Books: The book that shook Richard Brown.

Two books that have had a major impact on me are The National Dream and The Last Spike, both by Pierre Berton, which together tell the story of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) across Canada. They provide deep insight, highly relevant today, into the challenges of great infrastructure projects.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The National Dream chronicles the search for a consortium - which had to be Canadian-led for reasons of national pride - capable of building the line. The key lessons are that successful infrastructure projects need clear political backing; they also have wider economic benefits that often cannot be captured financially by the project operators. In the case of the CPR, the railway was given extensive land rights as the only way to make the project financially viable.

The Last Spike details the building of the line. There are many more lessons here - for instance, the importance of effective procurement.

To ensure he got the best price, the first head of supply bought sufficient timber for the whole project before news of the concession was announced.

Despite this, the suppliers and adjacent landowners generally profited from the railway - whereas the contractors themselves did not.

Richard Brown is chief executive of Eurostar.

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