Spanish flag


In July 2011, Spain axed the high speed train running between Toledo, Cuenca and Albacete. The line, which cost 3.5bn€, was opened in December 2010. However: only 9 passengers (on average) used this route per day. The failed route was costing 18,000€ per day to operate.  This is one of the  austerity measures intended to drastically shrink Spain’s public spending and borrowing costs.

French flag


France’s plans for TGV expansion are running into financing problems because of the recession and the country’s high budget deficit. “We risk having longer and longer high-speed lines which are used less and less” said the president of the SNCF, Guillaume Pépy. TGV fares have increased by 100% in the last decade compared to about 30% for car travel.

Pépy went on to say: “The whole basis of the high-speed rail revolution – that the TGV should be the "normal" means of travel, not just something affordable by the business elite – is under threat.” Pépy also described the state railways as: “Decaying... facing a financial impasse... and heading for the wall.” 

In December 2011, the French minister of transport announced that, except for the 4 TGV projects already begun or under contract, all other projects TGV projects must be re-evaluated. Money must be employed for the renovation of the existing railways.

polish flag


On 7 December 2011, Poland announced it was shelving plans to build a 480km Y shaped high speed rail line.  Projected costs had already risen by 40%. The government will instead focus on upgrading existing lines.

Netherlands flag


The new “Fyra” high-speed service in the Netherlands — opened just two years ago — is close to financial collapse with passengers shunning its premium fares and trains running up to 85% empty. The line, between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Breda, cost taxpayers more than £7 billion to build but is losing £320,000 a day.  The Dutch infrastructure minister announced a bailout late last year after the line’s operator ran up a debt of Euro 2.4 billion (£2 billion). 

A Dutch passenger pressure group is now taking the national rail operator to the Netherlands’ competition tribunal after it slowed down services on the regular network in an apparent attempt to drive passengers on to the high-speed line. “The high-speed line has been a very, very bad result for taxpayers and passengers,” said their spokesman. “The taxpayer paid for it and the idea was that the money would come back from the train company. But that isn’t going to happen.”

Norwegian flag


Doubt has been cast on plans for a high speed rail network in Norway.  A former boss of the Norwegian state railway NSB has suggested that funding will not made available to build a high speed network, and that the public are being misled on the subject.

Portugese flag


Following their 78bn€ bailout by the IMF and EU, the Portuguese government decided to suspend construction of its 3.3bn€ Lisbon-Madrid high speed rail link.  Suspending this project is not a requirement of the bailout, but the idea is to guard against possible external and internal risks. Portugal’s debt as a proportion of GDP was 93% at the end of 2010. In the UK the figure was 52% at the end of 2010, and is now believed to have risen to more than 60%.

Tawanese flag


In 2009 it became necessary for the Taiwanese government to take over the running of the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation as it was almost bankrupt, two years after it started operation.  One of the contributing factors was that passenger numbers were approximately one third of those that had been forecast. 

Taiwan’s high speed rail system is suffering from subsidence on some of its lines, which is reckoned to be between 5 and 7cm per year. It is now planning to spend US$18bn to seal off 1000 wells to reduce further subsidence

Chinese flag


China has incurred a vast debt (US$304 billion) during the building of its high speed rail network. Apparently the railway system is currently only able to pay interest on the debt, and is unable to repay any of debt itself.  Reuters reports this comment: Professor Zhao cited the line from eastern Henan province's capital Zhengzhou to the Shaanxi city of Xi'an as the perfect example of a white elephant rail project. "It is basically empty," he said. In the first six months after its launch in February 2010, the railway reported 1.98 million passengers. It was designed for 37 million a year.

Following safety concerns, the speed of the trains has been reduced from 380 kph to 300 kph. On 23rd July one high speed train came to a halt after a lightning strike disrupted its power supply. The following train crashed into it as its electronic safety system failed.  30 + people were killed.

American flag


In February 2011, Florida’s governor Rick Scott turned down a $2bn government incentive to develop a high speed rail link from Tampa to Orlando. He believed passenger numbers to be overestimated, and that the state would have to pick up the bill for subsidies because the line would be unable to pay for itself. His decision follows very similar decisions made in Ohio and Wisconsin. 

The House of Representatives has recently voted to rescind more that $1bn of funding previously earmarked for high speed rail to allow greater financial aid for flood relief efforts in the Midwest.  In California, there is growing anxiety about the planned high speed rail system. Projected costs have more than doubled to $98bn and the completion date has slipped by 13 years to 2033. More than half of those polled are now against this high speed line.

Brazilian flag


Brazil wants to build a high speed rail line between Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Campinas; this includes two of its major cities. It has made three attempts to auction the rights to build and operate the proposed line, but has so far received no responses from potential bidders.  Any private company taking on the work would have been expected to recoup its costs in 35 years.

Union Jack


We only have the experience of HS1 to draw on. 18 Javelin carriages were taken out of service four months after the line was completed in 2009 due to low passenger usage. In April 2011 a Telegraph reporter noted there were more than 200 empty seats on a peak time train leaving St Pancras at 6:10pm.  Off peak usage was described as 90% empty.

High Speed Rail - an idea whose time has passed