It’s Easy Being Green: Laying the Track for High-Speed Rail

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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the second round of recipients selected to receive funding for intercity rail projects under the administration’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program on October 28, 2010. These projects will bring us one step closer to realizing the benefits of greener transportation.

The graph below shows the projects currently under development as a result of the High-Speed Intercity Rail Program’s funding, which includes Recovery Act funding and funding from the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008. Some projects are in the planning stages while others such as California’s existing corridors (solid red) are already built and are being developed or expanded. The Milwaukee to Madison line and projects in Ohio will likely be canceled by incoming governors for those states.

This is a shame, because these projects create jobs. The California High-Speed Rail Authority estimates that building the corridor connecting San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento will create 600,000 jobs.

Intercity passenger rail received $8 billion total from the Recovery Act, which is a huge increase in funding. It traditionally receives much less federal funding than highways and air travel.

We’ve written in this space before about the Obama administration’s new emphasis on building high-speed and intercity passenger rail that connects communities and economic centers around the country, and complements highway, aviation, and public transit systems. But there are other benefits to high-speed rail: It spurs job creation, decreases dependence on fossil fuels, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

Intercity rail, some of which is high speed, is also more energy efficient than commuter rail systems—and much more efficient than automobiles or aircraft when compared using British thermal units, or BTUs per passenger mile.


A national high-speed rail system is a long way off, but even systems that connect a few major cities pay environmental dividends. The California High-Speed Rail Authority estimates that their proposed system from Los Angeles to San Francisco will remove 12 billion pounds of carbon dioxide per year by 2030 because it uses electricity generated from wind, solar, and other renewable resources. And it will save 12.7 million barrels of oil by 2030.

Those kinds of benefits combined with high-speed rail’s job-creation potential make the administration’s investments a worthy endeavor.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series