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Biggest challenge for European transport is decarbonisation, says Nash

Professor Chris Nash who is an expert in the field of Transport Economics was yesterday awarded the honorary degree of Doctor Honoris Causa. He has collaborated with the Faculty of Economics and Administration since 2015. 

Christopher Nash.

Chris Nash is a professor of Transport Economics at the Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds. He is one of the most cited transport economists. Chris Nash has acted as a specialist advisor to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the European Commission, and the European Conference of Ministers of Transport.

In 2015, he established contact with Masaryk University when he participated in a round table held at the Faculty of Economics and Administration on the topic of introducing competition in the provision of railway transport services. Since then, Professor Nash has been continuously collaborating with the Faculty of Economics and Administration and the Institute for Transport Economics, Geography and Policy in particular. Among other things, his collaboration was vital for obtaining the Operational Programme Research, Development and Education New Mobility project aimed at the analysis of the benefits and risks of building high‑speed railway lines in the Czech Republic.

You have devoted your scientific career to the study of transport economics. What challenges do you see facing European transport systems today?

By far the biggest challenge is decarbonisation. Transport is still heavily dependent on oil and is the fastest-growing producer of carbon. Sales of battery electric cars are growing slowly, and it will be many years before they dominate the market. Moreover, electrification is of limited benefit until the production of electricity has been decarbonised. The development of alternative fuels for heavy goods vehicles and aviation is much less advanced. So growing use of rail transport may play an important role, particularly in the case of freight and medium-distance passenger transport. But to exploit that opportunity, rail will need to improve its efficiency and quality of service.

Since you specialise in the economics of highspeed railway lines, what would you say it would bring to the Czech Republic if ever built?

High-speed rail would bring a steep change in the quality and capacity of the Czech rail network. It would relieve pressure on the existing infrastructure and permit improvements to regional and freight services as well as intercity passengers. Moreover, there may be scope to use the high-speed line itself for regional service as well as longer distance services.

Are there any routes suitable for high-speed railways in the Czech Republic?

High-speed railways provide high capacity and high quality of service but at extremely high cost. Thus, they are most suitable where there are large volumes of traffic, bottlenecks on existing networks and poor-quality infrastructure. The route that comes closest to fulfilling these criteria in the Czech Republic is Prague to Brno, where domestic traffic is added to existing and potential international traffic between Prague and Vienna. But it is still unclear whether there is enough traffic to justify a completely new line as opposed to a mixture of new construction and upgrading. Elsewhere in the Czech Republic, upgrading existing lines is a more cost-effective solution to improving rail services.

You have collaborated with transportation experts from the Faculty of Economics and Administration. What specifically have you been working on together?

Our principal cooperation has been on two issues – investment in high-speed rail and on rail reform. Some years ago, the Institute for Transport Economics, Geography and Policy secured a major grant, in partnership with other research groups, called New Mobility – High-Speed Transport Systems and Transport Behaviour. I have served as chair of an international advisory board for this project, which has included much exciting innovatory work, particularly on the use of mobile phone data to improve transport forecasts. I have worked with colleagues from Masaryk University on identifying lessons from Western European experience of highspeed rail for Central and Eastern Europe. As well as giving several conferences and round table presentations on these issues, I have taught short courses both on European rail policy and on transport appraisal.

What else have you worked on?

The other broad area in which I have worked with colleagues in Brno is on railway reform, including in particular the impact of vertical separation of infrastructure from train operations and the introduction of competition. Experience of the Czech Republic is particularly interesting in the latter, where it has perhaps the strongest evidence of the impact on track passenger service competition in Europe, with three operators competing on the most important route. This has brought major benefits in terms of improved services and lower prices but has also had disadvantages in terms of congestion on the network and in the impact on the finances of the state-owned operator.

What was it like for you to cooperate with the Faculty of Economics and Administration?

The institute here is full of enthusiastic and innovative researchers who have always made me feel welcome and have been keen to get my advice. Working with them has been a great pleasure on both a professional and a personal level. The administrative arrangements have become complex, particularly since Brexit, but both academic and administrative staff have worked hard to ensure that the arrangements have worked smoothly.

What is the future for you?

I have long retired from my full-time post at the University of Leeds but hope to continue working part-time with both Leeds and Masaryk Universities for many years to come. There are two important issues in particular that I wish to continue researching. The first is the impact of the major reforms in the management of the rail sector in Britain being implemented as part of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail. These reforms have the potential to overcome the major difficulties found in vertical separation in Britain, but much of the detail remains to be worked out. The second is to continue learning from colleagues here about the railways of Central and Eastern Europe. Trying to understand why reforms here do not seem to have achieved the same level of efficiency as in Western Europe and identifying what can be done to improve results.

The project "New Mobility - High-Speed Transport Systems and Transport-Related Human Behaviour", Reg. No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_026/0008430, is co-financed by the "Operational Programme Research, Development and Education".