Measures are taken daily to maintain the Finnish transport network. The efficiency, safety, smooth functioning and land use of traffic is developed by investing in the transport network. In connection with the projects, noise abatement and groundwater protection has often also been improved and level crossings have been removed. The impact of infrastructure projects is extensive, and it is visible in many ways in the everyday lives of people all over the country.
Future infrastructure investments are developed through project appraisals
An important part of developing infrastructure investments and the field of infrastructure as a whole is infrastructure project appraisal. The effects of projects can be assessed both during the decision-making stage and after a project has been completed. A project appraisal that produces information on the socio-economic profitability of the project supports political decision-making, whilst an ex-post evaluation after the project has been completed provides information on the realisation of the anticipated effects of the project.
Among other things, ex-post evaluations provide information on the accuracy of traffic volume and cost estimates as well as the effects of infrastructure projects on the development of the number of jobs and inhabitants. Among other things, the various time spans of project appraisals and ex-post evaluations pose challenges to evaluation: in project appraisals, the impact after 30 years is typically estimated, while ex-post evaluations are made seven years after the completion of the project on average. However, even an ex-post evaluation carried out fairly soon afterwards gives an indication on whether the impacts follow the development path specified in the project appraisal or not. The more time passes, the more difficult it becomes to separate the effects of the project from other development factors, such as investments.
The Seinäjoki–Vaasa railway line electrification project as an example of ex-post evaluations
The Seinäjoki–Vaasa railway line is a 75 kilometre-long single-track railway. The electrification project of the line, also known as the Ostrobothnian Railway, started in 2009, and the electrified section was commissioned in December 2011. Thanks to the electrification, the fastest direct train connection between Helsinki and Vaasa became 37 minutes faster, and the travel time of all direct trains was shortened by 25 minutes on average. The ex-post evaluation of the project was carried out four years after the completion of the project in 2015.
In the ex-post evaluation, it was found that the actual passenger volumes on the section were considerably higher than the volumes predicted in the project appraisal. In the project appraisal, it was assumed that the passenger volumes would increase by 1.2% immediately after the project was completed, whilst in the ex-post evaluation, the volumes were found to have increased by as much as 21% by 2013. The trips becoming faster due to electrification explains part of the growth, but a rail transport supply that was larger than anticipated, the higher service level when the change of trains was removed from the connection, and the increased number of Pendolino connections between Helsinki and Vaasa have also exerted an impact.
Positive results with regard to the effectiveness of the project were also found in other ex-post evaluations of the project. The investment costs converted to the cost level of the project appraisal were approximately 10% lower. As the passenger volume increased, the actual travel time savings achieved were also roughly twice as high as the benefit estimated in the project appraisal. In addition, domestic traffic at the Vaasa Airport decreased due to the project eight per cent more than on average in the country.
All in all, the ex-post evaluation of the electrification of the Ostrobothnian Railway shows that the project implementation was profitable, even though the benefit-cost ratio calculated before the implementation of the project was only 0.3. In particular, the assumption of the new departures being IC connections exerted an impact on the poor benefit-cost ratio given in the project appraisal, because, in reality, faster Pendolino trains were used. In fact, the time savings with electrification were considerably higher than anticipated, which was probably also the most important reason for the rapid growth in the number of passengers.