California High Speed Rail: Projections Attacked by Senator Mills & UC Berkeley Professor

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 Even before the much higher 2030 ridership projections were released, the CHSRA’s forecasts had come under unusually provocative criticism. University of California professor and transportation textbook author William Garrison characterized claims of massive ridership and low fares as “outrageous statements and lies,” which echoed the evaluation of the world infrastructure research previously cited.

Additionally, Former State Senate President James Mills, who is also considered the “father” of the San Diego Trolley, served on the CHSRA board. He expressed similar views. It is reported that Mills resigned from CHSRA at least partially because he “couldn’t get the truth” out of staff. He is reported to have “described the entire project as ‘based on a fallacy’ of wildly exaggerated ridership projections. It stems, he said, ‘from hiring a consulting firm (and) letting them know what you want them to say.” This is an extraordinary statement from a long-time and continuing rail supporter, who nonetheless, points to a significantly flawed planning process.

Both of these statements were made on the basis of earlier ridership projections, which were far less aggressive than are being currently used by CHSRA.

There are multiple indications that the CHSRA ridership projections appear to be absurdly high. Ridership inflation is consistent with the experience of demand exaggeration that has been identified in the world infrastructure research. As a result, it can be expected that CHSRA fare revenue will be far less than anticipated, leading to financial difficulties.

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

Additional information