A UCLA study of Japan’s high-speed rail system concludes that bullet trains don’t create economic growth, undermining one of the major justifications for California’s own high-speed train system.
[Jerry] Nickelsburg [the UCLA economist who led the study] examined the growth rates of cities and regions served by Japan’s system, compared to the nation’s overall rate of growth, and found that the introduction of high-speed passenger service had no discernible effect.The analysis looked at nearly a dozen urban and rural prefectures and found no evidence that the introduction of bullet train service improved tax revenues, which was used as a proxy for local gross domestic product. In one case, one region without high-speed rail service grew just as quickly as a similar region with it. The study examined economic activity over a 30-year period.
Last week, a Via Meadia commenter brought up a good point about high-speed rail:
Only people whose homes are near the terminals will benefit. Everywhere else, land will be blocked off from productive use — worse than blocked off, converted from use that is productive for the locals—for the benefit of the few who live near the station. This is why voters and municipalities on the San Fransisco peninsula, from Burlingame to San Jose, are vehemently opposed to this expropriation.To make the train useful to them, it would have to stop there… at which point it stops being high-speed.
The bad news about California’s absurdly expensive and increasingly unpopular bullet train system continues to pile up. By the time this white elephant is finished — if it ever is — it will be even more useless than it now looks. Transport technology will have changed, as innovations like self-driving cars challenge the assumptions on which the high speed rail backers make their case. Improvements in telcom technology and changes in work habits by new generations that grow up with new technologies will make telecommuting and teleconferencing integral to the way business works.