Mikhail Chester and Arpad Horvath and High Speed Rail Life Cycle Assessment

Yesterday, I presented at Berkeley for the Goldman School of Public Policy and their Center for Environmental Policy symposium on California High Speed Rail. Two presentations stood out as very good. I’ll cover one today and one tomorrow. Mikhail Chester is a Berkeley post-doc researcher who worked with Arpad Horvath to create a comprehensive life cycle cost analysis of California’s High Speed Rail. You can download a summary of the research from Access magazine.

The estimates reinforce how important forecasting is. According to their analysis, the environmental ROI for energy is 14 to 51 years. For greenhouse gas emissions, the estimate is 26 years to 51 years. NOx is 37 years to never, depending on fast ridership catches on.

It’s possible to shake up this analysis if the state were to pursue the greenest construction possible, using low-carbon-impact concrete.

On the GHG emissions payoff, they did something particularly cool: they took into account the additional radiative costs associated with the timing of the GHG costs and savings. The upfront emission costs occur during construction, and they weigh more heavily than those savings that come later (because they are contributing to the warming problem before they alleviate it). That pushes the ROI for GHG to 25 to 40 years after the project starts running.

I understand that advocates argue that we’re planning for the next 100 years–fine by me. But we can’t really accept a lot of excuses if the ridership doesn’t meet hopes. (I think it should–there are a lot of people who will want to use the system, and if it comes down to this, California will just pour enough operating subsidy into it until they can offer fares cheap enough to get the ridership they need.)