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Justifying mega-projects : An analysis of the Swedish high-speed rail project


  • Erik Ronnle

Summary, in English

Mega-projects are a growing phenomenon worldwide. More and more projects are started and they grow ever bigger in size. At the same time, there is overwhelming evidence that mega-projects tend to run late, overrun in terms of costs and fail to deliver the expected benefits. Paradoxically, more and more money is invested in projects that fail to deliver on their promises.

This dissertation analyses how mega-projects are justified through a case study of the Swedish highspeed rail project and the National Negotiation on Housing and Infrastructure (Sverigeförhandlingen). The Swedish high-speed rail project is arguably the biggest project ever initiated in the country and fits the definition of a mega-project. It is planned to connect the three largest cities Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö with high-speed rail tracks at an estimated investment cost of 230 billion SEK (€23.1 billion). The project is highly controversial in the public debate. It impacts a large number of people and involves substantial financial commitment. Interestingly, it is also heavily unprofitable in cost-benefit analysis calculations. Based on these calculations, the project is unprofitable and should be cancelled. Still, the project has been allowed to continue by two consecutive governments. Analysing how this project is
justified makes it possible to address the wider issue of why mega-projects continue to hold such appeal among decision makers despite their track record.

The dissertation finds that the Swedish high-speed rail project is being justified based on a combination of strategies: widening the scope, producing encouraging numbers, creating and mobilising stakeholders, and arguing using a policy narrative. It shows how the project leadership skilfully bypasses criticism from cost-benefit analysis and succeeds to gather support for the project despite the numbers.

The research has been done at Lund University School of Economics and Management and K2 – the Swedish Knowledge Centre for Public Transport.

Publishing year





Lund Studies in Economics and Management



Document type



School of Economics and Management, Lund University


  • Business Administration


  • transport policy
  • decision making
  • cost-benefit analysis
  • narrative
  • mega-projects




  • ISBN: 978-91-7753-911-7
  • ISBN: 978-91-7753-910-0

Defence date

18 January 2019

Defence time


Defence place

Holger Crafoord Centre EC3:207


  • Bengt Jacobsson (Professor)