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Let’s just fly a lot lower
High speed railway systems have the potential to bring about rapid progress in the war against warming

By now, the fact that the Copenhagen meet added 46,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide, most of it from flights, has become a cliché that has overdone itself. But the illogic fails to resolve the paradox that avoiding air travel or going to such meetings is not only impossible, but can even put paid to various developmental measures. But then, what can reduce per capita contribution of carbon and limit its harmful impact on environment?

Many countries are readily investing in environment friendly mode of transport. In this long list of green transport initiatives, countries are going ga-ga over the latest high-speed railway system aka HSR. This craziness makes for good social sense; especially after analysing the recent Eurostar research. The study by Eurostar shows that the train to Paris from London, cuts CO2 emissions per passenger by a jaw dropping 90% when compared to flying on the same route. Going beyond numbers, the environmental benefit due to HSR is more than what any empirical research reveals. As airliners emit their CO2 directly into the upper atmosphere, the impact on environment is much severe.

While the Manchester City Council within UK was an early starter in the HSR revolution – precisely to tap on the increase in efficiency and its environment friendly attributes – most of the developed countries (mostly European) like France, Spain and Germany are already supporting the HSR concept. A few other European countries have also decided to join the HSR network, thus linking the UK and Europe with HSR network in near future.

Reducing the amount of CO2 is just one aspect of HSR as it also comes with added benefits. To a large extent, it solves traffic congestion and air pollution problems. Comprehending this fact, Japan has extended its bullet train network by 76%, thus linking almost all its cities. Europe has decided to add an extra 1,711 more miles by 2010 under a similar program. Thanks to HSR, the air travel frequency between Paris-to-Brussels has almost disappeared after opening up of the HSR link.
What is most astounding is that this HSR model can be emulated in developing countries too. Third world countries will not only benefit due to ‘technology-leapfrogging’ but will also experience a boost in other sectors. They will obviously have a second mover advantage and can reduce loss (by analysing the success model of HSR already in place) and customise the model as per requirement and infrastructure. Implementation of HSR will augment their infrastructure and employment. Besides this, if HSR links the urban and rural areas, it will also decrease urban migration (urban sprawl) and help bridge the rural-urban divide. With proper planning, HSR can give rise to mid-sized cities and satellite towns in developing (and highly populated) Asian nations. Proper planning can surely make HSR a successful socially beneficial model and a landmark social initiative in the third world. Green HSR is, without even an iota of apprehension, a credible answer to carbon emitting short distance air travel.

But governments have to be clear about the fact that private investment would be far and few, as the ‘business’ model, for lack of a better term, doesn’t exist. That the HSR concept would be loss making is a surety from day one. Therefore, the government has to take the initiative. For example, the Chinese government has recently launched the fastest HSR (CRH3) on the planet – trains with an average speed of 217 mph covering a total distance of 663 miles connecting over 20 cities (connecting less developed regions to the metros) and is further planning to expand it to 42 more HSR lines by 2012.

By:- Sray Agarwal

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