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High-Speed Rail: A Catalyst for Sustainable City Development

Posted in Models, Research by Kate Archdeacon on February 2nd, 2011

Source: Going Solar Transport Newsletter

Image: paularps via flickr CC

From A Track Record of Success High-Speed Rail Around the World and Its Promise for America by the US PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund:
As America moves toward construction of new high-speed rail networks in regions throughout the country, we have much to learn from experiences abroad. High-speed rail lines have operated for more than 45 years in Japan and for three decades in Europe, providing a wealth of information about what the United States can expect from high-speed rail and how we can receive the greatest possible benefits from our investment. Indeed, the experience of high-speed rail lines abroad, as well as America’s limited experience with high-speed rail on the East Coast, suggests that the United States can expect great benefits from investing in a high-speed passenger rail system, particularly if it makes steady commitments to rail improvements and designs the system wisely.

High-speed rail systems in other nations have been able to dramatically reduce the volume of short-haul flights between nearby cities and significantly reduce inter-city car travel. In the United States, similar shifts would ease congestion in the skies and offer alternatives to congested highways, reducing the need for expensive new investments in highways and airports. Short-haul plane trips are the least efficient in terms of time and fuel, and replacing those trips allows air travel to be more efficient and focused on long-haul trips. High-speed rail service has almost completely replaced short-haul air service on several corridors in Europe, such as between Paris and Lyon, France, and between Cologne and Frankfurt, Germany.

  • The number of air passengers between London and Paris has been cut in half since high-speed rail service was initiated between the two cities through the Channel Tunnel.
  • In Spain, high-speed rail service between Madrid and Seville reduced the share of travel by car between the two cities from 60 percent to 34 percent. The recent launch of high-speed rail service between Madrid and Barcelona has cut air travel on what was once one of the world’s busiest passenger air routes by one-third.
  • Even in the northeastern United States, where Amtrak Acela Express A Track Record of Success service is slow by international standards, rail service accounts for 65 percent of the air/rail market on trips between New York and Washington, D.C., and 52 percent of the air/rail market on trips between Boston and New York.

High-speed rail saves energy and protects the environment. In the United States, high-speed rail could cut our dependence on oil while helping to reduce air pollution and curb global warming.

  • Continual improvement – Japan’s Shinkansen system is estimated to use one quarter the energy of air travel or one sixth the energy of automobile travel per passenger. The energy efficiency of Shinkansen trains has continually improved over time, such that today’s trains use nearly a third less energy, while traveling significantly faster, than the trains introduced in the mid-sixties.
  • More efficient – On Europe’s highspeed lines, a typical Monday morning business trip from London to Paris via high-speed rail uses approximately a third as much energy as a car or plane trip. Similar energy savings are achieved on other European highspeed rail lines
  • Replacing oil with electricity makes zero emissions possible – Energy savings translate into reduced emissions of pollutants that cause global warming or respiratory problems – particularly when railroads power their trains with renewable energy. In Sweden, the country’s high-speed trains are powered entirely with renewable energy, cutting emissions of global warming pollutants by 99 percent.

High-speed rail can create jobs and boost local economies. A U.S. high-speed rail system could help position the nation for economic success in the 21st century while creating short-term jobs in construction and long-term jobs in ongoing maintenance and operation.

  • Construction of high-speed rail lines creates thousands of temporary jobs. For example, about 8,000 people were involved in construction of the highspeed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel.
  • Well-designed high-speed rail stations located in city centers spark economic development and encourage revitalization of urban areas:
    • A study of the Frankfurt-Cologne high-speed rail line in Germany estimated that areas surrounding two towns with new high-speed rail stations experienced a 2.7 percent increase in overall economic activity compared with the rest of the region.
    • Office space in the vicinity of highspeed rail stations in France and northern Europe generally fetches higher rents than in other parts of the same cities.
    • The city of Lyon experienced a 43 percent increase in the amount of office space near its high-speed rail station following the completion of a high-speed rail link to Paris.
    • Property values near stations on Japan’s Shinkansen network have been estimated to be 67 percent higher than property values further away.
    • Several cities have used high-speed rail as the catalyst for ambitious urban redevelopment efforts. The city of Lille, France, used its rail station as the core of a multi-use development that now accommodates 6,000 jobs. The new international high-speed rail terminal at London’s St. Pancras station is the centerpiece of a major redevelopment project that will add 1,800 residential units, as well as hotels, offices and cultural venues in the heart of London.
  • High-speed rail has increased overall travel in corridors in Spain and France and the number of one-day business trips in South Korea. Increases in overall travel indicate that high-speed rail is having an impact on broader economic decisions and improve the chances that high-speed rail lines can recoup their overall costs.
  • High-speed rail can expand labor markets and increase the potential for face-to-face interactions that create value in the growing “knowledge economy.” A British study projects that the construction of the nation’s first high-speed rail line will lead to more than $26 billion in net economic benefits over the next 60 years.
Download the report as a PDF.

Source: Going Solar Transport Newsletter

One Response to “High-Speed Rail: A Catalyst for Sustainable City Development”

  1. SImon Batterbury Says:

    February 18th, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    There is a big downside to HS rail – cost, effect on the environment along the route, and lack of any benefits at all to those along the routewho cannot even board the trains and get noise instead. The extension of HS from London to Birmingham is highly controversial and its benefits to the UK in terms of GNP and carbon reduction have been overestimated by the parties wanting to see it go ahead (currently, the Conservative government). See – a couple of Britain’s top transport analysts, Christian Wolmar and John Whitelegg, both supporters of lesser car and plane use, and great cyclists – support this campaign. Sustainability could involve sprucing up the existing train network instead.