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Transport Infrastructure - a key player in the 2016 Olympic decision?

October 01, 2009
Author: Eve-Marie Morgo

With the world eagerly waiting to hear the announcement of the 2016 Summer Olympic City on friday 2nd October I thought I would take a look at each of the candidate cities and the railway and transport infrastructure they have to offer. Although this is just one of the many criteria that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will take into consideration when casting their vote for Tokyo, Chicago, Madrid or Rio, I believe it is one of the most imperative aspects of the bid. A well- oiled infrastructure ensures smooth running of the games and if there is a cash injection to the public transport network the city will also reap the benefits for many years to come.

London in 2012

London, who will be hosting the Games in 2012, has some large shoes to fill after Beijing’s tremendous effort in 2008. Transport operations were carried out with military precision. Automated Fare Collection Systems were implemented without a hitch and the investment of $3.2 billion dollars in 3 new subway lines seamlessly eased the traffic during the games. Not only were the subways operationally flawless, the stations were also aesthetically pleasing. They had been designed according to different themes, all with a fresh and contemporary feel.

The IOC could expect the same high level of organisation from its Asian counterpart as Tokyo is claiming that it will host ‘the most compact and efficient games ever.’ Japan’s capital previously hosted the Games in 1964 so its past experience could work in its favour.  From a railways point of view Tokyo ticks all the boxes. It already boasts the world’s most extensive urban rail network. There are 13 subway lines and almost all competition venues will be served by subways. 52 railway networks are operated by the East Japan Railway Company and on-train information will provide passengers with competition results, tourist information and directions to venues, allowing the excitement and spirit of the games to truly permeate throughout the city.  There will also be a new Narita Express Railway Line which will connect the city with the international airport, making it easy for athletes and spectators from across the globe to reach the Olympic Park. Furthermore for all the domestic spectators and athletes, a major advantage is that Tokyo is the hub of 6 Shinkansen bullet trains. Between Japan’s two biggest metropolises, Tokyo and Osaka, 10 trains run per hour with a minimum 3 minute frequency.


The city of Madrid is bidding for the second time in a row after losing to London in the race for the 2012 Olympics. Although it was not successful the IOC was very impressed with Madrid’s technical aspects and actually ranked it in first place in the category of ‘transport concept.’ Madrid has made some alterations to its bid for 2016. Its transport services will be tailored to meet demand and the specific needs of the participants’ i.e running services early morning and late at night. Madrid will encourage a ‘Park and Rail’ concept as competition venues will not provide car parking for spectators. A major plus point from a rail perspective is that, by 2016, Madrid will be connected to all sub cities via AVE high speed lines. RENFE, who operates the Spanish high speed network, will be running services that connect Madrid with Merida and Valencia in time for 2016. In the space of 7 years, the high speed network will almost certainly abolish short haul flights within Spain and also to other European countries as well. By 2016, the high speed network will be even more developed and if the Games were hosted in Madrid, the benefits would be seen, not just in Spain, but in a greatly connected and inter-linked Europe.

The major advantage of having high speed trains would definitely sway my vote in choosing the city, and it is something that Chicago and Rio’s bids are missing.


For a country that was built by the railroad, America has very much lacked funding over the last few decades and this does not bode well for Chicago. Many have concerns that its public transport system is not capable of handling the extra million people who will influx the city in 2016. Chicago currently has 1,146km of rail network and state that 90% of event venues are served by 2 or more rail stations. However, few major competition venues are directly adjacent to rail stations, they are 1 or 2 km away which means that bus shuttles in designated Olympic lanes will be used. Chicago’s entire rapid transit system carries just 620,000 passengers per day whereas the new javelin service that London has put in place for the 2012 Olympics can transport up to 240,000 passengers per hour! In comparison to Madrid and Tokyo Chicago is well behind. Tokyo has the capacity to carry 8,700,000 riders daily on its rapid transit system and Madrid is capable of 2,500,000 (thetransportpolitic.com 10/09/09)


The final candidate is Rio de Janeiro, who has put forward the most expensive bid of the four with a projected cost of $14.4 billion. A Games has yet to be hosted in South America and it could be open for discussion whether this could work for or against the bid!  Will the IOC take a risk by choosing a ‘developing’ country with perhaps a not as developed or proficient transport infrastructure? Rio is proposing to renovate its suburban railway line and upgrade its metro system but some say money would be better spent on education, security and social needs. Rio’s bid puts less emphasis on rail and more on road. It is proposing a brand new bus rapid transit system although its entire rapid transit system would only be capable of handling 580,000 riders per day, even less than Chicago.

If the selection was based solely on the rail links and public transport system each city has to offer it is clear that Tokyo and Madrid would be the front runners. Tokyo perhaps has the edge as it currently has the more developed high speed network of the 2 cities and has the capability of moving the greatest number of people per day. However, having a slight bias towards Europe I would like to see Madrid given the chance to really develop its transport system. Europe’s high speed network could be operated at full capacity as many tourists could take the opportunity to travel onwards to other cities after the Games using high speed rail.

All will be revealed in a matter of hours when the city is announced in Copenhagen on the 2nd of October.


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