High Speed Rail and Clean Technology

High Speed Rail and Clean Technology

One great thing about working for a company involved in creating a more sustainable future is it has excellent 'Green Bag Lunch Speakers' sponsored through its Santa Clara employee 'green team' and the company's month-long EarthWorks program celebrating environmental awareness.  This month, Rod Diridon, Mineta Transportation Institute spokesperson and high speed rail visionary, talked about California's High Speed Rail (HSR) Project. This 790 mile basic system is California's plan to connect the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Inland Empire, Central Valley, San Diego and Sacramento.

A few observations from Rod's talk:

1.    HSR will happen in the U.S. and California will be first (but Africa and Argentina will have HSR before we do!).

2.    Population growth is inevitable and HSR is a cost-effective, environmentally sustainable and safe transportation to meet future transportation needs.

3.    Once again, the U.S. is behind compared to the rest of the world on sustainable infrastructure like HSR (although not necessarily a bad thing, as we can learn from others' mistakes — no 'maglev' systems! — and successes, such as China's environmentally friendly technology, as mentioned in a recent New York Times article).

While some citizens may doubt it will ever happen, most of that comes from the project's long time horizon or simply a lack of information on where we are today.

Funding is in place. California's voters passed the measure, engineering and design work is proceeding and we're on-track to seeing HSR by 2020. Just a few cities along the San Francisco peninsula seem to be using delaying tactics, even though that means relying on today's same old dirty diesel technology and ignoring the environmental impacts that could be minimized with HSR.

High speed rail will offer a new mode of transportation with increased connectivity and accessibility to existing transportation systems, air transportation, and underserved inland populations such as the Central Valley.  It is also safer — HSR has a flawless safety record, and is more reliable than highway or air travel. HSR will not only offer more predictable travel times but will also be more sustainable — and at a lower passenger cost than air or auto travel (reams HSR operating data from across Europe and Asia today support these claims).

Providing additional capacity for future generations through HSR is estimated to be two to three times less expensive than expanding highways and airports to meet future transportation demands. It will also decrease energy consumption, reduce air pollution (short hop flights are the worst polluters), and reduced reliance on petroleum. California HSR will be powered by 100% renewable energy, and utilities have already confirmed plans to meet this demand.

Having traveled around the world, I have seen first hand the benefits of high speed rail. And, it is always my first transportation choice wherever it's available. It is safer, cheaper and more convenient than any other form of transportation over reasonable distances and because of visionaries like Rod Diridon, at least I know my children will be able to take full advantage of California High Speed Rail.

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