Extreme Temperature Diary-February 21th, 2019/ Off The Rails…Why Cutting Plans For High Speed Trains Is A Big No No For The Environment

Off The Rails…Why Cutting Plans For High Speed Trains Is A Big No No For The Environment

Thursday February 20th… Dear Diary. The main purpose of this ongoing post will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉

This topic folks is a no brainer. We all know that reliance on more mass transit is less carbon intensive than driving cars and trucks. If high speed rail is built criss crossing the country that relies on electricity for power potentially air traffic can be reduced, as well. Jets have a high carbon footprint. So, when the old Climate Guy gets wind of the Trump Administration scrapping funding for high speed rail in California, he gets quite upset.

A high speed rail project was funded for Califormia by Congress, but Trump has threatened to take millions off the table. Take a look:


Quoting the first three paragraphs of the article:

SACRAMENTO — The Federal Railroad Administration’s threat Tuesday to withdraw nearly $1 billion in grant funds for the state’s high-speed rail is just a small sliver of the project’s estimated $77.3 billion budget. So what’s really at stake?

The possibility of losing the federal money could put the project at risk of losing another $2.5 billion that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has already spent. That’s because the authority’s roughly $3.5 billion agreement with the federal government requires the authority to complete the 119-mile Central Valley segment from Madera to Bakersfield, as well as the environmental reviews of the San Francisco and Los Angeles bookend segments, by 2022. It was required to spend the first $2.5 billion by Sept. 30, 2017, said authority spokeswoman Annie Parker.

The remaining $929 million in federal funds has no timeline, and although it’s available to use, Parker said it hasn’t yet been spent. But, it was money the authority was counting on to complete the $10.6 billion Central Valley segment, roughly a tenth of the total cost of the line. If it doesn’t meet that deadline, it would have to give that money back.

Once again we see from the Trump Administration an effort to prevent progress in the transportation sector to stymie a “green” project. Evidently, as we know, the tentacles of the oil industry run deep into the U.S. government.

The goal for the oil industry, of course, is to keep prices steady for gasoline somewhere between two to three dollars a gallon so that a good chunk of the population will continue to use large internal combustion vehicles with very little incentive for change. Desirable low carbon mass transit that would take more cars off the road runs counter to maximum profits that the oil and gas industry want to achieve. Of, course they don’t want the bottom to fall out of the market such that there is practically no demand for gas, but I seriously doubt to see this during my lifetime.

Now, we can’t put an exact figure on how many tons of carbon the rail project would prevent from going into the atmosphere over X number of years, but that figure is probably substantial at least in association from what goes into the air from California, which is a driver intensive state. I’ll be keeping an eye out to see how and if this project evolves.

So, what does the Green New Deal have to do with high speed rail? Plenty:


Quoting the Daily Kos article:


The U.S. Interstate Highway System is the largest infrastructure project in the world to this day, costing $499 billion in 2016 dollars, and taking 35 years to complete. This will be bigger.

The Green New Deal published back on February 7 supports the $2 trillion infrastructure investment called for by the American Society of Civil Engineers, plus a National High Speed Rail (HSR) Network that is required to provide the zero emission transportation alternative the Nation needs to reach the greenhouse gas emissions goal set by the IPCC. This is tremendously exciting. Yes, I have had criticisms of the fact sheet put out by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, but the focus of this diary is on the concrete, real, and achievable Green New Deal goal of building a National HSR Network.

So why Focus on Rail?

Because Transportation is the second largest source of Greenhouse Emissions in the United States. And when we break that transportation slice out further:

Breakdown of Transportation Emissions

The need to focus on rail is obvious. Again, we see that we already know what to do about some of the transportation emissions (electric cars, semi trucks, and buses). The problem is the remainder.

Surging air travel demand helped fuel the rise in US emissions after years of decline. And aircraft are extremely difficult to decarbonize. While electrification is coming for cars, trucks, and buses, no battery or fuel cell is going to fly anyone across the Pacific anytime soon.

And that’s where high speed rail comes in. Here, the Green New Deal makes reference specifically to a National High Speed Rail (line 24, pp. 8 of H. Res.109).  It was also listed as a bullet on the fact sheet.

As Umair Irfan in Vox notes:

[A 2017 review study in the Journal of Advanced Transportation] also notes that aircraft start beating bullet trains in costs and travel times over distances greater than 620 miles. That’s just a bit more than the distance between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. So even with a high-speed rail network across the US, there will still be a market for air travel, and no one is proposing to get rid of airlines. It’s just that high-speed trains can replace many short-haul flights, giving travelers more options if they don’t want to fly.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to think we can have air travel, high-speed rail, and highways,” said Yonah Freemark, a doctoral candidate studying the politics of transportation at MIT. And adding more options like high-speed trains makes it easier for travelers if they don’t want to fly.

More importantly, trains already compete with planes in many parts of the world, including right here in the United States.

Could Rail Compete with Air in the U.S.?

It Already does.

It should be noted that this abstract corridor is Dr. Mack speaks of is already served by the Nation’s only operative high speed rail corridor: Amtrak Acela.  Even at speeds slower than other high speed rail systems in the world(6), Amtrak’s Acela has been wildly successful.  From the Baltimore Sun:

Amtrak says that over the past five years, its share of the Washington-New York market has grown to 75 percent, up from 35 percent a little more than a decade ago. Its top producer — Acela — runs near capacity and annually produces $550 million in revenue while spending $360 million… Given the competition, low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines is eliminating service between Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and two New York metropolitan airports, LaGuardia and Newark.

That’s right. The government owned an operated Amtrak generates 52.7% profits of $190 million. The 2009 Stimulus Bill provided $8 billion in funds for high speed rail and a further $1.3billion for Amtrak. This is a paltry sum. But rail proponents have become a master of doing more with less, and part of those stimulus funds are being used to upgrade the top sped from 150mph to 165mph, which is still slower than the 200mph seen in Europe, but not by that much.

I invite all to read the rest of the Daily Kos article.

I’ll add that the aviation industry is developing all electric plains that could be powered by green energy in the future, Whether or not these “jets” could fly over traditional routes remains to be seen.


Here is some more climate and weather news from Thursday:

(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity.)

Here is one “ET” from overseas:

(If you like these posts and my work please contribute via the PayPal widget, which has recently been added to this site. Thanks in advance for any support.) 

The Climate Guy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *