On the Right Track: Rail Transit Project Delivery Around the World
When the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was signed into law at the end of 2021, it promised to usher in a new era in transportation, energy, water, and telecommunications projects. This major increase in investment provides public transportation programs with $90 billion in guaranteed funding over five years, a 65 percent increase over previous funding levels. In early April 2022, the first tranche of money started going out to agencies across the country.
Today, there is a particular emphasis on making sure that money for new public transit projects is spent more effectively, and that projects are delivered on time and on budget. Unfortunately, recent Eno research found that urban rail transit projects in the United States suffer from disproportionately high costs and long timelines compared to international peers. The United States pays more than a 50 percent premium to build at-grade and tunneled rail projects despite its projects being relatively simpler in terms of engineering aspects. For instance, projects here often run along the surface and through existing rights-of-way, and with greater distances between stations compared to international projects.
Assessing how other countries govern, plan, build, and finance their rail transit projects will lead to a better understanding of how to improve delivery in the United States. Trade missions, capacity building, and technology transfer initiatives with agencies abroad are critical to learn what works, what does not, and how lessons can be tailored for other cities and metropolitan areas. Such information exchanges would help U.S. planners, engineers, leaders, and designers better understand the best practices and innovations in governance, planning, standards, and processes of transit project delivery around the world.
This study builds on Eno’s 2021 Report Saving Time and Making Cents, and the ongoing initiative to improve transit rail project delivery in the United States. Eno selected 10 countries in which to conduct detailed reviews, summarized below and in more detail in accompanying case studies. For each country, we collected comprehensive data on recent rail projects (excluding land acquisition, support facilities, and rolling stock when possible) and added them to our construction cost database. This enabled us to make quantifiable comparisons on metrics such as number of stations, cost per mile, length, and percent tunneled. The full database can be accessed at here.
This analysis found there are clear lessons the United States can learn from its peer nations with respect to transit project delivery. More important than the precise governance structure, delivery method, or process employed is the shared commitment at all levels of government to delivering high-quality transit. There needs to be strong public-sector staff capacity and management skills, close collaboration between stakeholders, and the ability for project sponsors to make prompt, firm decisions about projects. No country is inherently predisposed to having higher or lower construction costs, but those that do it best are those places where strong project governance, straightforward processes, and modern standards are aligned. Uncertainty, ambiguity, and lack of coordination are the enemies of efficient transit project delivery.