Currently, the rail network in the project area is in bad shape, especially in border regions which is hindering the full use of potentials within the entire area. In the German/Polish border area, a regional stalemate situation has evolved, which cannot be handled successfully without transnational input. The same situation can be found in the Polish/Ukraine border area due to different track gauges: Here the strong initiative of EuroRail has evolved, offering fascinating perspectives for Polish-Ukrainian cooperation and future development of the Central axis.
Overall it can be stated that it is true that rail infrastructure connections between metropolitan areas leading through border areas are in a very bad condition, transport offers do not fit with the relevance of relations, and passenger potentials are not exploited. Since advancing the rail network is a key factor of accessibility and sustainable transport, Via Regia plus primarily aims to improve the accessibility of the area from East Germany through South Poland to Slovakia and to the Ukraine at the transnational, regional and local level through the support of environmentally friendly means of transport.
It focuses on an important Trans-European transport corridor, which is of high relevance for the interconnectivity and the internal and external accessibility of the Central Europe area. Having also in mind the full integration of labour markets in 2011, this situation will lead unavoidably to a rising share of road transport and the marginalisation of rail transport, thus leading to a transport system failing to meet the principles of sustainable development.
There are two strong starting points and motivations for the cooperation:
- The integrating backbone of the project area is the former Pan-European Transport Corridor III, now Central axis. It is indeed a strategic East-West link within the TEN-T networks, reaching from Europe’s core zone to Ukraine, but also connecting several North-South relations. Besides selected regions, the main metropolitan areas located at the crossing points are participating in the project.
- The historical trading route Via Regia provides the cross-cultural and mental connection of the regions concerned. It allows for an enormous visibility and outreach of issues being subject of the cooperation due to growing awareness for this regional trade mark.
The Via Regia, a transport axis formerly as well known as Pan-European Transport Corridor III, connects eastern Germany, southern Poland and Ukraine, thus creating a bridge to the European Union’s neighbours. Cities and regions along the corridor cooperated in the Via Regia Plus project from 2008-2011 to produce studies on dynamic, sustainable development to improve connections in border regions, increase cooperation of urban areas and promote tourism. Better connections across borders – The Polish “heart” of the Via Regia has a high settlement density, the regions develop very dynamically and have a strong railway network. But connections to Germany, Slovakia and the Ukraine are insufficient, and there is poor coordination of cross-border investments.
Via Regia Plus addressed the situation by preparing a transnational strategy for the harmonised development of investments and travel offers. Spatial effects of infrastructure investments were evaluated and possible transport routes identified. Infrastructure managers and rail operators shared their views during public forums and expert workshops, and solutions for links of high interest (e.g. Berlin-Wrocław) were investigated in case studies.
Joint development of cities and surrounding areas: As in many cities of Central and Eastern Europe, unregulated growth of individual transport may reduce the quality of life and bring traffic congestion. More sustainable urban mass transit can help ensure a higher level of mobility. Therefore the project contributed to the creation of fast urban transport, programmes for integrated mobility management and the revitalisation of railway stations. Meanwhile, partners conducted as well studies aimed at better cooperation in urban areas e.g. through the joint development of commercial areas and the coordination of local spatial policies.
Increasing attractiveness and developing tourism: The partners evaluated strategies to tackle demographic change and to increase the attractiveness of cities and regions. Work migration as a resource for the integration of labour markets and the need to create attractive living conditions for qualified employees and their families were investigated. In the field of tourism the “Via Mobil” moving exhibition was supported, displaying the Via Regia as traditional route for trade and pilgrimage and axis of cultural exchange. The initiative for a transnational cycling route was launched, and for the attractive, but isolated region of eastern Slovakia the benefits of regional cultural routes for regional development were evaluated.
All partners involved local and regional stakeholders actively in their studies. Results were presented to the general public during a mid-term conference with exhibition of results in 2010 in Leipzig and during the final conference in 2011 in Wrocław.