Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In South Korea, HSR 1; Airlines 0

I don't know what to make of this article. Is it that South Korea is too small geographically to sustain even short-haul air travel? I have to say I'm skeptical that a high-speed rail line reduced air travel in Korea leading to the closing of eleven airports.  Without a great deal more information, this particular proposition seems implausible. It's probably much more complicated than that. 

Also, the author, Gus Lubin, makes a few rash assumptions, such as the airlines and automakers presumably blocking HSR in the US.

In any case, overbuilding infrastructure, as described here, seems to be a global epidemic, with morning-after regrets apparent in several countries already, such as China and Spain. Also, the realization that, with any action, there can be unintended consequences. And with very large actions, those unintended consequences can also be very large.  

In California, the rail authority says with great pride that they will reduce air traffic. They point to Spain, where the Madrid to Barcelona HSR line has reduced that air route significantly. Why is that so great?  Do we want to grind down a successful industry that makes money, thereby forcing layoffs and revenue losses?  Will the losses be greater than the gains in this trade-off?  As usual, it comes down to cost/benefits.  And we, in the US, haven't begun to study HSR in those terms.  Too much politics; not enough rational analysis.

In the 30s, the auto/tire industries manipulated the closing of the surface transit light rail in Los Angeles.  How great an idea was that? 

Overbuilding, as we are seeing in China and, apparently, in Korea, is a stupid and often harmful thing to do.  But, pitting one industry against another, encouraging rail's gain at the expense of other travel modalities is even more stupid.


High Speed Rail Has Basically Killed A Dozen Airports In South Korea
Gus Lubin | Feb. 15, 2011, 7:44 AM |

Eleven of the 14 airports managed by the Korean Airports Corporation lost money in 2009 and 2008. Several are ghost airports with no regular flights. Still more developments were suspended and never completed.

KAC is now trying to sell these loss-making airports, according to JoongAng Daily, putting Cheongju Airport on the market after it lost $5.1 million in 2009.

How did South Korea end up with all of these useless airports?

First, local governments keep building giant infrastructure projects, including empty airports and empty office buildings.

Second, airports can't compete with the new high-speed rail network, which travels from one end of the country to the other in less than three hours.

This story should terrify airlines (and automakers) everywhere. And you wonder why high-speed rail gets blocked in America.