Subways and light rail cost two to seven times more to build in the USA than Europe or Japan

Brian M. Rosenthal of the New York Times lists the causes of the $2.6 billion per mile New York subway construction. Excessive staffing, little competition, generous contracts and archaic rules dramatically inflate capital costs for transit in New York. At $2.6 billion per mile, New York’s Second Avenue Subway broke records for its costs. The reasons subway officials offered were empty excuses. The article documented poor contracting practices, bad management, and union featherbedding.

The excessive costs for subways and light rail are an endemic problem across the USA. The US also has inflated costs for highways and many building and bridge projects.

Alon Levy at Citylab shows approximate range of underground rail construction costs in continental Europe and Japan is between $100 million per mile and $1 billion. Most subway lines cluster in the range of $200 million to $500 million per mile.

The US has a range of subway construction costs of $600 million to $2.6 billion per mile. The US median price cluster is $800 million to $1 billion per mile.

The cost-per-rider range for European subways seems to be $10,000 to $25,000.

The US has $25,000 to $100,000 per rider construction costs.

Parisian tramways, which combine very high ridership and reasonable (though not low) costs, are almost all cheaper than $10,000 per rider, with many around $5,000. Parisian Metro extensions are more expensive, clustering around $10,000 per ride.

Union contracts and costs are a problem.


The fictional show, The Sapranos, had a storyline about inflating the costs of a highway construction project (The Esplanade).

In California, the quality of contractors is to blame for some problems. Tutor Perini submits low bids to win public construction contracts but then runs over the contract. There is an average 40-percent cost overrun in the San Francisco Bay Area.