Clearing up a Few Facts

It’s time for newspapers to stop reporting what the libertarian Reason Foundation has to say. Under the leadership of Wendell Cox, the organization has been spewing rubbish about California High-Speed Rail since the project was first proposed. Though it makes sense for a libertarian organization to be against government funding of virtually everything, their opposition to high-speed rail has been illogical.

Today, in the Daily Cal, Alex Cong wrote that California’s planners are suggesting that the initial link of the system, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, will be open in 2018 as long as the state can secure matching funds from the federal government and private sources. Now that Prop 1a, the $10 billion bond measure to fund the system, has passed, this seems likely, especially under an Obama Administration.

Here’s the offensive excerpt from the article:

“According to Adam Summers, policy analyst for the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, the authority’s projection that the railway will provide 117 million rides per year by 2035 is unrealistic. He pointed out that annual ridership of well-established high-speed railways such as the TGV in France is markedly lower, at 17.5 million.

“Although some high-speed rail systems thrive internationally, Summers said it is unlikely the California railway will enjoy similar success because of its smaller market.”

Several reasons Summers’ comments are based on no information whatsoever:

  • High-speed rail ridership in France – that’s before the opening of the highly successful TGV Est line – was 95 million a year in 2005, not 17.5 million, as this “policy analyst” seems to think.
  • California High-Speed Rail is predicting 94 million riders a year, not 117 million. That is for 2035, when the entire system, with connections to Sacramento, San Diego, and Anaheim, are completed, as well as the main link between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
  • California is not a smaller market. In fact, the big California metro regions – Los Angeles (13 million), San Francisco (4 million), San Diego (3 million), Sacramento (2 million), San Jose (2 million), and Fresno (1 million) – are bigger than their respective largest French counterparts: Paris (11 million), Lyon (1.5 million), Marseille (1.5 million), Lille (1 million), Toulouse (1 million), and Nice (1 million).

The important point here is that the French population, concentrated in metro regions smaller in population than their Californian equivalents, are using high-speed rail at a rate of 100 million a year – and two of those cities, Toulouse and Nice, aren’t even connected to high-speed rail yet! (Though they get TGV train service operating on older, slower tracks.) All of the California metro regions listed above would be connected to the high speed rail system, and four of them would be part of the initial system to open in 2018 (L.A., San Francisco, San Jose, and Fresno).

Though one could argue that French cities are more densely populated than those in California, the fact that the Californian metro regions are far larger in population indicates that an equivalent ridership on California’s service isn’t that hard to envision.

With the numerous benefits of high-speed rail, including inner-city to inner-city service, speed, comfort, and reliability, there is also little reason to think that Californians wouldn’t adopt riding on high-speed rail just as our friends in Europe and Japan have.

And just to make the system all the more exciting, consider this fact from France: the SNCF (national train network) made 900 million Euros in profit last year on its major lines. The idea of a profitable train system in the United States is possible to imagine with high-speed rail.

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