Against California High Speed Rail by Mark R. Powell

High-Speed Rail Ridership Forecasts are Preposterous!

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s newest Business Plan forecasts that when Phase 1 is completed in 2033, 8.7 million high-speed train (HST) trips will be made annually between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim [Note 1] [Note 2].   These 8.7 million HST riders must essentially come from two sources; airline passengers or automobile passengers.  Listed below are three reasons why airline and automobile passengers will not switch to the HST in anywhere near the numbers claimed by the Rail Authority.

Reason #1    Travel Times by HST are Closer to Driving than to Flying.
Traveling by high-speed train between the Bay Area and the LA Basin will take  2 ½  hours longer than flying.  While the Authority speaks of traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes on an Express Train, Express Trains will be the exception and not the rule.  According to the Peak and Non-Peak Train Schedules [Note 3] included in the 2012 Draft Business Plan only 22% of trains will be Express Trains  and the average time for all trains traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles will be 3 hours and 22 minutes.  The average time for all trains traveling between San Francisco and Anaheim will be nearly 4 hours….3 hours and 57 minutes to be precise.  These times compare to flight times of 1 hour and 20 minutes.  

Consider the situation of a person living near Anaheim who chooses to travel to San Francisco  via the HST.  This person must leave their home or business one hour before scheduled departure of the HST.  The HST travel time is four hours.  Add another hour to exit the train terminal and travel to the person’s final destination and total travel time increases to six hours. 

The person might as well drive.  According to directions obtained from Google Maps it only takes 6 hours and 47 minutes to drive from Anaheim to San Francisco.  If your destination in the Bay Area is east of downtown San Francisco (and there are few destinations west of downtown San Francisco) you might even get there faster with your automobile than with the with high-speed train.

Reason #2     6.2 Million Airline Passenger Trips/Year  Converting to HST Trips.  Really??
According to the Authority, 5.2 million persons/year who would otherwise be flying between the Bay Area and the LA Basin (54% of projected total airline ridership) will choose to take the train [Note 4].  For example,  57% of passengers currently flying between San Francisco International and Ontario Airport [Note 5] , a 1 hour and 20 minute flight, will instead chose either a 3 hour and 22 minute train ride to downtown LA, a destination 40 miles west of the Ontario Airport, or a  3 hour and 57 minute train ride to Anaheim, a destination 34 miles southwest of Ontario Airport.  If it is assumed that persons flying into and out of Ontario Airport use that airport because they live near it, their arrival by train in either downtown Los Angeles or Anaheim probably costs them another 30 minutes or more in travel time.  In total, traveling by train instead of by airplane will cost these potential HST riders nearly 3 hours of travel time.  Proponents of HST claim that a savings of 17% of the cost of a one way airline ticket, about a $15 savings, will induce them to make the switch to HST.  Really??

 
In an even more egregious example, the Authority claims that 1 million persons/year [Note 6] who would otherwise fly between the Bay Area and San Diego (31% of projected airline ridership) [Note 7] will instead opt for the  nearly four  hour HST ride between Anaheim and San Francisco coupled with an Amtrak connection  between San Diego and Anaheim requiring  an additional 2 hours of travel time.  Add one hour to make the Amtrak/HST connection and it will take roughly 7 hours to travel between San Diego and the Bay Area via HST instead of the 1 hour 40 minute flying time.  Riders will presumably add 5 hours and 20 minutes to their travel time if the rail ticket price is 17% less than the airline price,  a savings of roughly $20 on a one-way ticket.  Really??

Reason #3     2.5 Million Automobile Passengers/Year  Switching to the HST is Based on Faulty Automobile Trip Data.
While the Authority’s diversion of airline passengers to the HST seems absurdly high, it still results in the need for 2.5 million auto travelers switching from their automobile to the train.  The Cambridge Systematics report on inter-regional travel [note 8] asserts that 29.3 million persons travel between the LA Basin and the Bay Area each year.  This number seems incredible in that it requires each person living in the Bay Area and in the LA Basin to travel once every 2 years to and from the other location.  It is also stated that 67% of these trips are by automobile [note 9].     These numbers imply that on a daily basis, 54,000 people are driving between the Bay Area and the LA Basin.  That’s a lot of cars…..27,000 with 2 persons per car. 

Fortunately, the number of automobiles driving each day between the LA Basin and the Bay Area can be cross-checked using publicly available California Department of Transportation data.  The California DOT incorporates sensors to count vehicle flow along all major highways and at on/off ramps. The sensors located along I-5 running through the Central Valley have been studied and show that on average no more than 6900 vehicles per day are traveling between the Bay Area and the LA Basin [note 10] inclusive of travelers taking alternative routes along Hwy 99 and Hwy 101.   This count is only one fourth the size of the number being used by the Authority to project HST ridership. 

If Authority’s value of 54,000 daily automobile passenger trips between the Bay Area and the LA Basin is accurate, then only one in eight passengers must switch to HST to garner the additional 2.5 million yearly riders.  With only one-fourth the traffic volume assumed by the Authority, California DOT traffic count data indicates that one in two automobile riders would need to switch to the HST to generate the additional 2.5 million yearly HST riders.

Whether the number is one in two or one in eight, a reasonable person needs to ask this question; Why would anyone who for years has chosen to travel by automobile instead of the much faster airline switch to the only slightly faster HST at essentially the same cost as the airline trip?  The advantages associated with driving instead of flying are still valid for the person driving instead of taking the HST.  That is,  you travel  when  you chose  to travel, you go directly to your destination, you arrive with a car and do not need to rent one, and extra passengers travel at no additional cost. 

It’s time to put a stop to the Authority and their wasteful project.  Write to your state and federal elected officials and tell them that too much money has already been wasted on HST studies and that this project needs to be shut down now.  Governor Brown should not be contemplating higher taxes to close a budget deficit while proposing to spend billions more on what most of America is now calling a California boondoggle.

Statements made in this article are supported by footnotes shown below.  Original source documents can be obtained by clicking on the highlighted notes imbedded in the article.

Footnotes:

Note 1 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix D; Memorandum to Nick Brand regarding HSR Ridership and Revenue 2030 Model Runs (10-008, 10-013, 10-014a, 10-014b,10-015, 10-016), Tables 1 and 2
http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/assets/0/152/302/321/739f2a3b-1d66-4c59-9e2e-3541581dbcbd.pdf

Note 2  California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Chapter 6 Ridership and Revenue, page 6-17, Exhibit 6-16
http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/assets/0/152/302/c7912c84-0180-4ded-b27e-d8e6aab2a9a1.pdf

Regarding Note 1 and Note 2:
The 8.7 million passenger number is derived from the average of eight Phase 1 ridership scenarios [Note 1] developed by the Authority’s ridership consultant, Cambridge Systematics and adjusted to reflect  a total Phase 1 ridership of 35.8 million [note 2]

Note 3  California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix D; Memorandum to Nick Brand regarding HSR Ridership and Revenue 2030 Model Runs (10-008, 10-013, 10-014a, 10-014b,10-015, 10-016), Peak/Non-Peak Train Schedules on page 22
http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/assets/0/152/302/321/739f2a3b-1d66-4c59-9e2e-3541581dbcbd.pdf

Note 4 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix A, Potential Airline Response to High-Speed Rail Service in California, Tables 1,12,and 14
http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/assets/0/152/302/321/739f2a3b-1d66-4c59-9e2e-3541581dbcbd.pdf

Note 5 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix A, Potential Airline Response to High-Speed Rail Service in California, page 37, Table 14, Assumed Diversion of Air Trips to HSR by Market – 2030
http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/assets/0/152/302/321/739f2a3b-1d66-4c59-9e2e-3541581dbcbd.pdf

Note 6 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix A, Potential Airline Response to High-Speed Rail Service in California, Tables 1,12,and 14
http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/assets/0/152/302/321/739f2a3b-1d66-4c59-9e2e-3541581dbcbd.pdf
Note 7 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix A, Potential Airline Response to High-Speed Rail Service in California, page 37, Table 14, Assumed Diversion of Air Trips to HSR by Market – 2030
http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/assets/0/152/302/321/739f2a3b-1d66-4c59-9e2e-3541581dbcbd.pdf

Note 8  California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix C, Long-Distance Interregional Survey Results, page 28, Table 20, Average Daily Long Distance Interregional Trips
http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/assets/0/152/302/321/739f2a3b-1d66-4c59-9e2e-3541581dbcbd.pdf
Note 9  California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix C, Long-Distance Interregional Survey Results, page 34, Exhibit 5
http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/assets/0/152/302/321/739f2a3b-1d66-4c59-9e2e-3541581dbcbd.pdf

Note 10 Results from an analysis of California Department of Transportation website data for 2010 relating to traffic volume on I-5 between the I-5/Hwy 99 Interchange and the I-5/I-580 Interchange, Ramp On/Off Data for 2010, and Truck Traffic Data.  Use the Contact button at on the website www.againstcaliforniahsr.com to request a copy.

http://traffic-counts.dot.ca.gov/

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One Response to High-Speed Rail Ridership Forecasts are Preposterous!

  1. Ron Genini says:

    Originally I supported it but in the last year or so I have become convinced it is a very expensive poorly planned boondoggle – so typical of what the planners in our state government produce.

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