How do the California High-Speed Train Project ridership projections compare with high-speed train systems currently operating in other parts of the world?
In Japan, the 343-mile Tokaido high-speed train line connecting Tokyo to Osaka currently carries over 145 million passengers annually. The entire Japanese high-speed train network (1,350 miles) currently carries over 335 million passengers a year. In France the TGV network, consisting of over 1,160 miles of new interconnected high-speed lines, carries over 100 million passengers each year.
The most recent ridership forecasts for the California High-Speed Train Project estimate between 88 – 117 million passengers annually by 2030 for the entire 800-mile high-speed train network connecting Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley, Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire, and San Diego.
Do revenues from existing high-speed trains systems exceed operational costs?
Yes, high-speed train lines worldwide generate surpluses from their operations, unlike traditional passenger service. High-speed trains attract more passengers, generate more revenues and have lower unit costs of operation (e.g., a crew can make two round trips a day instead of one). The resulting combination of higher revenues and lower unit operating costs has made all existing high-speed train services net contributors to the financial performance of their operators. In Europe and Asia, high-speed train systems generate enough revenue to cover operational costs, and most of the high-speed train lines cover some of their construction costs (the Tokaido Line between Tokyo and Osaka generated enough operating surplus in the first decade to completely match the capital costs). (Sources: Implementation Plan, pg. 32; Implementation Plan)
In California, the high-speed train system will compete with automobiles and airplanes, which have enjoyed a century of substantial public funding and are well-established. Nevertheless, while most of the capital costs of the California High-Speed Train Project will have to be publicly financed, revenues from the system are expected to greatly exceed operational and maintenance costs. This conclusion is consistent with the independent work done by the Intercity High-Speed Rail Commission (1993-1996), the Federal Railroad Administration’s Commercial Feasibility Study (September 1997), and U.C. Berkeley (Revenue and Ridership Potential for a High-Speed Rail Service in the San Francisco/Sacramento-Los Angeles Corridor, February 1994).
How is this project different from other previous attempts to implement high-speed train systems in the U.S.?
The California High-Speed Train Project is poised to be the first true high-speed train system implemented in the United States. While there have been other proposals to implement high-speed trains in the nation, should Proposition 1A pass in November the California proposal would be the first to secure the state funding needed to construct the system.
Since the 1980s, there have been several failed attempts to implement high-speed trains in the United States. The most notable of these were the American High Speed Rail Corporation (AHSRC) proposal to build a "bullet train" along the coastal corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego (1981-1984), the Texas "TGV" to link Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio (1989-1994), and the Florida Overland Express (FOX) project to link Miami-Orlando-Tampa Bay (1991-1999).
The AHSRC proposal in Southern California and the Texas TGV were both presumed to be completely privately financed – with no public funding. The findings from California High-Speed Rail Authority’s feasibility studies are consistent with the conclusions of the Federal Railroad Administrations Commercial Feasibility Study (September 1997): high-speed trains systems in the United States can be very successful and operate with a significant revenue surplus, but most of the initial capital costs to implement the system will need to be publicly financed. The primary reason for the failures of the AHSRC and Texas TGV proposals was their assumption that these projects could be completely privately financed.
A secondary reason for the failure of the AHSRC proposal in Southern California was opposition from coastal communities and environmental organizations regarding potential impacts along the coast. Although the coastal corridor provides the most direct rail route between Los Angeles and San Diego, it passes through some of the state’s most environmentally sensitive areas (wetlands, coastal lagoons, fragile coastal bluffs, and coastal communities). The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) considered but rejected a coastal alignment between Los Angeles and San Diego as part of its certified Statewide Program EIR/EIS (November 2005). The Authority concluded that limited existing right-of-way and sensitive coastal resources made high-speed train service on the coastal rail corridor infeasible. The Authority’s adopted route between Los Angeles and San Diego is via the Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties) and the fast growing I-215/I-15 corridor.
Opposition from airlines is often cited as a major cause for the failure of the Texas TGV project. Most of California’s major airports (SFO, LAX, San Diego, Oakland, San Jose, Burbank, John Wayne Orange County) will be over capacity by 2020. California’s major commercial airports support the California High-Speed Train Project since it will complement our air transportation system. The California high-speed train system will reduce congestion at the major airports (by diverting passengers away from air transportation for trips within California) and in Southern California will provide high-speed ground access to Ontario and Palmdale Airports – which is an essential component of the regional plan for reducing congestion at LAX. The Authority is hopeful that airlines will lead or be part of consortiums that will competitively bid to be the high-speed train operator.
The FOX Project in Florida was the closest to being implemented of any of the previous high-speed train proposals. The FOX Project was a public-private partnership which relied on a combination of state, federal, and private sector funding. Florida’s share of the $6.2 billion (1998 $) project was to be $70 million per year (escalated at 4 percent) for 46 years. Through competitive bid Florida awarded a design-build-operate-maintain contract to a consortium led by Fluor Daniels which included Alstom the makers of the French TGV. While Florida was working to secure the federal funds needed to implement the project, Jeb Bush was elected Governor of Florida. In 1999, almost immediately after taking office, newly elected Governor Bush eliminated the state share of the funding (the annual $70 million) – cancelling the project. The project could not compete for federal funds without matching state funding and the private sector backed out. The primary lesson from the FOX project is that to have a successful public-private partnership, and to leverage federal funding, state funds for the high-speed train proposal must be secured. With the California High-Speed Train Project, Governor Schwarzenegger and the Legislature have given California voters the opportunity to provide the secure state funding needed to implement high-speed trains in California by putting Proposition 1A on the ballot for this November.
How does the California high-speed train proposal compare with the existing Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail service?
The 456-mile Northeast Corridor (NEC) which links Boston, New York and Washington D.C. is a very successful, heavily used rail corridor which is vital to mobility and the economy of the Northeastern United States. It currently carries well over 200 million rail passengers annually, more than any high-speed train system other than the Japanese Shinkansen, but it is primarily a commuter rail corridor with trains operating at conventional speeds – and should not be compared against high-speed train operations.
The Northeast Corridor is the busiest passenger rail line in the United States, and is a vital part of the transportation infrastructure of the Northeast. There are over 500 passenger trains per day in and out of New York City on the Northeast corridor; 400 commuter trains and 100 Amtrak trains (Acela and Regional services) a day. Today there are about 1,700 commuter trains on the NEC with an average weekday ridership of 750,000. This means there are nearly 200 million passengers a year currently using the NEC commuter trains on weekdays. Ridership on the 100 Amtrak trains using the corridor (including Acela) exceeded 10 million passengers in 2007. In addition, on the Amtrak owned portions of the NEC (363-miles of the corridor), seven freight railroads operate approximately 50 trains per day on the NEC.
Amtrak’s "Acela" service which operates on the NEC between Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. (456-miles) is the only passenger rail service in the United States that approaches high-speed standards traveling at maximum speeds up to 150 mph on portions (about 35 miles total) of the alignment. To accommodate the Acela service, a large improvement project to electrify and upgrade service from New York City to Boston was completed in 2000. The Acela trains are fully compatible with the other Amtrak, commuter rail, and freight services operating between Washington D.C. and Boston. On the NEC, commuter trains travel at speeds up to 125 mph, and Amtrak regional trains travel at 110 – 125 mph. According to Amtrak, the popular Acela express service operates at a revenue surplus. However, in comparison with high-speed trains operating in Europe and Asia, the Acela service would be considered a conventional rail operation on a commuter rail corridor. For example, Acela trains make the 226-mile trip between New York and Washington D.C. in about 2.75 hours, traveling at an average speed of about 80 mph.
Can European or Asian high-speed trains meet the safety regulations for high-speed operations the United States?
There currently are no federal regulations in the United States for high-speed trains (exceeding 150 mph). This is primarily because there has never been a high-speed train proposal that has gotten the funding needed for implementation. The Authority has worked in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) since 2001, and has completed two legal environmental documents (CEQA/NEPA) with the FRA. The Authority and FRA are working towards the together to ensure that the California High-Speed Train System will meet or exceed all FRA safety standards – and will be the safest form of transportation in this country. To ensure safety, and achieve high-speeds, the California High-Speed Train Project will procure extensively-proven high-speed train technology from Europe or Asia.
How competitive are high-speed trains versus air transportation in other countries?
In Japan, their high-speed train, "the Shinkansen", has been a very effective competitor with air transportation. In the market between Tokyo and Osaka (the two major metropolitan area in Japan), the Shinkansen accounts for about 88% of the market share. Throughout Japan, where the Shinkansen trip time is about 2.5 hours, it has about 75% of the market in comparison with air transportation. It is not until distances exceed 620 miles that air travel gains a higher market share.
In Europe, high-speed trains have also historically captured the major share of combined air/rail traffic along routes where high-speed train journeys are under 3 hours. Currently, with air transportation becoming more complicated and increasing air congestion (from longer-distance flights), high-speed rail now wins 50% of the traffic where rail trip times are 4.5 hours or less. On routes where high-speed train times or 2 hours or less, high-speed rail traditionally wins 90% of the market share over air transportation.
"Examples of high-speed lines winning dominant market share:
Of the 33 million air trips forecast to be made in the year 2030 in California, ridership forecasts project over a third or 12 million to be attracted to high-speed trains, bringing the level of air traffic in the state back to the levels of 2000, slightly higher than it is today. In other words most of the growth in air traffic would be diverted, leaving airport capacity for international and out-of-state flights. Between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area ridership projections conclude that by 2030, high-speed trains will carry 45%, air transportation 26%, and the automobile 29% of the total transportation market between the two biggest metropolitan areas in California.