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Clean Transport high-speed train

Published on September 15th, 2008 | by Ariel Schwartz

53

California's 220 MPH High-Speed Train Will Be Emissions-Free

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September 15th, 2008 by
 
high-speed train

As if the announcement of a high-speed rail line that will go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes isn’t exciting enough, Navigant Consulting now claims that the bullet train can run with zero greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the energy consulting firm, the train’s expected usage of 3,350 GWh each year can easily be generated using renewable energy resources in California. The rail line’s energy consumption will be about one percent of the state’s total energy usage—not bad considering its speed, convenience, and potential for widespread use.

The 800-mile bullet train system is being built by the California High-Speed Rail Authority. By 2030, the 220 MPH high-speed trains will carry up to 100 million passengers per year. The ultimate fate of the project will be decided this November, when the state’s $9.95 billion bond measure for the train is voted upon.

It’s hard to comprehend the reduction in carbon emissions that will occur once the train is running—just think about the effect of even one quarter of the people who would normally drive or fly across the state opting for high-speed rail. And why wouldn’t they want to take a train that drastically cuts travel time and eliminates the hassles of sitting in traffic and trekking through airport security? I know I’ll be first in line.

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About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.



  • ty

    You guys have probably all seen the virtual tour of the rail but…http://www.caivp.org/video/san-diego-waterfront/2009/1/22/california-high-speed-rail-visual-tour

  • ty

    You guys have probably all seen the virtual tour of the rail but…http://www.caivp.org/video/san-diego-waterfront/2009/1/22/california-high-speed-rail-visual-tour

  • Neal

    Like everything else, I’ll believe it when I see it. 2030? Why not 2010? We’ve got money for everything else, (700B bailout, Iraq war, foriegn handouts, etc.) but this country continues to slag behind. In 2030 this technology will be outdated. Let’s get going America. This country is a big mess! Build the train now! Get some of these cars off the road and ease the airline industry. (Clean our air as well) China already has this train, no dought, it’s better!

  • Neal

    Like everything else, I’ll believe it when I see it. 2030? Why not 2010? We’ve got money for everything else, (700B bailout, Iraq war, foriegn handouts, etc.) but this country continues to slag behind. In 2030 this technology will be outdated. Let’s get going America. This country is a big mess! Build the train now! Get some of these cars off the road and ease the airline industry. (Clean our air as well) China already has this train, no dought, it’s better!

  • Spokker

    The high speed line will open in segments. 2030 is the projected completion date for the entire system. The first segment, SF-LA would open in 2020 if prop 1A is approved in November.

    “Surely such a long distance high speed track will be damaged over time by tectonic movements until eventually the train hits a piece of tremor-damaged track and has a nasty accident.”

    After any moderate sized earthquake passenger tracks near the epicenter are inspected and trains are ordered to travel at restricted speed (15-20 MPH).

  • Spokker

    The high speed line will open in segments. 2030 is the projected completion date for the entire system. The first segment, SF-LA would open in 2020 if prop 1A is approved in November.

    “Surely such a long distance high speed track will be damaged over time by tectonic movements until eventually the train hits a piece of tremor-damaged track and has a nasty accident.”

    After any moderate sized earthquake passenger tracks near the epicenter are inspected and trains are ordered to travel at restricted speed (15-20 MPH).

  • Phil

    Surely such a long distance high speed track will be damaged over time by tectonic movements until eventually the train hits a piece of tremor-damaged track and has a nasty accident.

  • Phil

    Surely such a long distance high speed track will be damaged over time by tectonic movements until eventually the train hits a piece of tremor-damaged track and has a nasty accident.

  • http://everyoneforever.org Richard

    China builds their lines in a couple of years.

    High-speed rail is probably the safest form of transportation. The tracks are not shared with freight trains.

    Check out my blog entry on HSR

    http://everyoneforever.org/blogger/

  • http://everyoneforever.org Richard

    China builds their lines in a couple of years.

    High-speed rail is probably the safest form of transportation. The tracks are not shared with freight trains.

    Check out my blog entry on HSR

    http://everyoneforever.org/blogger/

  • Gene

    I live in France. Showing a fellow American the TGV is like passing out Polaroids in a jungle village, yet this technology has been around for years. So have diesel cars. We’ve let our leadership, in cohoots with our corporations, screw us. I hope that in the future we will learn to demand a more reasonable society and to appreciate the good ideas other people have.

  • Gene

    I live in France. Showing a fellow American the TGV is like passing out Polaroids in a jungle village, yet this technology has been around for years. So have diesel cars. We’ve let our leadership, in cohoots with our corporations, screw us. I hope that in the future we will learn to demand a more reasonable society and to appreciate the good ideas other people have.

  • Moe

    >Joel

    Of course trains are a easy targets. Look at the terrorist attacs in madrid or london. you can carry a bomb on any train in europe, and nobody can do anthing against it. there are many other places in modern society where large groups of people assemble.

    for excample sport-stadiums, cinema, etc.

    but the main reason for those insane security chechpoints in airports, is fear of flight. the largest end densest group of people (best target for terrorists) at an airport are the people waiting in line in front of the security check point.

    you cant prevent terrorist attacks with security check points, without turning your country in a police state.

    a better solution: work on the causes of terrorism. terrorism has three main causes: hate, fear of loss of cultural identity and poverty. by killing people in the middle east, occupying regions of the middle east and destroiing infrastructure and private property, the usa is doing everything necessary for increasing the terrorist problem.

  • Moe

    >Joel

    Of course trains are a easy targets. Look at the terrorist attacs in madrid or london. you can carry a bomb on any train in europe, and nobody can do anthing against it. there are many other places in modern society where large groups of people assemble.

    for excample sport-stadiums, cinema, etc.

    but the main reason for those insane security chechpoints in airports, is fear of flight. the largest end densest group of people (best target for terrorists) at an airport are the people waiting in line in front of the security check point.

    you cant prevent terrorist attacks with security check points, without turning your country in a police state.

    a better solution: work on the causes of terrorism. terrorism has three main causes: hate, fear of loss of cultural identity and poverty. by killing people in the middle east, occupying regions of the middle east and destroiing infrastructure and private property, the usa is doing everything necessary for increasing the terrorist problem.

  • Moe

    total bs.

    trains use large amounts of energy, especially bullet trains.

    We have lots of those in germany, and the FAZ published a article about the averange carbon foot print of cars, trains and planes in germany. The carbon foot print of trains (equivalent to gas usage)is between 4 and 8 liters/100km (58.8 – 39.2 mpg)per passenger. while planes use 3 – 4 l/100km (78.4 – 58.8 mpg) per passenger. In cars the user can choose himself which kind of car he drives an how many passengers will be on bord, so the carbon footprint can vary. However, if two people ride in one modern car ( >39 mpg), it is the most efficient means of transportation.

    If California produces 5% of its electricity with renewable methods, then only 5% of the electricity which is consumed by the train will be “green” and not 100%! trains are very heavy (1.5 metric tons per passenger if all seats are taken -> averange of 2.8 t per passenger) , they produce lots of friction with their wheels and, beeing close to the ground, they experience alot more aerodynamic resistance than planes flying at 11km above ground.

    in conclusion: trains are not quite as good as their reputation.

  • Moe

    total bs.

    trains use large amounts of energy, especially bullet trains.

    We have lots of those in germany, and the FAZ published a article about the averange carbon foot print of cars, trains and planes in germany. The carbon foot print of trains (equivalent to gas usage)is between 4 and 8 liters/100km (58.8 – 39.2 mpg)per passenger. while planes use 3 – 4 l/100km (78.4 – 58.8 mpg) per passenger. In cars the user can choose himself which kind of car he drives an how many passengers will be on bord, so the carbon footprint can vary. However, if two people ride in one modern car ( >39 mpg), it is the most efficient means of transportation.

    If California produces 5% of its electricity with renewable methods, then only 5% of the electricity which is consumed by the train will be “green” and not 100%! trains are very heavy (1.5 metric tons per passenger if all seats are taken -> averange of 2.8 t per passenger) , they produce lots of friction with their wheels and, beeing close to the ground, they experience alot more aerodynamic resistance than planes flying at 11km above ground.

    in conclusion: trains are not quite as good as their reputation.

  • John Busch

    OK… Great idea… will likely NEVER be built as currently pitched. To many parties at the table… too much politics.. the unions… the enviromentalists… high cost of righ-a-way… and every leftist interest group will want something.

    Very difficult for it to make fiscal sense. A horrific money loser that will not help much with core CA transportation problems. This state is in the red to the tune of hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars mainly due to huge amounts of wastefull spending. The voters will not support yet another open ended bond issue. Can’t even pay for the ones currently on the books.

    I LOVE riding the train… but after a lot of years of watching how infrastructure projects are done (or in this case.. not done) in this dysfunctional state tells me this project is DOA.

    If it were allowed to be done as Pete Wilson did with rebuilding the freeways in LA after the Northridge quake… cut all the beuraucratic crap out of it…engineer and build it on the merits… it could become a real transportation project.. it would have a chance of sucess. But as a politcal football… which is the current situation… it has NO future.

    Look at the current (pathetic) Amtrak California… they can’t even get it over the Grapevine from Bakersfield to LA. A lousy 4,500′ hill!! Have to ride a bus. What a joke!!! Hundreds of millions of dollars and 30 + years and still no plausible … practical direct passenger service from LA to SF.. or LA to Sacramento …. north to Portland, Seattle, let alone Canada.

    So until there is a sea change in how capitol projects are conceived and managed here in CA… coupled with a equal change in the political environment.. Forgetaboutit!!

  • John Busch

    OK… Great idea… will likely NEVER be built as currently pitched. To many parties at the table… too much politics.. the unions… the enviromentalists… high cost of righ-a-way… and every leftist interest group will want something.

    Very difficult for it to make fiscal sense. A horrific money loser that will not help much with core CA transportation problems. This state is in the red to the tune of hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars mainly due to huge amounts of wastefull spending. The voters will not support yet another open ended bond issue. Can’t even pay for the ones currently on the books.

    I LOVE riding the train… but after a lot of years of watching how infrastructure projects are done (or in this case.. not done) in this dysfunctional state tells me this project is DOA.

    If it were allowed to be done as Pete Wilson did with rebuilding the freeways in LA after the Northridge quake… cut all the beuraucratic crap out of it…engineer and build it on the merits… it could become a real transportation project.. it would have a chance of sucess. But as a politcal football… which is the current situation… it has NO future.

    Look at the current (pathetic) Amtrak California… they can’t even get it over the Grapevine from Bakersfield to LA. A lousy 4,500′ hill!! Have to ride a bus. What a joke!!! Hundreds of millions of dollars and 30 + years and still no plausible … practical direct passenger service from LA to SF.. or LA to Sacramento …. north to Portland, Seattle, let alone Canada.

    So until there is a sea change in how capitol projects are conceived and managed here in CA… coupled with a equal change in the political environment.. Forgetaboutit!!

  • Michael

    by 2030?! cant they speed that up? our economy sucking, gas prices rising, and plus pollution is killing our atmosphere.

  • Michael

    by 2030?! cant they speed that up? our economy sucking, gas prices rising, and plus pollution is killing our atmosphere.

  • oki

    Oooooh, wow, I’ll be taking it just cuz I want to ride something that goes 220mph. :B

    Zero emissions though? Bit suspicious. I think this was a Doctor Who episode..

  • oki

    Oooooh, wow, I’ll be taking it just cuz I want to ride something that goes 220mph. :B

    Zero emissions though? Bit suspicious. I think this was a Doctor Who episode..

  • Thos Weatherby

    It’s a fraud. It won’t be zero emissions. It won’t carry 100M people and it won’t make it in 2 hours and 40 minutes. But it will cost more than projected. Just do the math. If the train was 10 cars long and each car would carry 100 people, you would need a train to leave every 2 minutes of every day, 24 hours a day.

    Every mass transit system is always overrated on what it can do.

  • Thos Weatherby

    It’s a fraud. It won’t be zero emissions. It won’t carry 100M people and it won’t make it in 2 hours and 40 minutes. But it will cost more than projected. Just do the math. If the train was 10 cars long and each car would carry 100 people, you would need a train to leave every 2 minutes of every day, 24 hours a day.

    Every mass transit system is always overrated on what it can do.

  • Erik

    Some Guy, what do you mean by another “miracle rail project from the government.” If by “another” you mean the Acela, then I would hope there would be more “miracle rail” projects.

    Rail travel IS viable in California, just look at the increased ridership on Amtrak recently. And if you want to live in a perfect world where transportation is not subsidized, then I think you would lose your precious roads. Good luck with your traffic, carbon footprint, expensive flights, and the price of gas. I’ll be riding the train.

  • Erik

    Some Guy, what do you mean by another “miracle rail project from the government.” If by “another” you mean the Acela, then I would hope there would be more “miracle rail” projects.

    Rail travel IS viable in California, just look at the increased ridership on Amtrak recently. And if you want to live in a perfect world where transportation is not subsidized, then I think you would lose your precious roads. Good luck with your traffic, carbon footprint, expensive flights, and the price of gas. I’ll be riding the train.

  • John

    How long will it take to complete this high speed train ? We need it here in San Diego . The daily traffic is a night mare , on the freeways .

  • John

    How long will it take to complete this high speed train ? We need it here in San Diego . The daily traffic is a night mare , on the freeways .

  • Some Guy

    Oh, for crying out loud. Not another “miracle rail” project from the government.

    If rail travel were viable in California, it wouldn’t take billions of tax dollars to make it happen.

  • Some Guy

    Oh, for crying out loud. Not another “miracle rail” project from the government.

    If rail travel were viable in California, it wouldn’t take billions of tax dollars to make it happen.

  • Ryan

    You think it’ll be hassle free at the train depot? Just as much security as at the airport. No way public transport that large and expensive won’t have it.

  • Ryan

    You think it’ll be hassle free at the train depot? Just as much security as at the airport. No way public transport that large and expensive won’t have it.

  • DenshaOtoko

    >>Joel

    Granted, there is a possibility of tragedy regardless of mode of transport, whether it is by air, road, rail, or sea. Terrorists sometimes get their way, acts of God sometimes get in the way, a batsh*t crazy engineer might be texting, accidents will happen. Especially after considering the tens of thousands of people that die in a motor vehicle every year in the US, I don’t consider it fair to dismiss high-speed rail as unsafe (if anything, you’re implying that they’re just as dangerous as airplanes). Several other countries have already embraced HSR, and the overall safety records of well-implemented networks (i.e. Japan) is nothing short of remarkable.

    Securing a rail line isn’t as difficult as you make it seem. It may seem easy enough to park a car in the path of a rail line in hopes of a collision, just like what happened in LA in 2005. However, high-speed lines are dedicated rails, completely grade-separated from road traffic, so a disturbance will be more difficult to achieve, and more difficult to overlook (think security cams at regular intervals). Will it be expensive to fully secure? Yes. But it is also expensive to secure our airports. On the topic of price, it will also be more expensive to expand our roads and airports to achieve the same logistical advantages of HSR. I assure you that this $40b will be well spent.

    America is also about having a choice. Right now, people only have two serious choices between LA and SF: driving (slow, inefficient) or flying (fast, expensive, stressful). Giving people the third choice of high-speed rail empowers the people to make a more environmentally sound and efficient decision, while also relieving the overcrowding of roads and airports, so those that choose otherwise can still go their own way. Perhaps you have a taste for flying as opposed to ground travel. Again, America is all about choice. In fact, you may just find getting your ticket and finding a seat on your plane a bit easier when the rest of us are on the train.

  • DenshaOtoko

    >>Joel

    Granted, there is a possibility of tragedy regardless of mode of transport, whether it is by air, road, rail, or sea. Terrorists sometimes get their way, acts of God sometimes get in the way, a batsh*t crazy engineer might be texting, accidents will happen. Especially after considering the tens of thousands of people that die in a motor vehicle every year in the US, I don’t consider it fair to dismiss high-speed rail as unsafe (if anything, you’re implying that they’re just as dangerous as airplanes). Several other countries have already embraced HSR, and the overall safety records of well-implemented networks (i.e. Japan) is nothing short of remarkable.

    Securing a rail line isn’t as difficult as you make it seem. It may seem easy enough to park a car in the path of a rail line in hopes of a collision, just like what happened in LA in 2005. However, high-speed lines are dedicated rails, completely grade-separated from road traffic, so a disturbance will be more difficult to achieve, and more difficult to overlook (think security cams at regular intervals). Will it be expensive to fully secure? Yes. But it is also expensive to secure our airports. On the topic of price, it will also be more expensive to expand our roads and airports to achieve the same logistical advantages of HSR. I assure you that this $40b will be well spent.

    America is also about having a choice. Right now, people only have two serious choices between LA and SF: driving (slow, inefficient) or flying (fast, expensive, stressful). Giving people the third choice of high-speed rail empowers the people to make a more environmentally sound and efficient decision, while also relieving the overcrowding of roads and airports, so those that choose otherwise can still go their own way. Perhaps you have a taste for flying as opposed to ground travel. Again, America is all about choice. In fact, you may just find getting your ticket and finding a seat on your plane a bit easier when the rest of us are on the train.

  • Ed

    Wow, that thing could really kill some people, can you imagine how many deaths we would have had if that train was involved?

  • Ed

    Wow, that thing could really kill some people, can you imagine how many deaths we would have had if that train was involved?

  • BeeJay

    Joel,

    The high speed train is not at all like an airplane when it comes to security. It will be on a dedicated track, so cannot travel freely like an airliner to threaten any destination. It is also an electric train, with the electricity controlled by a remote location, not the train. So in the extremely unlikely event that someone tries to take over the train, there will be protocols in place where you just cut the power to the track. The train coasts to a stop. Hundreds of angry passengers hold the terrorists for authorities.

  • BeeJay

    Joel,

    The high speed train is not at all like an airplane when it comes to security. It will be on a dedicated track, so cannot travel freely like an airliner to threaten any destination. It is also an electric train, with the electricity controlled by a remote location, not the train. So in the extremely unlikely event that someone tries to take over the train, there will be protocols in place where you just cut the power to the track. The train coasts to a stop. Hundreds of angry passengers hold the terrorists for authorities.

  • Jezza

    The best thing is that it’s French – the TGV to be precise. I could also point out that it will only run on special track – which will have to be laid – and uses overhead catenary for the power supply – which will also have to be set up. Now you know why it will take that long.

  • Jezza

    The best thing is that it’s French – the TGV to be precise. I could also point out that it will only run on special track – which will have to be laid – and uses overhead catenary for the power supply – which will also have to be set up. Now you know why it will take that long.

  • Joel

    I always get flamed for asking this, but it is a legitimate question that I wish someone would put some thought into answering. Woudn’t trains be just as big of a security risk as planes? If you bring down a plane at more than a hundred feet you kill everyone on board. If you derail a train at 220 mph you kill everyone on board. Even if the survival rate is slightly better than 0% trains tend to carry more people (one reason they’re more efficient) and so you may end up killing more people anyway. I just don’t see our oh so benevolent government letting us waltz onto a high-speed train with nothing more than a smile and a “Have a nice trip!”

    Even worse, with planes you need only secure the take-off and landing points and the vehicle itself. With a train you need to secure all that and the track too. Wouldn’t it be very very hard and expensive to secure more than 400 miles worth of track?

  • Joel

    I always get flamed for asking this, but it is a legitimate question that I wish someone would put some thought into answering. Woudn’t trains be just as big of a security risk as planes? If you bring down a plane at more than a hundred feet you kill everyone on board. If you derail a train at 220 mph you kill everyone on board. Even if the survival rate is slightly better than 0% trains tend to carry more people (one reason they’re more efficient) and so you may end up killing more people anyway. I just don’t see our oh so benevolent government letting us waltz onto a high-speed train with nothing more than a smile and a “Have a nice trip!”

    Even worse, with planes you need only secure the take-off and landing points and the vehicle itself. With a train you need to secure all that and the track too. Wouldn’t it be very very hard and expensive to secure more than 400 miles worth of track?

  • Barius

    You guys should have thought of that before voting for Bush.

  • Barius

    You guys should have thought of that before voting for Bush.

  • joey feng

    I’m with skeptic, 2030 is ridiculously late. Most of the other developed countries already have these bullet trains working as of now. Japan, Taiwan, some European states, all have at least one. China I know has several working, including the fastest in the world for peak speed (somewhere to the tune of 230mph I believe)

    All the emissions perks are nice, but we really need to get this underway asap.

  • joey feng

    I’m with skeptic, 2030 is ridiculously late. Most of the other developed countries already have these bullet trains working as of now. Japan, Taiwan, some European states, all have at least one. China I know has several working, including the fastest in the world for peak speed (somewhere to the tune of 230mph I believe)

    All the emissions perks are nice, but we really need to get this underway asap.

  • Skeptic

    2030? Pfft!

    By the time this thing is done we’ll have invented teleportation, or flying cars!! Must public projects in this country always take 20 years to complete?

  • Skeptic

    2030? Pfft!

    By the time this thing is done we’ll have invented teleportation, or flying cars!! Must public projects in this country always take 20 years to complete?

  • John Woods

    That is truly amazing. How do they do it. Some pretty smart people no doubt.

    Jiff

    http://www.privacy.cz.tc

  • John Woods

    That is truly amazing. How do they do it. Some pretty smart people no doubt.

    Jiff

    http://www.privacy.cz.tc

  • http://www.masstransitnow.org Ben Schiendelman

    This is fantastic. Even if we weren’t building renewable power all over California, it would still be a huge reduction in emissions to get on the grid instead of burning jet fuel.

    It’s a lot easier to fix grid generation – something we have solutions for today – than to try to dream up solutions for cars and aircraft.

  • http://www.masstransitnow.org Ben Schiendelman

    This is fantastic. Even if we weren’t building renewable power all over California, it would still be a huge reduction in emissions to get on the grid instead of burning jet fuel.

    It’s a lot easier to fix grid generation – something we have solutions for today – than to try to dream up solutions for cars and aircraft.

  • A

    Bullet trains are nice but I fly San Diego / San Jose twice a week and it’s a 3 hour trip door-to-door for me (and if I buy tickets in advance it can be as low as $60).

    Not that it matters as apparently by the time we get this I’ll be happily retired.

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