High-speed Rail Development in Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan: Any Lessons for Other Developing Economies?
A Khudenko, P R Drake, University of Liverpool Management School, UK
An exploratory study of both evolving and completed high-speed rail projects in developing countries, attempting to conclude on key challenges during project planning and implementation and critical drawbacks in strategy and project management.
At the time of economic uncertainty, the world witnesses a surprising surge of interest in infrastructure mega-projects, with high-speed railway (HSR) systems being in the limelight. This recent trend has predominantly been driven by the assertion that infrastructure investments would revitalise the weak economies; however, projects of such a scale definitely presume substantial, irreversible public spending which may put an unbearable strain on country's finances. The latter is especially true for developing economies where infrastructure mega-projects are destined to be executed under the low availability of funds and highest risks.
In support of the above, the completed a priori analysis showed that the progression and early operation performance of HSR systems in Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan were well below expectations. Therefore, the present research serves the goal of attempting to scrutinise relevant decision making principles and provide insight into project planning and management and operations strategy pitfalls behind the high-speed rail projects in the emerging economies. This exploratory study formally approaches the barely investigated subject by employing the in-depth case study methodology. Amongst the cases on which the data from government and companies' sources were analysed, the operating St Petersburg-Moscow service and evolving Moscow-Sochi link are considered, along with the four Ukrainian projects (being part of the infrastructure enhancement programme towards hosting Euro-2012), recently inaugurated Tashkent-Samarqand line in Uzbekistan, and transnational Kiev-Moscow corridor. By summarising the specific cases, we aim to comprehend the paradoxical position of the above mega-projects in the context of highly unstable, transitional economies of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and hypothesise on critical challenges and strategic deficiencies that may doom similar HSR projects to eventual failure. From the immensity of the identified pitfalls, some of the most evident are as follows: inadequacy of investment appraisal and prioritisation and risk management methodologies, managerial decision inflexibility, enormously escalating project cost and implementation period, lower than anticipated service quality and safety standards, absence of a clear strategy on network development and transnational or intermodal integration, very localised focus and significant impact of management culture, prevalence of political goals and vested interests over rationality, deliberate misrepresentation of information, and promotion of social exclusion.
Our findings indicate that there is a clear urgent need for a conceptual integrated framework, addressing the determined issues in HSR projects in developing countries, which would support decision- and policy-makers dealing with infrastructure investment strategy and planning. The findings may also be considered as shaping the research agenda within this highly underdeveloped field.
Association for European Transport