“You heard about this new high-speed rail going between San Francisco and Los Angeles? It’s set to cost $100 billion dollars, and I just can’t see any good reason to build it.”
I waited for a full 2 seconds after overhearing this tidbit of conversation before spinning around and blurting out, “It’s good for the environment.”
I caught a glimpse of a surprised look on the man’s face before I whirled back around to check whether the white walk sign had replaced the orange hand. It had not.
The man responded, “Still, $100 billion dollars is a lot of the American taxpayer.”
I countered this with my own carefully crafted logic, “No, it’s not.”
The conversation persisted in this manner for another minute or so with my responses sounding petulant and uniformed, mostly because they were. He continued to treat me like an imbecile, up through the moment when he yelled after me as I ran across the street, chastising me for darting into the road when the light had not yet turned. But I had to get out of there.
While my debating skills left much to be desired in that moment, throughout the rest of the day I would mutter the comebacks I wished I had made during that time. While the chances of ever finding that man again to give him the verbal trouncing he deserved are slim to none, I still needed to prepare some talking points. Should a similar situation ever arise – I will stand at the ready.
from the California High Speed Rail Authority
“This system is going to cost $100 billion dollars.”
My comeback, “
Where did you get that figure from? The California High-Speed Rail Association estimates that the system is currently set to cost around $45 billion. That’s less than half than your estimate. Actually, the current estimate is at $98.5 billion. That may seem close to $100 billion, but think of how large of a difference $1.5 billion dollars actually is.”
“$100 billion dollars is a lot for the American taxpayer.”
My comeback, “$100 billion dollars is a lot of money,
but first of all, we don’t know that the project is set to cost that much. But I agree, even $45 billion can seem daunting. However, you do know that this money does not exist in a separate bubble all on its own. This train will replace air and car travel around California. It costs money to operate airports and maintain roads. In fact, an estimate from 2003 said that $82 billion would be needed ‘to expand our highways and airports to meet a similar demand expected to be carried by the high-speed train system.’ The most recent report puts these costs at more than $170 billion over just the next 20 years. Additionally, this system will bring jobs into the region, as many as 1 million permanent jobs, by some estimates. Besides the temporary construction and engineering jobs, high speed rail (HSR) will bring jobs surrounding maintenance, ticketing, and on-board conductors. There are also a lot of indirect benefits. It’s true that HSR is better for the environment and public health than either planes or cars. While these benefits are less tangible than a stack of bills, they represent cleaner air and water, reduced doctor’s visits, and these things in the end to save the state, and the American taxpayer, a great deal of money.
“Planes are faster than the train is set to be.”
My comeback, “Is it really? Not if you take into account the time it takes to get to an airport and get through security. One of the great disadvantages to airline travel that you do not actually leave from or arrive in the city. Often airports are located far outside of the city center, and the time it takes to get public transportation into the city needs to be factored into your analysis. If it takes just 30 minutes to get to and from each of the airports in San Francisco and LA (an extremely conservative estimate in my experience), then you need to add an hour onto the flight time. Additionally, about 1 in 4 SF-LA flights is delayed about an hour. Add that to the time it takes to board, taxi, take-off, land, deplane, and wait for luggage, and I think you may find that the actual travel time may be more comparable than you may originally think.”
“Plane fares are cheaper than the train.”
“How do you know? As of yet, I have not been able to find any cost of any fares – so that seems a pretty bold statement to make. From the California High Speed Rail website:
Under this fare structure, HST fares were set to equal 50% of the average airfare (at the time of the analysis) for travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, the HST system is expected to be priced based upon the distance traveled, as opposed to air transportation within California where shorter distance intercity trips are often charged substantially higher rates than the longer-distance trips between California’s major metropolitan regions. Higher high-speed train fares would actually increase system revenues, but would decrease total ridership and public benefits. Ultimately, it is very likely that fares will vary based on such factors as type of service (business, coach, express, skip-stop, etc.), time of day (peak, off-peak), advanced purchase, etc. – much like the airlines and high-speed trains in Europe and Asia operate.
Projeced fares range from $52 to $123 per one-way ticket, with the average ticket costing $81. This is very competitive with the current plane fares. Also, it’s all well and nice to talk about how cheap planes are right now, but their fares can increase pretty quickly when the cost of oil rises. But that would never happen, would it?”
* Many of my original arguments were based on old data. I have updated the post to reflect more current information.