The Economics of Investment in High-Speed Rail

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High-speed trains can compete successfully with road, air and conventional rail services on densely trafficked routes where willingness to pay is sufficient at the relatively elevated fare levels needed to cover costs. High-speed rail investments can also relieve congestion on the conventional rail network, and the capacity for high-speed rail to provide fast city centre to city centre services creates new possibilities for day-return business trips and short-stay leisure trips.

The long cost recovery periods for high-speed lines imply government involvement in the financing of most investments. The high costs mean that governments can be exposed to accumulation of large debts, particularly if demand develops more slowly than expected. Where high-speed rail investments are designed to promote regional integration rather than meet commercial demand, significant subsidy from central and regional governments will be needed for the construction of infrastructure and possibly also for train operations.

This report examines the key factors that drive the costs of high-speed rail investment and reviews the economic benefits delivered by high-speed rail services on the basis of experience in countries that have developed large high-speed rail networks.



Executive Summary

International Transport Forum

From its origin with the Tokaido Shinkansen in 1964, High-Speed Rail (HSR), defined here as new rail lines capable of operating speeds of 250 kilometres per hour or more, has grown relatively slowly over the last 50 years, with the World HSR network as of late 2013 standing at under 22 000 km. However, the network has been growing rapidly in recent years. With the first opening as recently as 2007, China has already an HSR network of almost 10 000 km. with a further 9 000 km under construction (out of a worldwide total of 14 000 km of line under construction).


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