Comparative Subway Construction Costs, Revised

Here is a list of subway projects in the last 15-20 years, in both developed and developing countries. It’s in addition to my initial lists for developed and developing countries, but includes projects mentioned in past blog posts not on those two lists. This is still not an exhaustive list, due to some cities for which I couldn’t find any information (Moscow), cities for which the information from different sources contradicts itself (Bucharest), and cities for which I couldn’t source numbers beyond Wikipedia (Osaka). My rule is that Wikipedia is an acceptable source for construction timelines and route length but not cost.

While the list is meant to be for urban subways, urban rail projects that are predominantly elevated are also included. As far as possible I have tried using PPP dollars adjusted for inflation to give 2010 dollars (2010 and not 2013, because when I started comparing costs that’s what I used). For core developed countries, because inflation rates are similar, I use American inflation rates, using the CPI (not GDP deflator: the two measures have disagreed for a while, and the CPI points to higher inflation). For other ones, I’ve tried focusing on more recent projects, including even some that are under construction, but I use actual inflation rates.

Bear in mind the data is only as accurate as my sources for it and my PPP conversions. Errors of 10-20% in each direction are to be expected: sources disagree on conversion rates, sometimes the years of construction are not made clear so deflating to the midpoint is not reliable, etc. Even larger errors sometimes crop up, for example if old cost figures are not updated after a cost overrun.

Explicitly, the rates I use today are C$1.25 = S$1 = US$1 = 3.8 yuan = 100 yen = 800 won; £1 = $1.50; €1 = $1.25; CHF1 = $1.65.

Singapore Thomson MRT Line: not yet under construction, expected to open 2019-21, S$18 billion for 30 km. This is $600 million/km, all underground. Included only as a lower bound of costs; costs can rise beyond budget but rarely come significantly under it.

Hong Kong Sha Tin to Central Link: a 1-km segment underground (not underwater) is £270 million, under construction with opening expected in 2018. After converting to PPP using Hong Kong’s conversion rate this is $586 million/km.

Singapore Downtown MRT Line: under construction since around 2008, to be completed in 2017; S$20.7 billion for 42 km: $493 million/km. This line is fully underground. This represents a 70% cost overrun already, announced after I previously reported the original budget of S$12 billion.

Budapest Metro Line 4: under construction since 2006, completion expected in 2014, 400 billion forint for 7.4 km. This is $358 million per km. The line is fully underground.

Fukuoka, Nanakuma Line extension to Hakata: construction expected to begin 2014 with line opening expected in 2020, ¥45 billion for 1.4 km: $321 million/km. I do not know for certain that the extension is fully underground, but this is likely, as the preexisting line is underground and the extension follows busy CBD streets.

Cairo Metro Line 3, Phase 1: opened 2012 with construction since 2006, LE4.2 billion for 4.3 km. This is $310 million/km. The phase is fully underground.

Kawasaki Subway: under construction, opening expected in 2018, ¥433.6 billion for 16.7 km: $260 million/km. The line is fully underground. Update: people in comments explain that the line was actually canceled; the link in this paragraph is just a plan.

Stockholm City Line: to open in 2017, 16.8 billion kronor (2007 prices) for 6 km of tunnel and 1.4 km of bridge: $259 million/km.

Sao Paulo Metro Line 6: construction due to begin in 2014; 7.8 billion reais for 15.9 km: $250 million/km. The line is 84% underground.

Sao Paulo Metro Line 4: construction began in 2004, first phase opened in 2010, completion expected in 2014; 5.6 billion reais for 12.8 km: $223 million/km. The line is fully underground.

Dnipropetrovsk Metro extension: under construction since about 2008, opening expected in 2015€367 million for 4 km. After PPP conversion this is $214 million/km. It appears to be fully underground.

Malmö City Tunnel: built 2005-10, 9 billion kronor for 4.65 km: $212 million/km. This is a fully underground project.

Bangalore Metro Phase 2: to be opened by 2017, 264 billion rupees for 72.1 km. This is $164 million/km. I do not know what proportion of the project is underground; it does not seem to be large, as the extension of the phase 1 lines are all outbound, and only line 4 seems to have significant tunneling, about 14 km by pure Wikipedia eyeballing.

San Juan Tren Urbano: built 1996-2004, $2.28 billion (2001 figures, see PDF-p. 145) for 17.2 km: $163 million/km. The line is only 7.5% underground by direct inspection on Google Earth.

Lucern Zentralbahn: built 2008-13, CHF250 million for 1.32 km of tunnel: $151 million/km.

Hangzhou: I can’t find any ex post numbers, but in both 2005 and this year (Chinese) officials pegged the cost of future construction as ¥550 million/km: $145 million/km.

Sofia Metro Line 2: built 2008-12, €952 million for 17 km. After PPP conversion, this is $148 million/km. The line appears to be almost fully underground: the numbers here do not fully add up but point to 1.3-2.9 km above ground (7.6-13% of total line length) in one segment while Wikipedia’s line map shows only that segment with above-ground segments.

Thessaloniki: I can’t find any ex post numbers, but in 2005 the budget for the first phase, under construction to be opened in 2016, was €798 million for 9.6 km: $104 million/km. The second phase received bids last year and is expected to open in 2017, with an estimated cost of €518 million for 4.78 km: $135 million/km. Both phases are fully underground.

Vancouver Evergreen Line: under construction since 2012, completion expected 2016; C$1.4 billion for 11 km: $103 million/km. Only 2 km of the system, 18%, is underground, but Vancouver seems to have an unusually low underground construction cost premium.

Dubai Metro (lines 1 and 2): built 2005-11, Dh28 billion ($6.9 billion in PPP2010US$) for 75 km: $92 million/km. Only 13 km of the system, 17%, is underground.

Mexico City Metro Line 12: built 2007-2012, $1.8 billion for 26.4 km. After PPP conversion, this is $90 million/km. From a Google Earth overlay map, this line is 49% underground.

Seoul Sin-Bundang Line: built 2005-11, 1,169 billion won for about 18 km (sources disagree on whether it’s 17.3 or 18.5): $87 million/km. The line is 100% underground according to YouTube videos.

Bangalore Metro, Phase 1: built 2006-11, 8,158 crore rupees for 42.3 km: $93 million/km. Only 8.82 km, or 21% of the project, is underground. See above for Indian construction costs in a heavier-tunneling setting.

Helsinki Westmetro: under construction since 2009 with completion expected in 2015, €714 million for 13.5 kilometers: $66 million/km. The line is fully underground.

Seoul Subway Line 9: opened 2009, 900 billion won for 27 km: $43 million/km. The line is almost fully underground by direct inspection on Google Maps.

Barcelona Sants-La Sagrera tunnel: built 2008-11, €179.3 million for 5.8 km: $39 million/km. This project is intercity but fully underground.

Just from eyeballing the data, spliced together with the two older lists, the biggest correlation of each country’s construction costs is with the construction costs of other lines in the same country. When there is more than one project listed separately in a city – e.g. Seoul, Singapore, Sao Paulo – the projects have similar costs. This persists across different cities in the same country, judging by the similarity between Bangalore Metro’s Phase 2 cost and the Delhi Metro’s cost from a previous list and by the similarity between Hangzhou and Beijing’s costs.

This entry was posted in Construction Costs, Regional Rail, Transportation, Urban Transit. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Comparative Subway Construction Costs, Revised

  1. Charles Smith says:

    One might try normalizing by average hourly wage per country or metro area, perhaps average construction wage per metro area if you can get it. At that point second order effects should be easier to detect.

    • Alon Levy says:

      But why? There’s no obvious correlation between wages and construction costs. Compare Eastern and Western European costs. Normalizing for PPP eats all or almost all the costs-GDP correlation.

  2. Station cost more money than just plain tracks.
    In Berlin the U55 was finished and the U5 extension is on the way.
    I just found the expected cost for U55:
    650 Million Euro for 1.8 km.
    The expected cost for U5
    433 Million Euro for 2.2 km

  3. While this is a planning number that nobody here in town seems to believe–and one that might well be politically inflated (Portland has long been ahead of the curve in these matters–and this might well be a rare instance of a transit agency trying to shoot down a LRT project the city wants to build), but a preliminary report from the SW Corridor project gives a price tag of US$3.1B to build a 3km tunnel under the West Hills and the OHSU/Marquam Hill complex:

    Now, this number was one figure on one slide in some public outreach materials, so it is unclear where this figure came from. One commenter who spoke to a project member at an open house indicated that they based their figures on Seattle’s U-Link tunnel, a ridiculous compare (that tunnel has to cross under water in a heavily urbanized area; whereas the OSHU tunnel is through hills). The costs given for a surface alignment (one with likely many structures, given the topography) come to about $120M/km, which is about the same as PMLR cost (a nominally surface route with many structures, including a new bridge over the Willamette River).

    • aw says:

      From, the current estimated cost of $1.84B for U-Link. This is for a 5km fully tunnelled extension and includes $360M for two underground station. U-Link is coming in below budget and the tunnelling contracts in particular were bid much lower than the engineer’s estimate. That $3.1B estimate for the Portland project must have used a pretty old estimate for U-Link, then inflated it by a bunch.

      In the same document, the Northgate Link extension is a mostly underground, partially elevated 7.5km extension with 3 stations and a budget of $2.13B. The tunnelling bids for this segment were recently opened and were significantly below estimates.

  4. Jeff says:

    Kawasaki Subway seems to have gone the way of the do-do: (link to page on Japanese Wikipedia).

  5. Matthew says:

    I was poking through the Providence/Woonsocket study the other day and there’s an interesting chart of capital costs on page 150. It’s not about subway construction, but maybe relevant anyhow.

    It lists $250/track foot, $189 CTC signalling/track foot, and $15,000 per linear foot of bridge deck. So at a minimum, by those costs, a two-track signalled bridge is approximately $50 million/km. Does that sound reasonable? Presumably that applies to viaduct too.

    • Alon Levy says:

      It’s a reasonable average for intercity rail, I think. Maybe a bit on the high side, but not outrageously so. Viaduct extravaganza in HSR can cost a lot more than that.

  6. snogglethorpe says:

    Yeah I kinda wondered about that entry … Kawasaki has been pondering a subway line roughly parallel to the nanbu line for _ages_, but it never seems to get beyond the planning stages due to constant budget problems, and the last time I heard, it was still languishing with no obvious sign of change…

  7. Chad N says:

    I’d love to see this info arranged in a table, and expanded for other projects such as U.S. ones. I guess that’s the engineer in me. I use $500M/mile for subway and $150M/mile for elevated as benchmarks for the US.

    • Alon Levy says:

      For mainland US projects, see the original list.

      Most US projects are way more expensive than this benchmark. The Tren Urbano and the Washington Silver Line (not included in this post purely because of sourcing issues) are about $250-300 million/mile with very little tunneling. The two Bay Area subways – BART to San Jose and the Central Subway – are $800-1,000 million/mile, and BART to San Jose tunnels under very wide streets in a mostly suburban setting and should be cheaper than average. The two New York projects – SAS and the 7 extension – are in the billions; the North-South Rail Link is estimated at $8 billion for a bit more than a mile, and although that’s a sandbagged cost to dissuade project supporters, the lower true cost as argued by the Sierra Club is still $3 billion. The only urban subway that’s just $500 million/mile nowadays is the LA Westside Subway, and the other projects with similar budgets tend to be suburban tunnels.

      • Matthew says:

        NSRL is more than just a mile of tunnel. It’s also two underground stations (three if you count the unnecessary and expensive Central station), a new river crossing, and a multitude of portals depending upon which lines you want to route through. For the south side, in particular, it may imply up to four separate portals. I think there’s more than 2 miles worth of tunneling involved here.

        • Joey says:

          Is the central station really unnecessary? The end stations are about a mile apart and the central station would provide a potentially strategic blue line transfer.

  8. Max Wyss says:

    The comparisions may also be a bit difficult, as there are simple tunnel projects (such as the Zentralbahn tunnel for meter gauge in Luzern), as compared to complete metros, including stations.

    Another Swiss project which might be put in the list as well is the Durchmesserlinie in Zürich, total length roughly 10 km, 4.8 km tunnel, 1.8 km viaducts, 1 4-track mainline station (underground, able to handle 400 m long trains), rather complex connections to the existing lines… project cost at the moment CHF 2 billion (USD 1.3 bn at the rather unrealistic exchange rate; 1 USD equals 1.2 CHF at the time; nowadays, it is parity), resulting in CHF 200 million per kilometer. The station and the Weinbergtunnel to Oerlikon will open in 2014, and the viaducts to Altstetten end of 2015.

    • Alon Levy says:

      The Durchmesserlinie is in the original list. The PPP exchange rate I used is a bit different, but close enough. The Swiss franc is so overvalued relative to PPP that you can’t really do this by exchange rate.

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  10. Oreg says:

    Lucern Zentralbahn is not actually a subway but a typical Swiss narrow-gauge inter-village railway. The project you refer to just puts a stretch of it underground. Not sure how this fits into the list.

  11. Frank Moraes says:

    Interesting data, but I’m having a hard time contextualizing it. It seems to me that different cost per unit length are reasonably consistent given the individual differences in environment and goal. The corresponding costs in the United States (on another page) are notably higher, but not excessively so. There are a lot of ways that construction would be more expensive in the US than in China. The US prices are roughly the same as in Singapore. Is that correct and am I even looking at these data correctly?

    • Alon Levy says:

      No, the US costs are much, much higher. The New York tunnels are all above a billion dollars per kilometer (a lot more in East Side Access’s case), and the projects that look cheap are just elevated or at-grade with barely any tunneling. So US prices are still higher than in the UK/Hong Kong/Singapore.

      The other bit about China is that it’s not even that cheap. Spain and South Korea are cheap; China is just a bit cheaper than average. China’s just in the news because Oh My God We’re Losing The Infrastructure Race, but by Western European standards its construction costs are unimpressive. Low income doesn’t actually save you any money on construction costs – you get cheaper workers but they’re less productive, and most of the GDP-construction cost correlation is eaten up entirely by a PPP conversion. Puerto Rico is notably not cheaper to build in than Washington despite a large difference in incomes. If everything were cheaper in Puerto Rico/China/India, they’d just have lower costs of living. So some things are still cheaper relative to PPP, such as food and rent, and others become much more expensive, such as imported electronics; construction is somewhere in the middle.

      • Frank Moraes says:

        Okay, so other than following you here, what do I read to find out why?

        • Alon Levy says:

          About the US vs. other countries, I don’t know that much material that can explain things. Lots of theories, nothing concrete.

          However, for Spain vs. other countries, read this writeup by then-Madrid Metro CEO Manuel Melis Maynar.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            Hmmm, listen to the frothing ranters on the California blogs it’s all about the concrete…..

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        East Side Access 8 tunnels from the platforms to four tunnels that then merge down to two tunnels under the river. Then the stuff on the south side of the platforms. There’s miles of tunneling going on under Sunnyside yard too, so that the trains to and from Grand Central merge into the Main Line without having to cross tracks. .

  12. JJJJJJj says:

    One would expect construction in Mexico to be pricey, due to the poor soil (city built on lake) and all the earthquakes. And yet its so cheap.

    LA needs to hire the people who build the mexico city subways.

    • Alon Levy says:

      LA possibly has the cheapest construction in the US: about $300 million per km for the Westside Subway, a downright bargain compared to what New York and San Francisco spend.

      • Peter Brassard says:

        Why is there such a huge difference? Is it labor costs or geologic conditions or techniques used or is it a combination? How do these cities compare when looking at different factors?

  13. RTA says:

    Mexico and Puerto Rico have per-capita GDPs within spitting distance of each other, with obvious cultural and historical similarities, and both with democratic governments, yet Mexico builds far cheaper — why would that be? Mexico’s legal system is more purely civil law, but it seems hard to believe that could be decisive. The size of Mexico City alone would suggest far greater costs than in comparatively tiny San Juan, but then, it looks like there is not much correlation with city size, either.

    • Stephen says:

      Civil vs. common law seems to be a huge determinant of subway costs, actually. The US is the worst, followed by the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore. Meanwhile, civil law countries like Spain, France and Turkey do some of the cheapest tunneling. It’s plausible, but I realize unsatisfying. But it’s the best explanation I can find.

  14. Andrew Smith says:

    Did you reckon PPP costs for the NYC projects via cost of living for the U.S. as a whole or NYC in particular? Given how far NYC is from the US norm, you might want to adjust if you really think PPP is the correct metric. (The NYC projects would still be ungodly expensive, but less so.)

    That said, can you write a bit more about why you chose PPP instead of simple exchange rate? All the materials involved are traded internationally so their costs should be the same (or close) in exchange rate terms across the globe. The generally low cost of living in city XXX doesn’t help it buy steel any cheaper than NYC or rent tunneling machines any cheaper. They pay the same as NYC, simply adjusted for actual exchange rates. Presenting those costs in PPP terms will make it look like they paid more than rich countries for materials. Is your rationale that, in essence, Brazilians are paying more for steel than New Yorkers because the average Brazilian worker has to spend more hours on the job than the average New Yorker?

    Labor costs, of course, vary more with PPP than with simple exchange rates (except at the very top: project design firms are international and will adjust their prices with simple exchange rates).

    • Alon Levy says:

      US PPP. New York’s cost of living is a lot lower than people think – it’s about 120-130% of the US average according to the BEA.

      The reason to use PPP is that most of the cost is local labor rather than material. A TBM is comparatively cheap; crews to work it are expensive. A cost breakdown from Delhi shows that only a small amount of the value is imported, I believe 15%, and an indigenization project, in which imported expertise is replaced by local expertise, only reduced costs by a small amount, I believe 10%.

      • Barath says:

        Alan, I realized (belatedly) that I had provided the reference link on the Delhi indigenization project in your earlier thought provoking post.
        Since such projects tend to aim at low hanging fruit, the message I had wished to convey was not “only 10-15% costs are imported” but that the 15% quick savings point to larger amount of foreign content used and (still) employed. IP rights, technology maturity and time required to re-engineer this may preclude further drive for indiginization in phase 2 , (or allow for slightly more in phase 3 and so on with some diminishing returns

        Andrew Smith has a separate but related point. Since (for example) steel is often a commodity (subject to quality, contracts and shipping costs, a large domestic steel producer could sell steel on the foreign market), even local steel is not at PPP (blended basket) rate but close to the international exchange rate. We could check this hypothesis. Of course, this makes a difference only when PPP and exchange rates continuously differ by a large amount. (NYC may not qualify per your answer).

        On a different note, the delhi metro laid down the template (in terms of initial competency, project models, choice of systems etc), which bangalore, chennai and others in india adopted (with some tinkering at the edges). So it is not surprising that with the same set of technical systems, same judicial system, substantially the same market, the costs of delhi and bangalore etc would be highly correlated. Similar federal standards/bureaucracy, markets and systems may help explain your observations why multiple phases have the highest correlation, followed by those in the same country.

  15. Aslak says:

    The Ring Line in Oslo ( was built 2000-2006 and cost 1.345 billion Norwegian kroner for 5 km, of which 4 were underground. In 2006 dollars that’s about 200-210 million in total. I never though of Norway as a low-cost country before.

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  17. Galileo Solis says:

    New metro in Panama just passed testing phase. Line 1, 13.6Km, $1.8 Billion.

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