Spain has the world’s second longest network of high speed rail lines built and in service. High-Speed Rail (HSR) is usually presented as a sustainable means of transport with huge potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy consumption. The majority of studies carried out on this mode of transport have focused on analysing and estimating these savings in terms of network operation, but sometimes ignore the burdens associated with the construction of the infrastructure.

Based on the application of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, this work integrates into the analysis the construction and maintenance phases of the HSR lines in operation in Spain in 2016 together with their operation during that year, and verifies whether construction is justified in terms of reducing environmental impacts and energy consumption.

This article concludes that the construction of the Levante and Northern corridors is not justified in terms of energy savings and emission reductions due to the low demand and therefore the decision to build new HSR sections should be based on an analysis of demand so that only corridors with high transport demand are built. Furthermore, policymakers should consider other measures related to transport that would lead to considerable and rapid reductions in environmental impacts without the burden of building new infrastructures: e.g. reducing the demand for transport, increasing the occupation of private vehicles, promoting electric traction and the use of electricity from renewable sources.

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