What’s going on in Czechia?

Prague has one of Europe’s busiest metros, and what looks like the highest per capita rail ridership in not just Europe but also the non-Tokyo world. And yet, expansion is seeing exploding costs.

In our database, the past extensions in Prague are not especially expensive. The most recent expansion to open was that of Line A to Nemocnine Motol, built 2010-5. It cost 20.2 billion CZK for 6.1 km, or 3.3 billion CZK/km; in PPP dollars, this is around $250 million/km. This is just how much things in Czechia would cost. The previous extension was that of Line C to Letňany, built 2004-8; it cost 15 billion CZK/4.6 km, the same as the later Line A extension per km, and in the interim period, Czechia had practically no inflation. Both lines had a feature that should slightly suppress costs: the Line C extension was partly cut-and-cover and partly bored, and the Line A extension, otherwise fully underground, has a daylit terminus built into the side of a hill.

And now Prague is building Line D, at a far higher cost. The current estimate is 73 billion CZK/10.5 km. This is in PPP terms $540 million per km, making it the most expensive metro (not S-Bahn) line I know of in Continental Europe, and only marginally cheaper per km than the Battersea extension of the Northern line in London.

The map provided in the link shows the line not even going all the way to city center. Its northern terminus, Náměstí Míru, connects with Line A, is in the center, but is just outside the historic core where the three current lines meet; from there the line is to go south, intersecting Line C peripherally and Line B not at all. Nor is the line quite fully underground – like the Nemocnine Motol extension, it has minor daylit segments, including a river crossing, a station, and a depot; overall, it looks 90% underground, not 100%.

I do not know what’s going on there. The Czech economy is growing, but there’s no singular boom that should explain why the 2020s are so profoundly different from the 2000s and 10s. On my Twitch stream, a Czech commenter speculated that the contractor ecosystem is breaking, with only 5-6 contractors, all domestic, and reticence to hire foreign, whereas for example in Sweden there’s a steady influx of Turkish and Chinese contractors, and in the private sector Prague’s construction sites are full of immigrants from poorer countries. But then Skanska was one of the lead contractors for the extension to Letňany.

14 comments

  1. Phake Nick

    Somehow the Czech Wikipedia entry claim a reason behind the route D being more expensive is, despite being designed as a light metro route with cost saving in mind, building on surface requiring purchase of land end up making it more costly than tunneling???

    • Henry Miller

      In a dense city core I can believe that buying a building and tearing it down can cost more than deep bore tunneling under it. I can also believe that the streets of an old European city are narrow and curvy enough that you cannot cut-cover in just the streets thus needing to tear down buildings to get that much space.

      I can believe the above, but having never visited or otherwise researched Czech I have no idea if it is really true.

      • Phake Nick

        The proposed line D have a capacity of 10000 per hour, being an automated light metro, and act as a branch of line C.
        I doubt a dense city core would match well with such design specification.

    • Luke

      This is the rationale behind the resolution to a bottleneck on the Gyeongbu HSR from Pyeongtaek to Osong taking the form of a quadruple tracking where the new lines are being built underneath the existing ones. Even at Korean tunneling costs, I find it hard to believe this is cheaper than just expanding within the right of way, which is only arguably tight around Cheonan-Asan station of the entire ~45km distance, and purchasing land where needed (this section passes almost entirely through rural areas). Things would obviously be different in Prague, so it seems plausible.

  2. seangillis78

    Sadly, $540 million/ kilometer for a tunneled metro would be a bargain these days in Canada. Montreal Blue Line extension, 5.8 km, cost $6 billion (Just over $1 billion / km). Scarborough extension in Toronto is 7.8 km and $5.5 billion ($700 million / km)

      • seangillis78

        Yep, that’s $CDN. Thanks for the conversion. Montreal = 770 million per kilometer, Toronto = 540 million / kilometer. So Toronto is not far off for Scarborough, although I would hope the Prague projects would be more useful and better suited for full metro lines.
        What does PPP stand for again?

    • Phake Nick

      In Hong Kong, the proposed elevated APM option in HSK/YLS new development area seems like they would have a higher per-km cost than even this, despite merely an elevated APM, and even an at-grade bus system is still expected to cost half that.

  3. Sascha Claus

    The Google translation of the Czech Wikipedia article mentions some back-and-forth about driverless or not and public-private-partnership financing or not; a yes on these counts might raise costs.

    Some more shots into the dark: Nothing mentions track connections to existing lines to exchange rolling stock; if existing, these would add cost. The price might contain preparations at Náměstí Republiky for the onward build; these would add cost.

  4. Nguyen Tuan Hung

    Yokohama’s Minato Mirai Line has a 4.1 km length but they cost US$3 billion to built (US$750 million per kilometre). Very expensive. Due to weak geology of the line (on reclaimed land), stations have to be 4 to 5 floor deep. And the line faces a serious earthquake risk: liquefaction (built through reclaimed land) in earthquake-prone Japan. Also, the line has to face storm surge and tsunami risk.

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