Obama on Right Track with High-Speed Rail
The government has identified 10 major high-speed rail corridors eligible for stimulus funding. Photo by the White House via About.com.

The government has identified 10 major high-speed rail corridors eligible for stimulus funding. Photo by the White House via About.com.

From the World Resources Institute Pressroom:

President Barack Obama announced plans [yesterday] to pump $8 billion of stimulus funds into building a network of high-speed and intercity rail.

“The President is on the right track,” said Nancy Kete, the director of EMBARQ – The World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport, a non-profit organization that develops transport solutions for cities around the world. “The new plan to integrate high-speed rail with urban transit will help reduce congestion and make cities better places to live.”

In addition to $8 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the plan calls for at least another $5 billion to fund intercity rail projects over the next five years.

“But there’s a missing mode in the plan,” Kete added. “To complement rail, we also need to help cities build high-quality, high-capacity bus rapid transit systems, which can offer good high-speed service, but at a fraction of the cost of rail.”

Read the full news release here.

EMBARQ Senior Transport Engineer Dr. Dario Hidalgo also had some thoughts about the plan, emphasizing some of the biggest benefits of city-to-city railways:

High speed rail is a very welcome addition to the transport choices in the U.S. It increases connectivity and helps reduce green house gases. The plan released by the Federal Railway Administration suggests potential reductions of 6 billion pounds of CO2 equivalents per year.

We don’t have full information on the details of this calculation to replicate or contest it in any way. But we can say this: riding inter-city rail between cities produces less carbon dioxide emissions than flying in planes.

According to data from Dr. Mikhail Chester from the University of California, Berkeley, trains produce 30% less carbon emissions per mile than midsize aircraft and 70% less than SUVs.

Keep in mind, the calculations from Dr. Chester are based on the energy grid of California, which is the best in the country. When we think about railways, we need to be very careful about where the power is coming from. Calculations for California, for example, may not apply for other regions in the country that are more coal-intensive. You not only need trains, but you need a cleaner power grid.

Another benefit of high speed rail is that it can foster denser development and result in even higher carbon emissions reductions because of the reduced need to travel. In other words, in denser developments, people will have more opportunities to bike, walk or take public transit, instead of riding in private cars. Better land use patterns can actually multiply the total reduction in C02 emissions by about five times. (For more details, see this study.)

Watch Pres. Obama talk about his vision for high-speed rail:

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