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Reason Foundation

California High-Speed Rail Will Increase Pollution

Baruch Feigenbaum
June 14, 2012, 3:38pm

The latest development in the California high-speed rail disaster concerns pollution. University of California-Berkeley professor Arpad Hovath explains that construction of the train will produce 10 million metric tons of Carbon Dioxide per year. Electricity for the California trains will come from coal fired power plants leading to more pollution. In order to negate this pollution, the train would need extremely high ridership in the Central Valley something that would be nearly impossible to achieve. California HSR will likely be more polluting than air travel. 

Further according to federal biologists and as reported in the Los Angeles Times:

Eleven endangered species, including the San Joaquin kit fox, would be affected, according to federal biologists. Massive emissions from diesel-powered heavy equipment could foul the already filthy air. Dozens of rivers, canals and wetlands fed from the rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada would be crossed, creating other knotty issues.

Among the most difficult issues will be air quality, which is regulated across eight counties by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The district worries that the construction project would exacerbate already problematic levels of nitrogen oxides, particulates and volatile compounds.

And other transportation researchers are raising complaints. According to University of Minnesota Transportation Engineering Chair David Levinson:

A study of BART (Lave 1976) estimated that more energy was used to build the system than will ever be saved by it.

Other modes are steadily getting cleaner, for instance fuel cell powered vehicles will emit only water and carbon dioxide. Any benefits from HSR depend on unproven forecasts. The energy for HSR must come from somewhere, if electric than probably coal or nuclear, both of which have some problems.

And project boosters have flip-flopped on skirting environmental reviews. Last month California high-speed rail chairman Dan Richard said that he was seeking environmental exemptions for the first 130-mile leg. Previously the chairman said he would not seek exemption from federal or state laws for the project. 

Let’s review the advantages and disadvantages of California HSR:



Baruch Feigenbaum is Assistant Director of Transportation Policy

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