Will high speed rail in CA change our driving behavior? Part 1 of 2

As officials supporting a CA “high speed rail” system met in LA yesterday I thought I would respond to today’s OC Register coverage beginning with a report from the August 27th Daily Mall that I picked up at Heathrow Airport in London.

For full disclosure I need to report that we have utilized high speed trains as tourists in Europe and Asia. Before giving the green light to spending more than $40 billion on a high speed transit system in CA you need to peel the onion to address some related issues. They include; total ridership, number of daily trains, true project cost, ticket pricing and subsidies, population density of destinations, eminent domain, construction disruption and behavior of the anticipated riders as you attempt to get Californians out of our passenger cars.


Let me take us to London for a minute. Prior to the 2003 implementation of their [$12.74 daily] “congestion charges” for entering into [the 8 square miles of] central London they experienced heavy traffic delays caused by 40,000 vehicles entering that zone every day.

Note: I raise this point as we are not engaging in a true apples to apples comparison as we model our transportation plans against Europe. In addition we must use caution not attempting to benchmark the subway’s of New York as we discuss high speed transit which is a whole different ballgame.  Let me add some additional facts from the Daily Mall story.

The Daily Mall title “Shrinking Britain” opens stating 200 mph trains could halve travel times, but not for a decade (and who will pay)?
Before sharing a few one liners from the Mall story let me report that unlike California, for decades most Europeans rely on their vast network of trains and the Tube to get around or into their major cities.

The Mall states that “Plans for a high-speed rail link taking passengers from London to Scotland were unveiled yesterday [August 26,2009]. Trains traveling at speeds of up to 200mph will slash journey times to major cities by half. However the route–which will run through Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool before reaching Glasgow and Edinburgh–is unlikely to be complete until at least 2030, Network Rail said.
And passengers could end up paying a 30 percent premium for the (1500 miles of) new track, (8 new) stations and (138) bridges that will be required.
Annual passenger numbers are projected to double in 30 years to 2.6 billion.
Network Rail said the line could offer up to 16 trains and hour to and from London and provide 9,100 seats per hour into the capital.”

In the Parsons Brinckerhoff/Cambridge Systematics Ridership and Revenue report for  the “CA High Speed Train Project” it states that “In the year 2000, more than half a billion trips were made among California’s regions, 95% by car, 4% by air and 1% by intercity conventional rail.”

As stated above 95 percent of us travel by car. Changing our behavior will really be a challenge.

About Larry Gilbert