Building the Betuweroute ‘lacked real vision’
The building of the vital Betuweroute freight line linking The Netherlands with Germany and beyond was ultimately an ‘end in itself’, and lacked a real vision for addressing the problem it was designed to solve. That’s the conclusion of Dutch researcher Hans Boom, whose new case study thesis examines the decision-making involved in so-called ‘megaprojects’ like the Betuweroute.
As project manager between 1992 and 1995 in the political decision-making process on the Betuweroute at the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, Boom is ideally placed to make some thought-provoking observations about a building project which cost around 4.5 billion Euros.
In his thesis presented to Tilburg University, Boom argues that the start of large building ventures like this are justified with an answer to the question of ‘why’ or ‘whatever for’ as justification for the mere fact that time and money is going to be spent to achieve a certain goal. His study however, Archaeology of Decision making: A case history of two major infrastructure projects, the Betuweroute Railway and Information and Communications Technology in Education, digs into the early history to look essentially at how such projects came into being before attaining these ‘labels’.
“At the start of every new venture we justify that step with an answer to the questions ‘why?’ or ‘whatever for?’,” says Boom. “A justification for the mere fact that we are going to spend time and energy to achieve something. Building a costly railway infrastructure or laying out a new technology for the transportation of data, information and knowledge in the educational system; at the very start we’ll have to explain, what…we are undertaking these challenges (for).”
He says that once projects are formally in the public domain and therefore become ‘real’ projects, no longer do people pose the question of ‘why’. “The members of Parliament who will take the decision for a final ‘go’ are primarily focused on what is going to be built or installed,” says Boom. “They want answers on how the construction of things takes place, rather than wanting to know whatever these ventures are for. In fact, ‘what’ and ‘how’ (the means) become far more important issues than the answers on the questions ‘why’ or ‘whatever for’ (the goal).”
The lack of vision and the absence of backing policies – in this case the use of the Betuweroute railway that would clarify the very goal – realising a modal shift in the world of logistics and the transportation of goods – has not been achieved. Boom maintains that the desired result (‘why’ or ‘whatever for’) should come in the first place, rather than solely focussing on the means to an end (‘what’ and ‘how’), which have proven to be the main focus of attention on many a megaproject in the past.