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Green New Deal - Flights of Fancy

Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Feb 21, 2019  at  at 6:00 AM
Climate Change

One of the most perplexing aspects of the “Green New Deal” (GND) and one of its most difficult technical and economic challenges in the elimination of the need for air travel, since air travel without the use of fossil fuels appears to be beyond the ten-year time horizon of the climate plan. Just the replacement of all passenger vehicles, small and medium-size trucks and tractor-trailer rigs is a major challenge with currently available technology.

The plan for domestic travel would require the construction of a high-speed rail network using dedicated track to accommodate very high-speed trains operating at speeds up to 220 mph for long haul routes and high-speed trains operating at speeds up to 110 mph for shorter routes. This network would be constructed without grade level crossings, both to avoid the possibility of road traffic damage to the high-speed rails and to avoid the potential for collisions between the trains and road vehicles. The network would require long, sweeping, banked curves to allow the trains to maintain speed along the entire route.

The very high-speed trains would permit cross country non-stop trips of approximately 15 hours, compared to approximately 5 hours for non-stop domestic air travel. Very high-speed trains operating with minimal stops might add 15 – 30 minutes per stop to that cross-country schedule, similar to the experience with domestic air travel. The need to change trains in-route would likely add 1 – 2 hours per stop to the schedule, as is common with domestic air travel. Passenger mile data from the airline industry would likely be used to establish the number of transportation corridors, the number and location of transportation hubs and the number and location of cities served by both the very high speed and the high-speed rail networks.

True high-speed rail service is unknown in the US. The closest approach is the Acela service offered by Amtrak in the Boston – New York – DC corridor, which is very limited in speed relative to the Shinkansen in Japan and other high-speed rail systems. The Acela service has proven to be unpopular and unprofitable, likely because there have been faster alternatives available at relatively similar prices. The unavailability of choice would dramatically change the equation.

The issue of international travel is a totally different matter, since high-speed rail travel between the US and either Europe or Asia is currently unavailable; and, is unlikely to be an option in the ten-year time horizon of the GND. Air travel from the US would not be possible because fossil-based aviation fuels would no longer be available. Air travel to the US would require planes capable of making the round trip without refueling, since fuel would not be available in the US, or the establishment of refueling stops in countries taking a less aggressive approach to emissions reductions.

China, which is taking no approach to emissions reductions during the time horizon of the GND, could perhaps construct giant floating air terminals off the coasts of the US in international waters, in close proximity to the major coastal high-speed rail hubs. Aviation fuel could be provided to these air terminals by supertankers operating from ports in the major oil producing nations. Transportation from the air terminals to shore near the rail hubs could be provided by sail-powered ferries. This arrangement would add significantly to international air travel times to and from the US, which would make such travel far less desirable. The issue of continued fossil-fueled air travel in US air space by non-US airlines is not addressed in the GND at this time.

If this all sounds rather silly, that is because it is rather silly, like the remainder of the “Green New Deal”.