An increasing number of studies suggest that high-speed rail (HSR) could have many economic and environmental benefits for the U.S. The latest Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) perspective, The Economic and Environmental Potential of High-Speed Rail, outlines these potential benefits, which include job growth and increased economic activity; creation of an entirely new domestic manufacturing base; station area development and improved regional connectivity; and reduced GHG emissions and better land use.
High-speed rail is a passenger rail system that operates at speeds greater than 150 miles per hour (mph). Many countries and regions—including Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom in Europe; China, Japan, and South Korea in Asia; and many more—have had HSR systems in place for many years or even decades.
This perspective outlines the many potential benefits of HSR, including:
Job Creation and Economic Output
For example, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) estimates that HSR has generated an estimated 74,000 to 80,000 job years, $5.6 billion to $6.0 billion in labor income, and $15 billion to $16 billion in economic output between 2006 and 2022.
As of 2015, it was estimated that the rail manufacturing industry supports 90,000 jobs and that more than 750 companies in at least 39 states manufactured components for passenger rail and transit.
Station Area Development, Regional Connectivity, and Smart Growth
Multiple studies show that HSR in the U.S. could connect megaregions, forming the corridors of housing, employment, and recreation in more densely populated areas of the country.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Reduction
One study estimates high-speed rail in the U.S. can save up to 800 million tons of CO2 emissions over a 40-year period, or approximately 2 trillion miles traveled in a typical 22 MPG gas-based car.
Cost Savings Associated with Foregone Infrastructure Improvements
One study found that it would cost an estimated $122-199 billion to provide the equivalent highway and airport capacity that the San Francisco to Los Angeles high-speed rail network would provide.
In the U.S., Amtrak’s Acela is the only system presently capable of operating at such speeds, but several HSR systems are in progress or in the planning stages. These include Brightline West (Las Vegas to Southern California), the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Los Angeles to San Francisco), Texas Central (Dallas to Houston), and the Cascadia Project (Portland, OR to Vancouver, BC). This paper provides important insight into the impacts of these and future HSR projects, which with additional research and policy, can help the U.S. leverage these benefits.
ABOUT THE MINETA TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE
At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nations’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. Founded in 1991, MTI is a university transportation center funded by the US Department of Transportation, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants, including those made available by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB1). MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.
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