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Study: California high speed rail would drain passengers from Bay Area airports

(The following story by Mike Rosenberg appeared on the San Jose Mercury News website on February 25, 2010.)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — California's high-speed trains — loaded with the potential for cheaper fares and peaceful trips — could steal about 6 million passengers each year from the three Bay Area airports combined, new estimates show.

San Jose would be hit hardest, according to consultants at SH&E, a Virginia-based aviation firm the Metropolitan Transportation Commission contracted to study the bullet train's impact on Bay Area airports.

Airport executives, Bay Area officials and transportation experts will review the report Friday.

The $42.6 billion San Francisco-to-Los Angeles bullet train expected to begin operation in 2020 could directly cause operations at the San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland airports to drop 6.1 percent, said the independent report released this week.

SH&E forecasts that by 2035, San Jose would lose 12 percent of its projected passengers because of high-speed rail, followed by a 9 percent diversion at Oakland and a 4 percent loss at San Francisco. They figure the three airports would carry slightly more than 100 million total passengers without the bullet train but that each would carry about 2 million fewer travelers if high-speed rail is built as planned.

Translated to total airport activity, the train project is estimated to reduce overall operations at San Jose by 9.2 percent, at San Francisco by 5.3 percent and at Oakland by 5.2 percent.

"There will be a giant sucking sound as you hear, especially business travelers, vacate airplanes in favor of high-speed rail," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Forrester Research in San Francisco, who was not involved in the study. "It will be less susceptible to delays, more efficient, (will go) city center to city center, and there are just some additional pleasantries," he said.

California airports have long been supportive of the rail project. Stations are planned at the BART stop at San Francisco Airport, in San Jose and near Southern California airports.

"We recognize that if high-speed rail does affect our short-haul passenger traffic at the airport in the future, that makes it even more important to protect the airport's ability to serve long haul routes in the future," said David Vossbrink, spokesman for Mineta San Jose International Airport. The study indicated the diversion estimates represented "total aircraft activity."

"I don't see someone taking high-speed rail so much going to SFO and LAX and using that to go international," said Doug Kimsey, MTC planning director. "There may be some, but that's not their primary market by any stretch." Nearly all the fliers lost would be Bay Area travelers headed to the region between Los Angeles and San Diego, the consultants said.

High-speed rail planners estimate a ride from the Bay Area to Southern California would cost about $105, or 83 percent of the average comparable airfare estimated to be $125. A trip from San Francisco to L.A. would take about 2-1/2 hours.

The consultants say two-thirds of San Francisco and San Jose travelers headed to the Los Angeles area would switch to high-speed rail, and about half the Oakland passengers would do the same.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

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