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.

Reduction in Greenhouse Gases

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, greenhouse gases (GHG) are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. In 2010 alone, U.S. GHG emissions totaled 6,821.8 million metrics tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). California leads the nation in working to reduce the level of GHG emissions. In 2006, the State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 32, also known as the Global Warming Solutions Act that directs the state to reduce statewide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a 17 percent reduction.  High-speed rail is part of the state’s GHG reduction strategy.

How Much is High-Speed Rail Expected to Reduce GHG Emissions?

  • In 2022, when the Initial Operating Section (Merced to the San Fernando Valley) is up and running, the resulting GHG reductions will be between 100,000 to 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2e) equivalent in the first year. That’s the equivalent of taking 17,700 to 53,000 personal vehicles off the road.
  • Between 2022 and 2040, the cumulative reduction of CO2 is estimated to be between 5 and 10 million metric tons CO2e.