California High Speed Rail: The Exorbitant Cost of Greenhouse Gas Reduction

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 The inconsequential contribution of high speed rail (HSR) to the California greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal would be achieved at great cost.

    • Assuming the most optimistic figures (Scenario 1), the HSR cost per ton of CO2 removal is nearly 40 times the IPCC ceiling of $50 per ton and nearly 200 times the price of carbon offsets now for sale and being purchased by leading California political officials.

    • Assuming the least optimistic figures (Scenario 4), if the HSR cost per ton of CO2 removal were used for the entire 169,000,000 metric ton California objective, the total cost would be more than the current California gross state product ($1.8 trillion). If the nation were to reduce CO2 emissions by 3,000,000 tons (consistent with the McKinsey report) at the same cost per ton as HSR, the total annual cost would be 2.5 times the present gross domestic product of the United States ($33 trillion). Obviously, reducing CO2 emissions at this cost would decimate the economy and increase both unemployment and poverty.

    • HSR’s impact on CO2 emissions is so inconsequential that a similar reduction would be achieved by a statewide 0.5 mile per gallon improvement in car and SUV fuel economy in 2030. This is less than the apparent improvement in national new auto and SUV fuel efficiency between the first six months of 2008 and 2007, based upon an analysis of the 20 leading vehicle models (10 autos and 10 SUVs).

Adapted from The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report By Wendell Cox & Joseph Vranich

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