzanine level, and so the ground level is free for public access. In this design, the structure itself is lifted to allow free circulation below the station. Amenities like shops and restaurants are now open to the public, and the shade of the concourse paired with the cooling effect of the concrete is welcome in the harsh summer. The space under the station is an extension of the urban plaza at the front and rear of the station, and in this way the urban and architectural boundaries become blurred.
To the extent that the city is pulled into and through the station in Kyoto and Guangzhou, the reverse is true in Omiya: here the station is stretched through the city along a network of raised sidewalks.
The station itself is rather underwhelming: large and bunker-like with ribbon windows along the length of the structure. The main pedestrian egress is at a mezzanine level platform; taxi and car pick-ups circulate below the platform at ground level. The station is situated between several large towers and department stores, and the pedestrian platform acts as a direct architectural connection into these shopping centers and the wider urban context. Raised walkways within the city are not uncommon in Japan, though the network emanating from the station in Omiya is quite extensive: pedestrians can travel more than a 1/4 mile into the city from the station along this route, as far as the city hall complex in the city center.
In Nagasaki, the small but unique Shinkansen station is designed as a covered public square. A radio station is housed on the second level of the adjacent building facing the square, and passers-by are sometimes treated to a glimpse of a famous musician or live performance through the station windows. The radio also provides in-house music for the station. The covered plaza hosts public art sculptures, city events, and seasonal items like a large Christmas tree. A few shops and the JR ticket station are housed in the adjacent buildings, but the main feature of the station is the public space.
In Omiya, the station was extended into the city via a series of elevated pedestrian sidewalks. In Hannover, a similar technique involves an extension of the station into the city via an underground promenade.
Overlooking reconstruction from damage incurred in World War II, the train station itself is fundamentally the same as when it was constructed in 1879. The major program components, including a covered platform hall, waiting areas, information desks, and ticket counters remain the same. The building materials are largely similar, though perhaps more glass has been used in recent renovations. Between 2004 and 2006
, the basement level of the station was expanded and connected with Niki de Saint Phalle Promenade, a subgrade shopping promenade open to the sky that extends from the Hauptbahnhof into the heart of the city. The promenade was preexisting and the renovation simply connected the station and opened up the space to the sky above, and yet the nature of the space blurs the boundary between the station, as a discrete architectural moment, and the city. A 360 degree view is available here.
The train station has always been a place of architectural invention. The train station of the 1800s needed to accommodate programmatic functions and circulation that had previously never existed, such as spaces for passenger waiting, purchasing a ticket, or climbing aboard a train. At the same time, advances in construction materials and techniques allowed greater structural spans and building heights. The train station was a natural match for experimenting with new materials and techniques, and private railroad companies spent a good deal of their profit in creating the most grand terminal stations to attract passengers.
Nearly 200 years later the modern train station is still a place of invention and experimentation. The evolution of train technology, advances in tunneling and civil engineering, a contemporary interest in “mixed-use” places, and a shift in the predominant architectural typology (from terminal station to through station) all play a role in the contemporary design of high-speed rail stations. The following section presents examples of spatial invention at the smallest scales, between city, station, and human experience.
From Waiting to Shopping
Until the train became commercially available to passengers, there was no architectural precedent for large spaces dedicated solely to “waiting.” Train stations required dedicated spaces for passengers who arrived early, and for those whose train was delayed. In Europe stations often had several waiting rooms based on ticket class: first and second class passengers had access to finely appointed rooms with upholstered chairs and carpets, while third class passengers may only have had rooms with hard wooden benches. With the advent of high-speed rail, traditional waiting rooms have largely disappeared in favor of spaces for shopping.
In some historic stations, this has happened in the form of major renovation. While not a station for high-speed rail, Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris is an important hub for regional, commuter, and airport trains to both Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports. When large scale renovation was needed for the station, SNCF partnered with private companies Klépierre and Spie Batignolles Immobilier to renovate the station and convert more than 100,000 square feet into 80 retail spaces.
The result is a space that feels more like a shopping mall that happens to have a train station attached to it. Jean-Marie Duthilleul, lead architect at SNCF, describes the new design: [W]e h ave moved from a one-dimensional tube space where it was impossible to see anyone, but just ahead of yourself, to a 3D space where you can see people below, above, and around you—like a crowd in the foyer of an opera. Despite the fact that there are 500,000 visitors transiting Saint-Lazare every day, that it is a very very busy asset, it now offers these people the opportunity to see each other, to meet and…maybe even to love each other! Yes, I mean that! Because it’s important to find spaces for to meet in real life in this world that we call “virtual,” but that in actual fact isn’t virtual at all.” Witness the man waiting with flowers at a café table, or the young couple kissing on a bench.
The Hauptbahnhof in Leipzig was renovated with a similar strategy—a transformation of the main waiting space into a multilevel shopping mall. Here, though, the ground below the historic terminal station was excavated in order to add two levels of shopping connected by a shared atrium.
Germany and Austria are at the forefront of urban development focused around major new HSR stations. The Hauptbahnhof in Vienna opened in 2014 as a replacement for the existing Südbahnhof terminal station. As well as becoming the new hub for international high-speed rail in Austria, the station is home to a 215,000 square foot shopping center “Bahnhof City” with 115 shops and restaurants branded on two main levels. Trains arrive at the station on a viaduct at the third level, and connections to pedestrian underpasses and the local metro are on levels below ground. The shopping center is managed by ECE, a major European retail management company with centers in fourteen countries. The station itself is just a small part of a 270 acre master plan, establishing a new district in the city with several new office towers, 5,000 living units for 13,000 people, new schools and training centers, and more than seventeen acres of new green space.
SPAIN'S NEW AVE STATIONS
Spain is also incorporating shopping into the development of AVE high-speed rail stations. New stations at Albacete (Los Llanos), Bilbao (Abando Indalecio Prieto), Málaga (María Zambrano), Pontevedra (Vigo Guixar), and Salamanca (Salamanca) have been developed with shopping malls, grocery stores, hotels, gyms, and cinemas managed by Vialia. These larger, more comprehensive stations have been cited as real amenities for the cities.
The Last Mile
The “last mile” is a transportation planning concept that describes the difficulty in getting travelers from a transportation node to their final destination. The last mile is a consideration in all countries, yet the issue is more acute in America because land use patterns are more diffuse, suburbs are the norm, and public transit is often lacking or non-existent.
In nearly every country studied inter-modality was a strong focus of the design (or renovation) of a station. A variety of transit modes are routinely integrated into high-speed rail hubs: airplanes, regional and commuter trains, subways, buses, streetcars, trams, cars (parking, car share and car rental), taxis, and even bicycles. More importantly than transit mode options, however, is the efficacy of those options and the ease of accessibility. For example, bike sharing might be available at a station, but without a comprehensive cycling network in the city, concerns over safety will make cycling unappealing for most people. Train stations, and their transit mode options, must be designed with larger transport networks in mind.
ICE stations in both Freiburg and Munster embrace the local affinity for cycling with ample "radstations," or bicycle parking at the station.
Stations in the Netherlands dedicate a good portion of station area to covered and stacked cycle storage. Gare de Strasbourg TGV has a large portion of the public concourse dedicated to bicycle rental through an independent vendor. In Erfurt, the elevated train platforms have stairs that exit directly to the popular streetcar stops just below the station: transfer between modes might take as few as 30 seconds if the timing is right.
In Ashford a great off road pedestrian network connects to the international high-speed rail station. In about 60 seconds passengers can go from 180 mph on a high-speed train to a leisurely stroll along a stream. Good way-finding is key in all transit mode changes.
TECHNOLOGY AND MULTI-MODAL INTEGRATION
Information accessibility is also important. Most operators publish train schedules online and make the data easy to access on a smartphone with mobile sites and apps. In some countries, tickets can be sent right to your mobile phone. Deutsche Bahn is at the forefront of this trend with their DB Navigator app. The multi-functional application is intended to help passengers get from door to door easily and efficiently, not just from station to station. Features include:
• Comprehensive GPS enabled route planning, including commuter trains, subway, streetcars, buses, and even walking directions
• Real-time train departure and arrival information with alarms for delays
• Electronic ticket booking and history management
The app’s newest feature is called “Touch and Travel,” and it takes advantage of the streamlined model Germany has developed for transit ticketing. Passengers are responsible for purchasing and validating tickets prior to their journey, and roaming conductors make spot checks to ensure compliance: there are no turnstiles blocking entry to trains, subways, or buses. “Touch and Travel” uses GPS to pinpoint a user’s location. All you have to do is turn the app on when you board a train, and turn it off when you arrive at the final destination. The app records the departure and arrival locations, tabulates the fare accordingly, and debits your account each month.
THE SHARING ECONOMY AND DRIVERLESS CARS
The sharing economy and driverless car technology are exciting developments that could offer meaningful solutions for the US's last mile challenges. In some locations Deutsche Bahn is experimenting with transit sharing solutions, like short-term cycle and car rentals, to extend the reach of passengers beyond the station.
This is especially helpful for business travelers on day trips, who eventually need to return to the train station for a journey home. The single-source payment system is also helpful. A passenger doesn't need an account with multiple bike or car sharing companies in each city. Instead, all scheduling and payments are processed through DB.
integrated with rail transit, ride-hailing apps could offer one solution to typical
last mile challenges. Florida's Pinellas County is piloting an Uber-based
program serving low-income transit riders traveling at late-night and
early-morning hours. Also in Florida, the city of Altamonte Springs is
encouraging use of SunRail commuter service by picking up 25 percent of the tab
for Uber rides to and from the station. Centennial, a suburb of Denver, has
commenced a six month program that picks up all of the Lyft fare to and from
their light-rail station.
Conclusions from the Present, Approaches to the Future
As we turn our attention from the present to the future, it is worthwhile to reflect on the research presented in Part 2, and in turn establish an approach for speculations on high-speed rail in the American context in Part 3.
With over fifty years of operation, there are many international models that the US can use to guide its own adoption of HSR technology. The case studies in Part 2 range from large scale to small scale, through various urban/non-urban contexts and geographical/topographical conditions, and a variety of historical development scenarios. But it’s not as simple as selecting a TGV or a Shinkansen and expecting the same ridership, enthusiasm, or relative levels of success as France or Japan. That’s because transportation is not just technology—transportation is culture. It is influenced by tangible forces, like geography, topography, settlement patterns and population density, as well as intangible forces. The cultural character of rail travel includes tendencies towards the production, use, and ownership of the built environment, existing and emerging technologies and communication methods, attitudes towards collectivism or individualism, as well as private and public organizations.
For a high-speed rail system to be effective in the American context, the network and operations should consider both the tangible and intangible forces at work in a given location while foreseeing future shifts in patterns of living, working, learning, and playing. To complicate the equation further, because the US is so vast and differentiated (geographically and culturally) this approach must be tailored to each region of HSR implementation. What works in New England might not work in Texas or California.
Still, there are important take-aways from my observations that can be applied to a variety of locations in the US.
HSR FOR PEOPLE WITHOUT CARS
In nearly all cases studied high-speed rail is the backbone of a much larger transit network, including commuter or regional rail, local metros, bicycle and pedestrian networks, light rail and streetcars, buses, and even regional airports. With HSR it is possible to travel great distances quickly and conveniently, all without a car. In fact, most HSR stations prioritize pedestrian, cycling, and transit connectivity over parking garages. In the US we should use the development of HSR to consider mass transit comprehensively, in large and small cities. Where transit already exists, it should be enhanced and expanded. Where it does not, HSR presents an opportunity to envision it.
HSR FOR PEOPLE WITH CARS
Due to cultural and historical development patterns, medium to large cities in Europe and Asia tend to be denser and more walkable than those in the US. As the backbone of a larger transit vision, HSR can encourage the adoption of this type of urban development. Although much of the population growth in the US is forecasted to occur in urban centers, there are still large portions of the population that prefer living outside the city, in suburbs or peri-urban neighborhoods where car ownership is still a necessity. HSR trips should be easy and convenient for these residents. It will rarely make sense for suburbanites to fight traffic into a city station, park at a garage, only to board a train back out of the city. The psychological hurdle alone will keep many suburbanites from trying HSR as a replacement for air or car travel.
Although suburban HSR stations are rarer than city center stations, they do exist. In order to attract ridership from suburban residents, HSR networks in the US will need to incorporate “station pairs” in large cities: a complimentary peri-urban station along with a city-center station. The city center station privileges pedestrian, cyclist, and mass transit connectivity and surrounding land use densifies the city with commercial towers, hotels, apartments, convention centers, etc. The peri-urban station hosts more structured parking, potentially with dedicated interstate exits and easy circulation to surrounding suburbs. The station may also be connected to regional rail networks for added convenience. Additional station stops add time to overall trip durations, but high-speed trains already operate at slower speeds on the approach into the city. An additional stop at a peri-urban station will not add a great amount of time to an overall trip, but is of critical importance to attracting ridershipAs we turn our attention from the present to the future, it is worthwhile to reflect on the research presented in Part 2, and in turn establish an approach for speculations on high speed rail in the American context in Part 3.
HSR FOR REGIONAL GROWTH
The US is a unique scenario for many reasons. One of the most important is geography: of all the countries with high-speed rail development, the US is third in land area only to Russia and China. Given the HSR “sweet spot” (distances between about 100–500 miles in which it is the quickest travel option), HSR will not be a viable solution for national travel in the US. Instead, it makes more sense to focus HSR development around what RPA calls “mega-regions,” which are territories greater than individual city boundaries with Interlocking economic systems, shared natural resources and ecosystems, and common transportation systems. This suggests a planning and governing entity at the scale of the region: larger than a single state, but smaller than the national government. With few exceptions, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and circuit courts, this scale of government is largely unprecedented in the US.
HSR FOR A NEW URBAN RENEWAL
In the mid-twentieth century, encouraged by the Federal Highway Act of 1956 and growing interest in suburban living, many cities in the US leveled large swaths of urban fabric to make room for highway development. Traffic congestion, noise, and pollution increased, neighborhoods were divided, and the pedestrian realm suffered in favor of the automobile. The development of HSR routes into these cities may take advantage of existing rail routes or chart new routes. In either case, route development shouldn’t recreate the planning mistakes of the past. Instead, HSR should be an opportunity to reconnect neighborhoods and improve the pedestrian realm. Examples such as Cordoba and Torino are precedents for tunneling existing rail routes and creating new urban boulevards and greenways. Roma Tiburtina station acts as a bridge reconnecting neighborhoods across a rail corridor. Berlin populates the space under an elevated rail with shops and cafes. HSR is a tool for connectivity—at the scale of the region and the scale of the human.
HSR FOR CONVENIENCE
Mobility in the US is rarely easy or convenient. Highways are congested and transit systems (where they exist) are overcrowded. Airports are distant from city centers and require early arrivals of 90 to 120 minutes, invasive security protocols, and lengthy delays. Moreover, airline ticket prices are unpredictable, relating more to supply and demand than distance traveled and prohibitively expensive when purchased on the day of travel.
HSR can improve upon US mobility, but only if it is easier, quicker, and more convenient than other mobility options. Stations must be located inside and outside of large cities. Train fares should be reliable, based on distance traveled and consistently priced right up until the moment of departure. When possible, tickets should integrate with local metro systems and cycle rental facilities. On-board Wi-Fi should be quick, free, and easy to access. Cafe cars should provide healthy, tasty food and drink options. Ticketing should be mobile technology friendly for convenience. Train platforms should be easy to access from the street, and tickets should be checked on board to avoid circulation bottlenecks and circuitous routes. Quiet cars should be marked and enforced for business travel. Each train should have ample conductors to check tickets and provide service. Security scans should be kept as minimal as required for safety.
In the US there are currently several ongoing HSR projects. Some are still in the planning stages, such as the Houston to Dallas link in Texas. The HSR project in California is currently the furthest along, breaking ground in January of 2015. All of these projects, either public or privately developed, are benefiting from federal dollars and cooperation from the FRA, if not for construction then for environmental review studies and financing. But in each case decisions about technology for train sets, signaling, and ticketing are being made at the state level, not by the federal government. While this allows each state to individually negotiate technology packages from a variety of vendors, it does not guarantee that these systems will be inter-operable. It is only reasonable to predict that future systems within mega-regions will be fragmented and inconvenient.
Europe, by nature of its composition of smaller but industrialized countries, has overcome this hurdle by ensuring certain inter-operability features, such as a standard track gauge and a European signaling system. High-speed trains such as the Thalys and Eurostar travel internationally throughout Europe because of these inter-operability standards, and a variety of companies such as Alstom, Bombardier, Siemens, Talgo, BREL, Hitachi and more all manufacture trains to these specifications. By contrast, the Shinkansen is a closed system: only Shinkansen trains can operate on its rails.
Although the federal government doesn’t need to dictate a manufacturer for each project, it should set standards of inter-operability for HSR in the US. [Only this will assure that the US regions benefiting from HSR connectivity will be open to expansion, interconnectivity, and financial benefits, such as economy of scale.]