Germà Bel: The Economics and Politics of High-Speed Rail: Lessons from Experiences Abroad

International Studies in Planning Spring 2013

Germà Bel is professor of economics at the Universitat de Barcelona (UB), and currently a visiting professor at Cornell University. Bel holds a Ph.D. in economics from UB and a M.A. in economics from the University of Chicago. His main interest is the interaction between governments and markets, and his research focuses on the economics and politics of public sector reform, with particular focus on privatization, post-privatization, and regulation. He has paid special attention to infrastructure economics and policy, and to local public services. His work has been published in several books and articles in international academic journals. Between 1990 and 1993, Bel served as economic advisor for the Spanish Minister for Territorial Issues, and for the Spanish Minister of Public Works and Transportation. Between 2000 and 2004, he served as member of the Spanish congress. Currently he is a member of the Council of Economic Advisors of the Government of Catalonia.

Bel’s talk will examine the myths and beliefs about high speed rail’s (HSR) contribution to society and the economy. “Although HSR is a technological advance that has become a symbol of modernity, the conditions necessary to have a positive impact, economically, socially, and environmentally, are enormously restrictive. Based on the review of the most significant experiences of HSR around the globe, several basic lessons on HSR implementation emerge, which allow us to distinguish the myths from the realities associated with this transportation innovation. The most relevant lesson is that HSR projects do not satisfy highly restrictive conditions — on mobility patterns, measured costs, environmental effects, and economically rational designs — that make it socially desirable have been the source of huge financial debacles and the economic failure of HSR in most of the experiences that show, ultimately, unfortunate consequences for taxpayers.”