Barcelona’s Metro Continues Its Expansion at a Relatively Cheap Price

» The latest segment of lines 9 and 10 opened last week. The city should have 30 miles of automatic metros by 2014.

Over the next ten years, New York, Los Angeles, and Barcelona each hope to have new underground rapid transit lines up and running. Gotham will spend $4.5 billion on a 1.7-mile line under Second Avenue. Los Angeles will get a 8.6-mile extension to the Westside for $6 billion. And Barcelona will have built 30 miles of automated subways for €6.5 billion ($7.9 billion according to today’s exchange rate).

Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison: Spain has lower labor costs, and despite Barcelona’s international prestige and high densities, land values there are generally lower than in the two American metropolises. But the disparity in infrastructure creation remains dramatic; countries like Spain and China are able to build far more than American cities can even dream about.

Barcelona’s newest exploit was the opening last week of the first shared segment of the L9 and L10 lines. Both are being constructed as part of a unified program that will increase the metro system’s size by a third, providing a new north-south circumferential corridor west of the city center, access to northern neighborhoods, a connection to the new high-speed rail station at La Sagrera, and direct links to both the airport and the port to the south. The first segment of L9 opened in December 2009 and the first section of L10 in April this year. The southern links will be completed in 2012, with the full program in service in 2014. That’s six years after the project was originally expected to be done.

Though Barcelona’s project doesn’t come close to the scale of Madrid’s metro expansion program — that city increased the size of its network by more than 100 miles between 1995 and 2007 and now has the highest metro route miles per person in the world — Barcelona will have Europe’s longest underground route and the continent’s most extensive automated line in four years.

For €6.5 billion, the city will be getting 52 stations, 20 of which will include transfers; the project is expected to attract 350,000 daily riders. Because of Barcelona’s already very dense metro network, the line has been built below everything else. Tunnel boring machines, which Spain specializes in, were used for the entire underground path (the line includes a few miles above ground on viaducts); this decreased costs by limiting surface cuts and land purchasing. The city also has taken advantage of the line’s building to produce some very interesting street reconstructions.

Stations in the center city are so far below ground that the transport authority has designed stops so that commuters move to and from trains by elevator.

This subway project has consumed the majority of the region’s transportation funds, but the city was also interested in investing in surface transit. Specifically, several boulevards were set aside for a bus rapid transit system. Yet the mayor’s biggest priority was supposed to be the reconstruction of the Diagonal Avenue, which cuts across the city roughly east-west. Though both its eastern and western extends are served by trams, its central section has no rapid transit either on it or below. So Mayor Jordi Hereu attempted to invoke public participation in the elaboration of the project, calling a referendum on the program to implant light rail and a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape there.

But the mayor’s effort to involve the people was a failure — the poll attracted only 12% of the electorate, and they voted massively against any of the two changes proposed by the mayor. For now, Diagonal will have to stay as it is.

Thus Spain’s second city will have to content itself on its relatively ambitious subway expansion program. Not too disappointing a result…

Image above: Barcelona L9 Tunnel, from Generalitat de Catalunya

71 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • adam

    So…is there a reason that it’s so cheap besides land/labor costs? Or is that the entirety of the explanation?

    • Andy K

      Yeah, I’m curious as well. Any specific facts like hourly wages for workers (loaded costs i. e. including benefits).

      Do we over build in the U. S. compared to the rest of the world, and if so, is this driven by government regulation?

      • step-through

        Maybe US employer-sponsored health insurance coverage drives up the price…

        • No, per-employee compensation, including benefits, is the same at New York City Transit and at Toei. This is not surprising: while American employers are on the hook for health insurance costs, they have to pay far less into social security and employee pensions than Continental European and Japanese employers.

    • Eric

      One reason, I would guess, is that the stations are smaller and thus cheaper. I haven’t been able to find exact numbers for Barcelona, but in Madrid stations are only 60-90m long, compared to 180m for many NYC subway stations. Due to this limitation (and rather low frequency, which may be a temporary thing due to Spain’s current economic problems), Madrid subways are absolutely jammed in rush hour, despite the density of routes. Spain’s tunnels are dug by TBMs which are quite cheap once you’ve inserted them into the ground, so stations are a higher fraction of the expense. It seems Spain has skimped on the stations, which leads to a shockingly low overall construction cost, but also leads to a lower system capacity than you would expect by looking at the map.

  • Andrew D. Smith

    The cost of land acquisition is clearly a factor, though it’s not a huge one (per mile) in subway construction, which tends to go well under property except at the stations.

    In theory, Spain’s lower labor costs should not be much of a factor because labor productivity is also lower there, which means everything should (roughly) come out in the wash.

    In real life, however, I’d guess that it doesn’t even come close to evening out. Hell, I’d be willing to bet that workers on NY’s subway make 50 percent more per hour (in PPP) and accomplish far less than 50 percent more per hour.

    If we really want public transit in this country, we really can’t allow this. If Spain can do it, we can do it, even if we will have to fight hard to get rid of the no-show jobs, the padded bills, the four hour lunch breaks and all the rest. It’s either that or settle for next to no serious infrastructure improvements, ever.

    • Kid Charles

      How about giving us a single cited statistic or report for anything you said about NYC transit workers?

      • Danny

        How about not needing to? Anybody with two eyes and a brain can tell that the transit unions in NYC are in a race with Bay Area transit unions to become the worst public leeches in the nation.

      • Andrew D. Smith

        Yeah, sorry but you don’t really need to delve too deeply into the figures here. There are only a handful of major factors that influence the cost of subway construction: material costs, labor costs, design costs, and site-related costs.

        Materials cost about the same wherever in the world you buy them. Design costs are also about the same because there are really only a handful of firms in the world that do these things and the design requirements are similar in the US and EU in terms of safety features, etc. Manhattan is famously rocky but the East Side is actually much easier to dig in than the West Side. Are there some variations in this list? Yes, but nothing earth shattering.

        Yet the cost per mile of track is 10 times greater in New York. Not 10 percent. Not 100 percent. No 10 TIMES. And the big difference, almost by definition, is the amount you spend on labor by unit of work accomplished.

        I’m sure I could spend some time digging around the Internet and quantifying this for you, but that would be an utter waste of time. How many people have you seen doing public construction work over the course of your life? 10,000? 50,000? Whatever the numbers are, they are huge. And when you have seen those people you have seen exactly what I have. About 60 percent of them are doing absolutely nothing at any given time, except chatting with their friends. Another 20 percent of them are doing “jobs” that are only “jobs” because they are ways for corrupt politicians to reward friends — things like waving a flag at no one in particular or laying down pavement that will be torn up the next day. The remaining 20 percent are doing some actual work, at about one quarter the speed that a moderately hard working person could do the same work.

        I’m guessing, given that you even bothered to challenge my assertion that you work in the public sector or do projects for the public sector — and you think all this is normal. You probably think that people really can’t work any harder or their hearts would explode or something. But I assure you that many people actually work close to flat out for hours on end during the day. Do they sometimes chat with a colleague? Yes, but for a minute or two and then work resumes.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Sometimes watching the hole being dug is the work. Unless you like having your water, gas, electricity, phone or cable service disrupted.

    • Andy K

      Public transit unions do not build these projects. Private contractors do, based on low bids. Yes, labor rates are dictated by the Davis Bacon Act.

      Still I would like to have specifics regarding the wages paid for the workers in Spain vs. the U. S.

    • Nathanael

      LA is literally digging through tar to build the Subway to the Sea (and they have to exhume all the paleontological relics on the way), so there’s no surprise *THAT* will be expensive.

      NYC doesn’t have that excuse. Walder’s first audit blamed three things: poor oversight of contractors; the MTA developed a poor reputation (due to things like last-minute change orders) and so the best contractors don’t want to work with them and all contractors jack up their prices; and NYC contractors are just worse than in the rest of the country. :-P

    • It’s not compensation, but productivity. Consider the difference between the following two cases:

      New York City Transit employs 47,000 people, at an average compensation (including benefits) of $110,000/year as of 2008.

      Toei, the smaller of the two subway agencies in Japan, with about half NYCT’s ridership and one quarter the train revenue-hours, employs 6,400, at an average compensation of $103,000/year as of 2005.

      Other comparable Japanese companies, such as Tokyo Metro, don’t release information as detailed. They have fewer employees per rider than Toei, but I don’t know how much compensation they get.

      Furthermore, most of the waste is not in the most visible positions in the TWU. Per train-hour, Toei has about two thirds as many train drivers as New York, and per station it actually has more station agents. The primary difference is elsewhere – in administrative and clerical workers, and maybe also in maintenance (JR East explicitly goes for low-maintenance equipment and infrastructure; Toei uses similar trains so it might do the same).

  • Scott

    Are there any major regulatory differences? I’ve heard that a major cost of tunnels here are requirements for emergency ventilation and egress routes to the surface. Are such rules vastly different there?

    University Link here in Seattle is $1.9 billion for 3.15 underground miles and two stations. That’s like a factor of 5x over Barcelona. Why?

    • Nathanael

      New York State specifically has what’s been described as a broken and defective contracting model, mandated by state law. So that drives things up in NY — not sure about the state of Washington!

      One thing to realize about tunnels is that the cost is *not* proportional to the number of miles. Barcelona probably saved a bundle by building so many lines at once, all through approximately the same geology.

      Seattle managed to hire TBMs for the Beacon Hill tunnel, different TBMs for University Link, different TBMs for North Link, probably different TBMs for the Bellevue tunnel in East Link… I’m guessing Barcelona Metro just owns a pair of TBMs and uses them continuously.

      • Adirondacker12800

        One of the TBMs boring in Manhattan is 30 years old. They dust off for each new project.

      • If the cost were less than linearly proportional to the route length, then you’d expect the short U55 to cost a lot per km and the long North-South Line to be cheaper. Instead, U55 came in at $250 million per km, while the North-South Line came in at more than $400, leading the politicians to say that in retrospect the project shouldn’t have been built. The even longer Jubilee line extension cost $450 million/km, the highest of any major extension outside the US.

  • Mark

    It isn’t surprising, that Americans love their Freedom to drive gas guzzling cars: that explains alot when you see so many folks on the freeways. The reason? Nobody wants to spend the money to free us the grasp of Big Oil. If you want to see freedom, come to Los Angeles, and watch the 405 Freeway during rush hour. “Let Freedom Ring!”.

  • One reason for the big cost discrepancy is Spain has more skilled in-house engineering staff; whereas the American approach is to outsource design/engineering to the contracting Mafia.

    BTW, for even more absurd cost comparison, look at the per-mile cost of Spanish high-speed rail.

    • Danny

      That is pure speculation. I consult on infrastructure development projects, and I know that engineering and design work never makes more than a tiny fraction of the overall cost.

      • Poor engineering and design can cause cost escalations elsewhere in the project. For example, New York is currently building a subway in Manhattan with about 500 meters of tail tracks, which at Manhattan costs adds several hundred million dollars to the price tag. Most of the extra cost there is not going to be engineering and design, but more competent planners could avoid it.

        • Woody

          Oh wait. Alan, I’m not convinced that the long tail tracks are an example of ‘poor engineering and design by incompetents’, or rather isn’t it stealth construction of the southernmost part of Phase II of this line?

          Once Phase I was sufficiently funded to reach a point of no return, it made sense to load costs from Phase II onto Phase I. That will make the northern extension seem more affordable when the MTA is gathering up commitments to start building Phase II — already partly begun with those cut-and-cover segments from the 1970s — of the Second Avenue Subway.

          • Woody, I think you misunderstood which project I’m talking about. The 500-meter tail tracks are for the 7 extension, not SAS. The intention is to extend the 7 only to 34th Street, but the tunneling goes all the way to 26th.

            I wouldn’t criticize tail tracks on SAS, for the reasons you mention. But phase 1 doesn’t even include long tail tracks; the tunneling is only between 96th and 63rd.

          • Woody

            Yes, I did misunderstand which tail lines you meant. The Second Avenue subway is a major addition to the system; the #7 Line extension seems more like a billionaire’s toy project, so it easily slips my mind. Sorry.

            But even there, I wonder if the secret dream is to one day extend the extension another 12 or 15 blocks south from 26th St. Then the #7 trains would run from the 34th St station over those long tail tracks a mile or so down the Far West Side. A fairly short tunnel could meet the tracks of the crosstown L on 14th, which now has tunnels to somewhere west of 9th Ave.

            And I said “to meet” the L, not to connect exactly, because I realize that the tunnel and train widths of the #7 and the L are incompatible. But it would not seem be too difficult to construct a station, at 14th or 23rd St, that allowed cross-platform transfers from an extended #7 to an extended L line.

            Serving West 23rd St would be worthwhile, as that area builds up. The L leads to other reviving neighborhoods where the population is growing. Adding a second set of transfers to the other lines via the L would add the PATH line, for an important connection to New Jersey when, we should live so long, the area around the Convention Center and new 34th St station gets crowded with offices, hotels, and apartment towers.

            So again, I’m not too upset if they threw five blocks of extra tunnel and track into the current #7 extension if that gives a head start to a future meeting with the L.

          • If there were a plan to go south, I wouldn’t object as much. But there isn’t. Bloomberg only cares about extending to 34th, and nobody else cares about the project at all. There’s a bigger transit case for extending the 7 at the other end.

      • Barcelona is not Spain, it’s Catalonia, they don’t work as the spanish people and also they speak another language and have another way to life.

        • robert

          thats false, Catalonia is an autonomous region in Spain, roughly equivalent to an State. In Spain there are another 16 of them. Yes they (we) have their own language co-official with Spanish, but there are other 3 languages in Spain in other states as well. Another way of life? I wonder which way of life. I think you’ve been misinformed by some right wing wishful-thinking website ;) BTW- I’m from Barcelona.

          Besides this, I’ve read some interesting points in people’s posts about how that 10:1 difference in costs is possible, and one of the key reasons in my opinion is what one fellow reader commented, that costs are not linear, and are way cheaper the more you build. In the city of Madrid they built a circular underground mile like 40km diameter ‘all at once’ and it was the cheapest per-mile cost of all extensions, while tiny, one-station expansions in the densest parts of downtown probably have a comparable cost to NY’s.

    • Andy K

      Could not agree more Danny. If engineering was so profitable, why aren’t engineering stocks so valuable? Design and engineering costs on projects are a relatively small % of the overall costs.

    • DE, what’s your source on this? I’m asking because I think it’s Zierke, who talks specifically about small-scope projects, such as the Coaster and RiverLine. For large-scope projects, such as new subway lines, issues like coming up with specs for a noncompliant train aren’t as important. The lack of in-house expertise still raises costs, but not by the same factor as on the projects Zierke discusses.

      The admittedly circumstantial information I’ve read about large projects is that the high costs are mostly due to the contractors, not the consultants. These are not the same species.

      • Danny

        That would ring true with my experience. With government projects there are always fewer contractors bidding on the project. Whether that is because of regulations, obscene RFP requirements, or environmental risks, I don’t know. But the fact of the matter is that less competition equals higher prices.

        • A commenter on Second Avenue Sagas, who I invited to comment in this thread, says that American governments write over-exacting specs, to avoid shoddy construction (however, sometimes contractors do poor jobs anyway and suing them gets too expensive). Complying with the rules is so byzantine that the good contractors avoid it and get private-sector work instead; the city then gets stuck with the most corrupt, least competent contractors.

          But now that the recession has starved some of the more competent contractors of private-sector work, prices are coming down. For example, the most recent Second Avenue Subway bids are coming in at half the asking price.

        • Andy K

          Do you have any evidence of this less bidder theory? This runs contrary to the other stated assumptions that this work is very profitable for the contractor – the profitability would in turn attract more bidders even if the paper work is cumbersome.

          The fact of the matter is that on $1 Billion plus contracts, there are very few firms that have the bonding capacity to bid on the projects. There still is competition – but it mostly involves the subcontractors and suppliers, which can amount to anywhere from 20%-70% of the total price. And prior to the bid opening, firms cannot be sure of what their competition will do.

          Agencies in charge of projects (and regulators) decided what goes into these project (lengths of tail tracks, safety regulations, etc.) Designers and contractors have incredibly little say.

          • Danny

            Well, if the RFP/environmental/etc requirements and such are raising the cost and risks of doing business for the government, then it shouldn’t result in much of a improvement in profitability. It would also explain why the largest firms tend to do government projects (they have the scale, expertise, and specialization to work with government contracts).

          • Andy, another thing I’ve heard on the New York blog networks is that the local contractors collude, avoiding competition and submitting just one joint bid to drive prices up. This would explain why the profits don’t make other people join.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Manhattan in particular and metro New York in general scares off vendors. Doesn’t matter what they are selling it scares them off.

          • And yet, New York gets rolling stock at prices below first-world average.

          • Adirondacker12800

            and those prices are FOB at the plant that assembled them not in Manhattan.

          • Okay, Yonkers, not Manhattan. It doesn’t matter. The inner suburbs of New York can’t get transit costs under control, either – just look at the HBLR.

          • And yet, New York gets rolling stock at prices below first-world average.

            One person has alleged that Kawasaki simply wants to keep their factories operational and will accept lower prices to keep getting bids, hence some of the relatively low rolling stock prices. I also suspect that one can get a pretty decent deal when one is ordering nearly 1,000 cars that have been pre-designed by NYCTA’s in-house engineering, and have assembly partially done in Brazil and lower cost areas of upstate New York.

          • Andy K

            Well, these are all interesting comments, but still, things like I heard it on the some NY blog are not facts.

            I can see where collusion would drive prices up, but still this would increase profits to the point where someone else from outside would step in. We are talking big $ – big enough to attract outside interest. Plus, collusion like this on Federally funded projects would be pretty risky.

          • Andy, there are two reasons why profiteering wouldn’t bring in outsiders. First, the byzantine specs are such that people outside the system have a hard time coming in; it’s effectively protectionism. And second, the city’s residents are provincial and its leaders even more so; they view any outside idea as a threat.

      • DE, what’s your source on this? I’m asking because I think it’s Zierke, who talks specifically about small-scope projects.

        Well, no, “Zierke” has also posted a lot on rail planners in Spain. They are well regarded in Europe for proficiency and cost-effectiveness. By comparison, LAMTA wouldn’t pass the laugh test.

  • jim

    Technology matters. The Barcelona Metro is largely large diameter single bore tunnel. Cross-overs are in-tunnel. Platforms at stations are in-tunnel. Yes, you have to sink a shaft to provide ventilation/emergency exit. You sink a slightly larger shaft to provide a station vestibule (the article professes astonishment that some stations are reached by elevator — but that simply means that the station access shaft is even narrower!). The massive costs associated with US Metro stations — excavating a large enough cavern to hold crossovers, platforms and vestibule — simply aren’t there.

    Geology matters. Boring through consistent geology is a lot cheaper than boring through constantly changing geology.

    Contracting strategy matters. US governmental contracting is hedged around with lots of protections. The government (at whatever level: federal, state, city/county) is very afraid of being cheated, so overspecifies RFPs (politicians abet this — aren’t bidders on California HSR going to have to narrate their history with the Shoah as part of their proposal?). Firms quail at the cost of preparing a proposal that complies with the RFP. Only the usual suspects respond, with outrageously padded costs.

    • jim

      Let me add that tunnel boring machines create a return to scale. There’s fairly substantial setup costs to a TBM: you have to dig a launch box and build some surface support structures before you get to bore the first inch. But once you’ve made these initial investments, each mile comes out quite cheap. So the more miles you bore, the cheaper each mile is, since you’re amortizing the setup costs across a longer bore. So the fact they’re creating thirty miles of subway instead of three keeps their cost per mile low.

    • robert

      about your first point, so what is the problem for using the cheaper TBM technology in NY?

    • Eric

      See also my earlier comment which highlights the shortness of Spanish stations and trains…

  • Peter Smith

    cities will spend all sorts of crazy money on motorized transport, but getting them to talk seriously about bikes is another matter.

  • Chris

    Think the issue is just the experience and professionalism of the people managing the project. We have ridiculous costs for public transport infrastructure in Victoria (Australia) just because the people running the system are mostly lawyers as opposed to the engineers in Barcelona. I bet you America’s private railroads have lower costs than most public agencies but it’s not public vs private they just know what they’re doing.

  • political_incorrectness

    We need to find a way to dratically reduce costs. Labor cost must be cheaper since I don’t believe they include health care costs for the workers due to a socialized medicine system there. Also, siesta is still honored which makes it hard to work full time. I do hear productivity is lower in Spain.

    • Matt Fisher

      Uh, I disagree. The siesta is a Spanish tradition that should be preserved. I’m sorry to say this, but you are just a conservative pawn.

      About the BRT element, that’s more like Los Angeles’ Metro Rapid rather than true BRT. Let’s never use the BRT term to describe buses in mixed traffic. It’s a fraud that must end.

      • jim

        Americans have weird ideas about the siesta which probably originated in racist stereotypes of Mexicans, but now float free. It’s just a different way of arranging work hours. Americans typically work from 8:30 to 12:30 and 1 to 5. Spaniards typically work from 8 to 12 and 4 to 8. Both work 8 hours a day.

        In any case, this is irrelevant to boring tunnels: TBMs run (and have to be tended) 24 hours a day.

        • Max Wyss

          … and the 4 hour break between noon and 4pm does make a lot of sense, particularly in the summer, and inlands, where temperatures of 38°C and more are common.

          … and we talk construction work here, whic does not take place in air conditioned office silos…

        • robert

          As an Spanish engineer let me tell you I never had the pleasure, nor have I heard of, somebody in my circle of friends or coworkers, really having time for that “siesta”. It’s funny how people outside Spain think we can afford to sleep at work time.

          And Spanish corporate work is from 8 to 18 with 1 hour for lunch. Unfortunately commuting time makes impossible for most of us to go home for lunch, let alone sleep the siesta.

          And the Socialized medicine doesnt’ mean the government happily pays for everything. Companies have to pay the government the “social security” fee for their employees, that more or less is the same amount as the money the employee gets.

          And hahaha as you brilliantly apoint all this is irrelevant to TBM’s which have to be powered 24/7

      • Danny

        He didn’t say anything about getting rid of Siesta… Don’t put words in his mouth.

  • Spain is a financial cripple and the heavy burden of public debt and the huge taxes associated with metro expansion will further increase negative financial pressures on transit projects.

    The realities of hugely expensive transit projects will soon hit home with a vengeance as the EEC (after the Greek debacle) will insist on major financial reforms, including a stop on metro construction i future is going to be any bailout.

    In the UK the news is even worse and many public transit projects have now been axed or curtailed, including the long awaited (and dreamed for) ‘Crossrail’.

    • Nathanael

      Spain is in great shape financially and its bond rates are much lower than those of the IDIOT countries which imposed massive austerity plans, like Ireland.

      Spain’s government is also not as afraid of Germany, so it will have the sense not to cut back on its infrastructure spending. And while it has a boom and Germany stagnates, it will laugh all the way to the bank.

      • Matt Fisher

        I agree. Spain is less afraid than Germany in that sense when it comes to financing rail transit, and is more “in control”.

        Barcelona sure could use more tram expansion. A tramway on Avinguda Diagonal linking the two other separate tramways that exist now should be done in conjunction with other tram expansions. You should visit http://www.tramvia.org, but there’s nothing much in English and it’s either in Catalan or Spanish.

    • Nathanael

      As for Crossrail, it’s getting built. That is an iron-clad commitment.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/10323035.stm

    • MB

      Triple digit prices in oil will make even large-scale metro projects look like a bargain when cars decline in significant numbers. Their associated infrastructure and eenvironmental costs are historically stratospheric, especially in western North America.

    • robert

      yes you wish … but the truth is the “prosperous” countries in Europe like UK and France are the ones really rotting, with ghettos in near-civil war situation and cities in alarming rundown conditions, poor safety, high crime rate, broken families…. Yet we read everyday speculations about Spain, which by the way was the only country that didn’t need state intervention in the banking system.

      • Eric

        UK and France are not prosperous by European standards. They are about average. Germany, Scandinavia, and the Low Countries are the prosperous ones.

  • Jake

    Anyone know whether Spain has a NEPA-like process? If not, could it be that this accounts for some of the difference? (Not the cost of doing the study, which is relatively trivial, but the cost of providing the extra bells and whistles in the name of “mitigating environmental impacts.”) Sounds like we have some commenters on here who have a lot of experience with big infrastructure projects — I’d be curious to hear from them if they think this is a relevant factor or not.

    • Danny

      I think it might be. I’m not familiar with the 2nd Ave subway nor the Spanish system, but in my experience NEPA makes for a huge variance in project cost. Most engineering firms used to be able to give you a ballpark quote on things like track construction or catenary construction, but now they won’t even venture to make a guess until the environmental assessments have been done.

      A strong NIMBY campaign backed by an environmental lawsuit can easily double or triple the cost of a project. I’ve seen it happen on three separate occasions. But if nobody makes a peep, it doesn’t increase costs much more than a few hundred thousand dollars.

      • Second Avenue Subway has little NIMBYism – mostly businesspeople and residents complaining about construction, until the MTA placates them by paying them. The amounts of money in question are nothing compared to the project’s $1.7 billion/km price tag. New York’s other boondoggles – the $1.3 billion/km 7 extension, and the about $4 billion/km East Side Access project – have all been NIMBY-free.

  • The project was originally supposed to cost €1.9 billion. It’s escalated by a factor of more than 3, but even then, it’s less expensive than comparable American and Japanese projects. However, it’s not that cheap by Continental European standards. Usually lines as complicated as this get built for $250 million per underground route-km (e.g. Paris’s Line 14 and Berlin’s U55), but lower numbers are not unheard of. Barcelona’s Lines 9/10 cost about $170 million/km.

    Spain’s construction costs are on the whole lower than in the rest of Europe, but not by that much. It’s not Spain that’s unusual; it’s the US and UK.

  • […] couple of days ago, Yonah Freemark published some statistics that should trouble anyone in the North American transit […]

  • Chris R

    This is such a fascinating topic. I hope that there can be a follow up post to elucidate the reasonings behind the pricing structures highlight in the post and comment. Unions? Contractor collusion? Varying geology? TBMs?

  • David

    Very interesting topic, since until reading the article I thought that L9/L10 was a big burial place for taxpayers’ money.

    Digging in Barcelona is not an easy task. There are huge differences in the composition of the soil in just a few hundreds of meters, so the construction of the line has been cumbersome, having constantly to readapt the machinery to the type of soil that needs to be crossed. In addition to this, differences in labor cost exist, but are not as big as one could imagine. We’re talking about a country with price levels on average pretty similar to the ones found in the US.

  • This line has been partially underground terminated by one of the sections. Interestingly not having the level of expected use. The northern part was clearly designed for political purposes, to reach more modest neighborhoods of the suburbs, which already had a good public transport. It is expected that the southern route has more use as it connects areas with large populations and the airport.

  • emilymainzer

    Yes it is partially underground terminated and Barcelona Metro Line 9 is going to become longest automated metro line by the end of 2014 year and expected to serve 250,000 passengers daily. Source: http://www.railway-technology.com/projects/barcelona-metro-line-9/

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