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Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Last week I presented a draft of a national Steel Interstate plan. The focus was on the Institutional Framework required to be able to build it, including the source for the interest subsidy to finance its up front capital cost.

Possibly lost in the wall of words was an important point, which was focused on by some commentary: the users are paying the capital construction cost. As a country, we need it, so as a country, it makes sense to find a way to jumpstart it and have it available for the oil prices shocks that are coming in this next two decades.

... but once it starts getting used, that's what will cover the original construction cost. One way we can tell we are heading toward Economic Freedom is that it helps pay for itself.


I'll be talking about "STRACNET" below, the Department of Defense STrategic RAil Corridor NETwork, which is the system they developed for protecting their logistical needs in the half century that railroads were shedding track and corridors. The map is to the right. For those playing the home game, draw your own Steel Interstate system by selecting corridors from the red lines in this map.

Parasite Capitalism versus Economic Independence
Indeed, the focus of the Institutional Framework is ensuring that User Fees and Access Fees will refund the original capital cost, while at the same time ensuring that we do not have to dilly dally and delay on getting the process started.

So, yes, its a public investment in Economic Independence. But its a public investment, and part of the return actually is financial return. The Economic Independence helps to pay for itself. In that sense, it is closer to a Tollway than to the Free Rider type of Interstate.

What I want to argue, however, is that this is not unusual.

Parasite Capitalism and Oil Addiction

Certainly much of the "Great U-Turn" political economy that was established starting in the 1970's built upon the existing institutions of the Great American Middle Class economy that preceded it. However, it was very selective in the institutions it focused on: it focused on the art of taking the free ride.

Of course, there is no such thing as a genuinely free ride - what "free ride" means is simply that one party receives the benefit and a second party bears the cost. And the single word that encapsulates that relationship is "parasite". So we can call the economy of the 1970's to the present day, "Parasite Capitalism".

For instance, consider the Housing Bubble economy. This was just the most extreme elaboration of the standard sprawl property development system. And what is the standard sprawl property development system?

  • Get the right to "develop" an undeveloped greenfield site
  • Get someone to subsidize some road infrastructure
  • Get someone to subsidize utility support infrastructure
  • Get permission to do the development
  • Build it and sell it
  • Reap the reward of all your individualistic hard work

And the Highways based transport that the sprawl development relies upon itself relies on the art of the successful parasite. All highway users benefit from gas taxes paid by people driving on city streets that do not qualify for highway funding. The Federal Gas Tax helps people believe the myth that they are "paying" for the road and that its "their" road, when various state and local taxes cover the cost of the roads that generate the traffic on "non-highway" streets that generates the cross-subsidy to Interstate, US, State, County and Township Highways.

Note the last ... its not just Interstates. Lots of little country roads are subsidized by urban motorists.

With urban drivers as the parasite hosts and suburban drivers as the parasites, of course, growing numbers over time have moved to the suburbs, to get from the cost side to the benefit side. Which is great for short term windfall gains for property "developers", because that props up demand in the suburban areas where they have a well entrenched parasite capitalism system in place.

But its not long-term sustainable. Eventually, as the number of hosts dwindles and the number of parasites increases, the benefit available per parasite starts to drop. So it becomes harder and harder to meet all the demands on the highway trust fund with the proceeds of the gas tax that funds it. Add on top the decision to not index the tax rate for inflation ... which could be seen as a short-sighted measure to offset the ongoing increases in the real price of crude oil ... and there is less and less free riding opportunity.

What Did You Call Me?!!

To avoid confusion, I must stress that this is not a moral argument. One of the big shell games of the Great U-Turn is to moralize arguments, so that public consideration of problems does not involve looking at problems and looking for solutions, but instead involves looking at problems and looking for scapegoats.

This is the way the system is built. Its not the product of unconstrained individual personal choice. Looking to place individual blame in each individual suburban resident is like looking for the square of the checkerboard gives it the checkerboard pattern.

We definitely have to rebuild the system, but good people for many years have been fighting the fact that the system is built this way, and its just a hard fight, with no guarantees of victory.

Economic Independence is a big part of advancing from Parasite Capitalism to a system that is sustainable, and Energy Independence is a critical part of that.

Tailoring the Steel Interstates

This is the target of the Steel Interstate system: the long haul truck freight loads. That's where there is massive energy waste to be mined, since a long haul diesel semi truck requires over 10 times the energy to haul a ton of freight as Rapid Electric Rail Freight.

And the users are going to be paying its up-front capital costs, that's the financial value that the private railroads are going to be chasing in order to provide the payments. They are a bunch of corporations, after all, and like any other psychopathic corporation, they will provide precisely as much public benefit as the chase of dollars leads them to do.

Lots of points jump out that demand changes in the map that I drew last week:

  • First, the most important southwesterly line of freight in the Eastern US is the Shenandoah Valley extending into the Tennessee Valley, running inland of the population concentrations on the eastern seaboard
  • Second, there are important southern seaboard ports, and the line I draw, taken directly from the Southeastern HSR corridor plan, does not provide direct access for most of them.
  • Third, the first Stage ought to have lots of length to it, because until the network starts building up, its the longer runs that will be most vulnerable to competition from Steel Interstate rail ... and the more business the Steel Interstate rail wins, the more quickly they pay the capital cost of the line

I also thought that it makes more sense to start up all the four lines on a project development and planning basis, and the launch each with an increment of the interest subsidy funding from the imported oil tariff. So that is four stages rather than five, with all four Development Banks receiving $0.0025 from the initial penny per gallon, and then the four stages each hitting high gear as they get their additional penny in each following year.

So this is what I've done. I've started in Boston at the extreme Northeastern edge of the STRACNET system, come down to New York via Albany (the NEC is awfully crowded, after all, and this is for long haul freight), then to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to enter the broad central valley of the Appalachian mountains. Follow that down to Chatanooga, then to Nashville and Memphis to run through to Dallas, then down to El Paso and run via Tuscon and Phoenix to Southern California, then up the Central Valley to northern California.

I call this the "Liberty Line", as a major step toward Economic Freedom.

This corridor is first in part because it makes plenty of sense to do it even if roll-out stalls with the first line due to political fighting the main Parasite Capitalists threatened, including those US Oil Companies with substantial overseas oil production interests and hence a strong financial interest in our Economic Addiction to Oil Imports.

Looking at the freight map, there are massive truck freight loads that run entirely north of the Liberty Line, as well as a substantial amount of the traffic that runs on part of the Liberty Line that comes in from further north. So next comes a North/South corridor that I call the "Heartland" Line.

The Heartland Line runs up from Miami to Nashville via Atlanta, then up to Chicago by the most direct STRACNET route, then up to Minneapolis, and finally grabbing land port business by running up to terminate at Winnipeg in Canada.

The second leg of the Heartland Line starts in New Orleans, Louisiana, running up to Nashville and then to Cincinnati via Louisville, Columbus, Cleveland, Buffalo, and then Toronto.

With the Heartland Line development in progress, now is time to launch the National Line stage, which in the first draft was presented as Stage 1. There is a major adjustment here, since looking at the truck freight flows suggests that it is better to access the Pacific Northwest via southern Idaho, and so the National Line is now drawn to fork west of Cheyenne, with the north fork going to Portland, Oregon, and the south fork going to Sacramento to cross the Liberty Line and the Port of Oakland.

The National Line begins at the port of Wilmington, Deleware, which is the most convenient port to Liberty Line junction at Harrisburg. The line crosses to the railhead of Pittsburgh, then follows the National Line through Wheeling and to Columbus, where it a junction with one leg of the Heartland Line. From there I've drawn it as taking the existing STRACNET corridor past Dayton, until it hits the Stracnet Corridor through Indianapolis, and then through the Terre Haute where it has the junction with the other leg of the Heartland Line.

From there the line continues through St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, up to Cheyenne to run around the Colorado Rockies toward the strongest east/west freight market north of the southern tier of states. From there, as described, it forks, heading up through southern Idaho to connect to the Pacific Northwest, and through Salt Lake City toward Sacramento and then the main Northern California Pacific port of Oakland.

Now I have two main tasks to complete. First, I have a number of southeastern coastal ports that are not on the system and are too important to omit from the system. And second, if there is not going to be a Line running along the biggest of the east/west truck traffic flows west of the Mississippi, on Interstate 40, then there has to be crossing lines that can capture that freight. The Liberty Line can capture western Interstate 40 traffic to or from the Northeast, but there is nothing to intercept freight to or from the southeast.

So the Gulf and Atlantic line runs along the Southeastern Atlantic Coast to junction with the Heartland Line at Jacksonville, then to Mobile, New Orleans, Houston, and connecting to the Liberty Line at El Paso. It has a second leg from Houston that runs to Dallas, crosses I-40 at Amarillo, and continues up to junction with the National Line at Denver.

Which completes the system. It may look like a tangle, but in the Institutional framework, there are four organizations which have the goal in front of them to finish their corridor. And note that as a form of Regional Development Bank, they will not be exercising the Federal government's powers of eminent domain, so they have to focus on hammering out the way of meeting their charter that is sufficiently appealing to the freight railroads to be able to build their line.

And now the headliners: Dreamworld / Midnight Oil

Originally posted to BruceMcF on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 05:26 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Another Exceptional Diary... (12+ / 0-)


    5 cents a gallon tariff on fuel is a small price to pay for what you've outlined.

    So long as all the lines will be cash flow positive, all is well.

    Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

    by PatriciaVa on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 05:31:49 PM PDT

  •  Sometimes simply at a loss ... (18+ / 0-)

    I don't understand how the 'establishment' doesn't see how important modernization and electrification of rail is for this nation.

    I had a chance to ask Reid about electrification of rail -- his response went to high-speed rail, clearly showing a conflation of the two and lack of understanding of the value / import of a STRACNET-like program.

    Thank you for this piece -- yet another great one.

    •  It's not that they don't See.... (5+ / 0-)'s that they are afraid of the incremental costs.

      Personally, I think that 5 cents a gallon tariff is reasonable.

      I imagine that many lawmaker fear that it won't stop at that.

      Let's say that you construct the entire system, the capital costs, then you don't have enough traffic for the system to function on a cash flow positive basis.

      Do you mothball certain lines?

      Or do you do what the clueless (and I use the word advisedly, to refer to a columnist that has yet to grasp that median income has stagnated for a decade) columnist Thomas Friedman recommends, and increase the price of gasoline to 5 dollars, via regressive excise taxes, to ensure that there is enough demand,

      So long as we stipulate that under no circumstances will we increase the tax on a gallon of gasoline in or order to stimulate demand for HSR, I support BruceMcF's proposal.

      Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

      by PatriciaVa on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 05:42:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sigh ... (10+ / 0-)

        Not for the first time ...

        Do you realize how misguided this is?

        Let's say that you construct the entire system, the capital costs, then you don't have enough traffic for the system to function on a cash flow positive basis.

        Do our highways operate on a "cash-flow positive basis"?  For example ...

        But, this ignores the variety of societal benefits from moving things and people via electrons vs fossil fuels.  And, via steel highways vs via roadways.  See A train running a profit is charging too much by BruceMcF for a much more coherent discussion of this.

      •  Or (6+ / 0-)

        We could pay the gas tax, build the lines, and in the long run your transportation costs could end up being much less.  This is a problem with Americans generally - we tend to be extremely short-sighted.  If the payoff isn't next week, we think it's not worth doing.

        If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

        by marykk on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 06:32:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Could end up? Its cheaper freight ... (6+ / 0-)

          ... transport for shippers primarily concerned by cost, can be faster freight transport for shippers primarily concerned by cost, and as I hope to discuss in a week or two, can also support higher quality of service in terms of schedule reliability for shippers primarily concerned about that.

          So our transportation costs embedded in almost everything we buy will be less.

          Now, its not a silver bullet: we also have to reverse the Great U-Turn policies that are leaving all productivity gains in the hands of the very few. But whether we return to building the Great American Middle Class or continue destroying the Great American Middle Class ... continuing to consume five times the world average when we only produce twice the world average of oil is just not sustainable.

          That oil gluttony costs money, and this is one of the pieces of the puzzle on how to start saving that money.

          Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 07:16:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  PatriciaVA, if there is no enough freight ... (5+ / 0-)

        ... to be moved in the country for the track and electric overhead wire ownership to operate at a cash flow positive basis, then the country is deep in the middle of a severe Depression.

        It is important that the Institutional Framework leans toward money going into maintaining them during stronger economic times, but the problem if a regional development bank that only owns and maintains the public infrastructure "not operating on a cash flow positive basis" confuses the freight service operator with the proposed Line Development Banks.

        And the maintenance cost imposed by carrying a ton mile of Rapid Rail freight is substantially less than the maintenance cost imposed by carrying a ton mile of Truck freight, so if the country is in the kind of 40% unemployment scenario you are describing, its the Interstate Highways that will be much harder to keep in a good enough standard of repair for traffic.

        Remember that Liberty Line Development Bank will not own any trains. They will not provide any freight services. They own infrastructure under a cooperative arrangement with the owner of the right of way in which the infrastructure is built. They charge for access. They charge for electricity consumed, including the cost to them of the electricity and a share of the capital cost of the overhead power infrastructure.

        If there is more than expected traffic, driving up maintenance costs, then that means quicker payback of the capital. If there is less than expected traffic, that would cause pain for a private business which had gone into debt in order to build the infrastructure ... but the Line Development Bank do not have to enter into liabilities they do not have the means to meet. Indeed, they ought to be strictly limited in their charter in terms of precisely what obligations that they can enter into.

        There's certainly no fear that the railroads will insist on spending more to run diesel freight trains when the electric infrastructure for the track they own will allow them to run trains with lower operating cost, lower capital cost, and better quality of service. That alone guarantees User Fee income will flow into the Line Development Banks.

        Regarding the notion that paying $5/gallon now is better than paying $10/gallon later ... that is an entirely separate issue.

        I do not think that $5/gallon price is silly at all. Certainly the argument Thomas Friedman makes in its favor is likely to be silly, because he prefers silly arguments. But that gas tax to bring gas up to $5 today to avoid gas going up to $10 any sooner than it absolutely has to ... that should not be to fund much of anything at all. All or most of it should be handed straight back as a social dividend, preferably in proportion to the payroll income tax paid up to amount owed on median income.

        Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 07:12:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary, Bruce (7+ / 0-)

    Your vision of this rail system is a dream of mine. I live around 50 miles due south of Promontory Point, as the crow flies. I find it unbelievable that we now think that a national rail system is too difficult to accomplish.

    OT, my daughter grew up on Midnight Oil. After she returned from her year in Australia I sent her the Dreamworld vid just to remind her of Oz. She had an OMG! experience because Dreamworld was near where she lived, she took her boys there quite a few times. She was suddenly filled with mixed emotions.

    "Take it back, take it back. Oh no you can't say that. All of my friends are not dead or in jail." John Prine

    by high uintas on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 06:13:23 PM PDT

  •  I-81 corridor. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, BruceMcF, Bronx59, ozsea1

    I've often travelled down I-81, and the truck traffic is far in excess of the railroads' capacity. I have to suspect that this corridor had not been developed during the Age of Railroads because the system was balkanized, and few lines saw an interest beyond their own networks.

    Greg McKendry, Linda Kraeger, Dr. George Tiller, Steven Johns. Victims of Wingnut violence

    by Judge Moonbox on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 06:24:50 PM PDT

    •  Even more ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Judge Moonbox

      ... in the age of cheap oil and cross subsidies of trucks on interstates by urban motorists, the kind of freight that railroads had an opportunity to compete for was not the freight in those trucks.

      I have no idea whether the Class I's will favor this proposal or fight it ... but if put into action, they will claw and kick and scream to make sure that they get "their share" of Steel Interstate corridors. The competitive advantage to a BNSF or a UPRR if they had all the electrified corridors in an area is just too great for both of them to turn up their noses.

      And of course, the STRACNET qualification (I would say 90% or greater mileage on main STRACNET corridors) is more flexible than it looks, since the DoD bureaucrats could certainly be presented with a case that a particular corridor would serve a particular logistic need as well or better than an existing STRACNET corridor.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 07:22:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Bruce............. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, theran, BruceMcF, Bronx59, ozsea1

    another excellent diary.

    I am confident that what you envision (or something close) will come to pass. The variable, of course is time and how much we have before oil runs out and CO2 completely chokes the planet.

    Do you have any comparison of the cost per mile of building single or double tracked, electrified steel interstate vs. a typical mile of 4 or 6 lane interstate highway?

    Also I would like  to know how the maintenance costs compare.

    The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation--HDT

    by cazcee on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 06:53:27 PM PDT

    •  In last week's diary ... (5+ / 0-)

      ... the benchmark taken from the modeling of Alan Drake's proposal by the Millennium Institute was over 30,000 miles of system for $450b, so $15m per system mile, roughly $8.3m for electrification and $6.7m for track and other upgrades to 100mph freight.

      That's clearly a bargain compared to a suburban freeway, according to figures I've seen, such as:

      $8.3m per lane mile is (evidently) $30m+ per route mile for a 4 lane interstate. Rural interstates will be cheaper, except of course in mountainous terrain ... so upgrading existing rail corridor to provide Rapid Freight Rail paths is cheaper than a lane of suburban freeway.

      Strictly speaking, the electrification cost ought to be compared to the cost of the provision of the diesel to the trucks. How you include the blood spilled in ill advised military adventures pursuing a fantasy of ongoing cheap oil through establishment of middle eastern police-station states is likely beyond my skills - I am an economist, not a magician.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 07:34:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ahhhh, that's a graphic I've needed (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, BruceMcF

        for a very long time now. Thanks.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 11:57:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thank E.L. Tennyson! (0+ / 0-)

          Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 15, 2010 at 09:44:58 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ed Tennyson is a remarkable person (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Emeritus member of the Transportation Research Board (a division of the Nat'l Academy of Engineering), the last living member of the team that prosecuted GM for buying streetcar lines in order to close them (GM lost, $5,000 fine), started operations of the San Diego trolley, gave talk to long Island railroad Board during Eisenhower's second inagural address on benefits of 100% electrification of LIRR. Speced EMUs for SEPTA 45 years ago (just now being replaced) and much more.

            Ed and I came up with the competing map I sent you (I see that this week you see the value of the Gasdsen Purchase).  Ed is also a co-author of a major paper with me.

            Best Hopes for more years with Ed,

            Alan Drake

            •  This week I was working from more than ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... the core goals of the project, the top forty metro areas, and the lay of the land of the Continental US ...

              ... and took into account the long haul freight density map and the volume of freight through major international ports of entry.

              Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 11:05:50 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  But I don't grasp the reference to the Gasdsen .. (0+ / 0-)

              ... purchase ... the map from last week when through that identical alignment as its southwestern corridor.

              Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 11:08:39 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Gasdsen Purchase only viable 100 mph route from (0+ / 0-)

                I read some about the Brenner Base Tunnel (under Alps Austria-Italy).  Grade of 0.72% will allow 160 kph freight (99 mph) BUT will reduce load/locomotive and affect the competiveness with the Swiss Gotthard base tunnel (0.5% grade).

                A 0.72% grade (straight, without switchbacks) east from Sacramento will require an 100+ mile long tunnel (the world's longest rail tunnel between Japanese islands is 33.5 miles). The alternative is a couple of hundred miles of switchbacks and 45-50 mph operation while climbing (faster going down) and even that would cost tens of billions.

                Easier to just go southeast and around. My advice is drop Salt Lake City and Denver off 100 mph freight service.

                There is a reason that we bought that piece of desert.

                Best Hopes,


                PS: Accessing Los Angeles will require tunneling Cajon Pass (8 miles ?), but Bay Area to points east will not require going through Cajon Pass.

                PPS: Trucking Freight density may be the best tool available today, but rail freight does NOT need to follow truck freight.  All that matters is cost, time, and reliability in getting from origination to destination.

                I would go up Atlanta-Charlotte-Richmond and not Shenandoah Valley.

                •  Going south and around is fine for the ... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... freight that is served by going south and around.

                  But having it as the only west coast Steel Interstate available reduces the maximum market share that can be captured by rail freight on the steel interstate. That's quite a lot of extra route miles for Chicago, St. Louis or Minneapolis to LA.

                  Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

                  by BruceMcF on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 04:11:43 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Wait a minute, what's that other one? (0+ / 0-)

                    Oh, yeah, its San Francisco and Oakland there, LA is one of the ones further south.

                    Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

                    by BruceMcF on Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 06:11:25 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Los Angeles to points east are fastest (0+ / 0-)

                      via the southern route.  Ports of LA & Long Beach are, by far, the largest container port in USA.  Almost all of West Coast tonnage in containers is there.

                      Please note that tracks go southeast, NOT south from Bay Area. This reduces the extra "as the crow flies" miles from the southern route.

                      Bay Area is just not big enough to justify it's own 100 mph line (neither is Salt Lake City & Denver) even if such a line was possible to build. And it is simply not possible to build.

                      A reasonable guess is $25 billion could buy a line that can move freight 200 miles east of Sacramento in 4 to 5 hours (track miles > 200 miles because of switchbacks, etc.)

                      A reasonable guess is that Oakland would be 300 track miles further from Arizona border than Long Beach. At 100 mph, 3 hours. Not that big  a deal.

                      Freight that now crawls in trucks over the mountains E-W from and to Bay Area would go via south route on 100 mph tracks.  Rails do not have to follow same path as trucks.

                      I know that it looks good to have multiple lines from the West Coast.  I do not think it is practical or economic to build more than one 100 mph freight line from the West Coast.  Nature made the southern route the only practical one.

                      Would it be practical to radiate more lines from the Phoenix area ?  I do not know.

                      Best Hopes,


                      •  According to the report you cite, aren't the ... (0+ / 0-)

                        ... Swiss running the 40mph~50mph you are suggesting on track with grades of up to 2.6% (26:1000), which they aim by tunneling to get down to 1.2% overland (12:1000) and 0.7% (7:1000) in the tunnels?

                        Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

                        by BruceMcF on Wed Mar 17, 2010 at 08:51:42 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  More on going up 7.000' in 45 miles (0+ / 0-)

                          Always a good exercise to review data and expand one's analysis.

                          There is aerodynamic "pushback" on trains in tunnels.  Perhaps one reason SBB is making their 160 kph freight trains shorter (450 m from memory).

                          The 300 kph Eurostar slows to 160 kph in the Chunnel, despite it being almost flat and straight for most of the 50 km distance.

                          The 57 km Gotthard tunnel is "built right" and has, from memory, a grade of 0.5%.

                          The 15 km Cenari tunnel (on same line as Gotthard) was under budget pressure and has a stub 2.5 km from the southern end for future expansion into Italy.  This is the tunnel with the 0.8% grade (I SUSPECT in that last 2.5 km).  At 100 mph, one can coast up a steeper grade for a few km (say 0.8% for 2.5 km) and lose only a few kph/less than a minute off the schedule.

                          The proposed 50+ km Brenner Pass tunnel has a bad design for political reasons (the high point is on the border), making 0.5% for the Italian side and 0.72% for the Austrian side. It was noted that 0.72% will reduce the weight of the 160 kph freight trains.

                          Let us suppose that being in open air vs. tunnel adds 0.4% to 0.5% to the grade (all else being equal) for 99 mph freight.  The extra grade = the extra aerodynamic forces in tunnel.  Seems reasonable.

                          And also suppose that a SBB size 160 kph freight train can handle 0.65% in tunnel and 1.15% grade in open air.

                          I do not see ANY way (short of an almost 200 mile tunnel) to go east of Sacramento at anything close to 100 mph.  There are ravines and cliffs and VERY difficult terrain going up the Sierra Nevadas that make surface routes impractical.  Twists and turns will be required that add cost and time.

                          THE ONLY FAST WAY ACROSS THE WESTERN MOUNTAINS IS THE SOUTHERN ROUTE. Too much grade any other way.

                          And the market east of Sacramento is just not large enough to justify a new line in my lifetime (say next 25-30 years).

                          There is a market for containers from Los Angeles to Chicago (BNSF is #1 container RR in the world and their Transcon from LA to Chicago is why).  Your red trucking line from LA to Chicago would be MUCH thicker if it were not for BNSF.

                          It is an extra 3 hours (JUST 3 hours !) to get from Oakland to Chicago via SE line down to Arizona than from Long Beach to Chicago.

                          How many billions is saving is savings 3 hours worth ?

                          Not more than a couple billion since we are dealing with Northern California (less than half population of S Ca and MUCH smaller ports) and even smaller SLC & Denver.

                          Kansas City, St. Louis, Tulsa are all well served by an LA-El Paso-Chicago line and spurs.  Minneapolis is served (take regular freight @ 65 mph north of KC ? or route through Chicago) as well.

                          Denver and Salt Lake City are left out.  TOO many $, not enough people there to justify the investment.

                          best Hopes for only one 100 mph line coming out of the West Coast,


                      •  Note that 'fastest' does not mean ... (0+ / 0-)

                        ... 'highest average trip speed', it means, "arrives in the fewest hours".

                        As long as the target is west coast to northeast corridor, ignoring flyover country, and you avoid also doing too many additional right angle turns on the eastern side of the Mississippi, it may be close enough to make no real difference.

                        For Northern California and the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes and northern Midwest, the only way to make the argument work is to place arbitrary and unjustified limitations on making use of design solutions that have already been into place in railroad systems around the world.

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                        by BruceMcF on Thu Mar 18, 2010 at 10:51:14 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

  •  Sunday train (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, BruceMcF, Bronx59

    Dear Bruce: As always, your diary was solid, well-reasoned, and a pleasure to read. Your proposals are always thought-out in detail and your arguments persuasive. What bothers me is this: who in power is reading them? God knows I wish I could force the President and a few hundred other politicians to read your collected essays on transportation....but I can't. And if someone in power doesn't adopt your brilliant plans and push for them, they will remain only a "might have been" of the 21st century.
        Is there any hope that someone outside this small community of bloggers--pleasant though it is--is paying attention?  

    •  I never assume a model of ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... hoping for the patronage of someone in power. I'm more in the mind of the model of building a coalition to make it something that those in power would rather do and get those Energy Independence fanatics out of their hair.

      OTOH, nobody on their own has all of the skills required to build that kind of coalition on their own, so I keep working on hammering out ideas and making what contacts I can.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 07:37:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I like the proposal. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This is a duplicate comment, as I mistakenly posted it to your previous diary after skimming through it.

    So this is primarily about moving enough freight with rail,to reduce the usage, and thus demand, for fossil fuel? While paying for it with a tariff on imports? That is what you are calling a "Steel Interstate"?

    Skimming through, my initial impression is how would this impact passenger rail? I

    Though this is an excellent idea on paper, I can't help but wonder which interest groups are going to be naysayers? How much are you prepare to use eminent domain in order to realize these proposed lines?

    What about the truckers? How many are going to be unemployed if this is built and what about the cultural impact of such a thing? My guess is that it will meet strong resistance in the South if many truckers will be displaced.

    It's a great idea and certainly an idea that should be part of the discussion about energy independence. We know energy independence sounds good and most people claim to be for it, but then they al

    "Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so." ...Bertrand Russell

    by sebastianguy99 on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 08:34:32 PM PDT

    •  For passenger rail ... (3+ / 0-)

      ... it does two things. First, wherever a Steel Interstate runs that a passenger rail service can use, it can run without the kind of network delays that plague regional Amtrak services, because the Rapid Rail network is designed to support rapid, reliable, schedule-sensitive freight service.

      Second, once the Steel Interstate is built, as I describe in a little more depth in last week's "wall of words", the Line Development Banks have fundamental charter responsibilities to support the development of energy independent transport of all kinds. So they provide another place for proposed local rail projects to turn for support for building up the system. They would not be in a position to provide operating assistance, but for capital investment in infrastructure to pursue their charter responsibilities, they'd be an additional source of funding.

      On eminent domain, a Regional Development Bank doesn't have eminent domain powers. Rather, the chartered Lines will be defined sufficiently broadly that a Line Development Bank will be in a position to say, "if you won't work with us, we'll work with someone else".

      This is, after all, an opportunity to get the use of substantial new capacity without the capital cost of the capacity showing up on the balance sheet and without an annual property tax liability to be paid. If UPRR does not want the business opportunity, I am sure that BNSF will.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 08:44:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ok, thank you (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, BruceMcF

        Thank you for your reply.

        I guess I'm not sure about the interplay between freight and passenger.I'm also not sure about the political identity of these Line Development Banks as they would seem to need to be enacted by Congress.

        As Congress is not an academic institution, I think Fundamental charter responsibilities needs better definition if we are going to ask it to use or delegate some of it's power.Politicians and people need to immediately understand what the capabilities are and what the limits of the charter.

        I liken it to building rail locally. I know that there are local transportation agencies that collect sales taxes and fares.I know they take advantage of federal dollars as well. In addition they employ people to keep the trains running. I understand that they can take private land.I know some of their decisions must be approved by local or state government, while others do not.

        I also know from experience that building rail will invariably cause conflicts and in the case of these banks, I'm not sure who has the final say on matters when conflict arises.

        I'm still not clear on the impact on truckers. It may seem trivial, but shifting responsibility for movement of freight from people to rail means families are going to be hurt, especially here in the South. I can tell you trucking is big in both Atlanta and Houston and that impact, potentially or otherwise is going to have to be accounted for early in the process.

        Again, it's an interesting argument and you've done good work putting together this proposal.

        "Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so." ...Bertrand Russell

        by sebastianguy99 on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 09:45:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Regional Development Banks already exist ... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, elfling

          ... the proposal is to adopt them for this specific purpose. One of the reasons for using an already existing institution is that it tends to be seen as lower risk than innovating a new institution.

          As far as the charter responsibilities, any time a chartered public interest corporation is established, it is established under charter responsibilities in addition to the direct oversight provided by the board of directors ... in a Regional Development Bank, normally both the Federal government and State governments appoint to the board.

          As far as the impact on truckers, compared to what? Compared to in the middle of the last post-oil-price-shock recession? In the middle of the last unsustainable economic bubble?

          The impact is greater on truck miles than on hours, simply because long haul tends to put on more truck miles per mile. The impact if on demand for drivers on long-haul routes, because the typical new freight load will be a container driven by truck to the closest railhead, and then driven by truck from the closest railhead to the destination, so demand for short haul truck loads will increase.

          Certainly for small family independents, there should be transition assistance on the financial obligation of the rig if they are in an impacted market ... the USG does that kind of transitional assistance for big industries all the time, its perfectly reasonable to do it for small industries.

          I'm reminded of logging communities in Australia being mobilized to fight for the "right to log" when at the rate that logging was going, there would be no more trees to cut down in another five to ten years. The bigger oil companies with overseas interests will happily mobilize long haul truckers to fight the project, but of course when the next oil price shock drives the truck freight market into another tailspin, they'll not be handing over any of their windfall profits to help out.

          Sorting out what transitional assistance is, first, feasible, and second, most useful, is something that has to be done sitting down with the people that are affected. If its sprung on people, the chance of a good outcome all around drops substantially.

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          by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 10:16:24 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  On truckers, it depends on whether they drive ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, elfling, NoMoreLies

      ... long haul or short haul. Be great for short haul truckers, since lots of the freight will be hauled between loading dock and railhead by short haul truck. And of course, reduced long haul truck traffic will make the route easier on them as well.

      For long haul truckers, maybe some of them can become short haul truckers and sleep at home. Of course, a bigger threat to their livelihoods is allowing Mexican truck drivers to drive thousands of miles from a Wal-Mart logistics facility served by some Pacific Ocean Mexican port to a Wal-Mart loading dock (and of course, once that is established, the next step will be to get even cheaper drivers from further south driving on false Mexican papers).

      I'd happily trade support in the fight against further subversion of the NAFTA system against neutrality on the Steel Interstates.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 09:25:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, thank you (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I think long haul truckers are going to be impacted greatly. I agree to a large extent about Mexican truckers, but unemployed is unemployed.

        I'm thinking about family, and people I know who are truckers. They have all taken a hit for various reason, some you have alluded to in your reply. The bottom line is that it is going to be a tough, sad, political fight to the death as they will now feel squeezed from this as well.

        I'd happily trade support in the fight against further subversion of the NAFTA system against neutrality on the Steel Interstates


        With all due respect, truckers and the people who work in warehouses and offices, and truck stops don't generally talk like that. They want to know whether or not this helps, or hurts their effort to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

        Is this about energy independence, or is it about Walmart? Are we talking about energy use and efficiency driving this proposal or are we really hoping to subvert NAFTA and Mexican trucking?

        I share your political concerns, I'm just not sure you've thought through some of the ground level effects of what you are proposing.

        "Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so." ...Bertrand Russell

        by sebastianguy99 on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 10:03:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I've worked in a warehouse ... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, elfling

          .. throwing 90lb boxes off a boxline, I know how people in warehouses talk.

          I didn't say I'd describe the trade that way, I said I'd happily make that trade.

          This is about energy independence ... I don't understand the "or" in your question.

          As far as subverting NAFTA: the corporate bastards have already subverted it, the fight is to unsubvert it. Using Mexican workers to undermine US wages is neither what the US nor what Mexico was promised in 1993.

          Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 10:22:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Huh? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            You don't understand the point I was making obviously. I'm sorry about that. My questions really aren't about you all.

            Perhaps my language was not clear. Sometimes we have to be able to answer questions straightforwardly without abstraction.

            Sometimes, a simple "yes", "no", I don't know", "Congress will need to do this...", "the banks can take land under these conditions..", "passenger rail isn't really my concern with this project..", or whatever the answer(s) may be.

            Sometimes it's ok to answer the question without referencing political grievances or positions. This is especially true when you are speaking with those who largely share and support the concepts and ideas you've raised in this exercise.

            I'm a big believer in the KISS principle, especially when someone seems to have an excellent idea for whatever reason.

            Again, thank you for your civility, understanding and patience with someone who obviously doesn't understand the technical details of what you are saying and is focusing more on issues of implementation at ground level. It's been interesting and somewhat informative as well.

            Best of luck with this.

            "Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so." ...Bertrand Russell

            by sebastianguy99 on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 10:49:38 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I came back to Ohio after six years in TN ... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RunawayRose, NoMoreLies

              ... doing my grad school, and at the time of the NAFTA debate already knew that the modeling of how it would be a win-win was hot air, that the promise of an effective free trade zone was being scuttled by the turning it into a vehicle in support of corporations shuffling wealth around. Less than one in four pages of the supposed free trade treaty is actually about actual trade.

              And then sixteen years later come back to see that if anything I had been understating the risk in the early 90's and the damage was far worse than expected.

              In the last decade, we had the first business cycle recovery since the Great Depression where incomes at the start were higher than incomes at the end.

              If our country is going to get back into the business of making stuff that does stuff, this plus the companion Electricity Superhighways are one part of the puzzle.

              So the response to:

              With all due respect, truckers and the people who work in warehouses and offices, and truck stops don't generally talk like that. They want to know whether or not this helps, or hurts their effort to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

              ... is to the point that its first necessary to work out what the real world impacts will be, and then work out how to explain it to people in clear terms. All too often I have seen people working out what words will work in getting the reaction they want, without worrying about whether the words are in fact true.

              With respect to:

              I'm thinking about family, and people I know who are truckers. They have all taken a hit for various reason, some you have alluded to in your reply. The bottom line is that it is going to be a tough, sad, political fight to the death as they will now feel squeezed from this as well.

              ... there are three choices:

              (1) Decide "ABC" are the potential allies, "XYZ" are the likely enemy, woo the potential allies, try to marginalize and undermine the likely enemies.

              (2) Get the belief makers in, have focus groups of the target group, discover what language pushes what buttons, and push the right buttons to win the argument. Whether what is said is true or not is the first casualty of the exercise.

              (3) Work out the real gains and real losses, don't fracking do it if the gains are not greater than the losses, and for those bearing the losses, sit down with them and work out the best way to actually compensate for the losses and to share the gains. That's a lot messier than (1) or (2), it may require compromise and modifications of some aspect of the original policy proposal, but in this case, its the only real way to go, since with or without the Steel Interstates, peak oil is going to be dumping a shitload of hurt on their heads in the next ten years, and they're real people who deserve better.

              Don't overlook the point I made in the wall of words last week: the United States is not an oil-poor country. We produce twice as much oil per person as the world average. We just consume five gallons for every two gallons we produce. We are the energy pigs of the world. Mining that massive waste is what this proposal is about.

              If we mine that energy waste, the benefits of doing that can be shared. However, the way those kinds of programs normally get through Congress, they are "transitional arrangements". In building the political campaign for the Steel Interstates, its necessary to work out what "transitional arrangements" would actually do the most good.

              if we don't take action to cut back on our oil imports, both long haul and short haul truckers are screwed. Remember that the $4/gallon diesel price was broken by a recession driven by the housing bubble bursting and the oil price shock and the financial crisis, and then since it was recession that broke the oil price shock, demand for freight hailing collapsed.

              How high would the price of gas before creating a recession if it was acting alone ... $5? $6? Higher? We have real world experience on the "at least" side. For the "at most" side, we're guessing. "Worse than 2008 and 2009" is what we can be reasonably sure of, and that's plenty bad enough.

              Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 15, 2010 at 01:10:46 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the diary. n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, BruceMcF

    "They pour syrup on shit and tell us it's hotcakes." Meteor Blades

    by JugOPunch on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 10:26:04 PM PDT

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