High-Speed Line Succumbs To Highlighted Risks
News that the development of Kazakhstan's first high-speed rail line has been postponed does not come as a surprise given the difficulties in overcoming the recurring problems of cost and demand dynamics with such projects, even in more developed markets. The cost of the project, which would see a 1,101km high-speed line between the capital Astana and country's second city Almaty was never made public, but it has been given as the deciding factor for the delaying of construction by President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Despite having hired French railways specialist Systra to design the line and oversee its implementation and having the backing of China, the project has now been shelved due to the likelihood of it being financially unviable to run. Passenger demand dynamics were cited and are often a key argument against high-speed lines, such as during the development of Spain's high-speed network, or indeed the ongoing debate over HS2 in the UK. Similarly, California's high-speed plans have been revised and altered several times due to demand risks and spiralling costs.
We had previously highlighted the risks to the realisation of the high-speed line, many of which have played out. Amongst them we highlighted that ultimately the huge capital outlay needed to see the project realised would be left to the Kazakh government to raise, which would be difficult with a slowdown in commodity demand in China, which has been a key source of growth for the Kazakh economy and investor confidence ( see 'High Speed Line Highlights Rail Sector Priority', March 19). Also, the tight time-scale in which the project was to be realised - due operational by 2017 for the World Expo. It was ultimately a combination of the need to see the project realised in this short timescale without truly knowing whether passenger numbers would make the project financially viable, making raising capital even harder for the government, which saw plans shelved.
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