As I was driving back from Los Angeles to Davis, I thought about how convenient it would be to turn on an auto pilot that allowed us to lock into the train of cars up Highway 99. The only reason I really had to pay attention was due to the varying speeds of the traffic. But that future may be nearer than we might think. Google’s self-driving car is getting most of the press, but in fact there are many similar technologies already on the road. In fact, there’s been some concern that drivers are already pushing the limits on current controls, but collision avoidance devices may soon be standard equipment.
Which brings us to the question: How will high speed rail fare in a world with driverless electric cars? The high speed rail travel forecast appears to assume a similar mix of gasoline-fueled automobiles; in fact, the word “electric” isn’t even in the report. On the other hand, studies show that EV market share probably needs to reach 45% by 2030 to achieve an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050. And the Air Resources Board is considering regulations to implement “fast refueling / battery exchange” that would make the LA-SF trip even easier in an EV. Given the shorter life of automobiles, we might expect that almost all of the highway trips are with EVs by 2045.
We’re left with the question of what are the true emission reductions from HSR in such a world? Are we building a project that’s truly useful life is less than a decade?