California High Speed Rail: Exaggerating the Impacts on Modal Alternatives

The Project California voters will be asked to approve a nearly $10 billion bond issue in the November election as the beginning of funding for the a high-speed rail system intended to serve San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Fresno, Riverside-San Bernardino and points between. Promoters claim that the remaining necessary funding (from $45 billion to $71 billion, depending upon who you believe) would come from the federal government and private investors. There is no federal program to provide such massive funding and private investment seems highly unlikely given the overwhelming prospects for financial failure.

The Issue One of the most eggregious exaggerations in a planning process rife with exaggeration and over-promotion has been the California High Speed Rail Authority's estimates of the cost of accomodating the future rail customers by highways and airports if the system is not built.

If the system were built, diversion of traffic from the highways and airports would be imperceptible. On average the CHSRA-developed Highway Alternative (calculated by this Due Diligence Report would reduce traffic congestion five times as much as HSR. Meeting the demand that would otherwise be switched to HSR would require much less alternative investments compared to the cost of HSR. The costs of the CHSRA’s asserted Highway and Aviation Alternatives to HSR cost of $82 billion is highly inflated due to dubious assumptions and fundamental flaws. Examples include the CHSRA proposing far more highway construction than is necessary to accommodate the demand.

Moreover, the CHSRA treats the commercial aviation system as if it is static—as if efficiencies to enhance capacity are impossible.The diversion of passengers from aviation is over-estimated. The CHSRA assumes that airlines will cancel a large share of the flights within California because passengers will have switched to HSR—and the diversion will free up airport capacity and make it possible to avoid costly airport expansions. This is not the experience even on the premier Japanese and French systems, which show that strong air markets remain after HSR corridors are in operation. The CHSRA’s created Highway and Aviation Alternatives is of no value in genuine cost analysis or in evaluating future roadway and airport expansion needs.

Call it cheerleading.