Rail factor and realism of the unconscious

Antti Talvitie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
25 Downloads (Pure)


The paper reviews the spoken but unknown behavioral ‘rail factor’ that may bias travel forecasts toward rail, or favor investments in urban rail, foster economic development, or add to satisfaction of travel. An examination of the rail fac- tor hypothesis is timely because of the many high-speed rail (HSR) ‘bullet train’ projects implemented and planned, especially in Europe. Many railway passenger services have negative net benefits and require taxpayer subsidies, and the HSR projects have experienced substantial cost overruns. In this paper the hidden and unspoken rail factor hy- pothesis is examined from cognitive and unconscious points of view. The former is based on the mode specific con- stants in mode choice models, types of travel time data, values of travel time reductions, and citizen preferences in two urban transport corridors. The unconscious view is based on Freud's conception of the unconscious, on ‘knowledge illusion’ and perceptions about rail travel. It is pointed out that the cognitive factors already broach the unconscious and its dynamics. The cognitive views and realism of the unconscious are brought together via a literature review of the most typical genres on rail factor research.
The findings indicate that a behavioral ‘rail factor’ may exist in planning and derives from the pleasure principle, while the revealed preferences in models, based on the reality principle, and the built projects contraindicate the presence of a ‘rail factor’. The paper calls for perceptive public participation processes, for a greater scope of issues in planning transport projects to help reinforce the reality principle, and for explicit recognition of the unconscious (motives) in transport infrastructure and service decisions
Original languageEnglish
Article number100144
Number of pages8
JournalTransportation research interdisciplinary perspectives
Early online date13 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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