NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

High-Speed Rail Goes Off the Track

November 7, 2011

In California, site of the nation's most ambitious bullet train plan, a new, more honest accounting of costs and timetables has produced a jaw-dropping estimate for a line between San Francisco and the Los Angeles area.  These financial costs frustrate taxpayers who are concerned first and foremost that their money is being allocated toward a project with little promise of long-term efficacy.  Critics further this point by emphasizing the advantages that air travel and cars have over the trains that are set to be used, arguing that even if the investors can be attained to finance the rail's construction, its usefulness will be minimal, says Investor's Business Daily.

  • The new estimate for the cost of California's planned bullet train puts the bill at nearly $100 billion, though it was originally pegged by the state at $34 billion.
  • California's High-Speed Rail Authority estimates that the rail will receive no fewer than 7.4 million riders per year eight years before it is fully built.
  • The one-way fare between Los Angeles and San Francisco would be $81 in today's dollars, whereas plenty of flights between the two cities, with a two-week advanced purchase, cost $139 round trip.

This final point speaks to many onlookers' anxiety about the prospects of the bullet train.  They do not question the individual project, but rather the efficiency of trains on the whole in moving people around the country in an era of regularized air travel.  The inability of trains to compete in this regard is reflected in the disparity in their respective pricing as shown above, in addition to the fact that planes are estimated to be three times faster.

Another fact that must be taken into account is that the date for the project's completion, though originally set for 2020, has since been moved to 2033.  The long-term commitment necessary to complete the rail means that alternative forms of travel (such as air) will have a full 20 years in which to surpass rail travel even more than they already do.  All of these facts make the conclusion difficult to escape that high-speed rail simply cannot keep up.

Source: "High-Speed Rail Goes Off the Track," Investor's Business Daily, November 1, 2011.

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