California’s High-Speed Rail Fibs

In today’s The Wall Street Journal, Wendell Cox and Joseph Vranich write:

A few days ago, the California High Speed Rail Peer Review Group, an expert body mandated by state law, expressed serious doubts about the proposed Los Angeles-San Francisco rail system. It concluded that it “cannot at this time recommend that the legislature approve the appropriation of bond proceeds” because the project “represents an immense financial risk” to the state.

But hell hath no fury like a state agency scorned. The California High-Speed Rail Authority issued a quarrelsome response claiming that the rail system is, well, a bargain! The agency repeated its claim that without high-speed rail, Californians would pay more because the state would have to build equivalent transportation capacity through road and airport expansions costing about $171 billion, or between $53 billion and $73 billion more than the $98 billion to $118 billion estimated cost of a rail line.

The constant refrain that it’s “more expensive not to build the rail line” is specious. But it deserves further explanation because of the light it sheds on tricks used to justify other ill-conceived projects to an unsuspecting public.

Cox and Vranich go on to make many of the arguments first made in their 2008 Reason Foundation study of the California high-speed rail plan:

The claimed cost of airport expansion is bloated, too. Bullet train proponents assume a very small average plane size into the future, as if airlines wouldn’t use larger planes—such as the latest generation single-aisle Boeing 737s or Airbus 321s—to meet demand. Even without high-speed rail, in other words, no new runways or gates would have to be built beyond what will be needed anyway, and the assumed billions of dollars required to expand airports is just another unsubstantiated claim by rail promoters.

These absurdities aren’t surprising. A study we prepared for the Reason Foundation in 2008—”The California High-Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report”—showed that high-speed rail proponents had overstated costs for alternative highway and airport capacities by a factor of more than 60.

There is more that is wrong with the California high-speed rail project. The Alice-in-Wonderland plan is based on greatly exaggerated ridership projections, hallucinatory promises of billions in private investment pouring into the system, and the expectation that the now-canceled federal high-speed rail program will magically provide many billions more.

Full column here.

Reason’s transportation research and commentary.

Adrian Moore

Adrian Moore, Ph.D., is vice president of policy at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. Moore leads Reason's policy implementation efforts and conducts his own research on topics such as privatization, government and regulatory reform, air quality, transportation and urban growth, prisons and utilities.

Moore, who has testified before Congress on several occasions, regularly advises federal, state and local officials on ways to streamline government and reduce costs.

In 2008 and 2009, Moore served on Congress' National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission. The commission offered "specific recommendations for increasing investment in transportation infrastructure while at the same time moving the Federal Government away from reliance on motor fuel taxes toward more direct fees charged to transportation infrastructure users." Since 2009 he has served on California's Public Infrastructure Advisory Commission.

Mr. Moore is co-author of the book Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry said, "Speaking from our experiences in Texas, Sam Staley and Adrian Moore get it right in Mobility First." World Bank urban planner Alain Bartaud called it "a must read for urban managers of large cities in the United States and around the world."

Moore is also co-author of Curb Rights: A Foundation for Free Enterprise in Urban Transit, published in 1997 by the Brookings Institution Press, as well as dozens of policy studies. His work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Orange County Register, as well as in, Public Policy and Management, Transportation Research Part A, Urban Affairs Review, Economic Affairs, and numerous other publications.

In 2002, Moore was awarded a World Outsourcing Achievement Award by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Michael F. Corbett & Associates Ltd. for his work showing governments how to use public-private partnerships and the private sector to save taxpayer money and improve the efficiency of their agencies.

Prior to joining Reason, Moore served 10 years in the Army on active duty and reserves. As an noncommissioned officer he was accepted to Officers Candidate School and commissioned as an Infantry officer. He served in posts in the United States and Germany and left the military as a Captain after commanding a Heavy Material Supply company.

Mr. Moore earned a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Irvine. He holds a Master's in Economics from the University of California, Irvine and a Master's in History from California State University, Chico.