US transportation sector is one of the most oil exhaustive of all oil consuming end use areas in US. It consumes almost 70% of the total oil consumption in US, of which 3/4th is consumed on highway transportation. Highway transportation in US is very energy intensive, though technology has advanced in the areas of safety and fuel economy, but the overall oil consumption in the sector has increased over the years. It seems almost imperative now, that to reduce oil consumption (energy consumption) in transportation, railways will prove to be a viable option.
Recently, in a press release on 16th April, the US President announced his plans for a high speed passenger trains.
“The report formalizes the identification of ten high-speed rail corridors as potential recipients of federal funding. Those lines are: California, Pacific Northwest, South Central, Gulf Coast, Chicago Hub Network, Florida, Southeast, Keystone, Empire and Northern New England. Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston to compete for funds to improve the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service.”
According to the release, $ 13 billion would be provided from the Federal funds to develop this mass transit system ($ 8 billion from the stimulus bill and $ 1 billion each year for 5 years), which is basically regional in nature, as can be seen in the figure above. The investment will drip in with $ 1 billion every year for 5 years to give a jump start to the project. It is quite clear from such an initiative that the government plans to develop a good efficient energy saving system for transportation. President Obama went on to say “My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America. We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come.” The point in question is that, this project would equate to remove 1 million cars from roads, which would not only save a lot of fuel, but also contribute towards reduce CO2 emissions.
Even after such a huge impetus to roll out these high speed passenger trains, with the launch of plug in hybrids and electric cars in general, I wonder if this rail transit system would prove as economical and as energy efficient as plug-in hybrids are ? Initial capital investment is heavy in both, but which one proves to be more economical will hold the key for America’s future way of transportation. For PHEV’s we already have a well developed highway infrastructure, while the infrastructure for such high speed rails is being built now. I guess, speed holds the key in this case, present rail transportation has two problems 1. It is not as economical as driving a car and 2. It has speed limitation imposed. With high speed passenger trains rolling in, speed problem is almost solved but nothing can be said about how economical would it prove eventually.