A newspaper analysis has found that the most recent estimate of the cost to ride California's bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco is a bargain at an average of $86.
At roughly 20 cents a mile, it would be one of the world's cheapest high-speed rail trips, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The calculation assumes a typical fare between stations along a 438-mile route in the mid-range of what state officials expect the final alignment to measure.
The average fare on Italy's 434-mile bullet train from Milan to Salerno was 25 cents a mile. On China's 809-mile line between Beijing and Shanghai, it was 22 cents per mile. China provides little information on its high-speed rail finances, and many experts say fares are heavily subsidized, like many other foreign operators.
The bullet train from Paris to Lyon in France, which is often called profitable, has a fare of 52 cents a mile. From Hannover to Wurzburg, Germany, a fare costs 46 cents a mile.
The newspaper compared prices for tickets bought at least a week in advance, averaged over various times of day and classes of service.
The closest thing to high-speed rail in the United States now is Amtrak's Acela system, which charges an average of about 50 cents a mile for the 454-mile trip between Washington and Boston.
Past fare estimates for the California bullet train have ranged from $50 to $105. And a premium same-day ticket would still cost more than the recent $86 estimate.
The state expects the system to become fully operational some time in 2028. That's when ticket pricing will be set in consultation with a private company hired by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to operate the system, rail agency Chief Executive Jeff Morales said.
A 2012 report that was updated last year found the system would require a subsidy ranging from $123 million to $1 billion or more annually.
Ridership estimates have also fluctuated, and there are questions about how airlines might respond to new competition.