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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis December 16, 2011
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UIC: High-Speed Rail Yields Major Carbon Savings

The carbon footprint of high-speed rail can be up to 14 times less carbon-intensive than car travel and up to 15 times below that of aviation, even when measured over the full life-cycle of planning, construction, and operation—according to two new research reports conducted by Systra for the International Union of Railways (UIC) that also demonstrate the speed, reliability, comfort, and safety benefits of high-speed rail.

The primary report, High-Speed Rail and Sustainability, examines the social, economic, and environmental aspects of high-speed rail performance and makes a compelling case for the mode’s major advantages in all three areas. The accompanying background report, Carbon Footprint of High-Speed Rail Lines, considers carbon emissions as part of case studies of four high-speed rail lines, two each in Europe and Asia, assessing each route in the planning, construction (track and rolling stock), and operating phases.

For example, UIC shows that carbon dioxide emissions on the high-speed Méditerranée line from Valence to Marseille, France, average 11 grams per passenger kilometer, compared with 151.6 grams for a car and 164 grams for air travel. The environmental “payback” time for this route—the length of time it takes for the emissions saved by the impact of the new high-speed services to overtake the additional emissions produced through the line’s construction—is just 5.3 years.

The reports also present how high-speed rail supports and helps economic development in the cities linked by its routes. The French city of Lille reported a 15-fold increase in the number of tourists in the 13-year period after construction of a new inner-city high-speed station to help stimulate regeneration of the city.

The text of High-Speed Rail and Sustainability can be found on the UIC web site, while Carbon Footprint of High-Speed Rail can be found here.

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