Economic benefits of high-speed rail not being properly measured

The economic argument for high-speed rail projects is greater than current measurements are leading us to believe, according to new research by the World Bank.
Conventional cost-benefit analysis methods focus too much on direct costs and travel benefits, like shorter journeys and less pollution, but not enough on high-speed rail’s impact on business, say researchers.
‘High-Speed Rail, Regional Economics, and Urban Development in China’ looked at how the country’s high-speed rail programme is changing people’s approach to travel.
In just 10 years, China has gone from opening its very first high-speed line to possessing the longest high-speed network in the world. More people now travel by high-speed rail than by plane.
The study, which was published on January 21, found that high-speed rail projects lead to connected markets and better business relationships. Gerald Ollivier, World Bank’s senior transport specialist, said: “Look at the case of Zhengzhou on the 2,298 km Beijing to Guangzhou line opened on December 26.
“In the past, in a three-hour conventional train journey on this line, about three million people from Anyang, Xinxiang and Handan can reach Zhengzhou. Today, with the opening of the new high-speed line, this number will surge to 28 million people from eight cities. These cities will start to work more closely together as a return trip within a day will be within reach.
“The impact in terms of economic exchanges, accessibility, and productivity gains are expected to be significant, and extend beyond traditional transport savings. The scale and scope of the Chinese high speed rail programme offer a unique opportunity to try to measure such impacts.”
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