High speed rail (HSR) may not be the best means to moving people quickly from San Francisco to Los Angeles–it looks like a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. I’ve written written about how electric vehicles will diminish the projected GHG emission reductions, and may be an effective alternative. Now comes a Chinese-designed super bus that can use the same I-5 lanes simultaneously with cars. (See the video in the link above.) The Dutch have developed a high-speed electric bus that also can use I-5 at little added cost.
And now comes word that the auction of greenhouse gas (GHG) allowances by the State fell well below forecasts. Due to how HSR is funded out of that allowance fund, HSR’s share will fall by 98% to $2.5 million. Given that the state still has not attracted any private investment, which is a necessity to make this go, it may be time to rethink solutions.
I’m not the only one asking whether California’s High Speed Rail (HSR) project is the best way to reduce climate change risk. Dick Startz from UC Santa Barbara confirmed in the LA Times my observation that creating an electric vehicle through-way along I-5 probably can serve the same purpose for much less cost, while delivering GHG reductions much sooner.
As I pointed out, the HSR GHG reduction analysis incorrectly assumes that the mix of motor vehicles will remain gasoline-dominated past 2030. Even an updated analysis cited by HSR proponents ignores the likely penetration of non-hybrid EVs required to meet the state’s emission reduction goals (prepared in a different study by UC Berkeley–shouldn’t a university more fully coordinate it’s related research?) Shouldn’t the HSR Authority be coordinating it’s studies with the planning parameters being used by the Air Resources Board in preparing its GHG reduction plans? Other studies have shown the HSR is not particularly cost effective.
Widespread and effective charging networks are being developed that makes a high speed EV corridor feasible. Access to such a corridor might even encourage EV diffusion. As Startz writes, we should be looking for solutions from this century rather than the last.
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?