Almanac

News - July 7, 2010

Report: Rail ridership data flawed

by Gennady Sheyner

California high-speed rail ridership studies are flawed and are "unreliable for policy analysis," according to an independent review released June 30 by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

The report was commissioned by the California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and has been eagerly anticipated by state legislators, local officials and critics of the controversial project, many of whom argued that the California High-Speed Rail Authority is basing its plans on faulty ridership models.

Its findings largely confirm the allegations voiced by critics.

Under the current plans, the rail system would initially connect from San Francisco to Los Angeles and would later be expanded to Sacramento and San Diego. The rail authority had chosen the Pacheco Pass and the Peninsula as its preferred route for the new line despite arguments from a coalition of environmentalists and several Peninsula cities that the Altamont Pass in the East Bay would be a better alternative.

The new report identifies a series of technical errors and states that Cambridge Systematics, the company that performed the study for the rail authority, changed key parameter values "because the resulting estimates did not accord with the modelers' a priori expectations."

The report stated that the methodology used by Cambridge for adjusting its model parameters "has been shown to be incorrect for the type of model they employed."

The Cambridge analysis also used a model that did not allow travelers to choose between high-speed rail stations, according to the report. This model, coupled with other dubious assumptions, "unrealistically favors alignments that avoid dividing services onto branch routes, such as Pacheco," the report states.

"Correcting this deficiency would almost certainly reduce, although probably not eliminate, the ridership difference between the Pacheco and Altamont alignments found in the CS study," the report states.

The rail authority released a letter defending the ridership projections. It stated that it believes the ridership model "has been, and continues to be a sound tool for use in high-speed rail planning and environmental analysis."

Go to is.gd/dd45V (case-sensitive) to see the report.

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