High Speed Rail Origin
High-speed rail (HSR) is not a new phenomenon with the first trains being operational in a Japanese city called Tōkaidō Shinkansen since 1964. There is no international standard measurement of what constitutes high speed. However the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) suggest that trains that reach speeds in excess of 250 kilometres km/h would fall under this category. There is a growing acknowledgement of the impact that this form of transportation could have if integrated into a wider transportation strategy. The Transit Oriented Development institute describes HSR as the backbone of a rail-based transportation system, facilitating the creation of TOD neighbourhoods.
New districts are created around HSR stations that encourage local economic development. China, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia are examples of countries that have pursued high speed railways.
China supersedes any other country in the amount of dedicated high-speed railway infrastructure. A publication by the World Bank gives insight into how other countries can emulate the success of China’s HSR. Some of these lessons include:
- A comprehensive long-term development plan that looks ahead 15 years.
- Competitive pricing with bus and airfares.
- Keeping costs down through the standardisation of designs and procedures.
One example of a Chinese HSR is the Wuhan-Shiyan high-speed railway line which opened in 2019. Moving at 350 km/h, it cuts travel time between the two cities in half, connecting the “Xiangshisui urban circle and the Wuhan city circle”. The line also passes through cultural and historical cities, facilitating the expansion of tourism. Moreover, as part of a national “belt and road” policy the HSR line is also expected to bring economic gains to the region by connecting the Yangtze River economic belt and Hanjiang River economic belt. In the process, reducing poverty in areas of the Qinling-Daba Mountains.
The UK has embarked on one of the most ambitious transportation infrastructure projects in Europe. High Speed Rail 2 is expected to be fully operational somewhere between 2036 to 2040. As its website states, the goal is to connect the “North, Midlands and South, helping to bring Britain closer together”. For many, the project is a much-needed investment in the country’s ageing and strained railway infrastructure. A report by the chairman of HS2 Ltd, David Higgins, makes the case for the plan. He states that the demand for the UK’s rail network has doubled over the past 20 years. This increase in demand has raised questions as to whether current railway infrastructure can meet the capacity needs of future commuters. According to a publication by the UK Department of Transport, HS2 plans to meet the capacity demands on current railway infrastructure and to facilitate a stronger and more balanced economy.
In 2018 Saudi Arabia put into operation the Haramain High-speed rail (HHSR). Spanning 450-kilometres, the rail links the cities of Makkah, Medina, Jeddah and KAEC. The line expects to carry 60 million to 135 million passengers annually and reach speeds of 300 km/hr, cutting time travelled between Makkah and Medina to 2 hours and 20 minutes. The Saudi Governments objectives in constructing HHSR are to:
- Deal with the growing number of Pilgrims visiting Mecca and Medina.
- Relieve congestion and air pollution from vehicles travelling between cities.
- Reduce travel time.
- Link city centres, boosting the local economy and increasing tourism.
It is also believed that the HSR will change the urban landscape and help to regenerate areas that people have left behind, in favour of nearby cities, for a better quality of life.
With the right transportation strategy, the adoption of high-speed rail can be a transformative tool in meeting a countries policy objectives, whether it is increasing the development of tourism, dealing with rising demands on rail networks or spreading regional economic prosperity.
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Mohammed Baldo is passionate about urban planning. Spending most of his time between London and Riyadh, he has a keen interest in economic development, land use planning, spatial planning and transportation.