The Mercury News reports on one of Barack Obama’s big transportation priorities, the high-speed rail projects that Obama and Congress inserted into Porkulus as part of their vision for a new America. When Obama announced his push for trains, he offered a vision where people could step onto a train in one city and get whisked to another without “racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes.” Another thing we can go without? Any savings on cost:
Those hoping to ride the state’s high-speed train next decade will have to dig much deeper into their wallets than officials originally thought, a harsh reality that will chase away millions of passengers, according to an updated business plan released Monday.
The average ticket on the bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles is now estimated to cost about $105, or 83 percent of comparable airfare. Last year, the state said prices would be set at 50 percent of comparable airfare and predicted a ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles would cost $55.
As a result of the higher fares, state officials now think the service will attract 41 million annual riders by 2035, down from last year’s prediction of 55 million passengers by 2030.
Finally, the cost of the project — recently pegged at $33.6 billion in 2008 dollars — is now estimated at $42.6 billion in time-of-construction dollars.
Unfortunately for California voters, the state only offered the most optimistic projections when asking for approval on $10 billion in bond issues to pay for the project. Now that the more realistic numbers — for now — are known, Californians can be forgiven for their buyers’ remorse.
Of course, they should be asking themselves why they bought the idea in the first place. Air travel between the two destinations is both plentiful and inexpensive, and gets people to their destination much more quickly. Furthermore, if demand increases, airlines can expand their existing services or new airlines could form to service it. Neither of these would require the billions in infrastructure spending that high-speed rail requires.
As for the promise of no-hassle travel, only a person who has never experienced rail or bus travel for themselves would have refrained from laughing at that selling point. The security issues that face airports will still have to be addressed by rail stations; after all, al-Qaeda has bombed more rail stations than they have hijacked airplanes, such as in London, Madrid, and other countries, and plotted to do the same to New York City’s subways in at least one plot. Even apart from that, a terminal is a terminal no matter how one travels.
At least travelers won’t have to worry about overcrowded trains, according to this analysis. However, taxpayers will have yet another form of public transportation to subsidize for decades.