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Travelers will also find that most of the trains will make local stops and be slower than that. The business plan doesn’t provide times but it’s likely that San Francisco-Los Angeles travel times would be between four and six hours, depending upon the number of stops made.
4. Shrinking Ridership Numbers
The estimated costs have gone way up since 2008 but the HSRA keeps lowering the number of people it claims will ride the trains.
As the Legislative Analyst’s report notes, “Specifically, the HSRA estimates that the projected ridership would be about 30 percent lower than estimated in the November 2011 draft business plan.” For example, the earlier plan projected between 29.6 million and 43.9 million one–way trips per year in 2040 while the latest plan assumes between 20.1 million and 32.6 million one–way trips per year.”
The Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Berkeley says the HSRA ridership estimates are way off the mark. “We found that the model that the rail authority relied upon to create average ridership projections was flawed at key decision-making junctures,” said study principal investigator Samer Madanat, director of ITS Berkeley and UC Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering. “This means that the forecast of ridership is unlikely to be very close to the ridership that would actually materialize if the system were built.”
The current plan claims people will choose the trains over driving. It makes this assertion by arbitrarily doubling the real costs of driving from Northern to Southern California. But the new rail plan’s reliance on blended tracks would mean slower travel speeds. Add in the time it will take getting to and from train stations and to final destinations, and it’s clear that the trains would not offer a significant time or cost savings for people driving.
Similarly, even factoring in airport security hassles and the time it takes to get to and from airports, air travel will continue to offer most travelers a faster trip from LA to San Francisco—and there won’t be a major cost difference. The rail system would find it difficult to attract large numbers of people who would normally fly between Northern and Southern California.
5. The Train Won't Reduce Greenhouse Gases
Proponents often say the high-speed rail system is needed to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations has estimated that effective greenhouse gas reduction efforts should cost $20 to $50 per ton. The California high-speed rail system’s emission reductions would come at a monstrous cost of $1,800 a ton.
Just as troubling, research at UC Berkeley concluded that if rail ridership met HSRA’s mid-level estimates, it would take 70 years for the rail system just to negate the emissions created by its own construction. If rail suffers lower ridership the system would “never” negate its construction emissions.
California is drowning in debt and deficits. State leaders like Gov. Brown are calling for major tax increases. The California High-Speed Rail Authority keeps raising costs, lowering rider estimates, and lengthening travel times. Its current business plan reneges on promises made to voters in Proposition 1A. It would be a major mistake for California legislators to borrow billions of dollars to start building a train system that is far inferior and far more expensive than the one voters were promised when they approved Proposition 1A in November 2008.
Adrian T. Moore is vice president of research at Reason Foundation. Wendell Cox is the principal of Wendell Cox Consultancy/Demographia. Joseph Vranich is an Irvine, Calif.-based business consultant. They are co-authors of "California High-Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report."