What is the thinking behind the project?

Peripheralisation of the periphery

Improvements to the transport network within North-West Europe, particularly with high-speed trains, have reduced journey times and increased frequencies between major urban regions. These regions together form part of the economic heart of Europe, sometimes known as the 'Pentagon'.

However, at the same time, pockets of inaccessibility have developed:

  • Even within a zone of significant economic prosperity, those areas located even a short distance away from the attractive rail and air interchange hubs become relatively more inaccessible.
  • More 'traditionally', peripheral areas beyond the economic core suffer from a lack of accessibility.

The central challenge for the project is to address the increasing peripheralisation of the periphery.

Seamless connectivity to rail and air hubs

Some regions lack high-speed transport networks because they have insufficient concentrations of population and activity to support major new transport investments. They remain car-dependent, which challenges the EU's response to the global Climate Change agenda. Therefore the strategy here is to improve connectivity by best use of existing infrastructure, through technological innovation. Sintropher deals with how to develop new regional tram-based transport systems which connect seamlessly to major rail or air hubs, using where possible existing rail infrastructure.

EU policy context

The project fits in well within other EU-funded projects and wider EU initiatives.

A key reason for its genesis is the 1999 European Spatial Development Perspective and the 2007 'Territorial Agenda for the European Union', with its emphasis on the role of polycentric development (urban clusters) in peripheral semi-rural urban regions.

Time-space maps of rail travel times 1993 (top) and 2020 (bottom)

Current European transport policy is in the context of the EUʼs Growth Strategy ‘Europe 2020: a Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth’ and the European Commission’s 2011 Transport White Paper ‘Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system’ (under review in mid 2015). This has 10 operational policy objectives including (1) tripling the existing high-speed rail network by 2030 with the majority of medium-distance passenger transport going by rail by 2050; (2) completion of the TEN-T core network by 2050; and (3) multimodal connections between all core network airports and railways, ports, rail freight and inland waterways by 2050.

Spiekermann, K., Wegener, M. (2008) The Shrinking Continent: Accessibility, Competiveness, and Cohesion. In: Faludi, A. (ed.) European Spatial Research and Planning, 115-139. Cambridge, Mass: Lincoln Institute.