East Bay Express Notices HSR’s Environmental Benefits

Aug 29th, 2012 | Posted by

The East Bay Express has picked up on the recent UC Berkeley/ASU study showing that California high speed rail can have a very positive environmental impact. Their article provides a good overview of the report:

The researchers conducted what they called a “life-cycle assessment” of travel by automobile, airplane, and high-speed rail. The report factored in the production and use of steel, concrete, and asphalt in the construction of roadways, vehicles, and high-speed rail stations, as well as the nearly eight hundred miles of high-speed rail track. The report determined that after all the dust settles, in about twenty years, high-speed rail will have a lighter environmental footprint than its rivals — although how much lighter it will be depends on numerous factors….

The UC Berkeley report’s findings indicate that efficiently planned high-speed rail gets people to their destinations with fewer emissions than driving. If the proposed high-speed train is occupied by 80 to 180 passengers on average over its lifetime, the report stated, it would result in the equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions per passenger-kilometer-traveled produced by a 35-mpg sedan carrying 2.2 people. The US Department of Energy estimates that the average vehicle in America carries 1.59 passengers per vehicle on average at any given time.

The new study’s findings track closely with research commissioned in 2009 by seven of Europe’s leading high-speed rail systems. “Generally, what you tend to see around the rest of the world is a similar pattern where high-speed rail does have a lower environmental footprint than the automobile or aircraft,” Chester said.

Of course, as the report notes, this also requires HSR to be part of a broader rail transportation network. That is already well under way. The stations at either end of the system, Transbay Terminal and Union Station, will be connected to significant regional transit options by 2030 when the system is fully operational. Especially if Measure J, the proposal in Los Angeles County that would extend the Measure R tax and allow more transit to be built sooner, making Union Station one of North America’s great transit nodes.

High speed rail’s environmental benefits are undeniable. As the effects of climate change become ever clearer, the need to act to reduce carbon emissions – 39% of which comes from transportation in California – becomes all the more urgent. High speed rail is not only good for the state’s economy, it’s an essential piece of securing the state’s environmental future.

  1. joe
    Aug 29th, 2012 at 22:39

    after all the dust settles, in about twenty years, high-speed rail will have a lighter environmental footprint than its rivals — although how much lighter it will be depends on numerous factors….

    Emissions is part of the benefit. It costs over 0.50 a mile to operate a vehicle.

    The cost of a vehicle will go up ~$3,000 to meet fuel economy standards for 2025. The fleet average includes the boost from electric cars that get 100+ MPG in the calculation.


    Q: Does this mean each new car or truck will get 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025?

    A: No. It’s an average required of all vehicles sold in 2025. The number also isn’t a real-world figure. …

    Q: So what’s the real-world average?

    A: The average new car will get 45 miles per gallon, and the average truck will get 32 mpg. The nation’s fleet of new vehicles will get about 40 mpg in 2025.

    Q: What are examples of existing models that get high mileage?

    A: The all-electric Honda Fit gets the equivalent of 118 mpg, which is calculated based on the energy it uses. Its rival, the electric Nissan Leaf, gets 99 mpg. Ford’s new C-Max hybrid will get 47 miles per gallon when it goes on sale this fall.

    Q: How much will the new regulations add to the price of a car?

    A: The government says vehicles will cost an average of $2,800 more than they do today, based on the value of a dollar in 2010. Critics, like Mitt Romney and the National Automobile Dealers Association, say the increase could make cars unaffordable for many. But the government says the fuel cost savings will more than offset the added cost of cars and trucks. The government expects consumers to save $5,700 to $7,400 on gasoline during the lives of their cars. That’s based on an average gas price of $3.87 per gallon.

    What about buying a home? Raising a kid (with out college) but just basic needs?

    CNN 2011 http://money.cnn.com/2011/09/21/pf/cost_raising_child/index.htm
    The cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 for a middle-income, two-parent family averaged $226,920 last year (not including college), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s up nearly 40% — or more than $60,000 — from 10 years ago. Just one year of spending on a child can cost up to $13,830 in 2010, compared to $9,860 a decade ago.

    We have to reduce car dependency too.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Those “cost of raising a child” studies tend to be pretty much complete bs.

    joe Reply:

    I think it’s low.
    How much did you think you spent for each of your kids?

    Thank god they get free medical care. Their teeth are straight and school’s are well funded.

    blankslate Reply:

    It comes out to about $1000/month. If it includes the additional housing and transportation associated with raising a kid, it’s probably low, otherwise it’s way too high.

    Nathanael Reply:

    It includes the housing and transportation.

    Basically, it’s an attempt to figure the difference in expense between being a two-adult family, and a two-adult-one-child family, from birth to age 18. Assuming (as it says) providing the same middle-class lifestyle for the kid as the adults had.

    In actual fact most people lower their standard of living when they have a kid, these days. Kind of horrifyiing.

    VBobier Reply:

    $1,000.00 a month, I wish I got that…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Putting emissions controls on cars in the 70s was going to put the automobile companies out of business. Putting catalytic converters on cars was going to make them so expensive no one could afford them an put the automobile companies out of business again. Taking the lead out of gas was going to mean you had to have your valves replaced every 10,000 miles. Stopping the manufacture of Freon 12 was going to mean no more car air conditioning….

    VBobier Reply:

    Yep and I’ve heard all of them, the car makers are still here though, it’s just feet dragging…

  2. Joey
    Aug 29th, 2012 at 22:50

    in about twenty years

    The way cost estimates are going, it may be longer before we can put together the funding.

    Seriously. There’s no reason why we should be paying this much. We can do better.

    joe Reply:

    Cost estimates recently went down.

    In this recession, the cost of construction for transportation projects is coming in under estimates – additional work is proposed with unspent money.

    So wait for a magic system or build the one we have when the cost to build is low.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Exactly. Construction estimates have been high lately because they were pre-recession estimates. Build during the recession. Build during the recession.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    All that has done is keep a lid on some, but not all, of the cost blowouts. SAS is still above the cost estimates from the mid-2000s, just by less. It’s true that the contracts signed in the last 3 years were far less than expected, but enough contracts were signed outside the nadir of the recession that it’s not enough to keep costs down much. So it’s going to be a $4.6 billion project instead of a $5.1 billion project, which compares with a rest-of-expensive-world cost of about $750 million.

    Joey Reply:

    There are obvious things that could be done today to bring costs down. Start by eliminating the $2 billion tunnel through Millbrae.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    The costs aren’t 10% too high. They’re 300% too high.

    Order of magnitude check on aisle three!

    And good luck with the “recession” thing bringing “increased competition” where it counts, which is at the level of the Lead Consultant, who controls and manipulates and stratospherically elevates all costs, free from the niggardly businesses of competitive bidding or any agency oversight. (Nice work to have your own vice president “independently” supervise your own no-bid work products and approve your own budgets!)

    joe Reply:

    Why not claim it’s “Euler’s number” too big? He was Swiss and it’s close enough to 3.

    The CAHSR Supervisor was a Executive with the CTA, Chicago Transit Authority, so this is clearly the Chicago Gang taking over HSR, Obama’s crew is moving into California. PB is a smokescreen.

    You are so naive.

    Please pay closer attention to Synonymouse – he’s Onit!

    Joey Reply:

    Costs _are_ unusually high. High in a way that isn’t accounted for by property values (a small fraction of costs) or earthquake safety (Japan doesn’t pay nearly as much as we do).

    You can debate about the actual number and which projects to compare it to, but regardless the numbers seem to say that we’re paying between 2 and 4 times as much as we should be for HSR.

  3. Donk
    Aug 29th, 2012 at 23:09

    Robert, you forgot to mention that another one of the major hubs, San Jose, will also be connected to significant transportation infrastructure – VTA light rail. VTA can rapidly get patrons where the need to be throughout Silicon Valley

    Joey Reply:

    I’m not sure I’d call VTA light rail “significant transportation infrastructure”

    VBobier Reply:

    Well it does exist at the very least…

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    The objective reality is that — like the PB’s Muni Central Subway and Muni’s Third Street “Light” Rail — transit riders, the environment, taxpayers anywhere in the country, transit agency budgets, and the planet would be better off if it didn’t exist.

    Replacing buses with something that costs billions, costs more to operate, carries fewer people and runs less reliable and less frequently … why it’s …

    America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professionalism!

    A win for everybody! (Except transit riders, the environment, taxpayers anywhere in the country, transit agency budgets, and the planet. But who cares about them?)

    Paul Druce Reply:

    This is a joke right?

    Matthew Reply:

    If where they need to be is a deserted parking lot, then yes, VTA can do that. Maybe not so rapidly though.

    blankslate Reply:

    LA to SJ: 2 hours. Diridon Station to Google: 1 1/2 hours. Sounds like a winner…


    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I know that getting off in San Jose satisfies that urge to see a BART station but if someone is going to Mountain View why wouldn’t they get off the train in Mountain View. ( where the HSR train stops once an hour at the stealth HSR station they built when they rebuilt the Caltrain station )

    Nathanael Reply:

    As others have noted, not “throughout Silicon Valley” — the outer ends of VTA light rail are questionable at best — but it certainly can get people around downtown San Jose, such as it is.

  4. Amanda in the South Bay
    Aug 30th, 2012 at 07:35

    Well, if you want to take a tour of every intersection and stop light along north 1st and Tasman…then sure, VTA can’t be beat!

  5. John Nachtigall
    Aug 30th, 2012 at 07:42

    It does not seem all that pro-enviromental to me.

    It assumes breakeven at 20-30 years after it is built (in 10-20 years) and it assumes it will use non-carbon electricty. It also does not break even unless it gets cars off the road

    “However, payback is highly sensitive to reduced automobile travel. The 5.8 billion auto VKT displaced dominate emissions changes in the corridor and the effects from reduced air travel and CAHSR are small. The reduced auto impacts are significantly affected or dominated by life-cycle components, in particular, avoided vehicle manufacturing, vehicle maintenance and gasoline production. ”

    and as noted in the post ridership

    So if everything is perfect, it is marginally better. If ridership bnumbers disappoint, you actually hurt the enviroment.

    VBobier Reply:

    So no one rides trains? That’s bunk…

    Nathanael Reply:

    It will use non-carbon electricity; that’s already a commitment.

    And obviously the ridership numbers will do just fine. What are people’s alternatives? Driving? Unpleasant and expensive. Flying? Unpleasant and expensive. Both scheduled to get more expensive.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The Coast Starlight? Slow.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Hiking? Biking?

    The only thing which would really hurt ridership is if people just stopped travelling between northern, central, and southern California at all. This *is* a possible scenario, of course. I haven’t seen a likely version of it yet, though.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    they are planning on 4x times more people then the Acela gets in the NE corridor…the numbers are not a guarentee, they are quite optomistic

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Acela isn’t high speed. And Northeast Regionals have more riders than Acela.
    Best guesstimate is that the Northeast Corridor carries 100 million passengers a year.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    “Acela isn’t high speed”

    I am going to hold you to that when the CAHSR system is traveling at the same speeds. And everything except Acela loses money which is not allowed in the CAHSR system.

    They are counting on ridership that is unprecidented in the US.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    High speed rail is unprecedented in the US.

    jonathan Reply:

    You don’t say? Oh, except when you say 200 km/r is “HSR on legacy corridors”, when it suits you.
    Or am I conflating you with someone else?

    synonymouse Reply:

    In actual operations I suggest 150mph will be typical, not too different from the NEC. Operating deficits will limit how much money can be spent on maintenance and they will reduce speeds ro limit wear and tear.

    That’s the UP’s take on it anyway.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Quick! Tell UP, that world renowned operator of passenger trains to send out a technical bulletin to all the HSR operators, world wide, that operate at speeds above 150mph, that they are doing it wrong.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The UP does operate trains in California and it is familiar with its conditions and hazards.

    When was the last time BART operated at 160mph? Because your hsr line is gong to resemble BART in important ways – its maintenance budget, its proprietary bizarro rolling stock and its unionized staff. Think corrugated rail and flat wheels. It used to arc Garrett traction motors all the time at high speeds. Or are you going to contract out maintenance to Bombardier, PB’s favored car supplier?

    And speaking of greedy TWU so and so’s:


    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    No it’s going to resemble HSR operations, maintenance etc in the rest of the world.
    I realize BART is dazzling and all but whoever ends up operating this won’t be looking to BART as their model.

    synonymouse Reply:

    BART does not dazzle me, but you know who it does dazzle? That would be PG&E Richard and Moonbeam and the 3 Crones. And of course the unions who pump contributions to these functionaries.

    The most important factor in all this is that the in house union(TWU or Amalgamated)gets the work. So the money keeps on rolling in. You do no grasp how corrupt the Bay Area is. PB will
    scab together its own proprietary car design and give the contract to the one kicking back the mst to the pols. This is a 3rd world quality PB BARTshit hsr we are talking about here.

    jonathan Reply:


    gust 30th, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    The UP does operate trains in California and it is familiar with its conditions and hazards.

    yes. The U operates flow-value, slow, reight trains, in illegal-in-third-world-country conditions, with obscene 30 tonne axle loads, over track so bad it’s unacceptable, in the civilized world, for long-distance passenger traffic.

    And from this you conclude that the UP knows more about operating HSR in California, than any actual HSr operator in the world? Including Spain?? You _do_ understand that HSR train-sets have axle loads in the vicinity of 15 tonne, and operate on track which isn’t totally fucked up by 30-tonne axle load frigeht cars which have wheels with ground-flat spots??

    Do you wear your tin-foil hat with the shiny side in, or out??

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Jonathan

    Are you familiar with Muni’s unions? These are the ones that own Pelosi, the primary sponsor and protector of the CHSRA. All they are interested in is featherbedding and that guarantees crappy maintenance on any hsr they are involved with. And believe me they will be, or Pelosi will not support it.

    San Joaquin Valley – think 120 degrees and crumpled ribbon rail and visualize those blackwall Phoenix sandstorms there too by the time this turkey gets up and running. After all you are the Global Warming guys.

    PG&E Richard is incapable of riding herd on PB. You just know they will want to do a BART-Bechtel reinvent the wheel and design their own cars from scratch. Ergo Boeing-Vertol.. Add Muni quality maintenance. You’ll need more than tin foil hats to run that junk at 220mph.

    How do you expect to control PB when you already see their route planning is terrible and their gold-plating over the top?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    He bought the non stick kind and can’t get it on tight enough, that’s the problem…. and everyone knows you put the shiny side out. It reflects the Nancy Pelosi mind rays better that way.

    jonathan Reply:


    Acela isn’t high speed.

    And yet Acela operates in the same speed bracket which you assert is “HSR speed on legacy corridors”.
    “Consistency is the bugaboo of small minds.” I see you aren’t limited by a small mind ;)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    When the conversation is about maximum speed Acela frequently achieves what the UIC calls high speed. When the conversation is about trip times Acela would be embarrassing in first world countries and some third world ones.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    It will use non-carbon electricity; that’s already a commitment.

    Mmm… greenwash … so … refreshing! So … light and airy and … transparent! Like Summer’s Eve! I do think I’ll have another.

    VBobier Reply:

    Wind Turbines and the various forms of Solar energy are not Green wash, Here in the area that I live in We have Wind, Solar Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Daddy, what’s “fungibility”?

    joe Reply:

    From your previous description…

    so … refreshing! So … light and airy and … transparent! Like Summer’s Eve! I do think I’ll have another.

    …a douche.
    So please do have another.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    If your logic is sound then why is Amtrac a national disaster??

    VBobier Reply:

    Cause Big Oil wants Amtrak shut down and scrapped…

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    The Non-carbon Electricity commitment assumes there is enough capacity available at the time. The CAHSR is not building thier own plants, they have to count on someone else building them…and those people have to build them in anticipation of getting use and getting fees in excess of the going rate. None of that is a guarentee.

  6. jimsf
    Aug 30th, 2012 at 10:09

    Was anyone able to watch any of the republican convention without throwing up a little?

    VBobier Reply:

    I didn’t watch it, I don’t need My anxiety to give Me a heart attack by a heartless moron, My family suffers from Heart Disease, though I have friends online who did watch, it’s been said His lies were blatant…

    Jo Reply:

    I do not watch shows like that. Look up the definition of “dumbing down” and that pretty defines the whole event.

    Jo Reply:

    P.S. Not that the Democrat’s convention will be any better. All that we are going to get out of that one is “no mandate Obama”. Which of course is better than anything the republicans have to offer.

    thatbruce Reply:


    I have a cast-iron stomach.

  7. synonymouse
    Aug 30th, 2012 at 21:18

    @ D.P.

    BNSF ran a fairly lengthy commercial at the end of the GOP Convention(I was flipping channels but I believe it was on PBS). Some nice Santa Fe steam footage at the beginning.

    Sure would be nice if they took a page of the UP operating manual and rehabilitated a 2900, of which there still are some around. I have no idea where the 2925(or the 2-10-4) that the Santa Fe donated to the California Railway Museum is(are) located now

    jonathan Reply:

    California State RR Museum has a bunch of awesome stuff in the collection that isn’t viewable (even if you call in advance and have out-of-US credentials. I assume it’s liability issues). I remember the E units; I forget the rest.

    Much of the non-public listed on their web-page, if you dig deep enough. But the docents didn’t know how an FP7 differs from an F3 (or regular F7); or even why one might ask, of a California Zephyr loco.
    And I’m not even from the US!

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