HSR and Carbon Emissions

28 September, 2010

A key element of the case for HSR is that it is more environmentally sustainable than other modes of transport. Under the 2008 Climate Change Act legally binding targets mean the UK needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050.

Key Points

  1. HSR can deliver mode shift from carbon-intensive car and air travel by dramatically speeding up journey times for medium- and long-distance journeys.
  2. Travel by HSR produces only one-quarter of the carbon emissions of car travel and an equivalent trip by air, taking into account the average loadings typically achieved on each mode.
  3. In the future, the carbon advantage of HSR will be as great if not better, given that it operates on electric traction and will therefore benefit from future decarbonisation of the electricity supply. This is true even if we switch to electric cars and if aviation becomes considerably more efficient.
  4. Operating trains at speeds of 300 km/h and above increases energy consumption and hence carbon emissions compared with conventional speed rail services, but this is offset by aerodynamic design, high train capacity and high load factors.
  5. The first phase of HS2, the line from London to West Midlands proposed by the Government, will deliver carbon savings of 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 over 60 years.
  6. When phase 2 is delivered, this carbon saving will be quadrupled to over 7 million tonnes of CO2.
  7. There is huge scope to influence the carbon outcome of HS2. Under an environmentally-responsible set of policies, the operational carbon savings could increase to 3.5 million tonnes CO2.
  8. There will also be carbon emissions from the construction of any HSR line, estimated at around 1.2 million tonnes of carbon for a London – West Midlands route.

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