CHSRA Details Carbon Emission Reductions

Jul 2nd, 2013 | Posted by

The California High Speed Rail Authority today submitted a report to the State Legislature laying out the ways in which the HSR project will reduce carbon emissions. The findings are significant:

• An estimated 4 to 8 million metric tons of CO2e saved by 2030
• Planting thousands of new trees across the Central Valley
• Significant contributions to California’s goal in AB 32 and SB 375
• Zero net greenhouse gas emissions during construction
• Strict guideline for sustainability best practices for design-build contracts to minimize environmental impacts and improve air quality

In short, the high speed rail project is an essential piece of the state’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions. AB 32 requires California to reduce its carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, just six and a half years from now. That may seem like a modest goal given the overall climate crisis. But it’s more ambitious than almost anywhere else in the world right now. And while HSR between San Francisco and Los Angeles won’t be done in time to meet that goal, it will help maintain that goal over time as population and economic activity both grow.

The CHSRA’s estimate that there would be zero net GHG emissions during construction is also important, given that some anti-HSR folks have tried to claim that construction carbon emissions would somehow make the project not worth building even though the long-term savings would be enormous.

Every bit of carbon reduction helps add to the total and helps prevent catastrophic outcomes for California, from rising sea levels to drought to agricultural damage. The HSR project is rightly seen as an important part of that strategy. It’s time to remove the remaining impediments to construction, time for Congress to step up and fund the project, and time to get serious about reducing carbon emissions.

  1. Derek
    Jul 2nd, 2013 at 23:53

    To get back to 1990 emissions, California will need to cap and trade road lane-miles. You know, like taxi medallions or liquor licenses. Anyone who wants to build or widen a road would need to purchase the rights for the appropriate amount of asphalt coverage from someone who’s selling theirs. Capping road space would effectively cap VMT, and with fuel efficiency on the rise, carbon emissions from road transportation would fall.

    Meanwhile, with road space capped, people would naturally seek alternatives, such as HSR.

    blankslate Reply:

    Nice idea, but places like Sunnyvale could keep buying capacity from places like Susanville and VMT would keep rising. There are so many places with massively overbuilt roadway infrastructure that it would take quite a while for this strategy to start lowering VMT.

  2. morris brown
    Jul 3rd, 2013 at 02:26

    See through high-speed smokescreen

    Fresno Bee:

    Although the authority has touted the high-speed rail project as an environmental savior, in reality it has one of the highest pollution potentials of all transportation projects due to its intensive construction efforts. In the likely event that this project ends in a stranded investment, the risk of the project being a net polluter becomes a reality. It also has been forecast that in the event the system does reach ridership projections, it may take the project 30-plus years to recover the air quality impacts associated with its construction and operation.

    Efforts by the authority to high-jack cap-and-trade funds (AB 32) puts the state at risk of not meeting the objective of the funds, which was to reduce California’s green house gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The first segment of high-speed rail is not slated to be complete until 2032. Also, the authority has estimated that the project will net the state 4 million to 8 million metric tons of GHG reduction, while other efforts like “green” building codes and energy efficiency programs will net the state 26 and 21 million metric tons, respectively.

    Eric Reply:

    That might be believable if the article brought numbers to quantify the impacts. But it doesn’t.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Believable, which, the the Bee or the CHSRA? The authority relies on estimates of business activity in 20 years time, how credible is that?
    The Bee rightly points out that the project does not have any meaningful transportation output for a couple of decades to offset, as others have pointed out, not only construction but the production and transportation of materials. When it comes to air quality this project has a great deal about which to be very modest.

    Eric Reply:

    “in reality it has one of the highest pollution potentials of all transportation projects due to its intensive construction efforts.”

    where is the analysis of other projects?

    Peter Reply:

    You do know there has been a scientific study on this issue? By UC Berkeley’s ITS? That, after they realized their mistake in the first study, concluded that HSR is in fact beneficial in terms of GHG output?

    Roger Christensen Reply:

    The Bee is not “rightly pointing out” anything. This is a guest op-ed written by a litigant in the lawsuit to counter the Bee’s editorial condemning Denham.

    Alan Reply:

    Shhh…don’t confuse Morris with facts.

    YESONHSR Reply:

    Righty fully points out what?? Media trash?? Why dont you and all of the “Rail Expertes” explaine how we can have a real “worth” passenger system outside of some stupid dome trains

    Howard Reply:

    The electrification of Caltrain will have immediate air quality benifits, both in no more diesel locomotive emmitions and in new riders diverted from cars due to faster and more frequent service. Green house gas cap and trade funds will probibly match CHSR funds to pay for Caltrain electrification. Metrolink improvements will also improve air quality, as they will get people to switch from cars to trains.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Except for the small problem that “faster and more frequent service” for Caltrain post-electrification is a fiction.

    “Give us $1.5 billion and we’ll deliver … uhhhh … we’ll get back to you on that after we’ve spent it all.”

    What you’re getting is a 19th century, FRA-regulated, hugely over-staffed, high-cost, infrequent freight railroad … with the extra maintenance expense of wires on top. Not what you’d like, but it’s what you’re getting, without question.

  3. agb5
    Jul 3rd, 2013 at 04:23

    • Zero net greenhouse gas emissions during construction (if you don’t count emissions from manufacturing cement, manufacturing re-bar, mining aggregate etc)

    202_cyclist Reply:

    How much emissions did the Chinese steel for the Bay Bridge, made with dirty coal and then sent across the Pacific in diesel freighters, create?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Order of magnitude check on aisle three! No, make the four orders of magnitude check!

    YESONHSR Reply:

    Can you post something post smelling your hole/armpits? on the real subject of building HSR?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    New information about the efficiency of trans-oceanic shipping and the cleanliness of American steel-making has come to light.

    202_cyclist Reply:

    Similarly, how much emissions does all of the concrete used to make parking garages to accommodate our beloved automobiles create?

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Lots, in both cases. And the point you are about to make is?

    202_cyclist Reply:

    These studies (or, comments, in the case above) about how the construction of high speed rail will create a lot of emissions fail to consider the emissions for other infrastructure alternatives.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Good point. So how much new infrastructure do we need to do the job that HSR is planned to do? I would say no more airports, at least in So Cal there is plenty of spare capacity at the regionals. The infrastructure needs are for local journeys in the high population regions, which will not be met by HSR.

  4. Bill
    Jul 3rd, 2013 at 09:18

    By 2030 most cars will be getting 40+ mpg. This is a concrete fact given upcoming government regulations. Air pollution is going to be significantly reduced regardless of HSR. At this rate in 20 years it’ll still take 10 hours to get to LA by train and 2 hours from Gilroy to SF. If construction actually ever begins Uncle Sam won’t allow the project to be left uncompleted having “wasted” billions of $$, they’ll want it finished so that DOESN’T happen if nothing else. This isn’t the 3rd World where major projects are routinely left unfinished for years.

    Eric Reply:

    The energy used per trip is less important than the overall length of trips. HSR’s real environmental advantage is in spurring the growth of dense areas where extensive driving is not needed for local travel. NYC residents on average create 1/3 the CO2 emissions of average Americans, even though their cars are probably of similar efficiency, because they make fewer and shorter trips (and live in more efficient housing). The goal is to enable the same thing on the west coast.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    HSR does nothing to spur the growth of dense areas. Why in the world would anyone think that? The travel frequency is in line with airport travel. Getting rid of extensive driving means:
    1) Walkable neighborhoods
    2) Efficient and frequent local mass transit.

    NYC doesn’t have 1/3rd the CO2 emissions because of Acela; they have it because of the subway system, more efficient housing, a high percentage of clean nuclear and hydro power, and use of cogeneration for heating.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    Eric Reply:

    “Why in the world would anyone think that?”

    Perhaps by looking at the urban form of the cities in the world that do have HSR and those that don’t.

    Joey Reply:

    Correlation ≠ Causality. Find a place in which dense development has happened only since the coming of HSR.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Nonetheless, i think the main point to make is that Paul’s claim that “HSR does nothing to spur the growth of dense areas” is way too strong, and equally unjustified. There are certainly ways in which HSR could plausibly encourage denser urban development.

    E.g., it’s main competitors are auto and air travel. Auto travel clearly encourages automobile usage. Air travel, because it relies on airports on the outskirts of cities, tends to be much less easy to integrate with mass transit than HSR, and is much easier to make car friendly (vast quantities of parking, etc). HSR into well-connected city-center stations, on the other hand, is a natural fit for mass transit. Encouraging mass-transit use, especially amongst the more well-off type of customer who is likely to use HSR, is an overall win for cities and the urban form.

    Huge effect? Probably not. Some effect? Probably. Everything is connected, and changes in perception are important too.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    HSR into well-connected city-center stations, on the other hand, is a natural fit for mass transit. Encouraging mass-transit use, especially amongst the more well-off type of customer who is likely to use HSR, is an overall win for cities and the urban form.

    Or, in other words, HSR into conditions that are already encouraging urban density and use of mass transit. The fun thing is, if you keep those conditions but don’t have the HSR, you’ll still get the increased density (zoning permitting) and mass transit use.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc. dude!

    Miles Bader Reply:

    My only point is that HSR can encourage trends that further development of transit / density, compared to what would happen if you didn’t.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    London doesn’t have much HSR, and had none at all until CTRL.

    New York doesn’t have HSR either.

    Singapore has no significant intercity rail at all (there are perennial plans to connect it to HSR).

    Travis D Reply:

    HSR doesn’t prevent growth of high density neighborhoods either.

    I’m all for mass transit. I’d love to see more trams or light rail in California. Walkable neighborhoods are nice too.

    thatbruce Reply:


    By 2030 most cars will be getting 40+ mpg. This is a concrete fact given upcoming government regulations.

    That’s a decrease from the 2025 manufacturer fleet target of 54.5mpg . But who knows if the 2011 CAFE agreement will stay standing, or whether it will be gutted again.

  5. Reedman
    Jul 3rd, 2013 at 09:20

    There won’t be any reductions in carbon emissions if the system is shut down due to employee strikes (like BART) or is so expensive to operate that few people can afford to use it.

    William Reply:

    Self-fulfilling prophecy?

  6. synonymouse
    Jul 3rd, 2013 at 10:54

    Rest assured that a government run CAHSR will be payroll top-heavy amid strike-happy politically connected unions.

    The only way you could have sustained privately operated would be if the line can roughly break even at least and that is impossible with the sandbagged, detoured routing.

    The orphan segment, IMHO, started out as an outrageous gag to jar the various parties out of their somnolence and fantasia. Instead they took it seriously. The magnitude of this political and pr gaffe will only become clearer as time rolls by.

    Meantime here’s something about the Key System on the Bay Bridge I did not know:,88341,88373#msg-88373

    Alan Reply:

    Rest assured that this wouldn’t be an official CHSR Blog post without one of Syno’s fact-free, psychotic anti-union screeds.

    synonymouse Reply:

    You know the DogLeg amounts to AmBART. Management caving to a political protected union is truly “psychotic”. That has plagued BART from the outset and the same gestalt will guarantee a heavily subsidized CAHSR.

    Byzantine, 3rd world corrupt, patronage machine politics.

    Alan Reply:

    I rest my case.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Peyote is a dangerous substance.

  7. Keith Saggers
    Jul 3rd, 2013 at 11:56

    Joey Reply:

    Why does Italy even need a train that fast? Very few of its high speed lines are even capable of 300km/h.

    VBobier Reply:

    And Poland is accepting their first Pandalinos

    THE FIRST of 20 seven-car Pendolino sets for PKP Intercity was presented to the Polish deputy transport minister Mr Andrzej Massel and PKP Intercity CEO Mr Janusz Malinowski at Alstom’s Savigliano plant in Italy on June 17.

    The first train is now undergoing static tests and PKP Intercity says production is well underway on the remaining sets with 35 vehicles already completed.

    PKP Intercity awarded Alstom a €665m contract in May 2011 to supply and maintain the non-tilting emus, which will have a maximum speed of 250km/h and accommodate up to 402 passengers. The trains will be equipped with ERTMS together with Polish, Czech, Austrian and German signalling systems, and will be capable of operating under 15kV ac and 25kV ac electrification as well as the standard Polish 3kV dc system.

    VBobier Reply:

    Oops, let Me try that link again, and Poland is accepting their first Pandalinos

    Joey Reply:

    Pandalinos? Do they serve cheap Chinese takeout onboard?

    VBobier Reply:

    If they did, it would be real Chinese food, the trains are made by Alstom…

    Deliveries will begin next year and the trains are expected to enter service on Warsaw – Gdansk and Warsaw – Krakow/Katowice services from December 2014, operating under the EIC Premium brand. The trains will also be used on services from Warsaw to Gliwice via Katowice, Wroclaw via Opolde, and Rzeszow via Tarnow.

    Alstom will maintain the fleet for a period of at least 17 years at a purpose-built depot at Warsaw Grochow.

    Joey Reply:

    I was making a joke about the fact that it’s Pendolinos, not Pandalinos.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    And to make things more confusing, they are NOT pendolini, because they don’t have the tilting mechanism (the customer apparently wanted the look, but not the feel…).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    China, too, has Pendolino-derived trains without tilt. I guess they just wanted a basic 250 km/h train.

    swing hanger Reply:

    I thought the reason was Alstom didn’t want the Chinese to copy the tilt mechanism.

    Joey Reply:

    Spain and China both have non-tilting versions too. No sense in paying for/maintaining the tilting mechanism if the route doesn’t require it.

    Eric Reply:

    It’s a HSR train so they serve Panda Express

    William Reply:

    Like what was asked before: what’s the main difference between a 200km/h and a 300km/h capable train?

    Joey Reply:

    Brakes and power output are probably the biggest things. Other things must be built to slightly tighter tolerances.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Expensive fancy suspension.
    Expansive fancy long-wheelbase bogies.
    Fancy body fabrication to keep weight down.
    More expensive lighter-weight everything in general.
    Tighter maintenance tolerances and higher maintenance costs.

    And last but not least: a large cost premium for bragging rights, especially for idiot cost-is-not-object customers who don’t understand service in any way but do understand a sticker that says “220 mph”. Match vehicle technology to a service plan, have a firm ceiling on the value of a minute saved — whether by higher top speed (always the last resort), faster pedestrian access within stations, an improvement to a low-speed speed restriction, a shorter route, or whatever — and all of a sudden there are multiple vendors and realistic offerings.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Underbody that doesn’t blow ballast stones all over.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Aren’t they also going to do a lot more work on aerodynamics generally, to keep noise down and improve efficiency?

    Andrew L-A Reply:

    Wouldn’t it be better to just move the cities closer together?

  8. Edward
    Jul 3rd, 2013 at 12:45

    “The actual limitations don’t allow to any train to exceed the 300 km/h (190 mph) on the tracks. Along with the developing of ETR1000 by AnsaldoBreda and Bombardier (which is designed to operate commercially at 360 km/h (220 mph), with a technical top speed of over 400 km/h (250 mph)) Rete Ferroviaria Italiana is working on the necessary updates to allow trains to speed up to 360 km/h (220 mph).”

    synonymouse Reply:

    There you go – Bombardier-Ansaldo-Breda on the neo-Acela case.

    Done deal, like Tutor. You gotta pay to play.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    I am not quite sure about that comparison; the ETR 1000 is a Bombardier product (essentially a Zefiro 360); AnsaldoBreda’s share is the final assembly plus the interiors. So, we can expect the trains to run flawlessly, but the toilets will fail after the second flush… (may be exaggerated).

    Joey Reply:

    Apparently AnsaldoBreda does a reasonable job of assembling things when they’re properly supervised.

    Keith Saggers Reply:


    VBobier Reply:

    Close, but Googles says 360 kph = 223.694 mph.

    Joey Reply:

    How many significant digits does the speedometer have?

    Derek Reply:

    “360 km/h” has 2.

    VBobier Reply:

    Look I just told you what the exact translation was, no need to be a smarty pants.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Traditionally it’s done in 10-20 km/h increments, but the newer digital ones sometimes have smaller increments.

  9. Reality Check
    Jul 3rd, 2013 at 23:04

    Bad news for Amtrak on-time performance:
    Amtrak Barred From Regulating Freight Railroads on Delays

    Alan Reply:

    Not immediately. Any performance standards that are contained in currently effective contracts between Amtrak and the railroads should remain in force. When the contracts expire, the parties renegotiate, like with any other contract.

    And there’s nothing preventing FRA from conducting a new rulemaking to reinstate the now-stricken rules, a rulemaking without the PRIIA-mandated Amtrak participation and veto power.

  10. Howard
    Jul 4th, 2013 at 12:31

    Xpress West will also cut carbon emissions and improve California high desert air quality. Does anybody know how much it will reduce carbon emissions? Their website talks about reducing oil use by 440,000 barrels a year. Will they also use electricity from carbon free generating sources, like hydroeletric dams (Hover Dam) and Nuclear power (San Orofre) for operations? Will the Xpress West contractors also be required to minimize construction emissions? Could tbe Xpress West project qualify for California carbon cap and trade funds, to pay for the electrification part inside California?

    James M in Irvine, CA Reply:

    Sorry to say, but Sanofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS) has not produced power since January 31, 2012 , and it will now be decomissioned.

    I hope the loss of power generation can be made up with this.

    (1st or 2nd try at using html to make links, let’s see how it works!)


    James M in Irvine, CA Reply:

    Edit: SAN ONOFRE …

  11. Emmanuel
    Jul 4th, 2013 at 12:54

    It’s easy to save carbon emissions by 2030 when the train won’t even run by then. Don’t hold your breath.

  12. D. P. Lubic
    Jul 4th, 2013 at 20:49

    Off topic, but of interest–New York Times on peak auto use:

  13. Keith Saggers
    Jul 5th, 2013 at 07:32
  14. Keith Saggers
    Jul 5th, 2013 at 12:15

    wdobner Reply:

    What a mess. High platform alongside GO’s low patform service, expensive DMUs when they claim to be contemplating electrification. Come on Canada, if you’re not going to hand he contact to Bombardier, then at least look into non-compliant trains and save a few bucks on all the specialized infrastructure those Sumitomo beasts need.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They could even hand the contract to Bombardier for a few Talents. That’s what Ottawa did for the original O-Train order.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
    And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
    His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
    Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
    Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
    For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
    And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    That’s what I always say…

  15. John Nachtigall
    Jul 5th, 2013 at 20:42

    Many on this board will enjoy this

    VBobier Reply:

    How quaint, their BART proposals of different types, nice though.

    John Burrows Reply:

    Royal Donuts lives on!!!

    During the 20 years I lived in Burlingame, customers must have thought that my office was at Royal Donuts. Now with the blended plan it looks like the place will survive High Speed Rail as well, at least for the time being.

    Joey Reply:

    Eric Fischer has an extensive collection of even more plans, photos, etc from before, during, and after the BART era. Link.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Man, how much better would things have turned out if some of these plans had been followed, instead of the expressway-highway construction we did get?

  16. J. Wong
    Jul 6th, 2013 at 13:23

    Crash landing at SFO. Airport shutdown.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Slightly earlier photo via NPR reveals little fire damage:

    John Burrows Reply:

    Back in the 1960’s a Japan Airlines pilot flew a DC-8 into San Francisco Bay in a near perfect landing a mile or more short of SFO. No one was hurt and eventually the plane was repaired and returned to service. It took a while to lift it out of the bay and not too surprisingly the plane attracted a lot of attention while it was there.

    Resident Reply:

    Sure. And then there’s this –

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    From the rail industry perspective I think we’ll find that the Lac Megantic incident will have more far reaching consequences.

  17. John Burrows
    Jul 8th, 2013 at 23:21

    My front window is 300 feet from the UP tracks. When the nightly freight trains come grinding through they sometimes contain a string of tank cars, and in the back of my mind I am thinking—If something really bad happens, is 300 feet enough.

    The chance of another rail accident like this one must be extremely remote and worrying about a rail disaster destroying your house probably borders on the paranoid. But when I see a gas tanker on the road I can quickly maneuver around it—When a string of tank cars goes lurching by outside my window, there’s not much I can do except to stop looking out the window.

    swing hanger Reply:

    You’re probably right about the risks, but it reminded me of this:

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