Construction on the first 65 miles of California’s high-speed rail project is about to begin. That is despite a new bill from Congress’ transportation committee, which has blocked funding in 2014. The Republican-controlled House was too slow, they already provided $3.5 and the money can not be taken back. Now the California’s High Speed Rail Authority has released a report stating the project will produce zero net greenhouse gas emissions.
This does not allay concerns about the impact this project would have on 11 endangered species along the route, but does address the problem of air pollution from the diesel machinery that will lay down the tracks.
“Our commitment is to make positive environmental contributions from day one,” said Authority CEO Jeff Morales. “High-speed rail will transform the state’s transportation system while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing environmental benefits for years to come.”
The CO2 produced during construction is to be offset by a tree planting program. Only recycled concrete and steel is to be used and contractors will be required to divert 75 % of their non-hazardous waste from landfills. “The contractors will also be directed to explore methods to reduce the amount of potable water used onsite. These practical activities, including anti-idling programs, water efficiency, energy efficiency, and the use of fuel-efficient vehicles are among those that have been proven effective for reducing both GHG emissions and costs on many infrastructure projects.”
100% Clean Energy
The system is to run on 100% clean energy. “To estimate GHG emissions associated with the electricity purchased by the Authority for traction power, which is the power needed to propel the train along the rails, and facilities operations, the Authority assumed a mix of 20 percent solar, 30 percent wind, 45 percent geothermal, and 5 percent biogas (methane capture).” Thus the GHG emission reduction is calculated in terms of the number of passengers that choose to ride the high-speed rail system rather than use a car or airplane.
The Report’s Summary of Findings
“This analysis of greenhouse gas reductions clearly demonstrates that the high-speed rail project is an integral part of California’s overall climate goals,” said California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols. “This project will serve in the near term as the backbone of a more sustainable growth strategy in the San Joaquin Valley, and over time will provide a climate-friendly transportation option linking southern and northern California.”
“This report details important steps that the High-Speed Rail Authority is taking to curb greenhouse gas emissions in California and embrace renewable energy during operations,” said Brian Kelly, Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency. “High-speed rail is a key part of meeting the state’s mobility, safety and sustainability objectives.”
In Europe, where high-speed rail systems have been is use for decades, they also have a track record of stimulating local economies.
“Lille diversified into knowledge-intensive, service-producing activities once it was connected via high speed rail to London, Paris and Brussels. High-speed rail investment helped the city turnaround from depopulation and declining economic sectors. After being connected to high-speed rail in 1981, Nantes has evolved from an industrial port to a major service sector hub and one of the world’s most livable cities.”
If the high-speed rail system proceeds according to plan, by 2029 it will connect San Francisco to Los Angeles. The cost for this first phase of construction is estimated at $68 billion. Phase two, which will extend the system to cover the 800 miles between Sacramento and San Diego, is to come later.
Yet there may be opposition in the Republican dominated House, which has just axed the funding for a similar project connecting Las Vegas to California.
“At a certain point, they have made it very clear that they are going to need $38 billion in federal funds,” said Jeff Denham, Chairman of the House Railway Committee.“
Top photo credit: Conceptual design for a high-speed rail station in Anaheim, California by NC3D via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)