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Feb
09
2009

The world’s biggest mega transport project

In December 2007 I delivered a Working Paper entitled “Managing risk in a hypermobile world” to the OMEGA Project  – a project dedicated to thinking about Mega Projects in Transport and Development.

I began thus:

“Transport projects facilitate new connections between trip origins and destinations. In so doing they disturb previous patterns of connection, often with difficult to predict consequences. Mega-transport projects do this on a grand scale and create risks and problems of complexity and uncertainty of unprecedented magnitude. It becomes impossible to define the boundaries of the fields of influence of urban mega-transport projects such as international airports and high-speed rail lines that connect cities to the rest of the world. Their specific consequences are beyond prediction. But it is possible to speculate about the nature of the problems that such projects will force us to confront in the future.

The world’s biggest mega transport project

The world’s biggest mega transport project subsumes all the others. It is the promotion of mobility. It is proceeding at a record-breaking pace. It is creating problems of complexity, risk and uncertainty on a global scale, and transforming the way in which these problems are perceived and managed, or, more accurately, struggled with.

All significant participants in the project are now globe spanning enterprises. The motor industry measures success by numbers of vehicles sold. Judged by this criterion, despite global over-capacity, it is prospering. Road traffic, in almost all countries, is at record levels and still growing. It is exploding in countries such as China and India (which recently launched the world’s cheapest car), and is growing even in the most highly motorized countries; and projects to provide the infrastructure to carry it are still providing lots of work for multi-national civil engineering firms. Growing still faster is the aviation industry, generating mega projects for plane and airport builders. And railways, after decades in the doldrums, are being revitalized by mega high-speed projects. The result is an emergent hypermobile society.”

OOPS!  The project that I described in December 2007 as proceeding at a record-breaking pace has come to a juddering halt. It is unclear when, or if, it will get re-started.

The world is now crowded with people who claim that they saw it coming – I amongst them. The concluding sentence to my Working Paper says: “Hypermobility breeds fatalists. Without egalitarian restraint of present trends, dystopian science fiction appears likely to provide our best guide to the future. “ The sudden restraint of (juddering halt to) recent trends has been anything but egalitarian. Dystopian science fiction may yet prove to be our best guide to what comes next. A PDF of the full paper can be read here.

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