Laura K. Cowan

California's High Speed Rail Could Cost $98 Billion

by , 11/02/11
filed under: Green Transportation

alternative transportation, bullet trains, california high speed rail, green transportation, high speed rail, high-speed rail authority, jerry brown, jon coupal, public transportation, sustainable transportation

Governor Edmund G. Brown recently appointed two new members to California’s high-speed rail authority and asked them to assess the viability of California’s high-speed rail proposal. They announced the project could work if built gradually in sections that operate independently, but the actual cost has ballooned to more than double the original estimate of $43 billion. That has some people questioning the viability of the entire system.

Rail authorities claim that the actual cost of building the high-speed rail corridor will only be $2 billion per year if it is built in phases, which seems manageable, especially if private funding supports the project. But do those numbers really add up? At that rate, California’s high-speed rail system won’t be complete for 50 years, by which time maintenance costs on the earliest built sections of the track could balloon and unforeseen circumstances could derail the whole thing.

The rail authority claims that the system would sustain a minimum net operating profit of $352 million per year, even if ridership is low, and that the average ticket price from San Francisco to Los Angeles would be $81, which seems like a price that would motivate many travelers to hop on board. President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Jon Coupal, who already predicted the rise to $90 billion in costs, disagrees: “They would have to set a fare at about $300 a ticket and assume ridership levels that aren’t going to exist to assume a break-even level.”

So is the project sustainable and realistic? Will it replace $170 billion of otherwise needed infrastructure improvements to serve California’s growing population? We think that unfortunately only another report and study can uncover the answers to these questions, which will further delay the project and potentially cause it to lose billions in federal funding that hinge on construction beginning by fall of 2012. But when $100 billion is on the line, maybe it’s worth getting the numbers straight before moving forward. Governor Brown said in August that he supports the plan to link San Francisco with Los Angeles and Anaheim by 2020, but his Department of Finance will need to examine the proposal in detail before he signs off, and the legislature, which returns in January, will also need to give the plan the go ahead.

+ California High-Speed Rail Authority

Via CBS News

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3 Comments

  1. adamclark1 November 14, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    “…California’s growing population”?!? That’s news to me. People and businesses are fleeing like rats off a sinking ship. The author hints at the impracticality of such an expensive project, but doesn’t dare to make the logical conclusion that California is taking a huge gamble spending money they don’t have to build a monumentally expensive rail line that nobody knows if anyone will actually use.

    “$352 million profit per year, even if ridership is low.” Lay off the drugs, man. There are only two high-speed rail lines in the whole world that turn a profit, and they barely break even with almost 100% ridership on every train.

    California, listen up. Here’s what you do. Step 1: Whatever route you want the train to take, make a road instead of a rail. Elevate the lane slightly to restrict access. Step 2: Announce that you are taking bids from private companies for a 100-passenger bus that goes 100 MPH and the lowest MPG possible. Step 3: Take the $75 Billion you just saved by not building the rail, and PAY OFF YOUR DEBT.

  2. adamclark1 November 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    “…California’s growing population”?!? That’s news to me. People and businesses are fleeing like rats off a sinking ship. The author hints at the impracticality of such an expensive project, but doesn’t dare to make the logical conclusion that California is taking a huge gamble spending money they don’t have to build a monumentally expensive rail line that nobody knows if anyone will actually use.

    “$352 million profit per year, even if ridership is low.” Lay off the drugs, man. There are only two high-speed rail lines in the whole world that turn a profit, and they barely break even with almost 100% ridership on every train.

    California, listen up. Here’s what you do. Step 1: Whatever route you want the train to take, make a road instead of a rail. Elevate the lane to restrict access. Step 2: Announce that you are taking bids from private companies for a 100-passenger bus that goes 100 MPH and the lowest MPG possible. Step 3: Take the $75 Billion you just saved by not building the rail, and PAY OFF YOUR DEBT.

  3. caeman November 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    High-Speed Rail is the great boon-doggle of our time. It is the answer to all our problems! Right? Well, no. As with any rail-based system, it is still limited to where it can go and the maintenance costs are exceedingly higher than that of maintaining roads for ye olde bus. High-speed rail uses are lot more energy, far more than any solar array could provide.

    The future of commuter travel is the motorcycle. They are efficient with gas usage. They weight much less than car, using less resources to build and maintain, and they impart less damage to road systems.

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