California high-speed rail: groundbreaking and boon for the environment

Even before California Governor Jerry Brown sang the state high-speed-rail praises at a ceremonial groundbreaking held in downtown Fresno on Jan. 6th during his inaugural address as Governor in Sacramento a day earlier, he set a goal for half of all electrical production in California to come from renewable energy sources by 2030. It wasn’t just this: the Golden State’s top in-state government executive called for vehicle gasoline consumption in the nation’s most populated state in that same 15-year time span to be cut in half.

But, back on point, the ceremonial and symbolic groundbreaking marked the official beginning of construction of the state’s 800-mile total high-speed train network connecting Anaheim, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco through California’s heartland – the San Joaquin Valley.

In a Jan. 6th California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) press release, the Authority communicated: “Marking significant progress toward modernizing California’s transportation infrastructure, the California High-Speed Rail Authority today joined hundreds of supporters and government, student, community, transportation, business and labor leaders to break ground on the nation’s first high-speed rail system.”

Followed in the release were comments from federal, state and local dignitaries on hand giving speeches, such as the one below from California Governor Brown.

“‘What is important is the connection that we are rooted in our forebears and we are committed and linked to our descendants. And the high-speed rail links us from the past to the future, from the south to Fresno and north; this is truly a California project bringing us together today.’”

There were others, too, like this one from Authority Chairman Dan Richard.

“‘We now enter a period of sustained construction on the nation’s first high-speed rail system—for the next five years in the Central Valley and for a decade after that across California. This is an investment that will forever improve the way Californians commute, travel, and live. And today is also a celebration of the renewed spirit that built California.’”

And, on trains compared to cars and planes, although not in the Authority release but at the groundbreaking, federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Chair Gina McCarthy cited benefits to the environment high-speed rail can bring.

Meanwhile, in an earlier EPA press release, Rail Authority Chief Executive Officer Jeff Morales offered these words:

“‘The Authority is building high-speed rail using modern construction equipment that helps protect air quality and reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Through this commitment to sustainable construction, we are building California’s high-speed rail system in an environmentally responsible manner.’”

The EPA in the Nov. 19, 2014 release went on to describe ways to enable sustainable construction.

“The EPA has adopted a comprehensive national program to reduce emissions from non-road diesel engines by integrating engine and fuel controls. Tier 4 refers to the most stringent EPA engine standards for non-road heavy-duty diesel engines. A Tier 4 designation is achieved via different methods such as clean and efficient exhaust systems, electronically controlled engines, and selective catalytic reductions to significantly reduce the levels of harmful pollutants such as particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxide (NOx). By 2030, the annual benefits throughout the U.S. from using Tier 4 engines are estimated to reduce NOx, PM2.5, and sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 82 percent, 90 percent, and 99.7 percent, respectively.”

More specifically, and as it pertains to California high-speed rail construction and demolition work, the EPA in the release wrote: “The high-speed rail Tier 4 equipment is currently being used for demolition, drilling and viaduct work on Construction Package 1, a 29-mile route from Madera to Fresno. The route includes 12 grade separations, two viaducts, one tunnel and a new river crossing over the San Joaquin River. Construction is scheduled to conclude in 2018.”

“High-speed rail is committed to sustainability during construction, including net zero emissions. Contractors will offset 30,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent generated during construction from Madera to Fresno by planting thousands of new trees and embracing cleaner burning construction equipment. The Authority also funded $20 million in agricultural conservation easements and has an agreement with the San Joaquin [Valley] Air Pollution Control District to replace irrigation pumps, purchase clean school buses and retrofit truck engines.”

For more information on Tier 4 non-road diesel engines, go here.

Published by Alan Kandel