5 Reasons the California High-Speed Rail Project Shouldn’t Get More Money

Gov. Brown asks for billions in borrowing even as train system gets slower, shorter, and more expensive.

(Page 2 of 2)

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."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Sevo||

    In the time-honored technique of sleazy pols everywhere, Moonbeam has ganged the vote on this with local porkbarrel grabbings. Fat chance the reps are going to piss off the local power bases:
    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/.....677809.php
    I'm sure he would have tossed funding for 'the childrunz' in there too, if he figured he needed it.

  • bopomtXQ||

    Learn how to make money using Google. You can monetize your searching skills and earn up to $375 per hour working for this billion dollar company. You can choose your working hours. For details visit makecash25. comONLY

  • DJF||

    Here is a picture that tells it all.

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Aavl.....lete48.jpg

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    +561

  • Doctor Whom||

    If it's on rails, it's automatically better. Everyone knows that.

  • Release||

    That tells it all only if you've never ridden on high speed rail or haven't flown in the last 10 years. I don't know if the California plan is viable but as an example if you wanted to get from London to Paris it would be almost an hour faster to take the train than fly. And it is much more comfortable and civilized too.

  • sarcasmic||

  • Canman||

  • Hugo S. Cunningham||

    In honor of California's Governor, this project can be called:
    Moonrail!

  • Whiterun Guard||

    I can't wait until the only cities left in California are Costa del Lex, Luthorville, Marina del Lex, and Otisburg.

  • Curtisls87||

    I don't care what anyone says, Hackman was brilliant in that role.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I have a question; Is there anyplace in the country where a private company is trying to get rail commuting going without government largess? I mean, I tend to assume that all rail projects are bullsh*t, but I realized just know that I'm not sure why.

  • ChrisO||

    Private firms interested in that business are smart enough to realize that they're better off becoming government contractors and lobbying for taxpayer dollars. They don't actually have to show results if they get in on the govt. gravy train.

  • Scott S.||

    The proposed high-speed rail to Las Vegas was originally marketed as a privately funded project, but then they went begging for government loans.

  • bopomtXQ||

    Learn how to make money using Google. You can monetize your searching skills and earn up to $375 per hour working for this billion dollar company. You can choose your working hours. For details visit makecash25. comONLY

  • R C Dean||

    Sounds like somebody is trying to help CA come up with the cash.

  • Brutus||

    Down to their last dime, borrowed to the hilt, revenue-generating businesses fleeing to less punitive jurisdictions...what are we to do?

    Oh, yes, build a tax-sucking black hole on rails. That's the ticket.

  • Sevo||

    The SEIU really doesn't give a plug what you think, and if they don't, neither does moonbeam.

  • DEG||

    How about this for a reason:

    It's not their money to spend.

  • Raven Nation||

    Sort of true. But it is the "peoples'" money which has been stolen from the people by the evil rich. So CA is going to get it back in order to help the people.

  • Moogle||

    The whole thing is an excuse to give plush board/committee jobs to politically connected people. They've spent $500 million already with boo to show for it. They're sociopaths, each and every one of them, and Brown is their little puppet.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Simple question and no offense to Californians, but when the hell are we going to have that state governed by a board of creditors? California has a lot going for it, in receivership, they could really turn things around.

  • ChrisO||

    They haven't hit bottom yet.

  • Moogle||

    No offense taken. A lot of us here are rooting for some sort of bankruptcy, whatever form it takes.

  • Curtisls87||

    +1

  • CE||

    What a coincidence. I was just thinking the other day, wouldn't it be great if there were a bullet train from Madera to Bakersfield!

  • seattlesnow||

    Ask yourself one question. Why is it ok to subsidise highways 100% via taxes, but then to expect public transit or any other transit solution to pay for itself?

  • Curtisls87||

    Really, is this a trick question? Think about the individual costs someone pays in order to be able to use that highway in the form of their vehicle, their fuel, insurance, et cetera.

  • pinostabaum||

    not to mention the percentage of highway maintenance covered by fuel taxes. the highway system is the closest things we have to a use-tax funded government program.

  • Release||

    So we all pay for the roads to be built initially and then we pay to maintain them even if we don't use them but people who do use them end up paying more via tolls and gas taxes? Not sure how it would be different for a rail system. Everyone pays to get it started and users and non-users pay to maintain it. Same as the roads.

  • ||

    faster than any train in the world, and an average speed of 198 mph. Such average speeds are going to be next to impossible to reach because trains won’t always be running on dedicated tracks designed for high speeds and, as the plan admits, they would be http://www.ceinturesfr.com/cei.....-c-14.html forced to slow down to 100-150 mph in Los Angeles and the Bay Area for safety reasons. Hence, it’s likely that non-stop express trains will take three hours and 40 minutes.

  • Nike air max womens||

    That’s okay with many train advocates, who figure once construction begins the government will be forced to find the rest of the money to avoid having a partially built $10 billion train to nowhere sitting in the Central Valley. But the legislature can’t afford to be so fiscally reckless. It needs to demand a detailed plan showing how the full rail system will be funded before approving the bond money to start construction.

  • Public Citizzen||

    The Democrat Controlled state legislature has just voted [along party lines] to proceed with funding this Juggernaut Boondoggle.
    Picture the final scene from Thelma and Louise with a train instead of a Mustang. The relative proportions of the pictured vehicles is about right for the magnitude of the financial disaster involved here.
    All these fools can see is the bait being dangled in the form of federal funding available if construction starts by a specified date. More debt, more borrowed money, more pork for the favored few at the expense of the many.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement