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The Case for High Speed Rail

By C. Nash


There is currently a wave of high speed rail proposals sweeping through Europe, amounting to some 7000 route kilometres of new construction and 8000 of upgraded track and costing of the order of 58 billion ecu (in 1985 prices). There is therefore an urgent need for a careful assessment of the costs and benefits, both of the network as a whole and of the individual component parts of it. The principal benefits of high speed rail are taken to be the revenue, traffic and time savings it generates; relief of congestion , accidents and environmental effects of other modes of transport and its alleged local and regional development benefits. Clearly many of these benefits depend on how far it really does divert traffic from these modes as opposed to generating totally new trips. At the same time, high speed rail schemes have significant environmental costs. Evidence on all of these issues is examined, and it is concluded that the evidence for environmental and development benefits is limited, although in the former case in particular much depends on the exact circumstances. Given the wide variety of options in terms of speeds and mix of upgrading versus new construction, careful appraisal is very important, and a traditional transport cost-benefit analysis and environmental impact assessment appear well equipped to capture the main costs and benefits. The conclusion is that there is likely to be a good case for a core network linking the major cities of Western Europe in the middle distance range, but beyond that, upgrading of existing infrastructure and development of new technology may provide a more cost-effective solution

Publisher: Institute of Transport Studies, University of Leeds
Year: 1991
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