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Old July 27th, 2005, 11:20 PM   #1
TO_Joe
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MISC | Financing & reliability of transport projects

I would like to understand, particularly from the pros, why subways are so expensive to build these days.

Some questions to kick off the discussion:

1. How much have real costs gone up by since the early 1900s days of the London / Paris / NY subways and throughout the post -WII period and today?

2. What are the reasons for the rising costs and how much does each component contribute to the rising final bill?

a) Is it because they used to build it manually with cheap labour versus the expensive high-tech tunneling machines today? If so, why haven't productivity improvements from the tunneling machine offset the rising labour costs?

b) Is it because of all the sophisticated safety, lighting, announcements and computer control systems that are required today?

c) Is it because all metro systems today involve massive intervention by city and other levels of government that was not practiced before and now adds to the overall bureaucratic costs (e.g., public consultations, international architecture showcase competitions, bid and procurement bureaucracy, graft, etc.)?

d) A simple rise in land costs (for entrances, exits, access rights) and greater property rights (e.g, city governments can't wield eminent domains like they used to -- such as Robert Moses giving residences 90 days to leave their homes because he wanted to pave a freeway over it in the middle of New York)?

3. Or is this the wrong way to look at it. Are we comparing apples to oranges because the trains and subways designed today carry more people at higher speeds than they used to and therefore the higher costs justify the greater "benefits"?

And if this is the case, then should those benefits theoretically offset the increased capital costs if subways today didn't face competition from cars (as was the case in the first half of the 19th century) and low density suburbanization (which itself is driven by cars)?

Deep thoughts.

Last edited by dimlys1994; March 17th, 2016 at 08:15 PM.
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Old July 27th, 2005, 11:22 PM   #2
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I'm no pro but I would say that labour has gotten far more expensive since NY, Paris, and London built their subways.
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Old July 28th, 2005, 12:18 AM   #3
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In Madrid metro construction is becoming very cheap, since they use always the same TBM and they make more than 15 new kilometres every year!
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Old July 28th, 2005, 05:54 AM   #4
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GOOD QUESTION!
Toronto is about to embark on a 6km ext of its Spadina line at the cost of $1.5billionCDN! They won't even have to pay for land purchase for 2km of it.
Inexcusable amount.
This is why so many cities are starting to go LRT like DART/CTrain/TriMet/Translink.
Not near as expensive to build, the trains are cheaper but as just as fast and have the same ridership capacity.
They offer the flexibility that subways don't.
Except in VERY large cities, I think subways have seen their glory days as they simply are no longer cost-effective in our new urban enviornment.
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Old July 28th, 2005, 06:06 AM   #5
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touraccuracy, I love the picture bside your name, it's priceless.

End of subways? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
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Old July 28th, 2005, 07:08 AM   #6
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Generally speaking, underground railways are only expensive in Western societies. Why, I don't know.
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Old July 28th, 2005, 07:32 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by superchan7
Generally speaking, underground railways are only expensive in Western societies. Why, I don't know.
One reason: no cheap labour.
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Old July 28th, 2005, 07:35 AM   #8
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Hey. Great questions Joe. I don't know.
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Old July 28th, 2005, 07:45 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ssiguy2
Except in VERY large cities, I think subways have seen their glory days as they simply are no longer cost-effective in our new urban enviornment.
Heavy-rail, high-capacity subway lines were always intended for very large cities. The glory days for subway construction are just beginning.....take a look at Asia.

BTW, in terms of per/km construction costs Toronto is on par with Taipei....

per/km construction costs
London: $275m
Taipei: $193m
Beijing: $46m
Tehran: $27.5m

Can anyone say cheap labor!
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Old July 28th, 2005, 08:35 AM   #10
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Defintely Cheap labor RULES ...
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Old July 28th, 2005, 09:02 AM   #11
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BECAUSE THEY'RE UNDERGOUND AND YOU HAVE TO DIG IT SO THAT IT WONT COLLAPSE UNDER SKYSCRAPERS AND ALL!

THINK!
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Old July 28th, 2005, 06:11 PM   #12
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^
The issue thou is that due to changing work enviornments and locations {all the jobs being downtown are a thing of the past} and more sprawl in NA, SA, Europe they do not warrant the price.
LRT ussually comes in at 20-30% of subway price but has the same ridership capacity. They can go underground when needed but at grade they are quieter than subways and easier to build, less time, and are pedestrian friendly.
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Old July 28th, 2005, 06:17 PM   #13
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It's expensive because the transit companies are too poor to pay for maintenece costs.
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Old July 28th, 2005, 07:05 PM   #14
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It depends on the type of construction. Cut and cover is really cheap while it'll cost a fortune sending a tunnelling machine to do all the work.
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Old July 28th, 2005, 07:32 PM   #15
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All the reasons you gave are correct.

Labour costs are a major factor, as well as minimum codes and requirements....environmental issues...studdied to death...highly over-engineered, etc, etc. Equipment costs are very high, but are far more efficient...that's probably a wash.

All subway construction is a one-off thing....comparing costs per km is really useless as every situation has it's unique challenges.




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Old July 28th, 2005, 07:45 PM   #16
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I think basically its all related to labour costs because all of the main three engineering construction methods for excavating in modern days require labours and the workers should wear the price of physical threatening risks possibility somehow.

The improved technology is rather related to the efficiency of construction time and how it could recude the damage to the soil and ground to prevent negative effects against buildings that located around the construction happening place and it actually reduced costs.

Construction industry is where the most number of industrial accients happend no matter what the technology improved so far and it always has risks to damage workers.

Construction workers have to go down whatever they like it or not to the place where its happening to clean up the mess even after highly developed eqipment such like boring machine and shielf driving machines completed massive size of excavation.

my 1.5 cents
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Old July 28th, 2005, 09:05 PM   #17
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More Data

Thanks all for some good insights.

I would like to see more detailed numbers if people have them -- like the costs of the sub-systems like ATP or passenger guidance annunciators or elevators and escalators, and rail laying and cars costs, and how much of the total budget is set aside for land acquisition and legal costs.

I agree it is difficult to separate some of the labour and other cost components due to the uniqueness of each project.

For instance, through most of Hong Kong, the tunnels have to be blasted through solid rock whereas in Shanghai, the tunnels have to be carefully bored through the loose alluvial soils.

I actually visited a Shanghai subway construction site on Huaihai Road in the early 90s and met the chief site engineer, who was a very friendly guy but a total nervous wreck because he was about to start the next stage of the tunnel. That section of the project used a French tunneling machine (I wonder if it is similar to the Chunnel ones) which, when started, must be kept in continuous operation 24 hours per day for the next 1500 metres until the next safe location. That section would cross the busy Nanjing Road and Beijing Road intersections and the Suzhou Creek -- any collapse (due to improper machine stoppage) would be disastrous. He had to hook up 3 independent power sources to minimize the risk (and was having a hard time to get the electricity suppliers to cooperate).

It's pretty obvious that labour cost makes a difference -- I just want to know how much labour is a component typically. And there are different types of labour -- the site / tunneling labour (which will use local resources, meaning it will be cheap in "Third World" cities) versus the design / engineering / management labour (which tend to be more globally priced).

I mean, if Siemens designed the train and is the prime contractor (e.g., Calgary, Shanghai Maglev, Bangkok), then a good proportion of the "labour" cost (in engineering and project management) will be high-cost German labour regardless of where you plop the thing.

Understanding some of the detailed data would help us answer the next obvious question: "What can we do to reduce the cost so we can afford to build more and serve more people".

With the replies so far, the only answer seems to be re-introduction of slavery. I hope we could do better.
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Old July 28th, 2005, 09:07 PM   #18
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Labor costs.
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Old July 28th, 2005, 10:55 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ssiguy2
LRT ussually comes in at 20-30% of subway price but has the same ridership capacity. They can go underground when needed but at grade they are quieter than subways and easier to build, less time, and are pedestrian friendly.
Same ridership capacity????
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Old July 29th, 2005, 01:56 AM   #20
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I used to work for the dept. of transportation aka (the freeway department). Anyways, in the old days the only cost to building a freeway was the cost to bulldoze all the trees that's in the way and to lay asphalt on the ground. Granted it was actually more complex then that.

But today you pratically have to get the permission of 101 different government departments before you even stick a shovel into the ground. The reason for this is the government's reasoning of how large projects should be constructed. In the old days the only variable that was considered was the actual cost of the project. Today governments try to calculate not just the cost of the project but how it effects society as a whole. A design proposal that may be cheaper may not necessarily bring society the most benefit.

For example, suppose there are 2 freeway designs. The cheaper one cuts thru a residential neighborhood while the more expensive design doesn't. The cheaper design would be bad for the neighborhood (noise pollution, smog, decreased property values, ect..). The government might go for the more expensive design to make people happy. This is a fair assessment IMHO...but the system has gotten way out of control. You practically have to appease everybody to build a freeway these days and the final price tag shows.

An urban freeway in Northern California might cost $1.25 Billion per 5 miles. I assume subway projects also share the same problems.
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