Russian HSR: High Ridership, Big Profits
Another day, another high speed rail success story:
The Sapsan high-speed train launched by Russian rail monopoly Russian Railways (RZhD) less than twelve months ago has proved to be the monopoly’s sole profitable enterprise in the passenger transport sector, with its profit margin hitting 30 percent, RZhD President Vladimir Yakunin said on Tuesday….
Russian Railways currently has eight high-speed Sapsans produced by the German engineering group Siemens. They run between St Petersburg, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. The Sapsan occupancy rate is 84.5 percent, according to RzHD.
The company’s revenues from ticket sales may amount to 205 million euros annually at the current ticket price, while profits from the operation of these trains exceed 61 million euros.
So let’s get this straight: In operation in less than 12 months, and already the Sapsan trains are seeing high ridership and profitability. As the article from Ria Novosti explains, this is in contrast to other Russian trains, which like Amtrak operate at a loss (although Amtrak trains do experience heavy ridership).
This should come as no surprise. In two years of operation, the Madrid-Barcelona AVE has taken over half the market share from airplanes on what was one of the world’s busiest air routes. In a similar timeframe, the Taiwan HSR system has turned a profit after getting out from under a set of bad deals to finance the system’s construction.
Still, I’m sure American HSR deniers will come up with some silly arguments, using cherry-picked claims that ignore other facts, to argue that the world’s HSR success won’t translate to the US. Still, Moscow’s population of 10 million compares well to Southern California, and St. Petersburg’s population of 4 million compares well to the Bay Area – especially considering both cities have seen a trend of suburbanization over the last 20 years.
The evidence is clear: HSR will have high ridership and will have profitability. There is every reason to believe the same will happen here in California, as long as we get our chance to implement what the voters approved in 2008 and build our HSR system.
It wasn’t so long ago that seeing Russia and China build something would spur the United States into doing the same. Republicans in particular would have been shouting about a “bullet train gap” and demanding big public investments in HSR to ensure we keep up. Today, Congressional Republicans instead dismiss what the rest of the world is doing, convinced in their hubris that the US’ oil-based system is perfect and that anything else is un-American. It’s up to the rest of us to point out that this country – and certainly this state – cannot thrive in the 21st century without building high speed rail. If it works for Russia and China, if it works for Taiwan and Japan, if it works for Spain and France, it can work here.