NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

California High Speed Rail Falls Short of Expectations

April 17, 2013

Various proposals have envisioned a high speed rail system that spans the United States. In California, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has already begun implementing its decades-old plan to connect Northern California with Southern California. However, the rail system would lose more than $100 million per year, say Joseph Vranich, Wendell Cox and Adrian Moore in a new study for the Reason Foundation.

  • Vranich, Cox and Moore estimate that the high speed rail system would result in losses of $124 million to $373 million a year.
  • Voters approved the system in 2008 after being promised that a bullet train would transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes.
  • The study finds that the system's fastest non-stop trip would take almost four hours and most trips would take closer to five hours.

The Rail Authority would share tracks with freight trains in some locations, which would limit speeds to 100 to 150 miles an hour but would make up for those lower speeds by traveling at 220 miles per hour, a speed that no train in the world is capable of traveling at.

  • Voters were also promised that tickets would cost about $50 per person but tickets are now expected to cost $81.
  • Increased travel times and ticket prices will affect ridership, which the Rail Authority has already downgraded.
  • In 2008, ridership was estimated between 65.5 million and 117 million riders in 2035 but now it predicts ridership between 19.6 million and 31.8 million riders in 2035.
  • Even if California's high speed rail system equaled European ridership levels, the system would hit just 7.6 million rides a year.
  • Thus, ridership in 2035 is likely to be 65 percent to 77 percent lower than currently projected.

The lower ridership and increased travel times and ticket prices mean that the California high speed rail system will not be delivered  at the cost promised to taxpayers and will not generate the profits taxpayers expected.

Source: Joseph Vranich, Wendell Cox and Adrian Moore, "California High-Speed Rail: An Updated Due Diligence Report," Reason Foundation, April 11, 2013.


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