California High Speed Rail: Big Losses & Huge Taxpayer Subsidies

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 There is little likelihood that the passenger or revenue projections will be met, that the aggressive travel times will be achieved, that the service levels promised will be achieved, that the capital and operating costs will be contained consistent with present estimates, that sufficient funding will be found, or that the system will be profitable.

It is likely that these circumstances will represent an expensive and continuing drain on the state’s tax resources. Under three of the four scenarios outlined in this report, an early bond default, taxpayer bailout, and investment losses by private funding participants could occur.

To address a fiscal shortfall, past and present proposals to finance HSR’s construction and operation through general obligation state bonds and sales taxes—along with matching funds from the federal and local governments—could be futile. Hence, the HSR system is unlikely to be completed in any form consistent with the current plan and that even the delivery of a recognizable Phase I could be most difficult.

The outcome could mean investors in the project will see no financial returns and the HSR system as proposed could require significant subsidies from California taxpayers in perpetuity.

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

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