High-speed rail helps reduce carbon emissions

In the United States, transportation currently generates 29% of carbon emissions – a driving force in climate change.

No other mode of travel has the flexibility to serve diverse, dispersed markets and spur a massive shift from driving.

Fast, frequent, and affordable trains are the best way to slash carbon emmissions.

Physics Favors High-Speed Rail

Steel wheels on steel rails offer superior energy efficiency to rubber wheels on any driving surface. Train wheels have smaller contact area, are designed for minimum friction, and do not surrender energy to change directions like cars do.

That means trains can be much bigger than planes and buses.

And, their self-steering feature makes it easier to get to where the people are at speed.

Examples of high-speed rail's potential to reduce emissions

A trip from Paris to Marseille by rail produces scant carbon compared to other modes of travel. Trains are also much more fuel efficient.

The French TGV makes nearly 30 trips per day between these two cities, the fastest in just over 3 hours.  Driving takes 7 to 8 hours.

That’s about the same distance as Atlanta to Indianapolis or Sacramento to San Diego.


Midwest high-speed rail could slash 3.3 million metric tons.

A research study estimated the potential benefits of a 220 mph HSR network in the Midwest.  It could reduce emissions in the region by 3.3M metric tons a year.

Converting short US domestic flights to train travel.

The International Council on Clean Transportation identified that short-haul flights between dense urban centers comprise a quarter of domestic US air travel. For these flights segments, electric high-speed rail could reduce emissions (compared to air travel) by 23%.

Fast trains catalyze better, more energy efficient cities and towns

Fast, frequent and affordable trains make communities more walkable, more interconnected, and more efficient.

Railways commonly operate from stations in the center of town, which leads to ready integration with local mass transit. Travelers can move seamlessly between trains and public transit, downtown destinations, and tourist attractions or accommodations.

On the other hand, both airports and personal cars contribute to urban sprawl. Cars require roads that divide and disrupt cities. Airports’ enormous footprint for terminals and runways mean they are predominantly located in outlying or suburban areas.

High-speed rail makes public transit work better.

High-speed trains dramatically collapse travel times and so draw massive ridership. Amplified passenger activity is focused at train stations, typically in town or city centers and usually with connections to local transit. This has a magnetic effect on development, helping reduce sprawl. Fewer and shorter car trips translate to lower carbon emissions.

The benefits here can compound, as more frequent and higher-quality public transit leads to increased ridership and city walkability, which leads to further public transit investment. All along the way, emissions continue to decline.