High-Speed Rail Follies: International Edition

Over at the excellent NewGeography.com, Wendell Cox has an article about the battle over high-speed rail investment in Britain. As we’ve seen in the United States–and all over the world–Britain’s high-speed rail plans are propped up by incredibly optimistic cost and ridership projections. Of course, these initial estimates generally turn out to be radically different from reality as it unfolds:

The international record of high-speed rail projections is nothing short of horrific. Not only have costs proven far higher, but ridership and revenue have been less than projected. All of this means that taxpayers end up paying more.

Again, Britain is a prime example. The Eurostar London to Brussels and Paris continues to attract at least 50 percent less ridership originally projected. High speed rail systems in Taiwan and Korea have had similar ridership shortfalls.

As in Britain, costs have been higher as well. In Korea, the high speed rail line costs rose three times projections. Costs in California have increased 50 percent in two years and doubled over a decade even before the first shovel has been turned (inflation adjusted). The cost escalation has already equaled the high end of the range predicted by Joe Vranich and me in our Reason Foundation Due Diligence Report on the California system in 2008.

If the proposed high speed rail project were simply to miss its cost and revenue targets by the international average (which is far better than the British experience), the benefits to users would fall below £1.00 for each £1.00 of cost. Both the strategic case and the business case for high speed rail would be blown apart. The spectre of cost overruns was a major factor in Governor Scott’s cancellation of the Florida high speed rail project.

Read the whole thing here.