Viewpoint - March 10, 2010

Letter: Ridership estimates for rail project off the charts

Much has been made of the service that California's high-speed rail system may provide its customers — fast, safe and reliable trains. But we need to ask how many people will benefit from those services. A grounding in reality may help.

In 2009, combined Acela Express ridership on all segments of the Boston-NYC-PHL-WDC route was just over three million. This was a generation after inception. Acela draws riders from a combined metropolitan population of 28.3 million, about one in every nine residents of its market area.

A decade after service on the proposed California high-speed rail system is expected to begin in mid-2030, our statewide population is expected to be 46.4 million. If California high-speed rail were to be as successful in a decade as Acela has achieved in a generation, it would draw 11 percent of all of California's residents — about five million riders.

The rail authority's 2009 Business Plan projects that 39.3 million riders will use the system in 2030 — nearly eight times the ridership indicated by what a 46.4-million-person market that all of California would represent in 2030 using the Acela yardstick.

Can the high-speed train be profitable, as its underlying legislation demands, and serve so few riders?

William Grindley

Laurel Street, Atherton


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