9/23/14  The High Speed Rail Authority used a revised ridership model for forecasts in the 2014 Business Plan. Details can be found in these technical documents received through a Public Records Act request. There are also new ridership panel reports available at the CHSRA website.



12/4/11   Detailed spreadsheets about ridership forecasts now available! Please note: these numbers will not match those in the business plan exactly as adjustments were made by Parsons Brinckerhoff to forecasts.

IOS North   IOS South  Bay to Basin  Phase 1

Here is a map of California showing the regions referred to in the spreadsheets.

12/1/11       How conservative are the ridership forecasts?

The ridership model is arguably one of the most important components of the recent business plan presented by the California High Speed Rail Authority.

So, how conservative are the ridership forecasts?

Here is a short report looking simply at the price of gas assumed in the model.

What did we find?  Well, do you think $40 per gallon of gas is conservative?

Read our report and decide for yourself.

Here is the spreadsheet we used for our calculations for those who like to play around with these types of things. 


The CHSRA hired a panel of ridership experts to review the existing model. The current model has a number of known issues, including a problem where it predicts that the further you live from a train station, the more likely you are to take High Speed Rail (see this excerpt from the ridership consultant’s report). It is unclear as to whether this problem will be addressed in time for the business plan forecasts to be issued next month or whether it will be deferred to next year.

We wrote a memo to the panel with the issues we hope will be addressed. Read our letter here.

The Authority has posted the two reports the panel has written, a lengthy memo from the ridership consultants and the supporting documents on their website.


CARRD has received, through a Public Records Request, some of the correspondence between the Ridership Peer Review Panel and the Authority. You can read the correspondence here.


CARRD is happy to report that we have finally received a copy of the first report from the Ridership Peer Review Committee which is available here.  We hope the Authority will also post it on their own website.

In addition, the Authority has just created a page on their website which discusses Public Records Requests.

We have been promised via email a CD by the end of the week with the communications between the Authority and the Ridership Peer Review Committee.


CARRD’s requests for Public Records have been ignored. We have been seeking information about the Ridership Peer Review Group that was formed by the Authority with direction from CEO Roelef van Ark. This group would be responsible for “enhancing” the existing model (which was deemed “unreliable” when reviewed by experts at the UC Berkeley) instead of creating a new model.  For a good review of the Ridership issues  see here.

We have waited over three months and we still have no response, although, by law, our requests should have been fulfilled within 10 days. We even appeared publicly at the last board meeting to point out the issue to the Board, the CEO and the staff in the hopes of spurring them into action. (See a YouTube of Elizabeth Alexis’ testimony here). Again, we were ignored.

Today, we sent the board and the CEO the following documents:

Letter from CARRD to HSRA board members, CEO van Ark and Jeff Barker

Emails between CARRD and HSRA requesting Ridership Peer Review Group information

Presentation by Mr. van Ark at first Ridership Peer Review Group Meeting

Document describing the Ridership Peer Review group

Confidentiality Contract between Authority and Peer Review Members (can only report to HSRA)

Additional Contract information for Peer Review Members

We will also be sending this information to legislators asking them to ensure the Authority is included in the list of agencies required to have well publicized policies in place for these types of requests.


  • CARRD offered the  California High Speed Rail Authority Board concrete illustration of how the current ridership model failed to meet its objective of illuminating the differences between potential routes from San Francisco to the Central Valley.  Presentation here
  • Cambridge Systematics claimed that frequency didn’t matter because the frequency was so high. This was true for some routes, but not for all. The actual headways had dismal service to Warm Springs, the only East Bay station. Bay Area Headways (.xls)

1/31/2010 CARRD has obtained the actual models used in the ridership forecast from the High Speed Rail Authority. These were produced as per our request. This material as presented did not previously exist.”

**2/10/2010  The California High Speed Rail Authority has notified us that the freqency coefficient in the new business/commuter main mode choice model is off by a decimal. We have requested an updated table and will post this as soon as we have it.**

**3/1/2010   Very geeky spreadsheet that analyzes the unpublished changes to the frequency coefficients**

**3/11/2010 The California High Speed Rail Authority published a memo on 3/4/2010 defending the ridership model. We remain very concerned about the study and important information withheld from public view and find a number of areas of this memo quite misleading. We will publish a memo as soon as possible with our response. We have added new items to the timeline and are still waiting for updated corrected tables**

**4/21/2010 Want to see the headways and travel times used in the ridership forecast? CARRD has obtained this information. We have consolidated a number of files and done some basic comparisons in an excel file – Headways Pacheco and Altamont Peak and Offpeak (Excel file). Please read some important caveats (PDF) and information about this file.**

**4/29/2010 CARRD submitted comments as part of the environmental review process. You can read CARRD’s  comments for Program Level EIR (PDF) that relate to the ridership forecasts.**

CARRD has taken an active role in providing an  indepth review of the work done to produce ridership forecasts, as well as providing important information about the study to allow all interested parties to do the same. If your group would like a presentation on the issues CARRD identified with the study, please contact info@dev.nodiamonds.com/cal.

Trip frequency models, destination choice models  HSR R&R Model – Coefficients & Constants File1

Access mode, egress mode, main mode choice model  HSR R&R Model – Coefficients & Constants File2

These are available for the first time to the public and supercede those in the publicly available documentation.

The Three Page synopsis (“before” main model, “after” main model, transmittal letter)


In conjunction with the MTC, the CHSRA hired a consultant to produce the  ridership forecast that is being used to form operational plans,  support the viability of private financing for the project and determine capacity requirements down to the level of the number of parking spaces required for Fresno (4,750).

Serious questions have been raised about the methodology and results of this study.

  • Sample methods were highly biased towards those who are most likely to take a High Speed Rail train. 96% of the Californians surveyed to assess their interest in taking High Speed Rail for commuting were current train riders. [page 2-3, table 2-1 PDF]
  • Documentation for the study is voluminous, yet confusing and missing key information required to assess the validity of the results.
  • Drastic changes were made to the model used to produce forecasts, yet these changes were not included in the public documentation, the final project report or information provided to the peer review committee. According to the ridership consultant, this was a conscious decision on the part of MTC.[Transmittal Letter from Ridership Consultant]
  • The final model reflects the data quality issues and fails industry standard primary validation checks. Producing forecasts from invalid models is problematic.
  • It is concerning that the real model was never made public nor apparently distributed to the peer review panel, particularly as there were significant and obvious issues with model’s validity.


January 2000 Charles River Associates releases a ridership and revenue report for use in the CHSRA’s 2000 Business Plan; forecast for  intercity ridership in 2020 is 32 million (does not include service to Orange County)

January 2005 MTC hires Cambridge Systematics to conduct  a new $1.5  million statewide ridership study to help determine what route  High Speed Rail should use to get from the Central Valley to the Bay Area , with subsequent amendments to increase the contract by $69,500 in January 2007 and by $194,528 in May 2007

July 2005 First peer review panel meeting held with 19 people present: a team of 14 Panelists and 5 observers

December 2005 High Speed Rail survey documentation released

July 2006 Second peer review panel meeting held with 24 people present: a team of 9 Panelists, 4 observers and 11 other representatives

August 2006 Final model development report issued and ridership model (“August 2006 model”) detailed; this report is never updated to incorporate later significant changes to the model

August 2006- April 2007 Model  undergoes various changes

March 2007 Cambridge Systematics presents ridership results to CHSRA board although intraregional travel in Southern California still to be finalized; forecast is 65 million interregional passengers via Pacheco in 2030, 69 million via Altamont

April 2007 Final changes made to the model (“April 2007 model”); these were unpublished until now

May 2007 Cambridge Systematics presents model with same forecast as March presentation at industry conference

July 2007 Cambridge Systematics presents their final study report to MTC and the CHSRA; the model presented in the August 2006 is repeatedly referenced and  discussion of  model results is limited to the now obsolete model. In several instances (pages 5-6,5-7), this discussion is contradictory with the April 2007 model used to generate the forecasts in the same report.  According to Cambridge Systematics,  MTC  “elected”  to include information from the obsolete August 2006 model and exclude information from the April 2007 model

Decision made to not hold previously planned third peer revenue (page 8-7). “Due to time constraints in the development of the forecasts, this review is just not being conducted.” Certain panel members will just be individually contacted

August 2007 Cambridge Systematics releases final forecast report; forecast is 70 million interregional passengers via Pacheco, 65 million via Altamont

September 2007 Cambridge Systematics releases third peer review report based on email comments from 3 peer review members, including one MTC consultant

October 2007 MTC issues memo responding to criticisms of ridership study. The response to all questions about model coefficients is a reference to the official documentation, none of which includes the final models. There is no hint that any other models other than the ones in official documentation exists.

June 2008 Presentation made by current and former Cambridge Systematics employees at industry conference titled “Communicating Complex Models: A Few of the Lessons Learned from the California Statewide Model for High-Speed Rail”

November 2008 CHSRA releases 2008 Business Plan, based on April 2007 model that fails validation checks; all publicly available documentation continues to reference the August 2006 model

December 2009 CHSRA releases 2009 Business Plan, based on April 2007 model that fails validation checks; all publicly available documentation continues to reference the August 2006 model

February 2010 Journal article describing the California High Speer Rail ridership and revenue forecasting model by Cambridge Systematics current and former employees is scheduled to go to print until CARRD points out that the models in the article are not the ones used to generate the forecasts and that descriptions of the frequency coefficients are inaccurate.


Bullet train ridership numbers don’t add up, says watchdog San Jose Mercury News, February 6, 2010

Information on software implementation used for ridership study

A Self Instructing Course in Mode Choice Modeling: Multinomial and Nested Logit Models, prepared for U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, F.S. Koppelman and C. Bhat, 2006. View Manual as PDF (Big file!)

Series of webinars and related documentation, offered by Cambridge Systematics, offered on behalf of U.S. Department of Transportation  Full list at bottom of webpage

Article on competition between airlines and High Speed Rail