“;is is a very big problem for governments and
builders of high-speed rail projects, because there is
often a lot of con;ict with people who are living on
the land, like farmers. If you take away their land,
they cannot make a living.”
;is human element reduces the reliability of
initial budget and schedule estimates for high-speed
rail projects, says Scott Jarvis, chief engineer for the
California High-Speed Rail Authority, which
is building the United States’ ;rst high-speed
rail network in the U.S. state of California.
“You have to be really sensitive to the
impacts that you’re having on people, and
there’s no real way to do that quickly or to predict how much time it’s going to take you to procure the right of way that’s necessary,” he says.
Assuming there is enough money in the co;ers,
project teams can minimize land-related delays by
o;ering enticing compensation packages. Money has
been an e;ective lubricant in China, says Mr. Duan.
Given China’s sizable population, the government is
con;dent rail projects will see a signi;cant ROI. So it’s
willing to o;er better compensation and resettlement
bene;ts in order to keep projects on schedule.
“In exchange for the land, for example, the government might o;er you an apartment or house
somewhere else, or help you get a job,” he says.
But compensation isn’t a panacea. ;at’s why the
California High-Speed Rail Authority has appointed a
dedicated program manager to head up its land acqui-
sition and right-of-way e;orts. ;e program manager
collaborates with the design-build contractor to plan
land acquisitions, works with government agencies
to navigate regulations, tracks the status of land deals
to identify bottlenecks and works with landowners to
negotiate purchase agreements. ;is helped the orga-
nization obtain more than 450 land parcels in 2015, up
from 88 over the previous two years.
More than just acquiring land, the program
manager’s goal is to keep the program moving forward—within its approved cost, scope and schedule, Mr. Jarvis says.
“It’s really important that you have a close working
relationship with your design-build contractor, that
you meet with him regularly and that you work on
the schedule together. As the owner, that ensures that
you get the information you need—such as where
they’re planning to go to work next—so you can focus
your resources on getting those critical parcels.”
TICKET TO RIDE
Yet, even as they navigate numerous unknowns,
project managers must be prepared to put a ;nancial
stake in the ground. Because high-speed rail projects
often rely on government funding, a strategic business case can help keep budgets from being gutted
as administrations change, Mr. Magán Ocaña says.
“From inception to operation takes several years, so
the project must be based on a robust business case
that supports it through its development,” he says.
A sketch of a High Speed 2 rail
station in the United Kingdom
Cars destined for the Tangier-
Casablanca line in Morocco
A rendering of a high-speed train in
the U.S. state of California
—Rubén Magán Ocaña, PMP