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Transportation Government The Almighty Buck United States

Examining Costs and Prices For California's High-Speed Rail Project 515

The L.A. Times features a look at the contentious issue of a publicly funded high-speed rail system for travel within the state of California, which focuses especially on an obvious question: how much would it cost for passengers to ride? This isn't a straightforward answer, though, partly because the system isn't expected to be operational for another 13 years, and the estimates vary wildly for what would be a trip of more than 400 miles that touches on some of the U.S.'s most expensive real estate. From the Times' article: "The current $86 fare [for an L.A. to San Francisco ticket] is calculated in 2013 dollars based on a formula that prices tickets at 83% of average airline fares to help attract riders. The rail fare is an average that includes economy and premium seats, nonstop and multi-stop trains, as well as last-minute and advance purchase tickets. A premium, same-day nonstop bullet train trip would cost more than $86. But compared with current average prices on several high-speed rail systems in Asia and Europe, $86 would be a bargain, equating to about 20 cents a mile or less, the Times review found. The analysis was based on a 438-mile route in the mid-range of what state officials expect the final alignment to measure." How much would you be willing to pay to take a fast train between L.A. and San Francisco?
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Examining Costs and Prices For California's High-Speed Rail Project

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  • $30 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DreadPiratePizz ( 803402 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @02:34PM (#49659033)
    $30 or so? I can easily drive to SF from LA on ¾ of a tank, which would be about 30 bucks. Why pay more than that? I get parking in SF might be terrible and costly, but depending on whom you are visiting driving is really the way to go.
    • Re:$30 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Aereus ( 1042228 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @02:44PM (#49659087)
      That may be true, but there is something to be said for not having to be behind the wheel for those 6 hours. Train accommodations tend to be roomier than plane or bus, as well. People on business trips could take care of emails and preparations and arrive well-rested rather than restless and sore. Assuming this line has track priority, you would also get there in half the time or less.
      • Re:$30 (Score:5, Informative)

        by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Sunday May 10, 2015 @02:48PM (#49659109)

        Track priority will probably not be an issue since current tracks that Amtrak shares it the freight rail are not "high speed". But not driving, being able to nap or work, that's worth the price. High speed in Europe is comfortable, and reasonably priced.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Yes, but the high speed rail being built in California is not high speed. In fact, it will be the slowest train ever built that is titled "high speed." The moniker is purely political, not an actual description of the train. The current Amtrak is highly comparable to what is being built.


          • The current Amtrak is highly comparable to what is being built.

            No it is not. Amtrak out here breaks down frequently, so is unpredictable on long trips. They put ypu on a bus when the train breaks down, which sucks. L.A. to San Diego on Amtrak is OK, but that's about it.
            • by jasno ( 124830 )

              What makes you think that the new system won't be prone to the same issues?

            • by F34nor ( 321515 )

              WTF are you talking about? The Coast starlight is late because B&N ows the line and bumps them for freight priority. Once they are late or any reason it is a failure cascade. We need at least 3 N/S lines with high speed switches.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          High speed in Europe is comfortable, and reasonably priced.

          High speed rail in Europe usually costs a premium or is heavily subsidized. And usually it isn't "high speed" unless you live in some of the most expensive zip codes on the continent, because everybody else needs to use slow feeder trains and leave a lot of time for connections.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            heavily subsidized

            like roads

          • Re:$30 (Score:5, Interesting)

            by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:43PM (#49659821) Journal

            High speed rail in Europe usually costs a premium or is heavily subsidized.

            As opposed to roads which are subsidized and air travel which is subsidized. Even walking is subsidized. That's the thing about infrastructure...


            And usually it isn't "high speed" unless you live in some of the most expensive zip codes on the continent, because everybody else needs to use slow feeder trains and leave a lot of time for connections.

            Huh? You use high speed rail to travel between cities. I know this because I actually did it the other day.

            15 minute walk to station with a wheely case. 15 minutes on suburban rail to St Pancras. 1 minute walk to Kings-X (same station really), then up to Newcastle at 125MPH. Then I rented a car.

            I could have driven all the way and rented from London and it would have been cheaper. Would have sucked though and taken much longer. In fact some friends of mine did drive from fairly near london an arrived 2 hours late due to heavy traffic.

            That includes the half hour I left for a connection on the way out. Since the suburban trains are regular, I didn't leave any time for a connection on the return. I had to wait for about 7 minutes on the platform for the train.

            Either way even without traffic it was much faster and much more pleasant to take the train. With traffic, the difference is greater still. If you live in a country with ACTUAL hugh speed trains (200mph, not 125) then the difference is greater still again.

          • Re:$30 (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @05:49PM (#49660127)

            The reason that rail is subsidised is because the benefits of their operation, to the governments, are not restricted to their fare price. Every passenger is a passenger not taking an alternative mode of transport. Given the level of congestion on the highways this can be the difference between moving traffic and grid lock. If you can get 15% of the traffic on that corridor travelling by train you are potentially looking at saving vastly more money because you don't have to upgrade the highways. This is especially true where the highways are running through heavily developed areas.

            • Re:$30 (Score:4, Informative)

              by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @06:14PM (#49660263)

              Given the level of congestion on the highways this can be the difference between moving traffic and grid lock.

              What you need to compare when justifying subsidizing HSR is not whether HSR reduces congestion on highways, but whether it is the best way of reducing congestion for that amount of money.

              Most of the long haul stretches are not particularly congested; it's going through major cities that causes the congestion. A series of bypasses of major cities along the major highways would be much more effective in reducing congestion than spending the same amount of money on HSR.

              • Of course. You always need to model the outcomes and model what will get the best return on investment. The other is to model any other externalities as well.

                For example bypasses will not impact traffic travelling into and out of a city where the point of origin or destination is that city. Where as people travelling by train will. The flip side is that the trainstations themselves will generate traffic wherever they are located so that needs to be planned for and handled as well.

                Other considerations ar

      • That may be true, but there is something to be said for not having to be behind the wheel for those 6 hours.

        The train will not be operational for another 13 years. So the reasonable comparison is not to a car you own today, but a car you are likely to own 13 years from now. It is very likely that self-driving cars will be widespread by then, so there will be no reason to be behind the wheel. Instead, you can sleep in the backseat. It is also likely that there will be self-driving vans or buses, that will take a group of people for far less than $30 each.

        • by Aereus ( 1042228 )
          Ironically enough, Japan is supposed to have their maglev trains running on the TokyoOsaka route less than 13 years from now. 40 minute trip.
    • when i was in munich in 2008, 8 euro got me an all day pass to use busses and trains in and around munich. I understand this is a longer drive, but i would be willing to pay maybe 25 bucks for the trip 30 max
    • Re:$30 (Score:5, Informative)

      by Thagg ( 9904 ) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:01PM (#49659523) Journal

      DreadPirate, you are really not calculating correctly. I know it sounds cheap, but it isn't. If you can get there for $30 in gas, that's 40 miles per gallon -- not bad. Still, that's 7.5 cents/mile.

      Say you bought a used car for $10,000, and can drive it for 100,000 miles. That's 10 cents a mile. More than gas.

      Oil changes every 5,000 miles at $40? That's another penny a mile.

      Tires at $300 every 30,000 miles? Another penny a mile.

      Let's not talk about what your time is worth (you might really enjoy the drive), or insurance (not too dependent on miles driven) -- but still, that's about 20 cents a mile, or $80.

      Most people don't really like to think how expensive driving is, but it isn't cheap. We have been taught that it's all about the gas, but it just isn't.

      • Don't forget the parking when you get to where you're going. And in the business sections of LA or SF, that can be significantly more than the cost of the rail ticket all by itself.

        Right now, today, if you want to park for half a day in downtown SF, it's like $45.


    • $30 or so? I can easily drive to SF from LA on ¾ of a tank

      In what car? Even in a Prius you just barely make it on a full tank.
    • "Easily"? You must drive a highly fuel-efficient car or else leave in the middle of the night when there's no traffic. Depending on your starting point, just getting through LA traffic can eat up close to a quarter-tank.

      Granted, yes, it could very well take that same almost-quarter-tank to get from your home to the train station, but regardless, "easily" strikes me as a stretch. My husband and I just recently made the drive from SF to LA and back and spent probably closer to 100, 120 bucks in gas AND got to

    • Why pay more than that?

      Parking when you get to LA or SF. That's the difference. Plus, if it's a business trip, you get there in condition to do some business instead of road-weary.

      You can sit on the train and work. What's that extra 6 hours of work that you would otherwise spend driving worth to you or your employer?

  • That's a silly question, since it depends on what airfare for the equivalent trip is. In truth, what I'll probably do is go to ${AirfareSearchSite} and ${RailSearchSite} and compare on a trip-by-trip basis. That would probably include factors uncorrelated to the modality -- like which particular departure times are convenient for me.

    It's beyond me why you would want to answer this question in the way it was asked -- as if there was some magical price for the trip as opposed to a comparison with other substi

    • Unfortunately, we'll never see a non-biased cost benefit assessment, nor will one be used in deciding what to build.
  • Put a bunch of numbers on a dartboard, from $50 to $250. Throw a dart. Whatever it hits...thats it. Trying to determine a ticket price for a service that may or may not exist 15 years from now is, as said in the article, "spitballing".

    What will happen to gas and airline prices between now and then? Will elec cars be more prevalent? What cost multiplier will be applied to actually building the thing?
    More importantly...will it actually get built? What rare riparian environment will be discovered in the propo
  • In Europe and Asia, the average population density in cities is typically much higher than the US, where the cities typically have as large a population, but are more spread out. (Fun fact, the only US city that ranks in the top 50 for population density world-wide is.... Union City, New Jersey!)
    As such, in the US, car ownership is almost a necessity unless you live in a city like New York with a large area mass transit system. Living in, for example, London or Tokyo, you have to be either borderline suicid

    • I very much doubt you will avoid the TSA groping.

      You seriously think the TSA is going to miss an opportunity for more security theater just because its a train??

      Right now you might not need a TSA groping to get on a train but theres still time.

    • So what do all those people flying from one place to another in the US do? If you need to drive in your destination then you'll just rent a car like you would have if you flew.

    • by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @05:21PM (#49660019)

      American rail is made more expensive by urban sprawl, but not quite in the way most people think. If you compare somewhere like South Florida to Germany or Italy and look at how many people are likely to be within 5 miles of a given station, we really DON'T look all that different. Well, except Miami has a lot more skyscrapers sprawled across the entire metro area (even Broward has gotten into the act... witness "Tao" -- two 30-story towers built next to Sawgrass Mills mall whose balconies literally overlook the Everglades).

      Anyway, the BIG difference between Florida or California and Europe is that in Europe, once you get out of the city... it tends to become rural & stay that way for a while. In contrast, if you were to build brand new tracks from Miami to West Palm Beach within 5 miles of I-95, you'd LITERALLY be plowing through a hundred miles of solid low & medium-density suburbia almost every inch of the way. In contrast, a comparable route in Europe would pass through at most a half-dozen cities, and run mostly through areas that were farmland or forest.

  • driving is *much* cheaper. And you have your own vehicle instead of having to rent or pay taxi fare.

    After 9/11, the time spent travelling is almost the same, too.

    • by godrik ( 1287354 )

      It really depends on how you count. But I respectfully disagree with how you count.

      Driving cost gas; it depends on gas price and energy efficiency on your car, but 35miles/gallon with a $3/gallon gas cost seems reasonnable. That's about 8cents a mile.
      But driving also wears your car which cost repairs. Here again, it is not clear what the cost is, but assuming a $20k car and $10k or repair maintenance on its lifetime and a 200k miles of lifetime, that's about 15cents a mile in average.
      There is also typically

  • More than $100 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Sunday May 10, 2015 @02:55PM (#49659149) Homepage Journal

    I just drove the I-5 all of the way from LA to San Francisco yesterday as I'd brought a carful of test equipment to an engineer there. I didn't fly because of the freight I had, but in general train transport is better for carrying a lot of baggage. Less handling, less fees for freight.

    Also, planes can't compete when there's a good high-speed rail, because of their logistical complications. Airports are usually far from town and require their own train to get to. Nobody takes a plane instead of Eurostar. While Southwest will survive on its many other routes, their SFO to LAX route is doomed.

    Having traveled extensively in Europe, and having enjoyed never having to use a car and rarely needing a plane because their trains are so fast, cheap, and efficient, I marvel at the idiocy of our citizens, it's not the government's fault, in not having insisted on keeping and improving rail since the 40's. Americans are total retards about this, they can't ever have any excuse.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Nutria ( 679911 )

      in not having insisted on keeping and improving rail since the 40's. Americans are total retards about this, they can't ever have any excuse.

      But why did these alleged retards not insist on improving rail?

      Because the US is much, much bigger than Europe, and the land wasn't already owned by someone who could successfully defend their claim.

      Thus, while Europe built *up*, we built *out*. Not only in cities, but suburbs. Because we want lawns. That requires space, and that means roads, not trains.

      So, if you really want to blame a group for the US having sprawling metro regions, blame the Indians for not defending their territory (from us and the S

    • I just drove the I-5 all of the way from LA to San Francisco yesterday as I'd brought a carful of test equipment to an engineer there. I didn't fly because of the freight I had, but in general train transport is better for carrying a lot of baggage. Less handling, less fees for freight.

      Also, planes can't compete when there's a good high-speed rail, because of their logistical complications. Airports are usually far from town and require their own train to get to. Nobody takes a plane instead of Eurostar. While Southwest will survive on its many other routes, their SFO to LAX route is doomed.

      Having traveled extensively in Europe, and having enjoyed never having to use a car and rarely needing a plane because their trains are so fast, cheap, and efficient, I marvel at the idiocy of our citizens, it's not the government's fault, in not having insisted on keeping and improving rail since the 40's. Americans are total retards about this, they can't ever have any excuse.

      I once moved from one NZ city to another by train. I showed up at the station with suitcases, several large cardboard boxes, even some furniture. I loaded it all on the overnight train. No one batted an eyelid!

    • Nobody takes a plane instead of Eurostar. While Southwest will survive on its many other routes, their SFO to LAX route is doomed.

      Correct, but I don't think "doomed" is the right word. Airlines nowadays are happy to offload their short-range traffic to high speed rail, because they make their money on the long-distance flights, not on the 45 minute flights that spend more time getting up and then down again than actually flying somewhere.

    • Re:More than $100 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mschuyler ( 197441 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:18PM (#49659645) Homepage Journal

      Distance and time in Europe are much shorter. It's 3000 miles across one way and nearly 2000 the other. I just did a cross country with some zigs and zags and traveled 6,788 miles: Savannah to Seattle via Delaware and San Antonio. And you want me to take a train? Going from London to Paris is one thing. Going from LA to New York is quite another. That doesn't make me an idiot; it makes you one for not factoring that in.

    • Re:More than $100 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @05:32PM (#49660063) Journal

      I marvel at the idiocy of our citizens, it's not the government's fault, in not having insisted on keeping and improving rail since the 40's.

      Actually the US has the world's best rail system. [economist.com] But that system is for freight, not for passengers. You can't have HSR and freight on the same tracks, so the US railways chose freight.

      • Well, our freight railroad is the best in a way. Japanese freight lines use electric traction cars. Each car has its own motor, not just brakes, no diesel locomotives. 100% containers onboard. And they have high-speed freight trains for their equivalent of FedEx, etc. OK, it's a small country, but our system looks very backward next to that. But it is bigger.

  • "How much would you be willing to pay to take a fast train between L.A. and San Francisco?"

    Guess that depends...how much faith do you have in guessing what our economy is going to do in the next decade?

    A global economic meltdown and subsequent bank bailouts were the highlights of the last decade, so feel free to sit around and pull theories clean out of your ass as to the value of the [insert new global monetary standard here] in 2028.

  • Currently, the lowest price I can find on plain old Amtrak service from Baltimore to New York is $77 if I leave next week. (Less than half the distance between LA and SF.) Cut that train trip time in half, and I'd pay the extra cost over a Bolt bus.
  • Sadly based on past statements regarding high speed rail I would imagine that their ticket prices and revenue projections are highly optimistic. The initial numbers said that the project would cost around $36B, cost estimates have since increased to at least $68B. At the same time the projects ridership numbers have been practically disproved, a peer reviewed study suggested a ridership of between 23.4 to 31.1 million where the "official" numbers were 65.5 to 96.5 million. I love the idea of some level o

  • ...shouldn't the price of the ride be based on the cost of delivering the service? What if it turns out to cost $300/person to transport someone from LA to SF on the new rail system?

    • ...shouldn't the price of the ride be based on the cost of delivering the service? What if it turns out to cost $300/person to transport someone from LA to SF on the new rail system?

      That's only one factor. Another factor to consider is that more passengers riding a train (or bus, or whatever) means fewer drivers, which means less road maintenance, relatively lower congestion, and fewer parking spaces that need to be provided. Dealing with those items also costs the government money, which is part of the reason transit options are generally subsidized by cities, counties, and states.

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @03:20PM (#49659307) Journal
    Seriously, this is a joke that it is being built. It is a jobs bill similar to SLS for Space.
    Hyperloop is where America should focus and push. It is obvious that we can go not only 500 MPH in the tubes, but even higher speeds should be possible.
  • by toygeek ( 473120 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @03:30PM (#49659347) Homepage Journal

    Why not just high speed boats? A hydrofoil can go very fast, around 100mph, without infringing on anyone's precious real estate.

    • Why not just high speed boats?

      Because the Pacific is one of the most dangerous oceans in the world, and highly influenced by weather, and there are no suitable waterways which could be used instead.

  • by fozzy1015 ( 264592 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @03:41PM (#49659419)

    Voters were told in 2008 that the project would cost $39 billion. Now Gov. Brown says it will cost $69 billion. And it's still over a decade away. Under the bond measure the state isn't allowed to subsidize the operation of the project. It must be covered by the fares. Since there is so much uncertainty about the cost of the project it makes no sense to try to guess the cost of a ticket.

  • by plopez ( 54068 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @03:56PM (#49659499) Journal

    What will it cost to build out the needed road and airline infrastructure? What is the cost in terms of pollution and lost productivity by continuing to rely on cars and airplanes?

    To talk about the cost of a project without comparing alternatives is meaningless.

    • CAHSR projects [ca.gov] running about 8 trains per hour during peak hours, carrying about 6000 people per hour in each direction. That is about the capacity of a 3 lane freeway. So basically the alternative to HSR in California is building another freeway along the whole length of the state.

  • by kenh ( 9056 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:05PM (#49659549) Homepage Journal

    On the low end, they estimate 18 million riders a year. Ok, dividing 18 million by 365 days leaves you with almost 50,000 passengers a day. Divided by two, that's about 24,000 passengers SF->LA, and 24,000 passengers LA->SF each day. If they run 24 trains s day, leaving each hour, that means 1,000 passengers per hour, every hour, every day.

    Seems unlikely.

    Maybe they'll run trains every two hours, but then they gotta stuff 2,000 people on each train 12 times/day, every day.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      In Japan they run the trains as little as 5 minutes apart. The turn around time is about 10 minutes, 7 of which are allocated to cleaning.

  • If airlines of 2026 lose 20% of their passengers to a competing service that charges 87% of airline ticket prices, then airlines will not continue to charge those prices.

  • Wondering why nobody puts some freight onto the high speed lines. I would think that the courier companies would like an hourly train leaving between major cities instead of flying all of their parcels. The costs wouldn't be that much since you would have to build the track for the passenger service so it would just be the incremental costs for the service. Of course passenger traffic would have the right of way which would be the opposite of traditional rail service in North America. I'm not suggesting

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