Choosing a high-speed rail route based on sustainability principles, Sweden

Using sustainability principles to assess infrastructure routes

Using sustainability principles to assess infrastructure routes


Åsa Soutukorva Swanberg

Team Leader, Environmental Economics
T: +46 721 468 439

Services we provided

The Swedish Transport Administration plans to build a new double track railway for high-speed trains and fast regional trains between Gothenburg and Borås. Ramboll’s multidisciplinary support has included carrying out a location investigation in which sustainability assessment has played an important role. 

Sustainability in infrastructure projects

It is a challenge to include sustainability in large and complex infrastructure projects. Ramboll developed a structured and transparent method for choosing route locations based on a wide range of sustainability parameters, including realising ecosystem services benefits.

Three dimensions of sustainability

Ramboll’s methodology analysed route alternatives using all three dimensions of sustainability: ecological, social and economic; giving each equal space and weight. The outcome of the analysis is visualised in a series of radar diagrams showing how alternative routes perform from a sustainability point of view. In total we assessed 15 sustainability parameters, with five in each dimension. 

Assessing ecosystems services

One of the parameters under ‘ecological’ is ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human wellbeing. Examples include food and fibre, water purification, flood protection and recreation.

Firstly, we assessed the extent to which losses of ecosystem services can be avoided by focusing on which type of railway facility (mainly tunnel or ground level) is most likely in the area, what type of landscape would be affected (forest areas, agricultural areas, lake areas or urban areas), the extent and uses of previously occupied land, and whether there would be barrier effects for people and animals. 

Secondly, we assessed if ecosystem services of particular importance to human wellbeing could be protected. We looked at the number of people potentially affected, if there were any alternatives to the lost ecosystem services, and if specific industries or activities would be affected.

Contributing to decision-making

Ramboll’s methodology ensures that contributions to all three sustainability dimensions are made visible, which highlights the social dimension, ecosystem services and many other aspects. The result constitutes an important part of the decision-making process for the Swedish Transport Administration to enable the route that optimises environmental, social and economic benefits, and predict potential trade-offs between sustainability goals.

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