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The effect of infrastructure on worker mobility: evidence from high-speed rail expansion in Germany


  • Daniel F Heuermann
  • Johannes F Schmieder


We use the expansion of the high-speed rail (HSR) network in Germany as a natural experiment to examine the causal effect of reductions in commuting time between regions on the commuting decisions of workers and their choices regarding where to live and where to work. We exploit three key features in this setting: (i) investment in HSR has, in some cases dramatically, reduced travel times between regions, (ii) several small towns were connected to the HSR network only for political reasons, and (iii) high-speed trains have left the transportation of goods unaffected. Combining novel information on train schedules and the opening of HSR stations with panel data on all workers in Germany, we show that a reduction in travel time by 1% raises the number of commuters between regions by 0.25%. This effect is mainly driven by workers changing jobs to smaller cities while keeping their place of residence in larger ones. Our findings support the notion that benefits from infrastructure investments accrue in particular to peripheral regions, which gain access to a large pool of qualified workers with a preference for urban life. We find that the introduction of high-speed trains led to a modal shift toward rail transportation in particular on medium distances between 150 and 400 km.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel F Heuermann & Johannes F Schmieder, 2019. "The effect of infrastructure on worker mobility: evidence from high-speed rail expansion in Germany," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(2), pages 335-372.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jecgeo:v:19:y:2019:i:2:p:335-372.

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Pařil Vilém & Viturka Milan, 2020. "Assessment of Priorities of Construction of High-Speed Rail in the Czech Republic in Terms of Impacts on Internal and External Integration," Review of Economic Perspectives, Sciendo, vol. 20(2), pages 217-241, June.
    2. Bütikofer, Aline & Løken, Katrine V. & Willen, Alexander, 2019. "Building Bridges and Widening Gaps: Efficiency Gains and Equity Concerns of Labor Market Expansions," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 19/2019, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
    3. Anna Gumpert & Henrike Steimer & Manfred Antoni, 2018. "Firm Organization with Multiple Establishments," CESifo Working Paper Series 7435, CESifo.
    4. Luisa Dörr & Stefanie Gäbler, 2020. "Does Highway Accessibility Influence Local Tax Factors? Evidence from German Municipalities," ifo Working Paper Series 321, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich.
    5. Amior, Michael & Manning, Alan, 2019. "Commuting, migration and local joblessness," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 102745, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    6. Bütikofer, Aline & Loken, Katrine Vellesen & Willén, Alexander, 2020. "Building Bridges and Widening Gaps: Wage Gains and Equity Concerns of Labor Market Expansions," IZA Discussion Papers 12885, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    7. Feld, Lars P. & Schmidt, Christoph M. & Schnabel, Isabel & Truger, Achim & Wieland, Volker, 2019. "Den Strukturwandel meistern. Jahresgutachten 2019/20," Annual Economic Reports / Jahresgutachten, German Council of Economic Experts / Sachverständigenrat zur Begutachtung der gesamtwirtschaftlichen Entwicklung, volume 127, number 201920, July.
    8. Shi, Wenming & Lin, Kun-Chin & McLaughlin, Heather & Qi, Guanqiu & Jin, Mengjie, 2020. "Spatial distribution of job opportunities in China: Evidence from the opening of the high-speed rail," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 133(C), pages 138-147.

    More about this item


    Local labor markets; infrastructure; worker mobility; locational choice;

    JEL classification:

    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • R12 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; Interregional Trade (economic geography)
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population
    • R40 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - General


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