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High-Speed Rail Triggers Debate on Long-Term CO2 Reductions

The official groundbreaking last week for a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles has touched off a debate on low-carbon transportation options, with Robert Cruickshank of the California High Speed Rail Blog defending the plan and climate hawk Eric Holthaus declaring it too little, too late.

“High-speed rail would have been great if it had been built back in the late 1970s, when then-California Gov. Jerry Brown first proposed it,” Holthaus writes [1] on Slate. But with the project now due for completion in 2028, and “given the incredible pressure that global warming is inflicting, we can’t waste precious resources on high-speed rail. It’s impractical to hope that truly high-speed rail—the kind that will compete with air travel—will arrive in time to do much good.”

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Cruickshank responds that “lots of big projects have taken a long time to build,” but high-speed rail “provides CO2 reductions for decades, even centuries to come, ensuring that once CO2 is cut, it stays cut. It helps nobody to keep CO2 at safe levels in 2042 if you can’t sustain it and suddenly are back at unsafe levels in 2052.”