International research shows costs are underestimated on nine out of every 10 large passenger rail transportation projects, with cost overruns averaging 45 percent. If the Tampa-Orlando rail line were to go over budget by 45 percent Florida taxpayers would be on the hook for $1.2 billion more than the $280 million currently forecast.
However, Florida may be miscalculating the costs of high-speed rail by even more than that. A comparison with the costs of the first segment of the California High Speed Rail line (the Corcoran to Borden "train to nowhere") suggests that the eventual cost overrun on the Tampa to Orlando rail line could reach $3 billion.
The Reason study also flags concerns about ridership numbers.
"It’s understandable that some are dreaming of flashy high-speed rail trains carrying tourists and residents between the two cities," said Robert Poole, director of transportation at Reason Foundation and a transportation advisor to Governor Rick Scott’s administration. "Unfortunately, the numbers just don’t add up. When you look at realistic construction costs and operating expenses you see these trains are likely to turn into a very expensive nightmare for taxpayers."
"The risk to Florida taxpayers is likely to be many times greater than current projections for this high-speed rail proposal," said Wendell Cox, author of the report and head of Wendell Cox Consultancy. "History tells us that cost overruns could run into the billions and ridership shortfalls will likely leave taxpayers with an open-ended bill for operating subsidies."
"The Tampa to Orlando High-Speed Rail Project: A Florida taxpayer risk assessment"
By Wendell Cox
Project Director: Robert W. Poole, Jr.