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Sustainability of intercity transportation infrastructure: assessing the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of high-speed rail in the U.S

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In the U.S., high-speed passenger rail has recently become an active political topic, with multiple corridors currently being considered through federal and state level initiatives. One frequently cited benefit of

In the U.S., high-speed passenger rail has recently become an active political topic, with multiple corridors currently being considered through federal and state level initiatives. One frequently cited benefit of high-speed rail proposals is that they offer a transition to a more sustainable transportation system with reduced greenhouse gas emissions and fossil energy consumption. This study investigates the feasibility of high-speed rail development as a long-term greenhouse gas emission mitigation strategy while considering major uncertainties in the technological and operational characteristics of intercity travel. First, I develop a general model for evaluating the emissions impact of intercity travel modes. This model incorporates aspects of life-cycle assessment and technological forecasting. The model is then used to compare future scenarios of energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the development of high-speed rail and other intercity travel technologies. Three specific rail corridors are evaluated and policy guidelines are developed regarding the emissions impacts of these investments. The results suggest prioritizing high-speed rail investments on short, dense corridors with fewer stops. Likewise, less emphasis should be placed on larger investments that require long construction times due to risks associated with payback of embedded emissions as competing technology improves.

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  • 2011