Existing infrastructure trumps new projects
Investing in infrastructure is expensive and for the long-term. So how does that sit with the Swedish coalition government's efforts to secure safety margins in state finances?
Public transport, roads, and airports are just a few examples of infrastructure projects – and all of them are fairly expensive. Building Citybanan, a new commuter tunnel through Stockholm, will cost an estimated $US 2.5 billion.
Costs of that size do not sit too easily with the coalition government's cautious spring budget, which was announced last week.
Jan Edling, an analyst and author on innovation, infrastructure and welfare, says that Sweden must take advantage of its relatively strong economy and begin to spend more on infrastructure.
"People say that Sweden is going OK now, that we have a good budget and all that. But if you don't invest anything, of course there will be a budget surplus," he told Radio Sweden.
"In the long run, without investing in the future, there will be a problem to generate economic growth. If we are doing well in the economy now, the success may not continue if we don't invest in infrastructure."
Sweden's infrastructure minister, Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd, says making the best use of the rails, roads and airports already in existence is one of her key priorities.
"For me, it's very important to get more infrastructure out of less money. That means you have to focus on already existing infrastructure and make it more efficient," says Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd.
The coalition government refers to a four-step model in its infrastructure policies which seeks to make existing infrastructure more efficient before resorting to repairs and new building projects.
For companies trying to ship commercial goods, that may be of little use.
In Sweden, freight trains often use the same tracks as passenger trains. With passengers traveling mostly during the day, many companies resort to shipping during the night, and often at significanlty lower speeds.
The sitution has led many companies to stop shipping by rail, despite its superior capacity compared to road transports.
According to the government's way of handling infrastructure, building new tracks is not the immediate solution.
So is the government providing a cost-effiecient method for infrastructure or is it simply shying away from long-term investments?
"It wouldn't be sound economic thinking not to invest in what we already have, making the systems more comfortable and punctual. You will get a lot more in return if you do that," says Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd.
"We invest in new tracks also. For example, we have the iron ore in the northern part of Sweden that needs new capacity. We are building more tracks there," she says.
Jan Edling says that Sweden stands to lose economic competitiveness and undermine its environmental goals if infrastructure investments don't become a priority.
"The companies can't sell as much as they want to or get the labour force they want to without sufficient infrastructure systems. Raod transport also damages the roads, pollutes and increases the need to build out roads much more. If the transport was on rails, the environment would benefit," says Jan Edling.
Sven Hultberg Carlsson