California high-speed rail: environmental friend or foe

california-high-speed-rail-environmental-friend-or-foe

California is currently faced with an opportunity to change the face of mass transportation by pioneering and leading the way to a cleaner and faster mode of transportation that could realistically use less air pollutants, less land, have a minimal impact on sensitive habitats and water resources with the proper time allocated. Currently the project is caught between federal funding and a liquid plan. There is the potential for energy efficient and ecologically friendly mode of mass transit and incredible speeds presented to California, currently a shadow looms over the positive potential of the project as a result of deadlines placed upon construction and contracts, and a resulting disregard for potential ecological impact.

The planned high-speed rail system (HSR) would be constructed from state of the art technology, travel at a maximum of 220 mph, cover an expanse of 700 miles linking San Francisco to San Diego and all major metropolitan areas between. A train ride from the two furthest points would be a meager two and half hours. This would provide a form of transportation that would allow access to many Californians to reduce emissions, travel cheaply, and have the convenience of arriving at destinations at times rivaling air transport while using 1/3 of the energy. Additionally the result of this project correctly executed would cut dependence on foreign oil by 12.7 million barrels per year. Through careful and meticulous planning the projects potential is exponential. Currently deadlines through the FRA to maintain federal funding are forcing a start on a project still in a planning stage.

Currently the project is facing what is bound to be a massive blow to California’s ecosystem if left unchecked. Plans are underway to proceed with the railway despite major impacts on ecosystems that will be subjected to the railways passage. Migratory patterns of species will be disrupted by the continuous fencing placed along a huge portion of the railway, as well as the number of species that will be in danger of critical impact without further environmental research. While the amount of greenhouse gases is lowered it can create more SO2 emissions. Additionally the project cannot produce the promised environmental benefits without running trains at full capacity consistently. In fact at this time to provide the proposed environmental benefits that the HSR promises, California cannot provide the required amount of energy solely through renewable sources.

The most immediate threats to the project’s success have come in the form of skyrocketing costs; now a projected $99 billion, a dwindling budget and a shrinking private investment sector. The FRA in awarding money to the CA HSR has placed deadlines to have contracts signed environmental impact report statements (EIR/S) turned in, and construction started or risk losing funding. The Central Valley has been given a deadline, September 2012 to have met these requirements or possibly lose $3.3 billion in federal funding. Right now cash strapped California may be tempted to meet deadlines at all costs, but to do so puts the integrity of the project at risk environmentally and economically.

With the proper planning and preparation the CA HSR will lead the way into the future of Americas transportation infrastructure, but left at the mercy of deadlines which are counterproductive to the end goal, the future looks grim at best. California is faced with a rapidly expanding population and the need for a clean fast form of transportation connecting the major metropolitan communities is here, but not at the expense of critically impacting delicate ecosystems.

Connor Olson-Kenny

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One Comment

  1. If built at all the HSR boondoogle would cost some $300 Billion$, destroy environment, cut migratory routes, and have few if any riders besides the politically connected megamillionaires who stand to make tons of money from a bankrupt system built with government-backed (that’s you and me) backed loads – it’s Barry and Solindra all over again, but 100’s of times more graft and waste.

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