Yes, it is time to get real about high-speed rail

Russ Steele

I have written about this before, but now we have some more details that were released today by the California High-Speed Rail Authority

I was commissioned to write about high speed rail for a regional business magazine in the early 2000s. I dug into the details and it was clear to me that the economic numbers did not make any sense. Telling the editor that my article was going to expose these negative numbers,  and it was going to be a negative article, I was give a new assignment. No one wanted to address the real economic issues of high speed rail, until now.

According to an article at the Sac Bee Capital Alert:

GOP Sen. Doug LaMalfa wants to send California’s high-speed rail project back to the ballot in light of revised cost estimates.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority today released a revised business plan projecting that the total cost of the proposed bullet train could be $98.5 billion over 20 years, far exceeding previous estimates.

LaMalfa, a vocal critic of the project, blasted the authority’s earlier cost projections and pledges for federal and private dollars for the project, saying authority members and supporters “have known all along that these targets would not be met.”

This just verifies my initial analysis, the ticket cost was too high when compared to air travel and the ridership numbers could not be justified, base on population and historical use of public transportation. Potential riders would fly or drive before taking a train. 

The California voter was misled the first time around. Now that the  California High-Speed Rail Authority has come clean on the real cost, it time for a redo by California voters.



About Russ Steele
Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.

4 Responses to Yes, it is time to get real about high-speed rail

  1. Bob says:

    It took 6 years to build the Transcontinental Railroad. That was done by hand compared to today. This railroad is projected to take 20 years. That’s the same as if it had been started in 1991 it would be just getting finished up now. When you look at what has happened since 1991 how likely do you think it would remain at $100 Billion? In fact just how likely do you think it is it would get finished by 2031? Or for that matter ever? We just aren’t who we used to be. We all have our own idea of why.

  2. Sean says:

    To put this in perspective, the 2010 operating budget for Amtrak was $3.5 billion with revenue of $2.5 billion for a $1 billion loss. I can’t imagine revenue for high speed rail would exceed $500 million between the LA basin and they bay area. You can’t pay the interest on the bond for $98 billion let alone pay operating expences with half a billion dollars of operating revenue annually.

  3. Russ says:

    The lack of lifecycle cost are often overlooked. If you build high-speed rail system the rails and cars have to be maintained and eventually replaced. That was one of the problem that China had to deal with the maintenance cost were soaring. And when they scrimped, there was a huge crash. As I recall, these factors were not considered in the initial cost estimates. I wonder if they are now?

  4. RL Crabb says:

    The biggest problem that high speed rail faces are the hundreds of lawsuits of folks who don’t want it in their backyards. When the transcontinental railroad was built they didn’t have that obstacle. The Indians didn’t have lawyers.

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