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Thu, 20 Aug 2009
In a controversial short column in the New York Times, economist Edward Glaeser argues that high-speed rail has little environmental effect.
The article examines a very small set of factors for the benefits. For instance, it assumes that rail would attract air passengers but not automobile passengers. It uses a straw man argument by saying that high-speed rail would stop in small towns and turn them into exurbs whose residents would then emit more GHGs from driving. Or that trains would be stopped for long periods at the border. Like airplanes, right? He mixes data and arguments from effects of intercity and intracity rail service. He picks numbers out of the air for assumptions. He assumes that the benefit of population living within a city rather than in sprawl consists of less electricity because their house will be smaller and less gas because of a shorter commute. Part of the article argues the negative impact of people moving to be near train stations because of evidence that they do, and part argues the negative impact of people NOT moving to be near train stations because of evidence that they don't. The confused arguments about whether people will live in cities or suburbs and drive more or less are irrelevant since according to his calculations, whatever US city you live in, the value of the environmental benefit adds up to $100-200 per person, while the cost is higher. In his world anything that reduces sprawl has negative benefit, unless the cost of the measure is negative to compensate.
The comments are more illuminating than the article itself.