Notwithstanding the efficiency of diesel railroad locomotives’ ability to move tons of freight over long distances on mere gallons of fuel, electric powered high-speed trains represent the height of efficiency in the use of relatively clean energy. As a refinement of steel rail train technology, high-speed passenger rail systems represent the state of engineering throughout the railroad industry, and set the standard for the efficient use o clean energy. Relatively infrequent stops, at stations 25 to 50 or more miles apart, reduces the frequency of stopping and acceleration back up to full speed that requires the greatest consumption of electrical energy in train operations of all types.
Utilizing high voltage distribution systems and equipment throughout their track systems, high-speed rail trains draw electrical power from local and regional electrical distribution grids, and are subject to the limitations and reliability of electrical power grids for their ultimate operational efficiency and reliability. Back-up, or emergency power systems have not been developed for extended high-speed rail networks. Therefore, high-speed rail systems are subject to disruptions in service, blackouts and brownouts that affect other electrical power customers in localized parts of the electrical grid.
The relative efficiency of high-speed rail systems in the use of electrical energy should not significantly increase demand in electrical distribution facilities or grids, but the miles of track along which electrical power must be provided will necessitate that extended distribution lines and power substations be developed along routes of electric powered, high-speed rail systems. The costs of development and maintenance of these electrical systems, and the steel frame structures supporting electrical wiring along the full length of the trains’ tracks, should be considered in any evaluation of the costs, sustainability and cost effectiveness of high-speed rail development and service.