Policy Brief

California High-Speed Rail Findings at a Glance

Analyzing the impacts of the state's proposed train system

Private Investment Impacts

  • Investment losses are likely.
  • Commercial bond default is likely.

Traveler Impacts

  • Promised travel times are unlikely to be achieved.
  • Trains will fail to meet the statutorily required maximum travel times.
  • Airlines will continue to dominate the market between northern and southern California.
  • Few travelers are likely to be attracted from cars in the shorter distance markets.
  • San Diego and Sacramento extensions may not be built for decades, if ever, due to high costs.

Capital Costs

  • Construction cost overruns are likely.
  • Proposed state bonds will likely be insufficient to complete Phase I, Phase II or complete plan.
  • Federal funding is likely to be far less than projected.
  • Private funding is likely to be insufficient to finance the complete plan.
  • Political “meddling” could increase capital costs.
  • Additional state capital subsidies are likely to be required.
  • Political “meddling” will require additional stations, more stops and slower train schedules.
  • CHSRA’s capital cost projections for highway and aviation alternatives are implausibly high.

Operating Costs

  • Operating costs are likely to be substantially higher than planned.
  • Taxpayer subsidies to cover operating costs are likely.

Greenhouse Gas Impacts

  • Impact on greenhouse gas emissions reduction to be small.
  • GHG reduction to be far more costly than the international ceiling of $50 per ton.

Public Response

  • Opposition may spread as site-specific urban, suburban and rural impacts become better known.
  • Opposition by communities is likely to require reduced operating speeds and slower schedules.
  • Mitigating unpopular neighborhood impacts could increase capital costs.
  • Elevated tracks could create objectionable sound walls and other “Berlin Wall” structures.


  • No train in the world meeting the operating specifications can be used legally in the U.S.
  • It is unclear that any train redesigned to meet U.S. safety requirements can also meet the CHSRA speed and performance requirements.
  • The train’s capacity is not set, which calls into question the accuracy of ridership, revenue and cost forecasts.
  • Train weight is not set, which could affect speed, schedule, ridership, energy use and cost forecasts.

Road and Aviation Impacts

  • HSR will fail to divert significant traffic from highways and airports.
  • The Authority will fail to implement the bargain rail fares it currently proposes.