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Infrastructure Lesson 9

Lesson 9: Is the California High-Speed Rail A Viable Solution to Environmental Pollution?


This lesson is about making decisions in situations of uncertainty, looking at the California high speed rail project as a case study. The California project was proposed as part of a larger nationwide infrastructure plan for a high speed rail project similar to those in place in other countries. Construction on the California project has started although the final reach of the project is still being discussed. In this lesson, students will explore the economic concepts of externalities, future consequences, and costs and benefits to decide whether the California high speed rail project is a viable solution to environmental pollution in the state. This lesson is designed to take 50-60 minutes, though it can be extended through in-class or at-home research, class discussion, presentations, or projects.


Students should be able to do the following at the end of the lesson:

  1. Discuss the costs and benefits of the California high speed rail project as a solution to environmental pollution.
  2. Analyze bias of documents and consider bias in the analysis of documents.


  1. Introduction to the California high speed rail project.
  2. Read background materials about the California high speed rail project.
  3. Read documents describing the environmental impact of the California high speed rail project.
  4. Develop argument for/against California high speed rail project.


  1. Full Lesson Plan - Includes Lesson Overview, Teacher Instructions, and Student Handouts.
  2. Teacher Instructions
  3. Student Handouts
The design, development, validation and publication of these infrastructure teaching modules was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Grant #1334292, and the Global Projects Center at Stanford University. All opinions and conclusions expressed in this paper reflect the views of the author/s, and not necessarily the views of these sponsors.