Bigger isn’t always bad

18 October 2017

The global tunnelling industry is worth USD 1.5tr, according to a new report released in August by Timetric. Leading the pack is Europe, with a project pipeline of almost USD 575bn, surpassing Asia-Pacifi c by a mere USD 10bn. The report attributes this economic success for the region to mega-projects for high-speed and metro rail system expansion.

Seven projects in Europe with values of more than USD 20bn contribute 53 per cent of the total value in the region. These range from the UK’s Crossrail (an extension to London’s Underground with more than 40km of tunnels) and High Speed 2 to the USD 38bn Lyon-Turin High Speed Rail project in France, and metro projects in Paris and Moscow. The UK alone leads the European and global project pipeline with projects valued at USD 198.4bn followed by China with USD 168.6bn.

The Americas have tunnel related projects valued at just under half of what Europe has in the pipeline— with fewer signifi cant rail programmes underway across North and South America, compared to Europe and China—it’s no surprise.

A separate report released this summer by the University of California, Berkeley, summarizes the economic impact of California’s rail system on the state. “A broad investment in all types of transport has been critical to California’s economic success, and rail is a fundamental component of the transportation system. Rail has helped defi ne California’s history, with westward expansion creating communities and allowing for growth in agriculture, and other early drivers of the state’s economy. With the coming high speed rail system and record traffi c in containerized freight, it is also helping to defi ne the state’s future.”

California is a economic powerhouse, overtaking France in 2016 as the sixth largest economy in the world. Research into the symbiotic relationship of rail investment and economic growth is crucial.

Over the next decade all cities worldwide need to address increasing demand for transportation infrastructure, to anticipate and meet the needs of ageing demographics and provide the staff, skills and operations for implementing new and maintaining existing rail networks. Investing tens of billions of dollars on these projects to improve mobility where it’s needed most can have powerful effects on the macroeconomy, even in the long term by raising the economy’s productive capacity.

It is imperative to continue to showcase innovation in tunnelling to policy makers and voters alike, and to present these large numbers behind dollar signs as a positive rather than a negative.