Why do we need HSR?
America needs HSR because it makes good economic sense. California’s population alone will double from its current 36 million to more than 60 million by mid-century. Those citizens will need transportation. Just imagine all those additional cars on the highway! What are the alternatives? California has the choice of building 3,000 more lane-miles of freeways and two new international airports at a cost of more than $100 billion, or of building the planned $40+ billion 790-mile HSR system. What’s the smart choice? Even with the additional highway and airport construction, that system expansion will meet the state’s travel needs only for the next 40 years. After that, the $100 billion highway and airport cost would be required again to meet the needs of the second half of the century. Nationally, the cost of the additional highway miles and airport infrastructure needed to meet America’s transportation demand is even more staggering.
Yet, in California the HSR system will meet the state’s transportation needs until 2100 with no additional capital expenditures except to add more rolling stock.
Economically, California’s HSR system is expected to create 160,000 construction jobs and to stimulate an added 450,000 permanent jobs by 2035. And these jobs cannot be sent off-shore.
Finally, highways and airports don’t come close to paying for themselves. But HSR systems around the world, as is projected for the CHSRA system, help to build extensions and to support other transportation systems’ elements after the starter line is constructed by the sponsoring governments. The cost-benefit analysis based upon “investment grade” ridership forecasts concludes that HSR tax and economic benefits would be more than two times the cost.
Environmentally clear choice
In California alone, the highway and airport alternative would create more than 18 billion more pounds of global warming gases and would use more than 22 million additional barrels of oil per year than the electrically powered high-speed trains. HSR is a huge step toward energy independence from imported oil. When compared with other vehicles, high-speed trains require only one-third of the energy required by air travel and one-fifth that of an automobile per passenger mile. Additionally, the HSR line would synergize the effectiveness of other mass transit systems while helping to focus growth around both the HSR and as well as feeder line train stations. By contrast, the highway and airport alternative would continue to promote urban sprawl while desecrating our last farmlands and open space. HSR environmental impacts can also be minimized with most alignments within or adjacent to existing rail or highway rights-of-way.
The narrower and cleaner rights-of-way needed for HSR will also have less impact on wetlands and water resources, biology and farmlands. It also will have much less noise pollution because the electric trains on state-of-the-art roadbeds are much quieter than typical diesel trains and very much quieter that jet planes.
HSR sustainable benefits
HSR will provide a significant increase in property values for the land surrounding the HSR stations. Some estimates place that increase at 10 times the original value of the property because HSR stations help to catalyze high-density, high-value urban infill. A portion of the additional value will be captured by city redevelopment or revenue assessment districts, with a portion of that revenue reinvested in facilities supporting the HSR program. As a result, HSR stations will be paid for by the hosting cities through value-capture on the increased tax revenue when the land is redeveloped. In Japan, many of the HSR stations and marshaling yards are under high-rise buildings, some of which are owned by the railroad and others of which lease air-rights and pay a fee to the HSR companies. This multi-use of scarce land adds to the HSR revenue by force-feeding riders into the system, creating lease/rent income, and it provides incremental tax revenue increases for the surrounding community while helping to fight urban sprawl.
HSR is cost efficient, and unlike most airports, it takes passengers from city center to city center rather than requiring supplemental transport by cab or bus from a remote location, where most airports are located. HSR also provides a comfortable travel experience with more room for passengers and with on-board conveniences such as refreshment, business cars (cell phones and Internet connections are encouraged on HSR) and restaurants. HSR is also more reliable than air travel and is unaffected by weather delays. Security is extensive but non-intrusive, therefore not requiring passenger delays. Overall, HSR is safer and more reliable than highway or air travel, with fast and predictable travel times that can be sustained over time.