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J R Soc Interface. 2019 May 31;16(154):20190101. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2019.0101.

Efficiency and shrinking in evolving networks.

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1 NORDITA, Stockholm University , Roslagstullsbacken 23, SE-106 91 Stockholm , Sweden.
2 Dipartimento di Fisica , Universita degli Studi di Milano, via Celoria 16, Milano 20133 , Italy.
3 Institut de Physique Théorique, CEA, CNRS-URA 2306 , F-91191 Gif-sur-Yvette , France.
4 Centre d'Analyse et de Mathématique Sociales (CNRS/EHESS) 54 , Boulevard Raspail, 75006 Paris , France.


Characterizing the spatio-temporal evolution of networks is a central topic in many disciplines. While network expansion has been studied thoroughly, less is known about how empirical networks behave when shrinking. For transportation networks, this is especially relevant on account of their connection with the socio-economical substrate, and we focus here on the evolution of the French railway network from its birth in 1840 to 2000, in relation to the country's demographic dynamics. The network evolved in parallel with technology (e.g. faster trains) and under strong constraints, such as preserving a good population coverage and balancing cost and efficiency. We show that the shrinking phase that started in 1930 decreased the total length of the network while preserving efficiency and population coverage: efficiency and robustness remained remarkably constant while the total length of the network shrank by 50% between 1930 and 2000, and the total travel time and time-diameter decreased by more than 75% during the same period. Moreover, shrinking the network did not affect the overall accessibility with an average travel time that decreases steadily since its formation. This evolution leads naturally to an increase in transportation multimodality (such as a massive use of cars) and shows the importance of considering together transportation modes acting at different spatial scales. More generally, our results suggest that shrinking is not necessarily associated with a decay in performance and functions but can be beneficial in terms of design goals and can be part of the natural evolution of an adaptive network.


shrinking networks; spatial networks; train; transport networks

[Available on 2020-05-01]

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