The rail systems were around the western world one of the first signs of the change brought by the first industrial revolution. The large passenger stations of the XIXth century were joined by goods stations in a moment in which the railroad was the only way to get a high speed transport of goods between distant points.
This pioneer role can be felt today as an obsolescence. One of the first modern speculative bubbles was the British Railway Mania of the 1840s, which exploded in 1846. Already in that moment companies had to be authorized by an Act of Parliament to gain the right to acquire land. Even if many of the companies were ruined by the end of the bubble, most of them were integrated into larger companies. With local differences, most of the European countries started their rail history with private companies, which with time were nationalized and again privatized. Meanwhile, the rail lines that were conceived to serve the XIXth century urban network have served societies that have been transformed. Many lines have been closed due to their economic failure as demography has changed, but also due to changes in the railway management systems or political decisions concerning the role of rail in the city.
The usual cases of rail evolution concerning urban planning is:
- Closure of entire lines that have been considered economically unsustainable. It is usually the case in demographically depressed areas and means that stations as well as track land are liberated. In many cases the entire lines have been reconverted into bike and pedestrian paths.
- Closure of parts of the line in local areas, usually for straightening the lines, with scarce urban impact.
- New urban bypasses, suppressing level tracks in the urban areas. This eliminates the barrier effect of the level tracks, but turns the new station into a distant point, with urban integration problems. In Spain it is the case of cities such as Cuenca.
- Burial of the urban rail thoroughfares. It is the most expensive solution, but it is usually the best for cities as it allows a stability of the urban centralities. This usually means associated urban operations with mixed uses in the old central stations, and the transfer to out of town sites of classification and goods stations. In Spain, it is the case of Logroño, León (to be executed) or Cordoba
- Duplicity, with new stations for high speed in out of town sites, maintaining the old central stations for other trains, including metropolitan lines. It is usually a less satisfactory options. This is the case of Tarragona in Spain.