High Speed Rail-Environmental Impacts

To the extent that refined, state of railroad engineering, high-speed trains eliminate or reduce the occurrence or intensity of traditional diesel locomotive trains and their aging facilities and technology, newly developed high-speed train and track systems produce a net improvement over existing train operations and their respective environmental impacts. However, the effects and impacts resulting from operating speeds three to five times those of historic trains significantly elevate and extend noise, disruptive and safety factors associated with the combined mass and speed of the new high-speed technology and systems. This will necessitate a shifting of environmental impact study and evaluation from the construction phases of train and railroad systems, to an environmental analysis of the impacts of high speed operation on rail systems, rights of way, land uses and ecosystems through which trains will regularly pass at over 200 miles per hour.

The dynamic environmental analysis of high-speed train system development will require a refocusing of environmental impact mitigation from the near term construction phase to the extended, long-term operational phases of high-speed systems and services. Environmental impact mitigation components of environmental assessments and analyses will necessarily shape the development and implementation plans of high-speed rail systems by projecting mitigation measures into future, long-term operational context. Addressing the operational environmental impacts of high-speed rail systems development in the initial stages of the evaluation and planning processes will help avoid setbacks and remedial modifications such as reduction in speed, restriction of schedules and hours of operation, construction of sound and air turbulence walls and fences, addition of safety equipment and noise producing warning devices, etc. that have limited the performance of many rail systems in the past, and will certainly constrain the development and operation of high-speed trains in the future.

Preliminary environmental studies and evaluations of potential high-speed rail routes and developments should fully recognize and consider the demonstrable and measurable effects and impacts of high-speed train operations on their respective environmental settings. The impacts of high-speed trains in a variety of settings throughout Europe and Asia provide extensive evidence and data for the evaluation of impacts that planned high-speed rail services would impose on their respective US settings and environments. Indeed, any observer or analyst standing on the platform of a station through which a high-speed train passed may be inclined to regard the three-second, two hundred mile per hour passing of what is commonly termed a ”Bullet Train” as, more accurately, the ”Canon Ball Express” of American lore. It is undeniably loud, turbulent and imposing in a station setting, and should be assumed to be equally so along its entire high-speed route. The force and velocity of air turbulence created by massive, 200 mile per hour trains, along with the significant noise levels produced along the entire high-speed rail route, must be accurately measured and assessed for each type and design of train, as well as, the respective environmental settings through which trains are planned to pass at speeds several times greater than any American trains have historically operated.

In the initial environmental assessment and evaluation stages of each proposed high-speed rail development, the unique characteristics of monorail system construction and operation should be compared and contrasted with the full range of environmental and operational characteristics of high-speed trains. To the extent that critical impacts of high-speed train development or operation are found to be unacceptable, or not subject to adequate mitigation, monorails should be considered as environmentally sound alternative systems in performing the mission of high-speed rail. This is particularly applicable to proposed location of high-speed corridors, track and routes in urbanized and other developed settings, where trains can not be operated anywhere near their high-speed potential without causing unacceptably disruptive impacts on their surrounding environments, even when located in 30-120 foot-wide, or elevated right of way corridors.

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