California High Speed Rail cost estimates: fantasy, unworthy of even Hollywood

COST Commentary: While the costs for California’s High Speed Rail are many times that of a local Austin rail transit system, the very negative ‘cost effectiveness’ of both are unacceptable and not sustainable. As discussed below and as is unfolding in Austin, the proponents of these train systems, often knowingly, substantially overestimate ridership and substantially underestimate costs resulting in unacceptable burdens on all taxpayers to subsidize each rider of the train transit while receiving negligible societal benefits and suffering major negatives which reduce overall quality of life.

strong>You do the math!

Compiled by California citizen, Martin Engel.

Below is part of a longer article with unrelated subjects and is a piece from the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

By The Associated Press
Posted: 07/14/2010 03:33:16 PM PDT
Updated: 07/14/2010 03:33:17 PM PDT

July 8

Long Beach Press-Telegram: “Another blow to high-speed rail”

Here we go again with another report casting doubts about the economic viability of developing a high-speed rail system from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

This time it’s the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley, which found that the ridership studies made by Cambridge Systematics for the California High Speed Rail Authority are highly flawed and unreliable for policy analysis.

Among the problems uncovered by the Berkeley study was that the ridership estimates were based on surveys that were not representative of California interregional travelers. For example, nearly 90 percent of long-distance (more than 100 miles) business passenger trips made by Californians are done so by car, while 78 percent of those surveyed in the Cambridge study traveled by air.

Also the Cambridge study was based on expectations that are valid for the intra-regional, but not for inter-regional ridership models.

Ridership projections are critical for estimating passenger fares and, thus, the economic success of high-speed rail or any other mode of mass transportation.

In 2008, shortly before voters passed the high-speed rail bond, the rail authority estimated ridership of 55 million passengers by 2035. Just a year later, that forecast was lowered to 41 million.

One has to wonder if a ridership projection figure was deemed to be nearly 30 percent too high a year after it was made, just how accurate will such a forecast be a quarter century from now? The other key element in determining the economic viability of the high-speed rail system is its cost.

That figure also has undergone major upward revisions to $42.6 billion, long before a right of way has been procured, much less any actual work has begun.

As a result, the $55 one-way fare from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, which was presented just before the bond vote in 2008, rose to $105 last year. The real figure is anyone’s guess, and only a guess.

At $55 a ticket, high-speed rail would be competitive with airlines. At $105 a ticket, it is not.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the business model for the high-speed rail system is so flawed that it is worthless. The total cost, ridership figures, fare rates and time line for completion are little more than rough estimates that are sure to change many times, and in the wrong direction.

But these shortcomings are not the only problems facing California’s high-speed rail system. There is the matter of financing. The rail authority was titillated with the federal government’s commitment of $2.25 billion in stimulus money. But the $9 billion in high-speed rail bonds approved by the voters in 2008 can’t be spent unless it is matched by federal money. That means only $4.5 billion is now available in state and federal funds.

The rest of the money is supposed to come from more federal government revenues and private investors.

The authority is depending on getting up to $19 billion from the federal government.

Even if that unlikely largesse were forthcoming, and the state used all $9 billion in state bond money, the project will still need another $15 billion from local government and private sources. That assumes everything is running on a 2020 completion schedule and there will be no cost overruns.

Passage of the rail bond was a huge mistake based on wishful thinking, flawed financial data and unreliable ridership projections.

The best course of action now would be to abandon the high-speed train fantasy, spend the $2.25 billion in federal funds on more realistic rail projects and not sell any of the bonds.

And, to only slightly change the subject:

The 11 mile BART extension to Livermore would cost $364 million per mile. The Phase I HSR construction, from LA to SF is 432 miles, according to CHSRA. On a comparable basis, that works out to $157.25 billion. That can’t be right, can it? We’re being told that it’s $43 billion.

Published Friday, July 16, 2010, by the San Mateo Daily Journal

Letters to the Editor

Open letter from a taxpayer

If it is going to cost BART $4 billion to build an 11-mile extension to
Livermore, how can $43 billion be considered a realistic cost estimate for the
500-mile high-speed rail system? The BART extension from Dublin to Livermore is
being made to an existing system with known specifications. The high-speed rail
plan doesn’t specify anything. Please stop this boondoggle project. The bankrupt
state of California with the worst schools in the country should not pour any
more money into the black hole of debt that is high-speed rail.

Bill Williams
San Mateo

And, here’s another comparative calculation, this one from 2008:

High-Speed Rail Part 5: The Cost of California HSR by Randal O’Toole in Antiplanner

Speaking of cost (in perspective), the Dulles extension of the Washington Metrorail system in Virginia is (currently) estimated to cost about $5.1 billion for about 23 miles of heavy rail (and 11 stations). That works out to about [only] $222 million per mile.

Now if we assume (as the CHSRA Web site says) that the distance from San Francisco to Los Angeles is 432 miles and use the cost per mile of Dulles Rail, that works out to umm, about $96 billion – just for that one line.

Merced to Sacramento is another 110 miles, or $24 billion.

Los Angeles to San Diego (via Riverside) is 167 miles, or $37 billion.

Norwalk to Irvine is 38 miles, or $8 billion.

That works out to a total of 747 miles (and I know I am missing some of the miles above) for a cost of $165 billion.

CHSRA’s Web site says 800 miles, if I use that I get a cost of $177 billion.

Now this proposed high-speed rail system is not the same technology as the Washington Metro, but many of the requirements for train control and power supply are similar (even though CHSRA’s Web site implies overhead catenary, like that used on Amtrak’s N.E. Corridor), and both require a fenced-off and grade-separated right-of-way.

The Washington rail project is an extension of the Greater Washington METRO subway. What is proposed for the California HSR project is a totally new, 220 mph train system. There is no way that the per mile costs cannot be far greater for this project in California than for a subway project running on an elevated viaduct above the median strip of route 50.

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