Planes, trains and climate change

Planes, trains and climate change

Research shows that bullet trains are a reliable and resilient alternative to flight turbulence caused by high winds and storms due to a warming planet.

by Alan OnsmanForbes staff

aAir travel generates a significant amount of carbon pollution, contributing to the climate crisis whose worsening weather conditions are also making air travel more disruptive and inconvenient. As these conditions intensify in the coming years, research suggests that high-speed trains — which do not exist in the United States — will be a flexible alternative.

So far this year, there have been more than 1 million delayed arrivals, accounting for about 23% of all flights, the highest rate in a decade, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Scientific consensus suggests that the contributing factor to the spike in disturbances is worsening weather linked to the climate crisis.

According to Federal Aviation Administration data, about 75% of U.S. flight delays are due to weather, and that has been a particularly big headache this summer amid severe thunderstorms and heat, Chen Huaqin, a professor of urban planning at Ohio State University, told Forbes. . He has conducted extensive research into the effects of weather on planes and trains, and has found that places with bullet trains connecting major cities – such as China, Europe and Japan – ensure travelers have options to complete short- and medium-distance journeys when bad weather halts flights. He believes the lack of this alternative in the United States has economic implications.

“There is an opportunity cost for the United States if it doesn’t build a high-speed rail system,” said Chen, who has conducted extensive research on the ways bad weather affects air and rail travel, especially in China. “There is also a loss in corporate productivity. This is the most important thing that a lot of policymakers have overlooked.”

Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at Britain’s University of Reading, studies shifts in the jet stream that lead to increased atmospheric turbulence. Research published in June 2023 and co-authored by him found that increases in “clear-air turbulence” were particularly noticeable over congested flying zones of the United States and the North Atlantic. This report also found that such incidents jumped by 55% between 1979 and 2020.

Even some airline executives acknowledge the impact of climate change on business.

“I think irregular operations events will be more likely to occur as the climate warms,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said at a news conference. POLITICO The event is in July. “More heat in the atmosphere, thermodynamics 101 — we’ll have more thunderstorms.”

High speed lag

Six decades after Japan first appeared Shinkansen The system, high-speed trains at speeds of 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph) or more crisscross Europe, South Korea, Taiwan and especially China, with its sprawling 26,000-mile network. Soon, Morocco will join Saudi Arabia and the Indonesian island of Java in launching its own system for the first time. Noticeably absent: the United States, which has no real high-speed trains at all. That may change in the next few years, as a result of billions of federal dollars allocated for such projects in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The Biden administration this month released $16.4 billion of that money to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to speed up Acela trains that run from Boston to New York to Washington at 160 mph from 150 mph. The $105 billion California High-Speed ​​System and BrightLine West, a private high-speed train linking Las Vegas and the Los Angeles suburbs, hope to win federal grants for their projects, amounting to $2.8 billion and $3.75 billion, respectively, before the end of the year. .

California and Brightline are promoting their train plans as a low-carbon mode of transport, and both intend to run their electric trains using mainly renewable energy. Data collected by researchers from the UK and Europe show that carbon dioxide emissions from high-speed electric trains, such as the Eurostar train that runs from Paris to London, are just 4 grams per passenger per kilometre. In comparison, the average domestic flight in Europe is 246 g/passenger km.

In comparison, there is no clear path to decarbonizing aviation, which accounts for 3% of total US carbon emissions. Chen points out that a typical domestic flight in the United States uses up to 10,000 gallons of fuel, so the country’s 40,000 daily flights burn about 400 million gallons of jet fuel.

His concern about the effects of climate change on air travel in the United States was summarized in a study he shared Forbesis based on hard science, including work by Williams.

“While all modes of transportation, including high-speed rail, face limitations under certain extreme conditions, such as hurricanes that temporarily halt non-essential transportation, aircraft are more vulnerable to adverse weather conditions due to their inherent operational characteristics.” books. “High-speed trains operate close to the ground along a fixed guideway, while airplanes navigate vast, turbulent, unpredictable skies.”

High-speed trains are not a solution for coast-to-coast travel or an alternative to trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flights. However, because they are not affected by rain, wind, heat and cold, they could provide more stability to many U.S. transportation corridors, Chen said.

“If we want a flexible transportation system, we have to think about alternative means. This is how high-speed rail can play an important role,” he said.

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(Tags for translation)High-speed rail

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