High-Speed Rail Environmental Benefits

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is developing a high-speed rail system that will deliver fast, direct travel between the state’s major regions while providing environmental benefits.  Simply expanding the state’s existing transportation corridors could not deliver the same quality and level of benefits. High-speed rail will provide California residents now and in the future with a clean, sustainable travel mode that will help reinforce improving overall community health and benefit the state for years to come.

High-Speed Rail Means Fewer Cars on the Road and Planes in the Sky

The high-speed rail system will take cars off the road and reduce daily flights between major urban regions in California, thus boosting the state’s economic productivity as more travelers and commuters take the train to get around the state:  less congestion for drivers and less delay for air passengers.

Fast Facts About Cars, Trains and High-Speed Rail

  • By 2040, the system will reduce vehicles miles of travel in the state by almost 10 million miles of travel every day.
  • Over a 58 year period (from the start of operations in 2022 through 2080), the system will reduce auto travel on the state’s highways and roads by over 400 billion miles of travel.
  • Starting in 2030, the state will see a reduction of 93 to 171 flights daily.
  • By 2040, the state will see a reduction of 97 to180 flights daily.

Improvements in Air Quality

Fewer cars on the road means improved air quality in the State. California has some of the most congested urban areas with the poorest air quality in the nation.  Particularly in the summer months, residents of the Central Valley endure air quality linked to increased rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments.  Fewer cars and a train that uses clean energy means cleaner air.

On May 7, 2014, the Authority's Board of Directors approved entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District that commits the Authority to offset its construction criteria pollutant emissions, commits the District to source, procure and secure the offsets on behalf of the Authority and outlines a process for detailed Voluntary Emission Reduction Agreements (VERA) as the Authority builds out the high-speed rail project within the District boundaries. The MOU will ensure that while thousands of Valley residents get to work on construction of the project, their families and communities will not suffer negative impacts from the construction emissions and other pollutants. The District has established offset programs for replacing aging farm and other equipment, including replacing school bus engines and irrigation pumps. These mitigations complement the Authority's requirements of the design-build contractors to use clean construction vehicles and recycle 100 percent of steel and concrete.

Sustainable Infrastructure and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions

As the high-speed rail system is implemented, integrated with other rail systems around the state, and more access and connections are made possible, increasing numbers of Californians will switch from driving and flying to traveling by train. This shift in mode of travel typically occurs when high-speed rail is introduced into travel markets where there is high demand for travel as is the case between California’s urban centers. The savings associated with riders on the initial Silicon Valley to Central Valley line are one part of the broader GHG emissions reductions that will occur through development of the high-speed rail system. Reductions are projected to start at almost 120,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MT CO2e) in 2025. Extending the line into San Francisco and to Bakersfield by 2025 is projected to result in an additional savings of over 60,000 MT CO2e.

Over time, and as high-speed rail expands to the full Phase 1 system, it will contribute substantially to reducing GHG emissions. The average annual savings of the Phase 1 system through 2040 is projected to be just over 1 million MT CO2e and, through 2075, is projected to be 1.35 million MT CO2e which is equivalent to taking 285,000 passenger vehicles off the road every year. Cumulatively, over 13 million MT CO2e are projected to be reduced by 2040, 26 million MT CO2e by 2050 and, after 50 years of operation (2075), 63 million MT CO2e are projected to be reduced.