Brace for Impact: The Environmental and Economic Effects of Shifting Passenger Travel from Airplanes to High-Speed Rail

Research Lead: Jason Karpman

UC Campus(es): UCLA

Problem Statement: Aviation is the most greenhouse gas (GHG) intensive mode of transport (per passenger trip) for intercity travel in California. Yet, there is no clear pathway for decarbonizing this sector. In the meantime, reducing GHG emissions from aviation requires shifting trips from the air to less GHG intensive modes of transportation. The California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) project can serve this function, but funding for the full route of the Phase 1 segment—spanning from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area—remains unallocated. In light of CAHSR’s precarious funding status, more information is needed about the benefits of the proposed rail network, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated uncertainty around future travel demand.

Project Description: This report seeks to inform policy and planning around the continued implementation of the CAHSR project by synthesizing the literature on the environmental and economic impacts of high-speed rail (HSR) projects from around the globe, and the conditions under which HSR leads to net benefits. The literature on the various impacts of HSR is vast, so this report privileges literature that was published over the last decade (from 2011 to 2020). Moreover, the focus of the report is on passenger transport (rather than freight transport). The report is structured according to the most common metrics for analyzing the impacts of HSR. For environmental impacts, those include GHG reductions, local air pollution, and noise. For economic impacts, those include value added, employment, societal cost savings, and economic integration.

Status: Completed

Budget: $24,994

Project Partner(s): California High-Speed Rail Authority