Biden Funds Passenger Rail

In December, the Biden administration announced an $8.2 billion investment in 10 major passenger rail projects. That is part of the total $66 billion investment Biden pledged in passenger rail, the largest since the creation of Amtrak in 1970.

The Biden Administration plan has passenger rail development in every region of the U.S., including new passenger rail lines to cities lacking access. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the projects will create tens of thousands of jobs.

“Investing in rail is a climate solution – and the Biden-Harris administration is delivering on it in a historic way with billions in funding for major high-speed rail projects across the country,” said Rebekah Whilden, Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All Deputy Director, in a statement. “Replacing car and plane trips with rail will help reduce traffic congestion, cut climate emissions, and create good jobs.”

High-Speed Rail Projects

The ten projects include two high-speed rail plans, including a new high-speed rail system between California and Nevada. The HSR project will extend for 218 miles and has a station in Las Vegas. The trains will take passengers from Las Vegas to Rancho Cucamonga, CA in two hours and 10 minutes. Brightline West, an intercity passenger high-speed rail service company, will break ground in early 2024 and plans to finish the project for the Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games in 2028.

Another funded high-speed rail project will go through California’s Central Valley and is riddled with problems. It cuts through fertile farmland that produces many specialty crops and half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables. Perception is another problem the HSR faces, as people in the Central Valley call it a “train to nowhere.” The proposed route mirrors an existing Amtrak route, and the demand to travel within the Valley by rail is low.

Part of the Central Valley HSR project is on the Tulare Lake bed, a lake once the largest west of the Mississippi and drained in the 19th century. Last spring, portions of the HSR construction in Kings and Tulare counties flooded as the once-dormant lake returned.

A 2017 study commissioned by California’s High-Speed Rail Authority found sinkage would worsen flooding in the Corcoran area in Kings County, a town on the Tulare Lake bed. The study concluded that “the resulting flood depth along the HSR Alignment could potentially be more than 16 feet, and the length of the HSR Alignment within the modified flood zone could potentially be more than 20 miles.”

Both HSR projects in California are electric, which is good for the environment as electric rail does not produce any carbon emissions.

Rail Produces Fewer Emissions

Is rail environmentally friendly? The rail network produces less greenhouse gas emissions than passenger cars and airplanes, but it also relies on diesel fuel, according to the U.S. Department of Rail Transportation.

Last August, the Sierra Club released a report on rail, which pointed out that the rail industry is responsible for two percent of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, while road transportation accounts for 82 percent. The report stated that electrifying the rail network would further reduce their emissions and more than energy efficiency. The International Energy Agency labels rail the “least emissions-intensive mode of passenger transport.”

Simply put, expanding electric rail will lower emissions in the U.S.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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