Second, the ridership will be immense — anywhere from 28.6 million to 37.1 million. This admittedly may appear realistic compared with the 90 million once promised. It is, however, not far from the 39 million projected in 2009. The agency can't go much below this. It needs high ridership or the model for turning a profit falls apart.
But these kinds of projects always overestimate their ridership. Actual ridership of the BART line to San Francisco's airport, for example, was in 2009 only 25% of the 2003 prediction. If California high-speed rail captured the same percentage of riders as Amtrak's Acela does today in the Northeast corridor, an area with a long tradition of rail travel and a higher population than California, it would have about 5 million riders, not 28 million to 37 million. Uh-oh.
Read the fine print. The report contains a disclaimer. The ridership projections are estimates. They are "subjective judgments" and "may differ materially from the actual future ridership and revenue." They should not be "construed to constitute a guarantee, promise, or representation of any particular outcome(s) or result(s)." You have been warned.
Like any magicians, the writers turn attention elsewhere. High-speed rail will supposedly relieve us of $170 billion in airport and highway costs. We are really $70 billion ahead. How do we know this? Well, they told us, even though most airline traffic coming into and out of the state has nothing to do with travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles (let alone Merced and Bakersfield). And unless we build separate freight lines, trucks will continue to thunder down Interstate 5.