Life-cycle Environmental Impact of High-Speed Rail System in the I-45 Corridor

The Houston-Dallas I-45 corridor was ranked as the top priority among 18 traffic corridors in Texas for the development of an Intercity Passenger Transit System, by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The city councils of Dallas and Houston have recently taken positive legislative steps towards the construction of a 240-mile high speed rail (HSR) system connecting the cities via Shinkansen N700 series trains with top speeds of 200 mph. At this juncture, there is an imperative to examine the potential life cycle environmental impacts of the HSR system and compare/contrast with the environmental impacts associated with existing transportation modes of highway and air travel. HSR systems powered by electricity have significantly lower releases of criteria air pollutants (CAP) and greenhouse gases (GHG) during operation stage, in comparison to conventional transportation by road/air. This project considers the total life cycle of an HSR system including all stages from ‘cradle-to-grave’ such as, raw material extraction, infrastructure development, vehicle manufacturing, electricity generation, operation & maintenance, and end-of-life for two components: Vehicle and Infrastructure. This project would conduct a holistic life cycle assessment (LCA) study exploring the energy and environmental impact of the HSR system and the role of this transportation mode in alleviating persistent air quality problems in the non-attainment areas of Houston and Dallas. This project would develop estimates for CAP, GHG emissions and energy consumption per vehicle/passenger-kilometer traveled under scenarios of varying passenger ridership/migration level to the HSR system. The outcomes from this LCA study would provide vital information to regulators, planners and researchers studying environmental impacts of fossil fuel usage in the transportation sector of the US; comparative analysis for passenger travel by HSR, highway and air modes will establish the inventory and methodological framework for conducting future LCA studies for potential HSR routes in multiple travel corridors of the South-Central US.