Friday, February 11, 2011

HighSpeed Rail - Probable money Loser

It seems that it is not only Californians that are drinking the high speed rail Kool Aid, but also President Obama.

I see high speed rail passenger service to be nothing more than a desperate attempt for a 19th Century technology to remain relevant in the 21st Century.  There is already a way to go from San Jose to Los Angeles in about an hour, and the California tax payers don't have to spend billions of dollars to create it: it is called an airline.  

Southwest Airlines offers flights between San Jose and Los Angeles for as low as $74 one way for 1:15 flight time.  California High Speed Rail projects the same trip will take 2:09 and cost as much as $42. So, save $32, but spend an hour more on the trip?

Seems like an okay trade off, but will the fares always be so competitive or cover the costs of the rail system?  This is an open question, and looking at systems around the world only two high speed rail systems break even on operating costs:

“High-speed rail is good for society and it’s good for the environment, but it’s not a profitable business,” said Mr. BarrĂ³n of the International Union of Railways. He reckons that only two routes in the world — between Tokyo and Osaka, and between Paris and Lyon, France — have broken even.
The track record in this country for providing conventional rail service does not bode well for high speed rail.  Amtrack, even on densely populated urbane corridors, survives only because of massive subsidies.  What makes us think that California can do any better?  Maybe the California High Speed Rail Authority should get a railroad executive from a private company to come in to manage this project.

Oh, yeah.  There aren't any.

UPDATE: 2/12/2011 12:36 PM
The Wall Street Journal had this story in December, 2010 which described the first section to be built will be 65 miles long at a cost of $4.3 billion.  Do the math: this is $66 million per mile.  Who the fuck cares how much carbon this project saves at that price?

The main 520 mile line has an estimated cost of  $42.6 billion, which works out to $81.9 million per mile of track, so I guess that economies of scale do not apply to railroads.

Our elected officials are on crack.

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