Forecasts of California High-Speed Rail Ridership Not Reliable, Says Berkeley Study

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s forecasts of demand and ridership for a new San Francisco-to-Los Angeles high-speed train are not reliable because they are based on an inconsistent model, according to a new study by researchers at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. The rail authority used the model to forecast ridership under a variety of scenarios, including different configurations of routing, pricing, frequency of service and travel time.

"We found that the model that the rail authority relied upon to create average ridership projections was flawed at key decision-making junctures, ” said the project’s principal investigator Samer Madanat, director of ITS Berkeley and UC Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering. "This means that the forecast of ridership is unlikely to be very close to the ridership that would actually materialize if the system were built. As such, it is not possible to predict whether the proposed high-speed rail system will experience healthy profits or severe revenue shortfalls.”

The study is the first academic review of the rail authority’s ridership forecasts, which was included in California’s successful application for federal stimulus dollars. In January 2010, the Obama administration awarded the state $2.25 billion in stimulus funds for trains that are expected to reach 220 miles per hour between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The review was commissioned by the California State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, chaired by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), and was funded by the rail authority. The researchers presented their findings to the rail authority and the California State Senate yesterday (Wednesday, June 30).

Other co-authors of the report are Mark Hansen, UC Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering, and David Brownstone, chair of the Economics Department at UC Irvine.

Read the full report.

Read the UC Berkeley News Center press release.