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Enjoying those minutes

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Chinese infrastructure news releases almost never compare original budget and actual spend side-­by-­side, J-Capital Research reported in 2012. With a 139% overrun, the Beijing – Shanghai high speed railway exceeded its original budget by RMB 128 billion.

J Capital Research: 'Year of the white elephant', high speed rail in China, 2012 (extract)

Bloomberg report on estimating wasted infrastructure spend in China, 2014-12-01


Written by beleben

August 4, 2016 at 10:18 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2, Politics

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Stuttgart’s horse has bolted

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Abbruch Südflügel Stuttgart 21 2012-03-15 (9)

Germany’s Stuttgart 21 railway / real estate project is in trouble again, reported Spiegel Online (January 28, 2013).

In a letter to DB [Deutsche Bahn] executives sent in late December that has been obtained by SPIEGEL, the three representatives of the German government on DB’s supervisory board sent a letter demanding an explanation for the latest cost explosions and what should be done about them. “Since when has it been clear to the management board that there will be significant cost increases?” the letter asks.

‘Planning and Management Errors’

The senior officials, with the transportation, finance and economics ministries, are critical of “planning and management errors” at DB on the project, particularly “overly optimistic assumptions.” In addition, the officials do not rule out the possibility that the project may not be completed. They ask how high the costs will be “in the event of a continuation” and pose the question: “Is the total financing secured?”

They are also calling for new thinking on the part of DB executives. “Has DB explored alternative scenarios? If so, which? And what conclusions were drawn?” the letter, which includes a list of questions, asks. The government officials also refuse to blindly accept statements from DB managers that an exit from the project could be more expensive than continuing to build it. “Have assumed exit costs been externally reviewed?” the paper asked.

But at this late stage, how much scope remains for an exit strategy? Along with the Leipzig S-Bahn tunnel, Stuttgart 21 figured in another Spiegel Online article about cost escalations in megaprojects.

Werner Rothengatter, a researcher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, has studied major public works projects around the world. He says there’s a similar pattern in democratic societies, where politicians have a tendency to deceive the public about the actual costs of these projects.

Rothengatter argues that cost overruns rarely come as a surprise – regardless of whether they are from the Berlin airport or Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie concert hall. During his research, he found that most politicians try to calculate the price to be as low as possible in order to obtain support for the projects – deliberately veiling the potential risks.

“Those who provide honest estimates for projects from the very beginning have little chance of getting them off the ground,” Rothengatter claims. Often those at the political helm take a calculated risk by assuming they won’t be held personally responsible if the costs start to explode.

HS2 has every chance of becoming Britain’s Stuttgart 21, but on a much bigger scale. Proponents of HS2 have made much of new-build high speed being ‘less disruptive’ and ‘cheaper’ than upgrades, which is nonsense. In fact, implementation of the HS2 service would depend on a series of upgrades, and massive ‘interventions’, along the West Coast Main Line — at locations as diverse as London Euston, Lichfield, Crewe, Wigan, Preston, and Carstairs.

Written by beleben

February 6, 2013 at 8:54 pm

The slow decline of homogenous mediocrity

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Deputy PM Nick Clegg and PM David Cameron at London Midland’s Soho depot in Wellington Street, Birmingham, 16 July 2012 (ITV)

As might be expected, the investment plans for Britain’s railways unveiled yesterday were largely shaped by politics, giving rise to some curious outcomes. Take South Wales, where the programme included electrification of the following lines.

* Cardiff Central to Cardiff Queen Street,
* Cardiff Queen Street to Aberdare,
* Cardiff Queen Street to Cardiff Bay,
* Cardiff Queen Street to Coryton,
* Newport to Ebbw Vale,
* Cardiff Central – Pontyclun – Bridgend – Maesteg,
* Abercynon – Merthyr Tydfil,
* Grangetown to Penarth,
* Cardiff Central – Danescourt – Radyr (City Line),
* Cardiff Queen Street to Rhymney,
* Pontypridd to Treherbert,
* Cardiff Central – Barry – Bridgend (Vale of Glamorgan),
* Barry to Barry Island, and
* Bridgend to Swansea.

However, the programme for London did not include Gospel Oak to Barking or Dudding Hill electrification, although their value for money would doubtless be higher.

Writing for Wales Online, transport expert Mark Barry explained why the announcement needed to be the catalyst for a world class integrated transport network in South Wales.

The decision by Transport Secretary Justine Greening to confirm electrification of the Valley Line network and the Great Western Main Line to Swansea by 2018 ends a remarkable seven days for the Welsh economy.

Last week a direct rail link to Heathrow was confirmed that will enable journey times between Cardiff and Heathrow Airport of perhaps 100 minutes by 2021, as well as the prospect of a city region for the whole of south-east Wales.

All these formed key components of my report last year, A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region – Connecting Cardiff, Newport and The Valleys.

The report, aligned to the work and efforts of many groups and individuals like the Cardiff Business Partnership, Institute of Welsh Affairs, The Great Western Partnership and Professor Stuart Cole, alongside my own, has resulted in a fantastic outcome for Wales.

Mr Barry’s January 2011 report for the Cardiff Business Partnership, recommended investments totalling up to £2.5 billion, and the establishment of a delivery agency.

Whilst government has an expertise and focus on policy, it is often less adept at implementation, especially in delivering major infrastructure schemes. As with bodies like Crossrail and the Olympic Delivery Authority, the development and implementation of the Cardiff Metro needs a similar organisation that can deliver the scheme without the constraints that exist in government. Such an entity could be quickly established and secure the most ably qualified and expert resources from both the public and private sectors.

Therefore, delivering a Cardiff Metro and faster links to London and Heathrow will require:

1. A Cardiff City Region approach to transport and economic development.

2. Strong public and private sector leadership.

3. A simplified rail industry.

4. Investing around £300 million a year over the period 2015-2025.

All are needed to ensure the opportunities presented by Cardiff are enjoyed by its entire city region. We should aim to do a few things well instead of succumbing to the slow decline of homogenous mediocrity.

Mr Barry’s report doesn’t give cost-benefit or demand data for the Valley lines schemes. If such numbers exist, I doubt whether they’d be very impressive. The real case must be bound up with medium term population growth, and Keynesian stimulus. With Britain’s population headed for 70 million in a few years, a lot of the growth is likely to have to be accommodated in south Wales.

Written by beleben

July 17, 2012 at 10:48 am

Posted in Cardiff, London, Planning, Politics, Wales

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Spanish contradictions

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Planned AVE railway in Galicia, SpainIn Spain, the high speed rail network is being extended into the province of Galicia, and the works include an AVE station in the city centre of Ourense.

The new high-speed Ourense Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) train station will be built over the existing track level, integrating a bus station and parking area below.
Ourense is a city [of] just over 100,000, the capital of the province of Galicia, and the third most populous city in the province.

The amount of money involved in building a high speed rail station, integrated with a central transport interchange, must be enormous. Is it about transport, Keynesian economic stimulus, or prestige?

Nevertheless, it makes an interesting comparison with Britain’s HS2 scheme – in which

  • Coventry (population 300,000) would be by-passed by high speed rail,


  • Birmingham (population 1,000,000) would only be served by a dead-end high speed station, remote from its existing New Street and Snow Hill stations.

If one applied the ‘Ourense principle’ of stopping intercity trains at places with a population of 100,000 to Great Britain, the result would be (more-or-less) the West Coast Main Line, with its current stopping pattern. So ‘HS2 española’ would be stopping at Birmingham Calle Nueva, Sandwell y Dudley, Wolverhampton (etc).

Renfe S-104 AVE trains have a maximum speed of 250 km/h

S-104 high speed train, by Femenias, CC-BY-SA 3.0 (

The AVE system also makes use of trains with wildly different maximum speeds – which destroys capacity. As is the case with Britain’s HS1, this isn’t a problem, because the lines aren’t used very much.

Written by beleben

January 3, 2012 at 1:51 pm