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Indiscernible lightness of being

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David Begg's Biz4HS2 web banner: 'CREATE 1 MILLION JOBS, SUPPORT High-Speed Rail'

Constructing a high speed railroad between Los Angeles and San Francisco would at best have a marginal impact on Californian economic growth. So reported the Los Angeles Times on July 13, in an article that recounted UCLA senior economist Jerry Nickelsburg‘s evaluation of growth rates of locales served by Japan’s Shinkansen.

Construction of Japan’s vaunted bullet train began in the mid-1960s, and it did not generate higher economic growth or additional jobs, according to the study.

Nickelsburg examined the growth rates of cities and regions served by Japan’s system, compared to the nation’s overall rate of growth, and found that the introduction of high-speed passenger service had no discernible effect.

The analysis looked at nearly a dozen urban and rural prefectures and found no evidence that the introduction of bullet train service improved tax revenues, which was used as a proxy for local gross domestic product. In one case, one region without high-speed rail service grew just as quickly as a similar region with it. The study examined economic activity over a 30-year period.
[…]
On Thursday, the California High-Speed Rail Authority responded to the study by referring questions to UC Merced lecturer Dipu Gupta, who said he disagrees with the central conclusion that the project would not spur growth. Gupta, an architect and urban designer, said high-speed rail benefits an economy as a whole, so comparing growth rates of specific cities misses its ability to “lift all boats.”

Nickelsburg agrees that transportation investments tend to lower costs, create markets and improve efficiency, but that is truer for freight improvements. Japan’s bullet train lowered the transportation costs for commuters, giving rise to the legendary Japanese “salaryman,” who commuted from a high-density apartment complex to a dreary city job aboard a crowded bullet train. California bullet train enthusiasts have a much different vision, foreseeing a day when the Central Valley becomes a more vibrant economic center that is better connected to the Bay Area and Southern California.

Nickelsburg also raises the possibility that the train will create rather than contain urban sprawl. By increasing the potential for workers to live far from their employment, it would not create new jobs but move them to the Central Valley.

Mr Nickelsburg’s conclusions would seem to tally with the experience of places like East Kent and the Mezzogiorno. Being connected to high speed passenger rail may carry relatively little weight in the totality of socio-economic regional atout. There may be (possibly unintended) consequences, with changes to a region’s perceived connectivity resulting in periurban sprawl, or redistribution of economic activity from a neighbouring region.

Great Central dual purpose interconnector (Beleben, Jan 2012) The British government's 'electric spine' proposal, July 2012

In the British context, Mr Nickelsburg’s findings would seem to support versatile infrastructure facilitating improved freight and passenger movement, such as a reactivated Great Central line.

Written by beleben

July 24, 2012 at 8:28 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. […] sense of place’? Whatever smart growth means, it doesn’t seem to have all that much to do with high speed rail. In March 2012, the Daily Telegraph reported on the ‘new city’ for the […]

  2. […] different place’, because the Shinkansen opened several years before he was born. According to UCLA senior economist Jerry Nickelsburg, the introduction of high-speed passenger service in […]

    Gideon in Japan « beleben

    January 27, 2013 at 4:40 pm

  3. […] evaluation of growth rates of locales served by Japan’s Shinkansen was the subject of a 24 July 2012 Beleben blogpost. In the British context, Mr Nickelsburg’s findings would seem to support […]


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