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Leading the Movement in Green Transportation: California High-Speed Rail

Leading the Movement in Green Transportation: California High-Speed Rail

By Luke Carothers

Carrying passengers between Los Angeles/Anaheim and San Francisco in under three hours, California High-Speed Rail is set to become the largest and most sustainable infrastructure project in the nation. Overseen by the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority), the system will transform mobility in California for the benefit of communities and the environment, and is the centerpiece for achieving the state’s climate and sustainability goals. The high-speed rail system will provide alternatives to one of the busiest short-haul flight paths in the United States, saving an estimated 62,000 annual airplane trips and taking 400,000 cars off the road every year. When completed, the rail system will link together California’s population centers and serve as a lever for positive economic growth for communities along the route.  

The high-speed rail system will cover a distance of 500 miles between Los Angeles/Anaheim and San Francisco, operating on 100 percent renewable energy from solar power and battery storage systems. The Authority turned to global sustainable development consultancy Arup to support their sustainability program and achieve the ambitious sustainability goals. As a part of their work with the Authority, Arup is responsible for several key tasks including renewable energy modeling and procurement, climate change adaptation and resilience, setting sustainable design criteria, managing greenhouse gas and air quality emissions, carbon offsetting, and sustainability reporting.  

Arup is leading a project team of 12 consultants, which include Arellano, BASE, Bio Studio, Build Momentum, Convey, ERP, GlobalASR, ICF, OMCI, Polytechnique, Strategen, and Terraverde. Most of the team consists of small businesses or Minority, Women, and Disadvantaged Enterprises. With the goal of powering California High-Speed Rail with 100 percent renewable energy as central to the Authority’s vision, Arup’s team will maintain a detailed model of energy used by the high-speed rail system while also integrating future cost scenarios, leading energy stakeholder and procurement outreach, and providing strategic plans and policy updates to the Authority. For additional resilience of the high-speed rail system, Arup’s team is updating the Authority’s 2021 Climate Adaptation Plan. According to Raphael Sperry, the sustainability project manager and an Associate Principal at Arup, this process includes “reviewing relevant climate impacts to best position the system to endure future shocks and stressors such as extreme heat and flooding.”

To accomplish the Authority’s ambitious goals for California High-Speed Rail, Arup will turn to their extensive experience in incorporating both proven and innovative solutions that advance sustainability. Sperry says that Arup’s approach foregrounds digital solutions such as automating data entry throughout the sustainability program – from project management to reporting to construction management. To do so, Arup’s team will rely on cloud-based environments as well as using the Environmental Mitigation Management Application (EMMA) – the Authority’s customized central database for tracking contractor compliance with requirements – to align with the program’s sustainability standards such as GRI, LEED, and Envision. This “digitally-led” approach is supported by Arup’s expertise with submittal review and data validation as well as contractor oversight, training, and review. 

Kate White, Arup’s project director and an Associate Principal, believes this project shifts the conversation about sustainable transportation towards a vision of mobility and equity with zero emissions, and that the project will have a significant impact on the economic growth and connectivity between different regions in California–such as linking the coastal cities with the historically underserved Central Valley. White adds that the project will be “transformative for California, allowing people across diverse areas to be closer together and access educational, economic, and cultural opportunities.”  From an emissions perspective, the speed and convenience of California High-Speed Rail will reduce both road vehicle miles and short-haul flights taken within California. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through transportation mode-shifting, the project has already offset its construction-phase emissions with in-state tree planting projects and has avoided hundreds of thousands of tons more emissions through land conservation strategies that also protect California’s biodiversity and combat urban sprawl.

Dedication to sustainability is reflected in the project achieving Envision Platinum certification, which is the highest standard in the framework for sustainable, resilient, and equitable infrastructure developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). California High-Speed Rail is the highest scoring Envision transportation project in the world, and is the largest Envision project ever attempted. While the project has already earned Envision Platinum certification for its first phase, Arup is working to ensure that the subsequent design and engineering contracts deliver on the Envision strategies for future phases. As Arup’s sustainability team reviews designs and construction submittals, information is compiled and shared with ISI for periodic reviews. On the construction side, the EMMA database is central to reporting on Envision requirements, helping track tens of thousands of data points related to over a hundred Envision points. 

Both White and Sperry believe the Authority is on a trailblazing mission to continue delivering the nation’s largest, greenest infrastructure project. They believe that this megaproject serves as a foundation for California’s carbon neutral transportation system, and that Arup’s involvement on the project will help the Authority to advance leading-edge sustainability commitments and practices in construction and operations. Sustainability is at the core of the California High-Speed Rail project, and the Authority is demonstrating its commitment to those principals from construction to operation.