It sounds like Charles Crumpley of the Los Angeles Business Journal understands some of the advantages of high-speed rail in California, and all he needs is a little help to dig through the numbers, which can too easily be skewed. So, let me outline a few numbers that a businessman, if not an editor of a business newspaper, might appreciate.
First, 25 percent. That’s the portion of the cost of the high-speed rail system that will be borne by the state. A little less actually – $9 billion from $42.6 billion. The balance will come from the federal government, private entities, or cost-sharing agreements with local governments. What other public infrastructure project can boast that percentage? A private entity would leap at the chance to make such a capital investment only putting down a quarter of its own money for each dollar expended, and so shouldn’t the state.
A second number is 9 million. That’s the number of air travel trips that took place in 2009 between the Los Angeles region and the Bay Area. Take a Brookings report from October of last year[1 <#_ftn1> ] that shows the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metro area to SF-Oakland-Fremont having 6.3 million air trips in 2009; the San Jose-Santa Clara area to Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana having another 2.2 million; and for Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area, which is not included in the report because it is not in the nation’s top 100 corridors, estimate conservatively at perhaps a half a million trips. That gives us approximately 9 million air trips – and that was at the bottom of our national recession.
Also consider 26 million. That’s an estimate – again at the bottom of the recession mid-2009 – of the number of commuters taking just two of the state’s regional commuter intercity rail systems annualized. Mid last year, Metrolink in the LA region was carrying passengers at a rate of more than 11 million passengers per year. Caltrain in the Bay Area was carrying 15.5 million.
Now consider that California’s population is expected to grow by a full third, from 38 million today to 50 million in 2030.
There is also the truth, as those in the business community know, that one can create demand for a product that does not exist today. I wonder what people would have said in the early 1990s if Apple had projected that a yet-to-be-created iPod device would cut into Walkman and portable CD player sales.
Some other numbers from the feds are $1 billion per year for the next five (that’s what President Obama has publicly stated he wants to put toward high-speed rail), $2.5 billion (what Congress has recommended to put forward next year, $50 billion (what Chairman Oberstar of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has suggested should be put toward high-speed rail).
So, in short, there is momentum for high-speed rail in America and in California. The rest of the world sees the opportunity and the chance for continued economic strength in the Golden State. We’re confident that soon Mr. Crumpley will too.
 (Brookings Institute, “Expect Delays: An Analysis of Air Travel Trends in the United States,” October 2009)