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crossposted from MyLeftWing

Having lost sight of our goals we redoubled our efforts
- Mark Twain

The Steel Interstate concept is both powerful and simple. Electrify main rail corridors and provide the capacity to support 100mph Rapid Freight Rail. The points are direct:

  • Under 10% the energy of diesel truck freight
  • 100mph Rapid Freight Rail is faster door to door freight than long-haul trucking
  • Rail capacity is decreasing cost, with additional capacity cheaper than existing capacity
  • Supporting high reliability scheduled freight delivery automatically supports upgrades passenger rail

Virginia is facing a Dinosaur Economy proposal to expand I-81 to eight lanes. RAIL Solution has turned to the Steel Interstate that:

  • is a lower cost alternative
  • is not addicted to oil,
  • and takes semi-truck traffic off I-81, rather than imposing more semi-truck traffic on the motorists using I-81.

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

With the focus on Long-Haul Freight, this proposed system has been dubbed the "Steel Interstate" (pdf).

I have blogged on this topic before ... some previous Electric Freight Rail diaries can be found under the rail electrification tag at Burning the Midnight Oil, and some under the Living Energy Independence tag here.

Prospective Energy Savings

For addressing the problem of climate chaos, the energy efficiency gains of electric freight rail is the most critical feature. As RAIL Solutions notes:

Trucks carry about a quarter fewer ton-miles of freight than railroads, but use about 11 times as much total fuel. In 2006 this amounted to about 930 million barrels of oil.

So just shifting from truck to rail represents a savings on the order of [11/75%]= 14.7 times.

The problem is getting shippers to make the shift. For freight where bulk shipping cost is the dominant factor, rail already dominates. For the rest of the freight market, the reason they don't now is because rail does not offer adequate "door to door" transport times to be time competitive.

But if the freight moves 100mph and stays in motion continuously from origin railhead to destination railhead, that means that even with a short haul by truck to the origin railhead and from the destination railhead, long haul Rapid Freight Rail would offer both lower costs per ton mile and faster door-to-door times.

And its often possible to get the origin and/or destination railhead still closer to the origin and/or destination loading dock by swapping between diesel and electric locomotives. This is, indeed, why its possible to pursue the RAIL Solutions strategy of establishing a pilot test of the Steel Interstate concept between Harrisburg, Virginia and Knoxville, Tennessee ... because the ultimate origin and destination railhead can be wherever it is most convenient to transfer the container from truck to rail.

It is true that if the Steel Interstate system is adopted nationally, that will offer an incentive to firms to locate next to a branch rail line, so they can transfer containers on-site and haul them to loading docks by electric yard trucks. But the Steel Interstate is perfectly capable of working with today's truck-oriented logistics system, so there is no problem of, "you go first / no, you go first".

Electric locomotives offer several advantages for Rapid Freight Rail, since they have both better torque and better power/weight ratios, for better acceleration.

They are also more energy efficient. The electric motor is more efficient than the equivalent diesel or diesel-electric motors. Compared to diesel-electric locomotives, they save the weight of carrying the power plant on-board. And when the electric motor is used for dynamic braking, the power can be returned to the line, rather than being thrown away as waste heat as when a diesel-electric locomotive uses dynamic braking.

Overall, electric rail saves enough energy compared to diesel rail that it reduces total CO2 emissions even if the electricity is generated by coal. If the electricity is provided instead by wind power backed by natural gas, the savings in CO2 emissions will be greater than the savings in energy.

Prospective Oil Savings

The actual oil savings gained will depend on, first, how much diesel truck freight is taken over by electric rail freight and, second, how much diesel rail freight is taken over by electric rail freight.

Shifting truck freight dominates fuel savings, because, as noted above, that is where the most fuel is wasted.

Most of the long haul trucking and much of the medium haul trucking can be taken over by electric freight rail, if we have a nationwide network of Rapid Electric Freight rail paths. Of course, given the nature of short, medium, and long haul trucking, it is substantially fewer than 50% of trips that consume 50% of fuel - and it is precisely those trips that are, first, most sensitive to the energy cost savings of electric freight rail and, second, where faster door to door times are available even with a truck/rail/truck trip. Millenium Institute modelling reported by Alan Drake at the Oil Drum indicates that 50% of truck freight miles might be captured.

This would be a savings of about 465 million barrels of oil.

Rail Freight consumed 84 million barrels of oil in 2006, and electric freight is both more energy efficient and more cost efficient than diesel freight, once there is sufficient electric rail traffic to cover the cost of the electric infrastructure. And its feasible to simply swap a diesel locomotive for an electric locomotive when a branch line connects into an electrified mainline. So it is quite conservative for a national system capturing half or more of current rail freight ton-miles, saving 40 million or more barrels of oil.

So over 500 million barrels of oil a year is plausible. Saving oil is most urgent when there is an oil price shock or an interruption of oil supply, and in either case we would be able to beat these targets as fast as electric locomotives can be produced and put to work.  

How Do We Get There From Here: Track

So, say we want to get there from here. How do we do it?

A discussed in last week's Sunday Train, while 220mph Express HSR needs all new corridors, 110mph Emerging HSR does not. The same holds true for 100mph Rapid Freight Rail: medium freight rail (see below) packed for high speed freight can use existing rights of way.

A large number of the Rights of Way in this country were originally laid out for four tracks - since after all, two local and two Express tracks was the ultimate goal of early would-be rail barons. However, after eighty years of YOYO - Your On Your Own - treatment from the Federal government, while road and air received hefty capital subsidies, commercial railways have focused on providing freight at the lowest possible cost, which has meant using the minimum amount of line. So much of the operating rights of way in the country have single, bi-directional track, with sidings at very wide intervals where the train heading the other way waits its turn, and outside the Northeast Corridor, the corridors in heaviest use have double track.

With that as the current situation, mixing 60mph mainline Heavy Freight Rail and 100mph Rapid Freight Rail is a matter of having sufficient track capacity. This can be provided in several tiers, depending on the frequency of freight traffic:

  •    On bi-directional lines with very light traffic, a Rapid Freight path can be provided by time-slicing: by allowing Heavy Freight at certain times of day, and Rapid Freight at other times of day. A siding is required at both sides of the section for a train (normally a Heavy Freight Rail train) to "wait its time".

  •    At higher traffic levels, a single bi-directional line can be provided with dual track for sections - 10 miles of dual track for every 50 miles of track means a 60mph Heavy Freight Train only ever has to wait for a Rapid Freight for forty minutes. At the same time, two Heavy Freight Trains can pass each other on the dual track section instead of one sitting in a siding, so the occasional delays waiting for priority Rapid Freight is made up by faster "crossing" movements between Heavy Freight.
  •    At still higher freight levels, two main tracks are provided and one Rapid Freight track, with switching to allow one mainline track to be used as a passing track for Rapid Freight going in opposite directions
  •    At the very highest freight levels, four tracks are provided in a classical Express/Local layout, with the Heavy Freight tracks in the middle and the Rapid Freight tracks on the outside.

At the outset, the focus of the Steel Interstate proposal will be on the third level: on attracting sufficient heavy freight to require at least two tracks, and then a third track provides the additional capacity required for high speed traffic.

There is a steady incremental upgrade path from the most lightly used branch line to freight corridors that are every bit as busy as today's Northeast Corridor is for passenger traffic. Provided that a four-track wide Right of Way has been provided, and with enough forward planning, an ongoing series of incremental upgrades can take the track from the lowest capacity branch line to the highest capacity trunk line.

How Do We Get There From Here: Electrical Infrastructure

While track can be upgraded in incremental steps, so we can build what we expect to need "today", and expand capacity "tomorrow" as circumstances dictate ... we need to have overhead electric catenary for the entire length of the route carrying the electric freight rail.

Once in place, this can be expanded incrementally along with the track. It makes sense to have an upgrade path for the track sketched out so that the catenary support structure does not stand in the way of the upgrade path - but unlike the rail, there is a single big first step that must be taken.

At $100/barrel oil, user fees would be able to refund bonds issued to construct the infrastructure, so I have previously suggested an import tax on imported oil that starts at $1/barrel at $50/barrel and below, and then phases out for oil prices between $50/barrel and $100/barrel. The tax would be used to fund repayment for the electrical infrastructure, so that user fees could be established that are competitive even at low oil prices, and pegged to the price of diesel up to $3/gallon. The more bonds are repaid from user costs, the more capacity remains in the fund to expand the electrical infrastructure.

However, for a trial system to establish the real world operating advantages of the Steel Interstate ... that is not necessary. What is required is an existing interstate that is being stretched to capacity, where there is an existing proposal to engage in a massive, costly, road widening project.

It is sometimes a decreasing cost investment to take an existing Interstate Highway from four lanes (two each way) to six lanes. Even in those settings, it is normally an increasing cost investment to expand beyond that point.

Overpasses have to be reconstructed. Interchanges have to be reconstructed, which gets more expensive per lane. There will be changes required to entry and exit ramps, and associated eminent domain - but unlike the original interstate, eminent domain on property made more valuable by the presence of the Interstate.

And where the expansion is primarily to accommodate truck traffic, the state engaging in the expansion has to throw good money after bad. Heavy truck traffic creates far more damage per ton than automotive traffic, while paying a smaller share of fuel taxes per ton. And adding a state tax onto diesel leads to long haul trucks refueling across the border.

If the Federal Government could be persuaded to devote the same percentage of money to an electric Rapid Freight Rail corridor that is long enough to capture road freight traffic along an alignment, then a State Government could quite be in a position to save money up-front by contributing to a Steel Interstate instead. After all, one additional mile of 60mph grade track can add more freight capacity than two lanes of Interstate Highway.

And since the rail is cost competitive with the highway on the basis of covering its own maintenance costs, the state avoids leaving a maintenance cost time-bomb for the next generation - those same budgetary time-bombs that are have been going off for over a decade along heavily used Interstate Highways.

What would we need?

  • Transport Committees in the two chambers that are willing to put rail on a level footing with roads. Check.
  • An administration that is willing to put rail on a level footing with roads. Check.
  • A state government faced with a massively expensive boondoggle of a road building project that is willing to put rail on a level footing with roads ... well, still working on this one.

If you are a resident of Virginia, Pennsylvania or Tennessee, do go to RAIL Solutions and check them out, and press your state government to get on board. It is Virginia that has a devoted advocated of the 8-lane I-81 project as head of the state Department of Transportation - but that is not an elected position in Virginia, and the Governor can over-ride the State Secretary of Transportation and order a study of the benefit/cost of a Steel Interstate versus the road project. If you are a resident of Virginia, you need to lobby your governor - and if you are a resident of Pennsylvania or Tennessee, you need your governor to talk to Virginia's governor.

How Do We Get There From Here: Regulation

The final step in the puzzle is the system of Federal Railroad Administration regulations. The FRA has a system of regulations for the existing freight rail system. This establishes the dreaded "FRA compliance" issue that bedevils efforts across the country to establish local passenger rail services. It is oriented to the needs of freight railroads to move massive loads at bare minimum cost, dominated by "it gets there when it gets there" scheduling.

And we will still need this. Our bulk freight transport needs will not go away as we build up our Rapid Freight Rail capacity. Simply accommodating Rapid Freight Rail within one framework will either compromise the needs of Rapid Freight Rail or compromise the needs of Heavy Freight Rail. So if we are going to be building Steel Interstates, we need a second entire category of freight rail.

Now, many of these changes discussed here could be put into place as line-by-line regulations - for example, it is not unusual for a branch line to have weight limits that are lower than the ordinary 33 ton per axle loading of Heavy Freight Rail mainlines. However, if we want to have a cost-effective system, that means we need to avoid one-off designs, tailored to the needs of each distinct "Steel Interstate" corridor. We need a common target for manufacturers need a common target to shoot at, so they can achieve economies of scale.

The first part of the puzzle is weight. The faster a train goes, the more stress is placed on support structures by trains with the same amount of weight per axle. Reducing the weight per axle makes it easier to go fast. And, at the same time, railroads already dominate the very heavy end of the freight market - the freight that Rapid Freight Rail must capture does not require the same freight levels per axle.

In order to ensure economies of scale, it makes sense to adopt a limit very close to some international weight limits, which ensures that there are already electric locomotives in use that respect those limits. Some European railway systems have 22.5 metric ton per axle load limits which, converting to short tons and rounding up, is 25 short tons per axle.

The second change is signaling. There is a standard that comes into place next decade for all freight railway lines that share track with passenger rail. Further signaling improvements are required for operating passenger operations at 125mph. This should be a universal standard for all Rapid Freight Rail.

Electric Rapid Freight Rail will have better acceleration and and braking characteristics, and will often be built "around" an existing mainline system. In order to reduce capital costs of the Rapid Freight Rail infrastructure, the normal 1% (1:100) gradients for mainline Heavy Freight Rail should be raised to 2.5% (1:40).

And finally, for passenger rail systems share track with Rapid Freight, crash prevention and resistance standards must be developed that are appropriate for that specific class of freight rail.

Some tracks are Heavy Freight Rail only, some tracks are Rapid Freight only, and some tracks are scheduled for the different type of rail traffic at different times of day. And instead of one "regular" class of rail and an endless variety of "irregular" classes of rail, there are three types of rail vehicles - compliant with FRA Heavy Rail, compliant with FRA Rapid Rail, and compliant with both.

Getting Involved with the Fight

RAIL Solutions is a grassroots citizens group, you can get information on joining them here. Contacts for U.S. Representatives are here. Contacts for Senators are here. You can contact the US Dept. of Transport asking for a distinct Rapid Freight Rail regulatory system here.

If you have any contact information for other groups working on Steel Interstates, leave them in the comments and I will update the various copies of this essay with the contact information.

Originally posted to BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 03:58 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  excellent! two things.... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, DaleA, JeffW, Sark Svemes

      One, renewables backed by nuclear, not by natural gas.  If we're going to do this, let's do it right and take all the fossil fuels out of the equation.  Natural gas is peaking & will decline same as oil, and in any case it's a portable fuel that should be saved for critical applications such as fuel for public safety fleets (police, fire, paramedic).  

      The rail rights of way could be expanded slightly to provide space for wind turbines in high wind areas, immediately adjacent to the tracks.  In some areas it will be possible to install photovoltaics along the rights of way, stretching them out in a line rather than in a rectangular field as is presently the practice.  

      Two, why not push for a universal 4-track system?   There's no good reason to keep compromising with 2-track or single-track designs.  Study the design engineering philosophy of the old Bell Telephone system: standardization and protecting the integrity of the network were critical values, and we ended up with what was for decades the world's best telephone service: robust, reliable, and resilient.  

      Yes this will involve using the evil eminent domain moreso than compromised designs.  But this is one of those cases where the need is vital and the consequences of climate change are sufficiently dire to make it ethically viable to take property along the rights of way.  

      •  On the four tracks ... (8+ / 0-)

        ... it is a railroad, not an road - two tracks have more freight capacity than a four lane interstate highway, and three tracks more capacity than a six lane.

        And the network economies mean that we leverage more benefit by rolling out more corridor miles compared to massive over capacity in fewer corridor miles.

        If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

        by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 05:06:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  there is that... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          In telephony the parallel issue is "switching vs. transmission."  

          The thing I'm looking for here is a network design that has the smallest number of "exceptions" and "make-dos."

          (phone call, gotta scoot...)

          •  A lot of the switching is eliminated ... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RunawayRose, G2geek, JeffW

            ... with electrification, where a standard 1:100 American mainline gradient makes it easier to maintain higher minimum speed limits on the "slow" track ... and the higher the minimum speed, the less need for passing movements.

            FFSS bottlenecks capacity compared to FSSF, since its better to make a gap in the 60mph traffic heading one way to allow one Rapid Rail train to get out of the way of an overtaking Rapid Rail train than to cross over into a Rapid Rail line going the other way.

            And one thing to bear in mind is that the reason most of the existing traffic is on the rails is that its time-insensitive. So with a three track corridor, if there is a time of day that you need to have Rapid Rail running both ways, you can just allocate two of the rails to that task, and the remaining rail is available to be used as a conventional bi-directional line. It still have 15% additional capacity compared to a conventional bi-directional line, because of the electrification. At a time of day that the Rapid Freight Rail is not needed for scheduling, two lines can be given over to Heavy Freight rail and lots of heavy freight gets moved through the corridor.

            If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

            by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 06:50:40 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, but... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          ..building back out to 4 tracks could allow segregation of freight and passenger service on major trunks. There's a lot of R-O-W that has room for 4 tracks in places, but only two, or even one with passing sidings.

          Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

          by JeffW on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 06:17:02 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Segregation of passenger and freight rail ... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Odysseus, RunawayRose, JeffW

            ... is imposed by archaic regulations rather than being functionally necessary - given track capacity, there's no reason a passenger service should not be able to pay the access fees to run on a Rapid Freight Rail path.

            Imposing that functionally unecessary segregation means a slower roll out of both Emerging/Regional HSR and of Rapid Freight Rail, neither of which are benefits for energy independence or reducing CO2 impacts of passenger and freight transport.

            And, indeed, imposing functionally unecessary segregation increases the CO2 impact of the construction.

            If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

            by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 06:22:48 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I still think it would depend... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              ...on whether you've got a long trunk line, verses a relatively shorter branch/secondary line. Also consider that the needs of high-speed passenger lines may conflict with heavy freight. And the overall thing is whether or not you have the right-of-way available in the first place. A true Steel Interstate should ultimately have Rapid Freight and High-Speed Passenger service.

              Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

              by JeffW on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 06:28:09 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Yes, the needs of high speed passenger lines ... (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                RunawayRose, JeffW

                ... conflict with heavy freight. So do the needs of Rapid Freight, they also conflict with the needs of heavy freight.

                But the needs of high speed passenger lines - at least at the speeds that can run in conventional rail rights of way - they do not conflict with the needs of Rapid Freight.

                If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

                by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 06:52:26 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Thought / query ... (0+ / 0-)

                  Seems that some of this advocacy / desire for 4-tracks is answered by having two-track system with robust 3/4 track areas allowing passing with minimal disruption to movement by any of the involved trains.  Scheduling with some dynamic passing ability seems to help answer that demand.

                  •  The Steel Interstate proposal ... (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    A Siegel

                    ... as with CSX's original iteration, is 3 or 4 track.

                    I am just pointing out the capacity advantages of an integrated vs segregated system. The reason for advocacy of the segregated system is primarily the old Heavy Freight rail oriented regulatory system. Two "freight" and one or two "passenger" lines will mean less freight captured from trucks, because of the delays imposed on the Rapid Freight Rail by the Heavy Freight Rail.

                    The first two tiers would be for the "moral equivalent" of the "blue highways", the state and US route system.

                    If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

                    by BruceMcF on Tue Sep 08, 2009 at 07:38:56 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

      •  On nuclear as backing fuel ... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, DaleA, G2geek

        ... I am not sure how much of the existing nuclear capacity is adapted to working in short periods on demand. Existing dammed hydro and natural gas capacity is a more natural fit for back-up power to renewable, sustainable power sources.

        I mentioned wind power because it is a mature sustainable, renewable power source, but it was just making the point that if you save 2/3 of the energy of diesel rail freight, and use a lower CO2 emitting power source than diesel as well, you will save over 2/3 the CO2.

        If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

        by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 05:10:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  new reactor designs enable the power levels.... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, JeffW

 be increased and decreased as needed to compensate for fluctuations in other power sources.   These are ideally suited to use as backup for renewables.  

          Also, micro-reactors such as the Hyperion and Toshiba designs, can be used in this capacity.   From my experience in wind farm engineering design (@ 300 MW), there are a lot of potential wind sites that aren't getting built due to the cost of transmission lines, that could be saved by siting Hyperion units amidst the wind turbines.  

          (And in case anyone's wondering about security issues, the units can be kept under constant video surveillance using the same camera network that would be needed to monitor the rail line itself.)  

  •  Very, very, very well done (10+ / 0-)

    I like this very, very much. Do you make your own maps? I sometimes need maps and in general graphic presentation is becoming a bigger issue for me.

    "Not dead ... yet. Still have ... things to do." -Liet Kynes

    by Stranded Wind on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 04:07:04 PM PDT

  •  BruceMcF (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, Spud1, xaxnar, Stranded Wind

    I love you.  

  •  The genius of the Interstate highway system (6+ / 0-)

    is that Congress made it possible for it to appear now as self-funding through the federal fuel tax.

    Is there any self-funding options available for HSR?

    •  When diesel fuel is expensive enough ... (7+ / 0-)

      ... the electrical infrastructure can be self funding through electricity user fees. And of course, operating costs, including maintenance, are self funding through access fees.

      However, because of the massive cross-subsidy from urban drivers to the Highway Trust Fund, actually self-funded Steel Interstates competing against phony non-self-funding Asphalt Interstates could well keep us from having as much electric freight rail as we desperately need.

      If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

      by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 04:38:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Fuel cost (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, DaleA, neroden, JeffW

        That makes it a hard sell. In order to get HSR traction with some, the whole explanation on how the highways aren't self funded needs to be explained.

        People believe or don't want to admit that the roads and highways pay for themselves 100% and if they don't, then, at least in Oregon, they blame bike paths and light rail for taking away money they say that should go to roads.

        The Democrats are not going to pass an increase to the federal fuel tax, so we're left with speculators to drive up the cost of oil to make HSR seem like a good investment. At the mean time, this also makes more expensive oil sources economically attractive.

        So as diesel and gas prices go up, we get more pressure to exploit environmentally oil sands production, drilling off our coasts, or in our wildlife refuges. Markets as a price driver to get HSR is not an attractive approach.

        Really, we need a funding mechanism to make this work. If we can sell it as self-funding, then I think it is doable. Until then, its an uphill struggle against America's love of all things  automotive.

        •  Well, unlike roads, ... (6+ / 0-)

          ... the operating costs actually can be self-funded. But genuine self funding will necessarily tilt the playing field to the subsidized transport systems.

          One thing we can do to narrow the gap is to have public authorities building and owning the infrastructure, so that they can be funded by public bonds, which can cut capital costs in half.

          It is clearly more cost efficient, clearly more energy efficient, clearly saves imported oil, clearly takes dangerous (and unpopular with most voters) trucks off the roads, and clearly generates massive maintenance cost savings for state highway budgets ... so yes, there is a reason rooted in people's willful belief in the lies peddled by the highway lobby that the gas tax "pays for" the roads they use.

          The reality is that gas taxes pay for at most of 80% of road work, and with a massive amount of deferred maintenance, less than 70% of the costs of driving.

          If we find some way to fund them, they will prove popular. And it would be nice if there was some actual self-funding formula that would in fact magically remove the competitive advantage provided by state and local income and sales tax subsidies to the road system ... but unless diesel is over $4/gallon, its not necessarily the case that there is.

          The thing about the "trial project" approach is that it only requires getting together the capital funding for the trial project. And once the trial project is up, there will be pushes for more ... for once thing, with Norfolk Southern getting one, CSX will push to get one for their coastal Southeastern route.

          If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

          by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 05:02:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  One need only drive between Detroit and (7+ / 0-)

    Cincinnati on I-75 on a weekday to understand the change that reverting to a predominant freight rail system will mean - it was long convoy of tractor trailers.

    Any idea of how many of these trailers could be TEU's (containers)?

    •  From working in a warehouse ... (8+ / 0-)

      ... any of them could be. Its just a matter of pulling a container trailer up to the loading dock instead of a regular semi-trailer. They basically load and unload the same ... the conversion to a railcar happens at the railhead.

      So the question is not at the loading dock, its how long the haul is. A couple of hundred miles, the time required to marshal the containers into a train means that the truck-only haul would be quicker door to door. A thousand miles, you'd have a lot of leeway in terms of getting to the railhead and waiting for the train to depart and still be faster than a truck. I-75 is 1700 miles end to end, so a big fraction of that traffic would be in the frame for shifting to a Steel Interstate alignment between Detroit and Florida.

      And of course, if the cost of diesel spikes, some loads will shift even at the cost of door to door time, so some of the 200 mile to 500 miles hauls would shift as well.

      If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

      by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 04:30:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  On the subject of Intermodal.... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, DaleA, Spud1, BruceMcF

        Bruce, there's a work of fiction you might enjoy by Dean Ing calledThe Big Lifters The main character is heavily involved in trying to find ways to get trucks off the highways - because of a tragedy in his youth.

        He gets into the business of short-haul truck manufacturing to go after the "Last Mile" market, is experimenting with modern airships (lighter than air craft), and subcontract work on a mag-lev line being put into operation by Santa Fe.

        The mix also includes Iranian terrorists and targeted assassinations, the mob, and a wild new way to get stuff into orbit at a far lower cost.

        You might especially enjoy the bit where they're testing using the airship to snatch standard cargo containers off of a train moving at speed and putting them back as well. (The idea being that the train never needs to stop to drop off containers.)

        It'd be impossible with catenary in the way, but it'd be fun to watch otherwise.

        It's a good read - I think you'd enjoy it.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 05:38:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, but if it had a dual mode ... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, Spud1, xaxnar

          ... electric / diesel-electric, it could run out onto a branch line for the airship to get at it, then back again.


          If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

          by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 05:42:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  You'd need a loooong branch line... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

   maintain speed on the train! And branch lines are usually short with a terminal at the end. Easier to have container lifts.

            Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

            by JeffW on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 06:20:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  There are some stretches ... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RunawayRose, JeffW

              ... for instance, there are two rail lines through much of the Shenandoah Valley in VA, and the steel interstate treatment is not going to be given to both ... so whichever one is the main line, the airship train could cross over to the other one.

                 -_o ... und ja, pay no attention to ze monocle.

              If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

              by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 06:30:49 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Mmm, `k! (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                RunawayRose, Calamity Jean

                I like to engage in fantasy, too. Like rebuilding the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad, with grade separation, and an underground line into downtown Milwaukee. No airships, though...

                Full disclosure: I've flown on the Goodyear Blimp America.

                Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

                by JeffW on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 06:39:56 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Full disclosure ... the reason I went for a bike (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  RunawayRose, xaxnar, JeffW

                  ... ride this afternoon is that I am coming to too closely resemble resemble the Goodyear Blimp.

                  Its xaxnar that brought up the Science Fiction, I just played along.

                  ^_^ <=== smiley face sometimes indicates a less than totally serious comment.

                  If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

                  by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 06:55:17 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Dual mode (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    There is this about reading science fiction; if it's any good, it gets you thinking.

                    As long as we're looking at restructuring the nation's transportation systems, a well-written What If story along those lines can be the mental equivalent of limbering up exercises.

                    It's also practice for dealing with a real world where the common reaction to so many new and/or different ideas is "That sounds good, but it will never work." Putting them in the guise of fiction may allow people to start thinking about them while temporarily suspending disbelief. A work of fiction is partly a sales pitch after all - if the reader can't become interested in the characters or buy in to the story line, chances are they won't want to 'close the deal' and keep reading to the end.

                    Trying to push a progressive agenda and move things in a different direction calls for a certain amount of marketing skills; the same skills that a good story teller needs.

                    All that, and it's a fun story to read too; it even has some sex and a happy ending. If you can get people thinking a Steel Interstate will include those last two items, they might start building it today.  ;-)

                    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

                    by xaxnar on Mon Sep 07, 2009 at 05:33:00 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

      •  A rail served industrial park can have a terminal (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, JeffW

        Current practice is to put terminals at locations that generate one train a day while serving a 150 mile radius area. The haul length is designed to compete with overnight one driver hauls.  

        With circus style loading any industrial park with rail service can have a terminal.  Any chamber of commerce can have a rail terminal.  This does not address the problem of transit time.  

        •  As I noted, the problem is not ... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, JeffW

          ... technology, its economics - investment in the fixed cost of a rail line for an industrial park that many occupants will find little use for because of the nature of their freight needs.

          The Steel Interstate does not have to wait on restoration of what was once commonplace in order to get started, but as noted, if Steel Interstates are built, it will once again become common to include rail connections in industrial parks.

          If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

          by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 08:40:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Another point - one of the arugments against (6+ / 0-)

    alternative electrical generation is that in many areas such generation only adds to a surplus. Switching from direct fossil fuel to electric, as in the rail system described here, creates demand, making wind, solar, tidal, and other renewables more attractive, and thus less of an investment risk.

  •  great diary! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, DaleA, BruceMcF, JeffW

    Thank you for all this great info. It's people like you working diligently behind the scenes that are making the big difference. I just hope this important piece in our transportation puzzle won't get politically derailed by big oil interests and screaming 'drill baby drill' mobs. Keep up the great work!

  •  Excellent Diary (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, RunawayRose, DaleA, BruceMcF, JeffW

    Upgrading the rail systems in this country would seem to be a no-brainer; where's the down side?

    Upgrading freight rail with passenger rail piggybacking on top of the improvements gets around the argument that "Nobody rides trains anymore."

    Tell people bitching about spending money on trains when the roads are falling apart and they can't stand the traffic that A) it will reduce congestion because it will get trucks off the roads  which also B) means the roads will last longer and need less upkeep every year if trucks aren't pounding them apart.

    They may not care about greenhouse gases or saving energy,  but they just might buy into making the roads safer/better for cars. And who knows? If Supertrains start running near them, they just might start riding.

    Meanwhile, if you want a horror story about driving insanity (h/t to Kevin Drum), check out this story of speed traps gone insane in Jericho, Arkansas.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 05:21:35 PM PDT

    •  Yes, in terms of selling the policy ... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, xaxnar, JeffW, MCinNH

      ... fewer semi-trucks on the road next to you and less money needed to keep the Interstate Highways, US Highways and State Routes in good repair are two strong arguments that work even out here in the depths of outer suburbia.

      If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

      by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 05:36:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  A secondary benefit... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Odysseus, RunawayRose, BruceMcF

        ...would be concentrating more truck operators locally, so they don't have spend huge amounts of time (and money) on long-haul freight that could more easily be moved by Rapid Freight.

        Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

        by JeffW on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 06:12:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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