A roundup of revolutionary rail projects across the world
Rail is back on the agenda around the world in a big way. Many countries are investing in infrastructure to support their economic growth for the future, as they look to both reduce their dependence on road transportation, open up new trade routes and help spread economic growth more evenly. High speed rail in particular, once the preserve of futuristic Japan, is becoming more common and promises to slash journey times between major cities, providing a real alternative to air travel for long distance mass transport.
1. High speed rail in California
Despite political opposition and legal hurdles, a planned 520 mile $68 billion high-speed project linking San Francisco with Los Angeles is now under construction. It’s due to be completed by 2028 and will be the United States’ first high speed rail line, halving the journey time between the two Pacific metropolises. Should the project be successful it may provide a model for the rest of the country, which trails behind Europe and Asia-Pacific in terms of its modern passenger rail infrastructure.
2. Chinese mega-projects
The rise of China has been one of the most incredible economic transformations in history. From 1979, when the Communist state began economic reforms, to 2010, the country achieved an average annual GDP growth of 9.91%, while up to 2014 the country’s total GDP had increased by a total of 3851%. It is now the world’s second largest economy by total GDP, with the world’s largest foreign reserves. China has money to spend, and is responsible for some of the most ambitious rail projects ever witnessed. Having constructed thousands of kilometres of high speed railways in record time, China possesses the world’s largest network, and is now looking to build and invest in railway projects in other countries around the globe.
One such project is a $12 billion, 850 mile railway along the coast of Nigeria. Many Chinese projects overseas are aimed at improving access to raw materials for export to its hungry economy. The Chinese government is also keen to connect Asian cities by rail with a ‘New Silk Road’, breaking its dependency on freight shipping and improving access to Central Asia, with some lines extending as far as Europe. A plan for a tunnel linking Tibet with Nepal underneath Mount Everest has also been suggested. Chinese state media even reported that China was considering a high-speed railway to the US which would run for over 8000 miles, including a 125 mile undersea tunnel crossing the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska.
3. Crossrail in London
Crossrail is the biggest construction project in Europe and one of the UK’s largest infrastructure investments ever. With over 10,000 people working across over 40 construction sites and 42 kilometres of new tunnels bored beneath the bustling streets of the British capital, this enormous feat of engineering will increase the city’s rail capacity by 10 per cent and bring 1.5 million more people within 45 minutes of central London. It’s the first complete underground rail project undertaken in the city in three decades, during which time the population of London has increased from 6.6 to over 8 million.
4. Saudi Arabia’s rail revolution
In the past thirty years, the population of Saudi Arabia has tripled, and in the same period the population of the capital, Riyadh, has grown from under a million in the late 1970s to around six million today. With ninety percent of the population relying on cars, congestion is a major challenge, so the Saudi government is turning to rail in a big way. Metro systems have been planned for every major city. In Riyadh, the six line system will cost $23 billion and consist of 176km of track and 85 stations.
Saudi Arabia is also planning on building the Middle East’s first high speed rail link, a 450km line connecting Haramin to Jeddah, serving Mecca and Medina. The largest single project is the North-South Railway, with a 1,486km freight line and a 1,418km passenger line. A key goal of this project is to facilitate the transportation of phosphate and bauxite for export, turning the Arabian nation into the second largest exporter of minerals in the world. Another project, the Landbridge Project, will be the first rail link between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, with 1065km of new track.
5. Etihad Rail
Home to the cutting-edge metropolises of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the UAE is now investing in rail in a big way. In a three phase project, costing around $11 billion, 745 miles of new railway will join the seven emirates together and link them with neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait once the Gulf Cooperation Council Rail link is completed in 2018. While the UAE has a well-developed road network, the new railways will carry around 16 million passengers and 50 million tons of freight, reducing car emissions while decreasing journey times.
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