Are there real economic benefits to high-speed rail?
The UK has long debated the merits of a high-speed rail network, unifying the major cities with economic stability. It seems a big gamble as such projects cost vast amounts to procure, and can garner resentment from those moved to make way. Time, the very thing the new links look to save is also on the heavy side, with estimated completion times spanning decades. With such high stakes can it all be worth it?
Russia are a country that seem to think so. Back in 2009, the long awaited Sapsan high-speed network commenced its regular services connecting Moscow to Russia’s second city, St Petersburg (a 400-mile trip). Its introduction halved the usual 8-hour trip, making the journey as feasible as flying. The aim of connecting the 2 cities was to stimulate each other’s economies, and help the towns located along the route with both jobs and long-term security.
So has the new route helped?
Some argue the lines introduction has boosted passenger numbers, but other seem to tell a different story. For those who can afford it, the new Sapsan high-speed service offers luxury, leg room and onboard wifi. For others, the route has proven too pricey and have little choice but to use the much slower Swallow commuter train.
You hear similar stories from those living along the line. Most experience the train simply gliding through, never really seeing any custom. The train stops at a few selected locations (Tver, Vyshniy Volochek, Bologoye, Uglovka, Okulovka, Chudovo), but misses countless others. As a result, the route has experienced a series of stone throwing attacks. Locals argue these attacks are a result of cancelled commuter trains, disruption of local transportation in rural areas and accidents because of poor safety for pedestrians.
Despite the route proving to be the only profitable route in Russia, with occupancy rates as high as 84%, the project still cost the state many billions of dollars to create. Many Russians currently struggle to make ends meet will feel the funds could have been used more effectively.
It seems with the UK looking to approve the HS2 and HS3 lines, many will feel there are examples that suggest this isn’t the best use of public money. We will all have to wait at least 10 years to see if these new routes were a wise government investment.