Tuesday, March 15, 2011

High-Speed Rail not Tracking Well

High speed rail is not popular in some states and governors in Florida and Wisconsin have turned down funds that would go to studying and building high-speed rail in those states. Other states like New Jersey and Ohio have turned down federal money for funding conventional rail passenger projects. The most recent turn down of the high-speed rail funds was Gov Scott of Florida. The money was earmarked for a rail line between Tampa and Orlando, a dubious choice to begin with as the line was going to be quite short with many stops and only saving about 30 minutes over the drive time.

These following links are must reads:
Ridership Estimates: This document crunches the numbers and doesn’t come up with a rosy picture of ridership between Orlando and Tampa. It also covers the likelihood that cost overruns will saddle Florida taxpayers with more than the initial $280B currently stated as their obligation. One point the study makes is rather telling:

A study done by European academic folks discussing … “ 258 transportation infrastructure ‘megaprojects’ covering 70 years in North American, Europe and elsewhere. They found that capital cost escalation from the point of the project approval to completion can be as much as 50 percent to 100 percent above projections. The average capital cost overrun for passenger rail projects was 45 percent and cost overruns above 40 percent in fixed prices are common, especially for rail projects and overruns above 80 percent are uncommon.  Moreover, they found that capital cost overruns were pervasive, occurring in 9 out of 10 projects.” (bold emphasis PACNW Righty)

90% of the time a rail project experiences a cost over run with a high rate of cost overruns exceeding 80%. Folks who are short-sighted might think that turning down $2.6B in possible construction funds (jobs) is a dumb thing to do. But I really think that Gov Scott (and the others) are looking at from the long term. They do not want their state to be on the hook for the cost overruns and for possible long-term subsidizes.

Where High-Speed Rail Works Best: This document takes a series of parameters and evaluates city pairs (station terminus) for the best locations for high-speed rail construction. Some of the criteria are metro-area sizes, distance between city pairs, existing transit system, and other factors to build the ratings. The study is a tad dated as it lists the Tampa-Orlando city pair as part of the ‘second phase’. It also places Tampa-Orlando at 100 of their list of 100.

If this line had been built between Orlando and Tampa, I wonder what the cost would be to ride it. Would it be cheaper to ride the rails or to drive? While the line is not a high-speed line, the Amtrak Cascades runs frequently along the I-5 corridor in Oregon and Washington. It would be convenient for us to ride this as the local train station is actually close by. And at our destination in Portland is easy for pickup. But the cost for my family of four is over $100.00 each way. Even at today’s gas prices it MUCH cheaper for us to drive. Gas would have to be nearly $14.00 a gallon for us to break even (We can get there and back on one tank at 24 mpg). This doesn’t take into account the cost to get to the station and pickup or local transportation at the destination.  This also doesn’t take into account the corresponding rise in cost for Amtrak to run the trains if the cost of fuel is so high as to create $14.00 a gallon gasoline. We love to ride the train, but are not willing to pay quadruple the cost all the time for the pleasure of riding the rails.

For review here are my previous posts here, here, here, here, and here.


  1. I tried to send a comment to your post and it said it couldn't send it....I love your blog and thank you for serving the people of this country by your service in the military.
    I will lurk again, and maybe comment.
    A former Wisconsinite now in NC
    God Bless

  2. Sandy, Thank you for the kinds words. I'm not sure why your previous commment said it didn't post. Blogger sometimes has that issue now and again.