Trains are way more efficient than cars and trucks when it comes to transporting people and goods, yet in North America, trains are often shunned for more wasteful transportation systems. This negative attitude towards sustainability is changing, notably California citizens voted for a high speed rail line in the state.
Opponents to economic and environmental efficiencies argued that the high speed rail line would be too expensive to build. It turns out, rather unsurprisingly, that California’s new rail system is better for everybody!
While several competing proposals are on the table for what the system will look like once it’s completed, high-speed rail promises to be more environmentally friendly in several ways. Cars and planes, for example, run on fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases and other pollutants. The extraction and refining process also emits pollutants. High-speed trains, however, run on electricity, which produces no greenhouse gases at the point of use. Pollutants become an issue for high-speed rail at the power plants generating the electricity. The plants may burn fossil fuels. However, the study’s authors note that the number of renewable energy plants, which produce no greenhouse gases, will continue to grow in California as the high-speed rail system is built. Hydroelectric power produces the bulk of the electricity for the Swiss High-Speed Rail network.
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.