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  • Falsehoods Abound in Case of California High-Speed Rail

    Last week, the independent California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group recommended that the state legislature not proceed with funding the proposed Los Angeles–San Francisco project. Its argument was grounded in concerns about “the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plan to start construction without any assurance of future funding from the federal government,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

    The California High-Speed Rail Authority responded with a “you’ll be sorry” statement, asserting that it will cost Californians more not to build the system. It argued that the cost of expanding airports and highways will total $171 billion, a sum much greater than the rail system’s projected cost of $98 billion to $118 billion. This claim is questionable at best.

    It also illuminates the methodological trickery woven into the rail supporters’ argument.

    As Wendell Cox and Joseph Vranich write in today’s Wall Street Journal,

    Proponents based their estimate on train capacity (including empty seats) of 1,000. Their rail plan calls for trains with only 500 seats, but this fictional doubling of capacity nicely boosts the amount of highway construction they can claim would be needed if the train line isn’t built. The authority also assumed that more than twice as many trains would run as they now plan to run when the line is complete. They even include the cost of some highway expansions that would not be needed for hundreds of years at normal growth rates.

    The bad assumptions do not end there. In their assessment, authority planners count on hyperbolic ridership levels. Their projections for new demand for high-speed rail travel are inflated, which allows them to claim that highways throughout the Los Angeles–San Francisco corridor would have to be expanded by three lanes—regardless of current demand and congestion levels.

    The fabrication of facts has squelched the hype surrounding other high-speed rail projects. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) and Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) ended high-speed rail projects when it became known that the trains wouldn’t exactly run at high speed. Cox described the demise of the proposed Tampa-to-Orlando rail line last year: Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) decided against funding this project, which would have put taxpayers on the hook for $3 billion in cost overruns plus operating subsidies.

    High-speed rail remains one of the most costly forms of transportation. Heritage’s Ronald Utt has enumerated the fiscal pitfalls, pointing to lower-than-expected ridership rates, rising ticket prices, and exorbitant government subsidies in other countries with high-speed rail systems. As is the case in California, the price tag for high-speed rail projects often exceeds original estimates and puts an additional burden on states and taxpayers already struggling in a weakened economy amid massive budget deficits. How irresponsible and misleading it is, then, of the authority to keep pushing for the California project, especially when the methodology supposedly bolstering its argument is anything but sound.

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to Falsehoods Abound in Case of California High-Speed Rail

    1. Phil C. says:

      The laughable part about the California project is that communities along the proposed route all want to have a station. Of course, having a station means they want the trains to stop there, and if the trains stop at every small town along the way, it's no longer High Speed Rail. Forget it. It takes 8-10 hours to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and 2-3 hours to fly, including the trips to and from the airport. It's not likely that High Speed Rail can do any better or be more efficient.

    2. Dick says:

      I think it likely that HSR is doomed in CA. We have no money, and this ill-conceived project will certainly consume its share. The arguments of the CA HSR Authority described here are so obviously full of holes that we must again conclude that the supply of mental midgets and relatives available to feed at the public trough has not yet been exhausted.

    3. Jim Beck says:

      Los angles are has a local rail system which is under-utilized. Californians prefer to pack teh highways, creating huge traffic jams, with only one person in each vehicle. Whay makes them think that another rail system will change that type of mentality or behavior. But hey it's all "Public Money"

    4. allen says:

      Issue a Pill (Drug) when getting on AMTRAC, That way they will have High Speed Rail.

    5. West Texan says:

      The INTERSTATE highway system and most airports receive grant funding which is tied to national security. What could high speed rail between LA and San Francisco realistically do to serve this purpose. Making residents from other states pay for California's high speed rail boondoggle is intolerable. That said, back scratching social progressive earmarks and stimulus monies are the unethical backdoor for such projects. It's high time to throw these bums out in November.

    6. Tom says:

      Why is there a need for a high speed rail? People and companies are leaving California everyday with plans never to return. Soon there will be plenty of room on the highways that are currently in use if taxes keep going up and fees imposed (as a way to get around Prop 13), and criminals let out of state prisons to cut costs.

    7. thomasofsd says:

      Private railroad companies gave up passenger service 40 years ago because it made no economic sense. The federal government took over that service under the name of AMTRAK, promising to be profitable within 2 years. Four decades later, and billions in taxes wasted, we are still waiting for AMTRAK to get out of the red. The Calif HSR would be more of the same: a huge waste of our money on an obsolete technology. So, my question is: has the mental disorder known as liberalism been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual yet?

    8. Bobbie says:

      how many passengers does the high speed rail hold who'll have to drive to get to the station, anyway? high speed rail might be fun under better times and better budget handlers with honest people running the government, but when we live in a world where people are looking for masses of people to kill with an American government attacking to corrupt everything that works pretending not to, there's no reason to trust and a good reason to take advantage of the 2nd amendment.

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