NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Does California's High-Speed Rail Project Make Sense?

January 9, 2015

California is hardly considered a model of fiscal restraint, so its latest attempt to fund a high-speed rail project may come as no surprise. Katrina Trinko of the Daily Signal reports that the $68 billion project would run a train between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

What's wrong with it? According to Trinko, the $68 billion is solely for building costs, not for operating the line. And so far, the government only has $12.6 billion for the project. While it plans for one-third of the funding to come from the private sector, no one has signed up to invest.

Beyond the financial questions, Trinko says likely ridership is questionable. This is something that NCPA Senior Fellow Baruch Feigenbaum has previously written about on the NCPA Energy and Environment Blog. According to Feigenbaum, the state's estimates of how many Californians will ride the train are too high (between 65 percent and 77 percent too high). Moreover, he says the rail travel will be inconvenient for riders, with most of the stations "still 20 or 30 miles from their final destination in a Southern California or Central Valley city with limited transit options."

According to rail supporters, the train could get a passenger from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes -- shorter than the six-hour driving time, while longer than the one hour, 15-minute flight. However, Trinko cites a 2013 Reason Foundation study, which estimated the trip will actually take four to five hours, with the longer travel time lowering ridership and raising costs. She calls the project a "mistake" that "will likely cost taxpayers dearly."

Why has high-speed rail worked elsewhere? Different lifestyles. Feigenbaum uses Japan as an example, which built a line between Tokyo and Osaka. Just one-quarter of Japanese residents even owned a car when the line was built. That's hardly the case in California, where over 85 percent of residents own vehicles.

Source: Katrina Trinko, "California Just Started Another Insane Government Project," Daily Signal, January 6, 2015. 


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