Philip Klein has an excellent piece in the American Spectator on California's proposed high-speed rail line. He shows how astonishingly fast and loose the estimates of costs and potential ridership are. The problem is that San Francisco and Los Angeles are highly dispersed metro areas, and high-speed rail passengers who arrive at a central station will be annoyingly far from their final destinations. San Francisco, according to these figures from Demographia, has a central business district work force of 305,600--pretty large, indeed the fourth largest in the United States, behind only New York, Chicago and Washington. But Los Angeles's central business district work force--the only likely passengers within easy distance of its Union Station--is only 143,700. That number is only 3% of the total work force in metro Los Angeles, a pathetically small percentage. And even in more highly concentrated San Francisco, the central business district work force is only 12% of the total metro area work force.
Perhaps I can make my point more concretely. Suppose you work in Century City on the west side of Los Angeles and you want to commute to a business meeting on Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto. Would you want to drive to Union Station in downtown LA (over the ever-clogged Santa Monica Freeway or faster Olympic Avenue), then take a train for two hours and 40 minutes to downtown San Francisco, then drive nearly another hour down the Bayshore or I-280 to Sand Hill Road? Or would you prefer to drive to LAX, wait some annoying length of time (probably 15 minutes) in the security lines, then fly 50 minutes in the air to SFO, and drive the considerably shorter distance down the Bayshore or I-280 to Sand Hill Road? The rail trip is door-to-door five to six hours and maybe more; the airline trip is door-to-door is three to four hours door-to-door. I know which one I'd pick (if I couldn't manage to get out of the meeting altogether).
They’re estimating an average speed of 143mph and a fare of only $105—I don’t think so.