High speed rail. No GHG reduction if powered without renewable energy

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While I will edit their report let me quote from page 29. “High-speed rail proponents have recently acknowledged the need to augment any new train infrastructure with investments in wind and solar energy generation in order to reduce emissions. But the high-speed rail authority has no clear directive to use renewable electricity, so we assumed the rail line will use the current regional electricity mix.”

Following is part of their assessment.
“California is planning to spend $40 billion to build a high-speed rail system from San Diego to Sacramento. Advocates argue that high-speed rail will save money and improve the environment, while critics claim it will waste money and harm the environment. What accounts for these diametrically opposed views about a technology that has been operating in other countries for decades? And what can transportation analysts offer to inform the debate?
Disagreements about the cost and environmental impacts of high-speed rail can arise when analysts examine only the most direct effects of the rail system, and compare those to only the direct effects of road and air travel–the two transportation modes from which high-speed rail will likely draw passengers. But transportation energy use and emissions result not only from the direct effects of operating the vehicles but also from indirect effects, such as building the infrastructure, producing the fuel, manufacturing the vehicles, maintaining the system, and disposing of materials at the end of their lives. The full range of emissions from automobile travel, for example, includes not only tailpipe emissions but also the emissions created by building roads and parking garages, manufacturing cars, extracting and refining petroleum, and, finally, wrecking yards and tire dumps. One approach to environmental and cost-benefit analysis that takes both of these direct and indirect effects into account is life-cycle assessment. In this article we use life-cycle assessment to compare the energy use and pollution emissions of high speed rail and its competing modes.
When analyzing the environmental effects of planes, trains, and automobiles, the normal approach is to measure tailpipe emissions. Researchers can estimate these emissions with a variety of methods, and then combine the emissions data with information about typical vehicle occupancy. Together, these data can be used to calculate the emissions per passenger-kilometer of travel for each mode.
The problems with this approach are twofold. First, it often ignores the large differences within modes. The environmental costs of cars, for example, will vary with drive cycles, technology, age, and the composition of the fleet. So while it may be tempting to say that one mode is simply better than another, environmental policy should recognize no mode is universally good or bad, and that environmental impacts will depend heavily on context. Second, the conventional approach to evaluating modes depends heavily on estimates of ridership or occupancy. But calculating ridership is always hard, and for an entirely new system, such as California’s high-speed rail, the task is particularly challenging. Because the system doesn’t exist yet, ridership estimates are less certain, forecasted from surveys and travel demand models rather than extrapolating from existing data. But even small adjustments to ridership estimates (or, for cars, occupancy estimates) can substantially  change an environmental impact analysis. For example, how should we evaluate a new rail track that will last for decades? The track will likely facilitate many vehicle-kilometers of travel, but the emissions per passenger-kilometer will depend crucially on how many people will ride the trains. But even our best ridership estimates are uncertain, so picking a number and settling on it creates a false sense of precisions. It is both more useful and more honest to evaluate different modes based on a range of possible ridership estimates.
The proposed California high-speed rail system offers an opportunity to compare new rail transportation infrastructure against continued growth in auto and air travel. Most of the high-speed rail debate centers on the cost of building the system, with little attention paid to the cost of some alternatives, such as expanding the road and air infrastructure in the corridor or using congestion pricing on roadways and peak landing  fees at airports. California’s population is expected to increase significantly in the next half century, and the demand for travel will likely rise as well. High-speed rail will divert some of this additional travel demand from auto and air modes, but will doing so benefit the environment? Life-cycle analysis can provide the broader understanding needed to answer this question by considering more than only vehicles and fuels.
We have developed a life-cycle inventory of high-speed rail, automobiles, heavy rail (Amtrak) and aircraft in the California high-speed rail corridor from San Diego to Sacramento. Currently autos account for 75 percent of corridor’s total passenger travel, air 24 percent, and heavy rail only 1 percent. Our life cycle inventory evaluates the vehicle, infrastructure, and fuel components of all these models, and takes into account conditions that are specific to California: how the vehicles used here are made; the source of electricity  behind the various modes; and typical ridership levels for in-state long-distance trips.  A key factor is the cleanliness of the electricity used by each model. High-speed rail proponents have recently acknowledged the need to augment any new train infrastructure with investments in wind and solar electricity generation in order to reduce emissions. But the high-speed rail authority has no clear directive to use renewable electricity, so we assumed the high-speed rail will use the current regional electricity mix. We also assumed the rail will operate 1,200 seat trains as indicated in the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s environmental impact statements. These are big trains: European and Japanese high-speed trains often seat 600 or fewer passengers.
The life-cycle inventory for high-speed rail shows that accounting for infrastructure construction and electricity productions adds 40 percent to the energy consumed by the trains’ operations alone. Greenhouse  gas emissions increase by about 15 percent, primarily because of the concrete used in construction–half a kilogram of CO 2 is emitted for every kilogram of cement produced. Infrastructure construction will emit roughly 490 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, which are approximately 2 percent of California’s current annual emissions. As was the case with the life-cycle inventory of conventional modes, the majority of emissions released are not from the electricity needed  to propel the high-speed trains, but from the indirect and supply-chain components.
We can estimate the energy payback period for high-speed rail by comparing the energy used in its construction with the resulting energy savings in its operation, but only by making assumptions about ridership. The payback period evaluates the upfront energy or emission investment in deploying high-speed rails infrastructure against the potential reductions over time. The California High Speed Rail Authority provides a ridership estimate, but as noted above, ridership is uncertain, and for an entirely new mode it is very uncertain. ……Sulfur dioxide emissions, primarily from electricity production throughout the life-cycle, shows a surprising payback result; there is no reduction in sulfur dioxide for any rail ridership scenario if electricity continues to be generated and supplied as it is currently.
Thus the California high-speed rail system can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, buy may do so only over a very long period, and will do so in exchange for other air emissions. This dilemma illustrates the potential pitfall of tackling reductions of one pollutant, like carbon emissions, without considering other emissions. Building high-speed rail to reduce carbon emissions should also include co-investment in clean electricity to avoid unintended consequences like increases in sulfur dioxide.
Energy and emissions policies have often been adopted with little recognition that one negative environmental impact is often traded for another. The addition of MTBE as a fuel oxygenate in the 1990’s and the more recent use of corn-ethanol are two prime examples….
For California high-speed rail, life-cycle analysis offers a way to identify tradeoffs early in the policy development and planning phases. Our life-cycle analysis of California high-speed rail shows that its total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions per passenger-kilometer will be significantly underestimated if analysts consider only operating the trains, and if they over estimate the ridership. Extensive use of concrete and other materials, transportation of parts and materials in the supply chain, and electricity generation for many unrelated processes will consume much energy and produce much pollution before the trains begin transporting passengers… .. Life-cycle assessment shows that high ridership coupled with planning for system-wide energy and emission reductions are necessary for a high-speed rail network to improve the environment and human health.”
Gilbert final comments. Initial cost, ticket costs and subsidies aside, the HSR ridership numbers are bogus.
For years Irvine Assemblyman Chuck Devore was promoting nuclear energy and had no traction. Acknowledging the need for alternative energy there are numerous reasons why this project should be stopped.
Its time to pull the plug

Its time to pull the plug

The University of California Berkeley has been a leader in evaluating transportation in our state. Researcher Mikhail Chester and professor Arpad Horvath published a study in their Fall 2010 ACCESS magazine that addresses environmental impacts of the proposed CA high-speed rail as compared with road and air travel.

About Larry Gilbert