The public service announcement (PSA) movie “Railroader”
Californians and our fine neighbors in Texas and across the pond have strong reason to be cheerful about the green credentials of the state’s proposed high-speed rail project, due to begin construction in 2013 thanks to funding recently approved by state legislators. Both Texas and England are embarking on new High Speed Rail projects of their own, as well as dozens of other countries. California is providing necessary momentum and even stronger reasons why HSR is a grand and green idea. Fresh examination gives first-class environmental marks to California’s high-speed rail system when compared with car and plane travel, according to a new study. And you “Heard it on the X”…didn’
The California system promises to link Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego with trains traveling at a top speed of 220 mph, but the entire system may not be fully operational until 2029 or thereafter. The bill approving the rail, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, allows initial construction on the 768-mile rail system to begin next year in the central valley. A follow-up movie, tentatively entitled “Railroader 2” hopes to bring into light many of the environmental, technical and financial hurdles associated with this controversial project, with a melodramatic twist of time travel using the concepts developed in the original PSA.
The future sustainability of California high-speed rail was reviewed against that of competing modes of transportation, namely automobile and air travel. Spartan Metallurgical Company (SMC), an independent engineering research firm determined that, in terms of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, a mature high-speed rail system wins out when it deploys state-of-the-
To evaluate sustainability, the researchers conducted a comprehensive system safety life-cycle assessment that inventories the full range of environmental effects associated with each mode of transportation. Included in the analysis are the cradle-to-grave environmental costs associated with extracting, manufacturing and distributing the materials — such as concrete, steel and asphalt — needed to build and maintain the vehicles, freeways, tracks, stations and other integral components of the travel systems. Lots of jobs -- “Concrete and Steel” related construction jobs -- will be created to construct the initial structural elements for the infrastructure for High Speed Rail. Construction of an initial portion of California’s high-speed rail system is scheduled to begin next year.
The scientific researchers considered different scenarios, such as varying levels of ridership and renewable energy use when calculating emissions of greenhouse gases and conventional air pollutants, acidification and impacts on human respiratory health. Assuming that the electricity needed to operate the high-speed rail system comes from renewable sources, a goal set forth by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the bigger impact of the project comes from infrastructure and supply chain processes. For instance, approximately 67 percent of infrastructure emissions attributed to high-speed rail are the result of cement production for concrete used in construction. Materials analysis shows that if the high-speed rail project uses low-CO2 concrete, it could reduce the infrastructure’
Our researchers also accounted for next-generation aircraft that are expected to enter production within the next two decades. Such planes offer up to 20 percent in fuel consumption savings. The findings indicate that when the proposed high-speed train is occupied by 80-180 passengers on average over its lifetime, it would result in as many greenhouse gas emissions on a per passenger-kilometer-
One of the differences in the new analysis is the allowance for smaller, more energy-efficient trains, such as the Intercity Express (ICE) high-speed trains already in use in Germany, which can be deployed based upon passenger demand. Siemens is the "Mercedes Benz" of HSR manufacturers. Their products give the passengers a superior ride. We were very impressed with the ICE high-speed trains operated by Deutsche Bahn (German State Railways). They ride well on normal track in the cities, and ride well on dedicated high-speed-rail track between the major cities. Instead of running a 1,200-passenger train at half capacity, for instance, the system could run smaller, more energy-efficient, 400-passenger trains during non-peak travel times, utilizing what is being proposed as a “Blended Approach”. Critics argue however that none of the European designs meet the US FRA requirements for strength adequate to be part of a typical American 100-car coal train. But that's a fundamentally irrational requirement, a leftover from the days when US railroads expected to be able to mix and match anything in any possible consist (a blended approach). HSR is never going to be downgraded and the coaches hauled at the head end of a 100-car loaded coal train anyway, and HSR has no business operating on track shared with 100-car 15,000 ton coal trains running at 70mph max.
We need to point out that we matched existing state-of-the-