High-Speed Rail's Sky-High Cost Makes It a Lousy Way to Get Carbon Cuts

High speed rail photo

Taiwan's pretty high-speed rail via sanbeiji @ flickr.

We've touted Obama's vision of high-speed trains in the U.S. and given the other high-speed leaders France and China tons of kudos for their high-speed dreams. Now here come the Swedes (who we generally look to for inspiration on the path to sustainability) raining all over the high-speed parade. The report's authors (the lofty-sounding Expert Group on Environmental Studies) say the money invested just in a high-speed train network in southern Sweden would yield 40 times more eco-benefit if put in...the global emissions trading system!

The high-speed rationale

Sweden's government, like others, has embraced the idea of high-speed rail to cut CO2 emissions and ease congestion on the roads and in the air. But the Expert Group says the high speed rail lines in southern Sweden would cost an estimated US$2.2 billion and cut emissions by just one percent. A similar amount invested in the emissions trading system would supposedly yield a 40 percent emissions cut (of Sweden's total). A UK report came to a similar conclusion about high-speed rail in Britain.

The costs of high-speed rail, the authors conclude, are just too high for the overall benefits to society. Jan-Eric Nilsson, a report author, said it is possible to go back over the project and 'economise (sic) on quality at particularly expensive spots' in order for the network to be more cost-effective.

Nilsson does not want the results of his examination of high-speed rail in Sweden to be extrapolated to other countries. What he does want is for people (especially the Swedes) to take a hard look before they decide that high-speed rail is any kind of panacea for climate change.

However, while the Swedes prevaricate over the high costs, German engineering group Siemens and train operator Deutsche Bahn are forging ahead to get a piece of the U.S. high-speed pie. Obama has said he plans to invest over U.S. $8 billion. So, in spite of the fact that Deutsche Bahn and Siemens are currently in dispute over replacing faulty parts that may have caused a Siemens high-speed train to derail last year in Cologne, it seems Obama's stimulus IS enough to bring high-speed rail (or at least its manufacturers) to America.

Read more on high-speed rail at TreeHugger
Is High-Speed Rail the Answer?
Will Stimulus Be Enough to Bring High-Speed Rail to America?

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