Against California High Speed Rail by Mark R. Powell

A New California High-Speed Train Environmental Study is Required


Work on the Statewide HST Environmental Impact Report was started nearly two decades ago  and all of its key environmental and economic assumptions have proven false. [Note 1]

Today, Project Level EIR’s for track sections from Merced to Fresno and Fresno to Bakersfield continue to reference the benefits publicized in the Statewide Environmental Study as justification for the local environmental damage caused by the construction and operation of the train even though all key economic and environmental assumptions made in the original study have proven false.  More importantly, the statewide system described in the original study will probably never be built.

Then and Now
The line connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles was to be in service by January 1, 2016 with lines to Sacramento, San Diego, and Irvine in service by January 1, 2019. [Note 2]   Now the Rail Authority hopes to piece together a blended system of high-speed rail and local commuter lines linking San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2029 [Note 3]  and remains silent on a completion date for the entire system.

The Statewide HST System was to cost as little as $33 billion. [Note 4]   Now the Rail Authority has said it could cost nearly $100 billion to link San Francisco to Los Angeles [Note 5] and they have refused for the last decade to update their projected cost for the entire statewide system.

The economic benefits and environmental impacts of only the Statewide HST System were compared to two statewide alternatives; the  No Project and Modal Alternatives.  Projected population growth made the No Project Alternative “neither a viable nor realistic alternative” [Note 6]  and the Modal Alternative, requiring most of 2,970 miles of new freeway lanes, 90 new airport gates and 5 new runways in service by January 1, 2016 and the remainder by January 1, 2019 [Note 7] was judged to be environmentally and structurally inferior to the HST system while costing more than twice as much to build. [Note 8]  Now the Rail Authority proposes an operating system as small as one linking Merced to San Fernando while new California Department of Finance data [Note 9]  indicates that the population growth originally envisioned [Note 10] will be delayed by more than three decades making the No Project Alternative quite feasible and Modal Alternative unnecessary.

Energy savings were based on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards for automobiles and light trucks (27.5mpg and 20.7mpg respectively) enacted in the late 1990’s. [Note 11]  Now new standards doubling fuel economy will be in place before the first train is scheduled to run. [Note 12]

Supply and demand projections for the electricity needed to power the train were only available out to the year 2008, but showed ample supply. [Note 13]  Now new CAFE Standards spurring the use of electric vehicles, the shutdown of San Onofre nuclear power, and an aging transmission system make the electrical power to drive the train anything but certain.

Greenhouse gas emissions arising from construction were not quantified nor was their environmental impact evaluated.  Now Sacramento politicians, through passage of California’s Global Warming Initiative,  have decided that  that CO2 emissions are a threat to the environment.  The construction of the Statewide HST System will be extremely energy intensive and result in the need for massive quantities of concrete production (responsible for nearly 2% of all  U.S. CO2 emissions). [Note 14]   Yet CO2 emissions caused by construction of the Statewide HST System and the means to mitigate these emissions remains unstudied.

The train was to be financed mostly by federal grants and private equity.  Now the Rail Authority has no secure funding source to complete even a line linking Merced to San Fernando.

The risk of an incomplete HST system was not evaluated. Now it is the predominant risk  and Federal Grant Agreements for construction of HST in the Central Valley call for more than $100 million to be set aside in an  “Interim Use Reserve” to be used, if necessary, to tie  HST track into existing track used by Amtrak to provide “operational independence” [Note 15] in the event of a failed HST system.

Federal and State Law Mandate a New Statewide HST Study
Under both the National Environmental Protection Act and the California Environmental Quality Act a new statewide HST environmental study is mandated when (1)substantial changes are made to the project or (2)new information arises that would significantly change the analysis of impacts. [Note 16]

Clearly, the Authority’s original proposal has changed substantially and new information significantly affecting the analysis of impacts is available.  Now is the time, before the Authority condemns more property in the Central Valley and releases its bulldozers on family homes, farms, schools, and businesses, to demand a moratorium on all HST construction activities until a new study is prepared demonstrating that the environmental damage caused by the Statewide HST System is justified by its benefits.

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