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Will Trains Play a Key Role in the European Green Deal?
By Sergio Matalucci
Night trains are making a glorious comeback in several European countries, banking on the penchant for nostalgic traveling while sleeping. After a 16-year break the first night train connecting Vienna and Brussels left the Austrian capital in mid-January.
Austria's national railway system, ÖBB, which operates the route, is planning to launch a sleeper train connecting Vienna and Amsterdam by the end of the year. The state-owned company is not the only one that sees an opportunity in Europeans' changing habits and growing attention to the environment.
In 2017, EU transport sector emissions were 28% above 1990 levels. The European Green Deal, currently being discussed by the Commission, aims at reversing the trend.
"Through the Green Deal, we have committed to make the transport sector in Europe to contribute to our effort to tackle climate change. All the modes have to contribute, but I think that rail in particular is a game changer, since it is a truly sustainable way of moving people and freight," Adina-Ioana Valean, European commissioner for transport, told DW.
Within the European transportation sector, road transport is the largest contributor of EU CO2 emissions (73%), followed by aviation (13%) and maritime (11%). Rail, given its high degree of electrification, comes in fourth at 1.6%.
Valean explained that current European programs to promote railways are no bone of contention. "We are looking forward to receiving, within the next Multiannual Financial Framework, a good budget for transport."
No Duel Speed EU Rail Network
The transport commissioner underlines significant differences between member states in terms of rail networks, adding that European funds should target less developed regions through existing instruments, like the Connecting Europe Facility and the Cohesion Fund.
She did, however, rule out targets in transportation — at least for now. "What we need now is to understand which are the bottlenecks in the network and how much investment will be needed. So it is not the right moment for targets. Before that we need a strong assessment."
Valean added that the EU's Fourth Railway Package is being implemented, liberalizing the market and increasing competition for passenger services.
Competition to Soon Increase
"Competition will increase, especially after June 2020, when the remaining EU member states will join the first eight that already transposed the directive by June 2019," Josef Doppelbauer, executive director of the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA), told DW.
"Some examples: Italy's Trenitalia has applied to ERA for a single safety certificate and vehicle authorizations to be able to also operate in France. French SNCF and Trenitalia will enter the Spanish market in June 2020."
ERA has two roles. It implements the EU regulation on interoperability and safety. Since June 2019, it also issues single safety certificates and vehicle authorizations. "This means that for trains operating in multiple countries one authorization issued by ERA is sufficient."
Doppelbauer said that there is still plenty of room for improvements. "For instance, the first night train from Vienna to Brussels in mid-January had to stop in Aachen for 30 minutes, because the locomotive had to be changed because of technical compatibility issues. Also the driver had to be changed, as he needed to speak Flemish."
You Get What You Invest
Doppelbauer argues that national routes like Barcelona–Madrid are already showing that it is possible to "increasingly replace less environmentally friendly inland flights by cutting down travel time and price."
Rail's ability to compete with aviation will now depend on track investment, a prerogative of individual EU member states. While countries like Italy keep decreasing investments in rail, countries like Germany are committing more, even though ticket prices have recently decreased. Last month, for example, its government launched a €86-billion plan to be implemented over the next decade.
"It is an additional contribution of €64 ($75) per person a year, bringing Germany to roughly €140, which is still not top class compared to Austria and Switzerland."
According to Doppelbauer, customer satisfaction is pretty much a function of per capita investments in rail. He notes that in 2018 Switzerland was first for customer satisfaction with rail service and at €365 first for per capital investments on rail. "Austria was second for customer satisfaction, second for spending with €218 per capita. In Germany the corresponding figure is currently €77 per year."
The Challenge of Sustainable Tourism
"The majority of travel agents don't include at the moment trains as a mode to reach the final touristic destination," Libor Lochman, executive director of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies, told DW. "But we don't start from scratch. Travel agents for instance already offer Euro Passes, which allow passengers to travel four or seven days a month with a single ticket."
Freight transportation remains an even more difficult endeavor. "We have a growth of the passenger volumes, but we don't have the same figures for freight," stressed Lochman.
"As things stand, rail's market share of EU freight is slipping, falling from above 18% to below 17% in recent years," said James Nix, director of freight at Transport & Environment, a clean transport campaign group. As roads currently take the lion's share of inland freight, "very substantial sums are being invested in rail freight," he added.
"We've been requested by the Green Deal to move, as much as possible, freight from road to rail. But for this you need to improve the European cross-border railway network," said Commissioner Valean. Intermodal connections and capacity have to be built, border activities have to be streamlined.
All in all, prospects remain rosy, as strong support for rail comes from environmentalists and industry alike.
"The EU regulation will also help the railway sector to define a uniform technical standardization process," Francois Davenne, director general of the International Union of Railways, told DW. He even thinks that the Green Deal will have consequences on railways in many regions of the world, not just in the EU.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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By Gavin Naylor
Sharks elicit outsized fear, even though the risk of a shark bite is infinitesimally small. As a marine biologist and director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, I oversee the International Shark Attack File – a global record of reported shark bites that has been maintained continuously since 1958.
A Big, Diverse Family<p>Not all sharks are the same. Only a dozen or so of the roughly 520 shark species pose any risk to people. Even the three species that account for almost all shark bite fatalities – the <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharodon-carcharias/" target="_blank">white shark</a> (<em>Carcharodon carcharias</em>), <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/galeocerdo-cuvier/" target="_blank">tiger shark</a> (<em>Galeocerdo cuvier</em>) and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-leucas/" target="_blank">bull shark</a> (<em>Carcharhinus leucas</em>) – are behaviorally and evolutionarily very different from one another.</p><p>The tiger shark and bull shark are genetically as different from each other as a dog is from a rabbit. And both of these species are about as different from a white shark as a dog is from a kangaroo. The evolutionary lineages leading to the two groups split 170 million years ago, during the age of dinosaurs and before the origin of birds, and <a href="https://www.ck12.org/book/CK-12-Human-Biology/section/7.2/" target="_blank">110 million years before the origin of primates</a>.</p>
White, tiger and bull sharks are distinct species that diverged genetically tens of millions of years ago. Gavin Naylor / CC BY-ND<p>Yet many people assume all sharks are alike and equally likely to bite humans. Consider the term "shark attack," which is scientifically equivalent to "mammal attack." Nobody would equate dog bites with hamster bites, but this is exactly what we do when it comes to sharks.</p><p>So, when a reporter calls me about a fatality caused by a white shark off Cape Cod and asks my advice for beachgoers in North Carolina, it's essentially like asking, "A man was killed by a dog on Cape Cod. What precautions should people take when dealing with kangaroos in North Carolina?"</p>
Know Your Species<p>Understanding local species' behavior and life habits is one of the best ways to stay safe. For example, almost all shark bites that occur off Cape Cod are by white sharks, which are a large, primarily cold-water species that spend most of their time in isolation feeding on fishes. But they also aggregate near seal colonies that provide a reliable food source at certain times of the year.</p><p>Shark bites in the Carolinas are by warm-water species like bull sharks, tiger sharks and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-limbatus/" target="_blank">blacktips</a> (<em>Carcharhinus limbatus</em>). Each species is associated with particular habitats and dietary preferences.</p><p>Blacktips, which we suspect are responsible for most relatively minor bites on humans in the southeastern United States, feed on schooling bait fishes like menhaden. In contrast, bull sharks are equally at home in fresh water and salt water, and are often found near estuaries. Their bites are more severe than those of blacktips, as they are larger, more powerful, bolder and more tenacious. Several fatalities have been ascribed to bull sharks.</p><p>Tiger sharks are also large, and are responsible for a significant fraction of fatalities, particularly off the coast of volcanic islands like Hawaii and Reunion. They are tropical animals that often venture into shallow water frequented by swimmers and surfers.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1cfa1c9590e386ecc9455b4762b87518"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/yDqzGOa-adc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Humans Are Not Targets<p>Sharks do not "hunt" humans. Data from the International Shark Attack File compiled over the past 60 years show a tight association between shark bites and the number of people in the water. In other words, shark bites are a simple function of the probability of encountering a shark.</p><p>This underscores the fact that shark bites are almost always cases of mistaken identity. If sharks actively hunted people, there would be many more bites, since humans make very easy targets when they swim in sharks' natural habitats.</p><p>Local conditions can also affect the risk of an attack. Encounters are more likely when sharks venture closer to shore, into areas where people are swimming. They may do this because they are following bait fishes or seals upon which they prey.</p><p>This means we can use environmental variables such as temperature, tide or weather conditions to better predict movement of bait fish toward the shoreline, which in turn will predict the presence of sharks. Over the next few years, the Florida Program for Shark Research will work with colleagues at other universities to monitor onshore and offshore movements of tagged sharks and their association with environmental variables so that we can improve our understanding of what conditions bring sharks close to shore.</p>
More to Know<p>There still is much to learn about sharks, especially the 500 or so species that have never been implicated in a bite on humans. One example is the tiny <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/one-worlds-rarest-sharks-also-one-most-adorable-325280" target="_blank">deep sea pocket shark</a>, which has a strange pouch behind its pectoral fins.</p><p>Only two specimens of this type of shark have ever been caught – one off the coast of Chile 30 years ago, and another more recently in the Gulf of Mexico. We're not sure about the function of the pouch, but suspect it stores luminous fluid that is released to distract would-be predators – much as its close relative, the <a href="https://sharkdevocean.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/second-ever-pocket-shark-discovered-in-gulf-of-mexico/" target="_blank">tail light shark</a>, releases luminous fluid from a gland on its underside near its vent.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5783b39d0838d6e410344a852ed0dcc3"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UTO5debfmsg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Sharks range in form from the bizarre <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/mitsukurina-owstoni/" target="_blank">goblin shark</a> (<em>Mitsukurina owstoni</em>), most commonly encountered in Japan, to the gentle filter-feeding <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/rhincodon-typus/" target="_blank">whale shark</a> (<em>Rhincodon typus</em>). Although whale sharks are the largest fishes in the world, we have yet to locate their nursery grounds, which are likely teeming with thousands of <a href="https://www.earthtouchnews.com/oceans/sharks/baby-whale-shark-rescued-from-gillnet-in-india-video/" target="_blank">foot-long pups</a>. Some deepwater sharks are primarily known from submersibles, such as the giant <a href="https://twitter.com/gavinnaylor/status/1146144452681113601" target="_blank">sixgill shark</a>, which feeds mainly on carrion but probably also preys on other animals in the deep sea.</p><p>Sharks seem familiar to almost all of us, but we know precious little about them. Our current understanding of their biology barely scratches the surface. The little we do know suggests they are profoundly different from other vertebrate animals. They've had 400 million years of independent evolution to adapt to their environments, and it's reasonable to expect they may be hiding more than a few tricks up their gills.</p>
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