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Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

This week's Sunday Train is a trio of shorter topics. The first is a research development project to develop a modern steam train to run on biocoal. The target is a sustainable steam train that, as a headline grabber, will attempt to run at 130mph and break the world steam train speed record. There's much to like about this research development project ... but I am going to argue that biocoal to operate trains is not it.

Second, SF's MUNI transport agency is one of the ten agencies slated to split $760m in Prop1a(2008) bond funds improvements to systems interconnecting with the planned High Speed Rail system. The balance of the $950m goes to the three existing Amtrak California intercity rail services, the Capitol Corridor, the San Joaquin, and the Surfliner.

Odd thing is, the proposal that SF MUNI is setting forward doesn't actually connect to the proposed HSR system? What's up with that, after the break.

And third, a speculative look at an alternative technology that SF MUNI might deploy that money on, that actually would connect with the HSR system at the Transbay Terminal, as well as connecting to BART, the MUNI light rail network, the existing (and proposed alternative) Caltrain terminus at 4th and King, and provide express transit service along Geary Blvd.

So instead of the traditional long trip, Sunday Train for Memorial Day Weekend has three short exursions. Join us for one, two, or all three, after the break.

Say What? A Sustainable Steam Train?

The story I have here from Smart Planet says:

This week, the Coalition, a project of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Environment, teamed up with Sustainable Rail International, a non-profit advocacy group, to announce the launch of an initiative to build the world’s fastest biofuel-powered steam locomotive.

If successful, the prototype won’t just be carbon-neutral; it will also eclipse the current steam locomotive world record by traveling at 130 m.p.h.: providing a compelling alternative to diesel-electric trains used today.

The first thing that popped into my mind was, "wait a minute, what's the likelihood they swap out the biocoal for mineral coal?". But on reflection, the summary description of biocoal at the project site, there may be hurdles in the way of that switch:
Imagine a fuel with the same energy, density and material handling properties of coal, without a carbon footprint, heavy metal or sulfur. The University of Minnesota's Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), a leader in the efficient processing of cellulosic biomaterial into carbon neutral biocoal, has engineered such a fuel.
The hurdle here is not the carbon footprint, its the sulfur and heavy metals in mineral coal. A biocoal powered steam train would benefit from the absence of large amounts of sulfur and heavy metals in that it would not have to scrub those from the exhaust. It could well be that the weight saving would justify the reliance on biocoal rather than mineral coal.

A Sustainable Steam Train in the context of the Steel Interstate project

Now, regular readers of the Sunday Train will know that I advocate Steel Interstates, in the form of a nationwide project for the electrification of mainline rail corridors, establishment of 100mph Rapid Rail train paths, and utilization of rail corridors to establish a national network of Electricity Superhighways to interconnect renewable energy surplus regions, for a more stable total supply, and connect those surplus regions to potential consumers, to allow us to take full advantage of our highest quality renewable energy resources.

Part of the economics of electrification is the idea that roughly 80% of rail traffic will be using roughly 20% of the track, with the electrification focusing on corridors where it will deliver the most bang for the buck. However, this leaves the other (roughly) 20% of traffic that is not running under the wires, over the (roughly) 80% of the network that is not electrified. So technologies to power a train by carbon-neutral fuel complement the core Steel Interstate system designed to run on sustainable electricity. Even better if that technology generates electric power to drive an electric drive train, in which case the fueled locomotives can switch to running on electric power once they join the electrified Steel Interstates.

The technology here would represent one approach to carbon-neutral fuel for those trains. The carbon neutrality requires a sustainable, renewable source of biomass for the biocoal, so as much biomass is produced in a given year as is consumed to produce biocoal. In that case ~ and only in that case ~ the biomass production is removed as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year as consumption of the biocoal is returning.

Should Modern Steam Locomotives be Powered with BioCoal

I do not believe that powering sustainable locomotives is the best use of biocoal. Humans already consume a scarily large fraction of total biomass production on the planet. The balance of biomass production is the engine for the ecosystems that are the planetary life support system that we take for granted.

So while I am a supporter of the development of biocoal as a sustainable energy source (as I have blogged about before), I do not view locomotive fuel as the most effective way for biocoal to contribute to a carbon-neutral economy.

Unlike some advocates of the use of biomass energy, I view sustainable biomass energy as something that can only contribute a fraction of our current energy consumption. This is a contrast to windpower, where we have ample windpower energy resources for several multiple of our current total energy production, so that the constraints on windpower share involves the volatility of supply, and not the total supply available.

I argues that any renewable energy source that can offer a definite budget should be used in the role that takes best advantage of its particular strengths. And the particular strength of biocoal is its stability in long term storage. For that reason, I advocate focusing biocoal supplies on providing scheduled firming back-up power that is a part of an energy portfolio that contains more than 30% wind and solar power in the electricity grid. That long term stability in storage is wasted on a fueled locomotive, which is fueled up with high frequency.

Why the Sustainable Steam Train is a Great Development Project

However, I strongly support this project. This is a development and demonstration project that includes more than just the use of biocoal to power a steam train. As CSR explains, it also includes the development of 21st century steam engines for locomotive power:

CSR will take a locomotive from 1937 and turn it into the world's first modern steam engine run on biofuel. The CSR team draws on extensive expertise in modern, thermodynamically-efficient and low maintenance steam locomotives, and the efficiency and speed that will result from this new technology will exceed all expectations of what a steam locomotive can be.
If the project succeeds in breaking the steam train speed record, it will be a headline grabber. And that headline grabbing will be useful simply in changing expectations about what a 21st Century Steam Locomotive can be.

After all, biocoal may be one of the most energy efficient means of converting biomass into a high energy density, stable fuel source ~ but a steam engine is not restricted to operating with biocoal. In particular, one means of taking advantage of abundant "use it or lose it" energy sources like wind and solar energy is to convert it to a stored fuel. One of the potential fuels advanced by a committed group of advocates has been Ammonia ~ NH3, a far easier to transport, store, and use hydrogen fuel than H2. While NH3 requires a primer fuel to serve as the fuel for a diesel engine, an efficient external combustion engine could well be a more effective means of using Ammonia fuel in a train locomotive.

And for biocoal, while we have substantial thermal coal power plant generating capacity that are obsolete in their role of burning mineral coal for baseload power ~ they are very large scale units. Development work on the burning of biocoal for efficient small scale power generation, as in generating the power to drive locomotive electrical engines, may well be useful in allowing for much finer tuning of the amount of firming power scheduled to be placed onto the grid. So even if the most appropriate use of biocoal is as a firming power supply, this development project could well bear fruit for that task.

So, SF MUNI, you want to connect to the HSR ... by bypassing its station?

The next excursion I am taking in the Memorial Weekend Sunday Train is into some side alleyways of the California HSR project.

As part of the process of approving $9b in bonds for the HSR program, one of the amendments made by the State Legislature that changed "Prop1" into "Prop1a" was the addition of $950m in bonds for intercity and local rail systems connecting to the HSR system. The allocation was in two parts. The intercity party was $190m allocated to the three Amtrak California corridors: the Surfliner, the San Jaoquin, and the Capitol Corridor. The local rail party was $760m allocated to ten local and regional rail operating authorities, with a formula based equally on shares of state rail ridership, shares of state rail vehicle miles, and shares of state passenger track miles. The resulting allocation is roughly:

  • 33% BART
  • 16% SoCal Metrolink
  • 15% LACouny MTA
  • 8% SF MUNI
  • 7% San Diego MTS
  • 5% Caltrain
  • 4% Sacramento RTD
  • 3% Santa Clara VTA
  • 2% North Coast TD
  • 2% ACE

These funds are supposed to provide for interconnection with the HSR system. So imagine my surprise when I read at the California HSR blog that SF Muni Seeks Prop 1A Funds for Central Subway. As you can see on the map of the Central Subway at the right (from the official site), the Central Subway takes one of the light rail corridors in the city and re-routes it to run down 4th Street, into a deep bore subway tunnel, toward a Market Street station with a connection to Powell Street BART, and then up to Chinatown. Later extensions could

They are already building this thing, so its a bit late to modify the alignment, but this funding request brings a spotlight on one minor point: it doesn't connect with the San Francisco HSR station at the Transbay Terminal!

Two packages of requests to release this interconnection bond funding have been vetoed by two successive Governors because too many of the projects have little to no connection with the core criteria of connecting with the planned HSR system.

Some of the project requests do fit the criteria. The LA County MTA request is for their "Central Subway", which unlike the SF Muni proposal connects to LA Union Station, a designated HSR station. While Sacramento doesn't have a designated station, they want to use the money for upgrading their Amtrak California station into an Intermodal station, and it seems likely that the HSR would either use that as its terminal or connect directly to it. But some requests ... well, are like San Francisco MUNI's request, something that they are building anyway, and would like some extra money for, thank you very much.

The most charitable reading of this request is that if SF MUNI doesn't ask, then when they go to borrow money to finish the Central Subway, they will get the objection, "but you could build this with Prop1a money!". So they are going to ask until they get a firm enough rejection that they can say, "well, we tried".

An Aerobus for Geary Blvd?

Five or six years ago, I talked about the Aerobus technology, an elevated light rail system with a very cost-efficient system of laying track on suspension cable, and suspending the passenger cabin underneath the drive module. It is a technology that has won a variety of technology competitions, but the projects it was competing for, in the funding environment of the 90's, never came to fruition. It was to be installed in Weihai, China, but its possible that the project was run-over by the global financial crisis.

However, San Francisco is the ideal city for this type of transport. It's ideal role is as a separated guideway, "Express Stop" system in an urban environment. Its top speed is in the range of 35mph, so its not an outer-suburban rail system, but rather an urban rail system in an environment where an at-grade alignment is difficulty to provide while conventional subways and elevated rail are expensive. Unlike Monorail, supports can be as much as a quarter mile apart, and the light rail track on suspension cable system is substantially lighter and cheaper than the rubber tires on a cement guideway system of a monorail.

All of this came back to mind when I looked at the map for the SF 4th Street Subway. In the middle of the last decade, the Aerobus venture company was advertising system costs of $15m to $30m per mile. If we assume cost inflation since then, it seems like $30m would be more like the midpoint estimate. SF Muni is getting about $60m, so with that, they could get about 2 miles of Aerobus system.

When I looked at an Aerobus system in San Francisco, the first thing that came to mind is Geary Blvd. This cuts right across the Peninsula, and ends on Market Street. Up Market Street a block is the Montgomery St BART station, and then down 2nd Street is the southern end of the TBT terminal. If you keep going down 2nd Street, you get to the Ballpark. Turn down King Street, you get to Caltrain 4th and King, which under current plans will remain as the terminus for Caltrain Express trains, and then a short distance south is the UCSF Mission Bay campus. North of the west end of Geary Blvd is the SF VA Medical Center. So that's how I laid out the system:

Now, 2 miles gets you from the UCSF Mission Bay Campus to about the junction of Geary and Market Street, so under this approach, that would be Stage 1. A substantial amount of the benefit of a suspended light rail system is in this first segment. It crosses from Mission Bay to King without requiring an addition to the bridge. It easily crosses the street to serve the 4th and King Caltrain station on the west side of King and the ballpark on the east side of King. It crosses over the Expressway by just going over it. It only requires one support pylon between the Expressway and Market Street. And, of course, it operates entirely unimpeded by traffic, by the simple expedient of going where the traffic isn't.

Saying that it could be extended down Geary Blvd is not to say that it should. However, there is another aspect of the Aerobus that would see it extending a good way along Geary Blvd. Since the Aerobus has the ability to have a quarter mile of guideway between support points, and the bridge itself provides the elevated support, the addition of Aerobus guideway to the underside of a bridge would be less expensive than free-standing Aerobus guideway. Which means that extending the Aerobus route north to the Embarcadero would allow it to jump over to the Bay Bridge, which would allow it to connect to the San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor. It could even extend to the Oakland Airport.

Now, will MUNI decide to pursue an Aerobus system? Any difference from 100% odds of "No" would be rounding error. Aerobus itself seems to be in mothballs at present, so it can't press the case. MUNI itself is focused on finishing the Central Subway, and even if there is a possible initial source of funding, with no local political pressure to pursue it, and with their rail system build around an entirely different type of rail technology, there will be no internal organizational pressure to pursue it, and plenty of internal organizational resistance.

The only Bay Area organization that really would have the means to pursue it would be BART: that is, if BART decides that they are the ones that do all-grade separated systems, so that the system is  "AeroBART". While all of the same checks against it apply, BART's Prop1a allocation is about $250m, so they could construct Stage 1 from UCSF Mission Bay to Market & Geary on less than a third of their Prop1a(2008) allotment.

Coming Back Home From Our Excursions

Well, I hope that you had an interesting Memorial Day excursion, whichever of and however many of the three excursions you chose to take. Remember that the Sunday Train is open for discussion of any sustainable transport topic that you are to raise, in addition to discussing the topic of today's essay.

Since it is Memorial Day, the performance from the headliners at Burning The Midnight Oil can be nothing other than "Forgotten Years".

Midnight Oil ~ Forgotten Years

Few of the sins of the father, are visited upon the son
Hearts have been hard, our hands have been clenched in a fist too long
Our sons will never be soldiers, our daughters will never need guns
These are the years between
These are the years that were hard fought and won
Contracts torn at the edges, old signatures stained with tears
Seasons of war and peace, these should not be forgotten years
Still it aches like tetanus, it reeks of politics
How many dreams remain? This is a feeling too strong to contain

The hardest years, the darkest years, the roarin' yrs, the fallen years
These should not be forgotten years
The hardest years, the wildest years, the desperate and divided years
We will remember, these should not be forgotten years

Originally posted to Sunday Train on Sun May 27, 2012 at 04:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  American Coal Enterprises... (7+ / 0-)

    ...proposed a modern, multiple-unit capable, coal-fired steam locomotive about 30 years ago. I don't think it made it past the drawing board.

    Union Pacific built a gas turbine that was intended to run on coal, but built it to actually burn coal dust in the burner assembly, rather than having an outboard gasifier. It was pretty rough on the turibine blades with the flyash.


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

    by JeffW on Sun May 27, 2012 at 04:27:37 PM PDT

    •  There's no guarantee this will get ... (5+ / 0-)

      ... off the drawing boards, but as I said, I suspect that the extra pollution control equipment required for an onboard steam power plant to generate electricity from mineral coal would reduce the power/weight ratio.

      CRS proposes to use biocoal, essentially charcoal produced in a pressurized chamber for improved energy conversion as well as to capturing the exhaust gases for power co-generation and pollution control. Since, unlike fossil fuel, you can decide what biomass gets turned into coal, you can avoid the kind of sulfur and heavy metal problems we have with mineral coal by choice of biomass feedstock.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 04:53:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  5AT (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BruceMcF, RunawayRose, jabney, NoMoreLies

        The CRS project seems to a continuation of the discontinued 5AT project over in the UK with biomass as the fuel to add a "green" hook and a speed record to generate buzz. 5AT's goal was to develop a modern steam locomotive that exploited the technological advances made in stream technology since the 1960s.

        •  Yes, it does sound quite a bit along those lines. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, Magnifico, jabney, NoMoreLies

          The 5AT bullet points:

          Features of the 5AT include:

          • Maximum continuous operating speed of 180 km/h (113 mph) to keep up with modern rail traffic; and a maximum design speed of 200 km/h (125 mph);
          • High power to weight ratio: 1890 kW (2535 hp) at the draw bar at 113 km/h (70 mph) from an 80 tonne locomotive;
          • Optimised adhesion to control slipping;
          • High thermal efficiency (for steam traction) of approximately 14%;
          • Wide route availability - 20 tonne axle load;
          • Simplicity, reliability, easy maintenance and servicing;
          • High capacity tender to provide extended range;
          • Low fuel and water consumption (see note below);
          • Low operating costs;
          • Low maintenance costs;
          • Conformance to latest safety regulations;
          • Good crew conditions;
          • Gas-oil fuel (similar to diesel) with an option for a coal fired version.

          Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:23:17 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I remember (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, BruceMcF

      reading stories about modern designs for steam locomotives. I can't remember if they were in Science News or Scientific American.

      (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

      by PJEvans on Sun May 27, 2012 at 04:54:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Steam locomotives (4+ / 0-)

    Whether they be powered by biofuel or fossil fuels are still more expensive to maintain and run when compared to electric-motive power fueled by diesel, biodiesel, or by electricity over wires. Steam locomotives are harder on the rails too. All-in-all, they're expensive, so I doubt this will be anything more than a science project. CSR's tests "suggest" it will be cheaper to maintain, but I suspect this is based on more wishful thinking than reality.

    Even if it was cheaper to maintain across the board, the proposal from CSR seems to be a 'dream' project. Why would a serious project take ATSF 3463, a 4-6-4 Hudson, that has sat neglected in a park and rusting away since retirement and then try to restore it to running condition to modernize it? It just does not make sense to me. Granted they've done a nice cosmetic restoration, but wouldn't it have been better to from scratch?

    I wish them well and hope they are successful, but I remain very skeptical.

    •  Why would it be harder on the rails? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Calamity Jean

      That part I don't follow. Electric traction is electric traction, whatever the source of the electricity, and it would seem the most important factor would be weight.

      As far as why take a retired engine, I wouldn't be at all shocked if its because an allowance to run heritage steam engines that wouldn't apply to a newly built locomotive.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 04:44:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hammer blow (5+ / 0-)

        The pounding on the track from the reciprocating motion of the drivers at high speed made steam locomotives harder on the track than diesel-electrics. From the Wikipedia article on hammer blow:

        Hammer blow is caused by the uneven application of power by a reciprocating piston to rotating wheels. While the coupling rods of a locomotive can be completely balanced by weights on the driving wheels since their motion is completely rotational, the reciprocating motions of the pistons, piston rods, main rods and valve gear cannot be balanced in this way. A two-cylinder locomotive has its two cranks "quartered" — set at 90° apart — so that the four power strokes of the double-acting pistons are evenly distributed around the cycle and there are no points at which both cylinders are at top or bottom dead center simultaneously...

        As locomotives got larger and more powerful, their reciprocating machinery had to get stronger and thus heavier, and thus the problems posed by imbalance and hammer blow became more severe. Speed also played a factor, since the forces tend to increase with the square of the wheel rotational speed.

        •  There's no way to tell ... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, jabney

          ... whether they will be using a large two-cylinder design. I suppose one of these days I will go out hunting for more of the "modern steam engine" design specifics that the site mostly teases at.

          They are quite specific that they are building an all new powerplant, but as far as its design features, that is not quite so clear.

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          by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 05:56:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  4-6-4 (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Judge Moonbox

            The locomotive they're starting with is a large two-cylinder design. They could change fundamentally the locomotive's design, but without seeing their plans it is only speculation to guess to how. If they're going to change it that dramatically, then I still don't understand why they don't from scratch? The Federal Rail Administration really doesn't have 'exceptions' or waivers for historic steam engines. If anything, the rules are more stringent because of the vintage equipment being used.

            •  I'm not a historical railroad enthusiast ... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RunawayRose, Magnifico

              ... I don't have a clue on all that old time stuff.

              Like I say in the diary, I think its the wrong fuel for the task, and as I've said elsewhere in the comments, I'm putting this project on a watching brief.

              Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:25:51 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  The 5AT site ... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Magnifico, Simplify

              ... which bears all the hallmarks of an enthusiast project, claims that they resolve the problem of hammer blow by by reducing the mass of the reciprocating parts in terms of pounds per ton of piston thrust, and by coupling the tender in a way that increases the mass that the mass of the reciprocating parts are operating against.

              But its all calculation, no empirical practice, as the 5AT project was suspended.

              Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:42:08 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  not (0+ / 0-)

      harder on the rails, but harder to maintain. All those boiler tubes, mostly.
      There's a group in Albuquerque that's restoring a late-model steam locomotive (Santa Fe 2926) to operating condition. Their web site gives you a good idea of the size and complexity of the project.

      (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

      by PJEvans on Sun May 27, 2012 at 04:56:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  After skimming a site talking about ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... "new steam technology", it seems awfully likely to be a "New Steam Build" project, where a "2nd Generation" steam train is something that was advanced state of the art at the very end of the age of steam, and "3rd Generation" are improvements that were imagined but never implemented.

      "Lower maintenance" seems to be quite substantially lower maintenance then conventional steam engines, but not necessarily informed by how much maintenance is required by modern equipment.

      Which answers why they wanted this stationary museum piece locomotive ~ the whole point of a New Steam Build is they plan to make a new boiler, new cylinders, etc., and use the new steam engine to try to drive those big wheels of that old oil-fired steam locomotive very, very fast.

      Which would explain why some of the rationale for steam reads like a transport mode-warrior advocating light rail or BRT or monorail or driverless cars ... the conclusion of a New Steam Build project is always going to be that there a "serious, overlooked, advantages" to a modern steam train, because building that is the point of the project.

      The biofuel seems like an angle to try to help raise money for the New Steam Build project.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Mon May 28, 2012 at 06:12:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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

    "Such is the irresistible nature of truth that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing." - Thomas Paine

    by blueoregon on Sun May 27, 2012 at 04:36:02 PM PDT

  •  MTA's (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Judge Moonbox, RunawayRose

    'central line' is, as I understand it, supposed to connect the north end of the Blue line directly to Union Station, instead of making people transfer to the Red/Purple line. It's useful for people who use both the Blue and Gold lines, but otherwise not so much.

    (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

    by PJEvans on Sun May 27, 2012 at 04:59:00 PM PDT

  •  Thanks. SFMUNI can be a money pit (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF, RunawayRose

    tipped and rec'd for "Forgotten Years"

    -7.75, -8.10; We are all Wisconsin

    by Dave in Northridge on Sun May 27, 2012 at 05:07:57 PM PDT

  •  Wish BART could piggyback on Muni construction. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF, RunawayRose

    When BART was first proposed, they wanted a line from San Mateo County up to Marin County, along the corridor where Muni wants to build the Third Line. That fell through because San Mateo feared that BART would cannibalize the Southern Pacific (now CalTrain) commuter line, and when they pulled out, Marin doubted that they and San Francisco could build the line without San Mateo. Later, it was found that the Golden Gate bridge wouldn't be able to handle the vibration from the BART trains.

    I think that if they could have gone ahead and built the BART line (with shuttle buses running between sequestered bus ramps across the Golden Gate Bridge until either seismic damping could make the bridge stable with the trains or a tunnel could be made that would withstand the pressure 500 feet down) and piggyback a Muni line on it--like what they did on Market Street--they would have opened up 3 restaurant districts, Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square, to lots more downtown office workers.

    Just how stupid does Mitt Romney think we are? -Paul Krugman

    by Judge Moonbox on Sun May 27, 2012 at 05:09:41 PM PDT

    •  Yes, but BART is wide-gauge, so ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... sharing with standard gauge requires dual-gauge track, so three tracks rather than two to maintain to distinct standard, and third rail, so two power supply systems.

      However, the point about the Golden Gate is another factor in favor of AeroBART, since an Aerobus system would not impose anywhere near the stresses. One could even imagine a system from the terminus of the SMART under the Golden Gate, through the Presidio onto Geary, connecting to the main BART tube at Montgomery, then the HSR a block or two down the way, then over the highway to Caltrain, then north to run under the bridge to Jack London Square, then connecting to BART and the Capitol Corridor at Coliseum, then ending at Oakland Airport.

      The end to end speed wouldn't be all that crucial, since few would be taking it end to end ~ it would mostly consist of overlapping trips along segments of the line.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:03:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  In the Carter years, the idea of resurrecting... (5+ / 0-)

    ...steam locomotives got a little notice. Pollution control was a lot less the issue then (including CO2 pollution. The idea was independence from oil. The idea never took off obviously, in great part because oil prices plunged in 1982.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Sun May 27, 2012 at 05:29:10 PM PDT

    •  So they are hoping that it will be taking off ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Meteor Blades, RunawayRose

      ... again, now that we have prices driven by scraping the bottom of the barrel on the cheapest oil and global demand, rather than artificially engineered as in 1973-75 and 1979-81.

      Its a technology that I'll adopt a watching brief on, as it has some elements of interest to me, but I wouldn't go putting all my eggs in that basket ~ for instance, ammonia fuel cells, ammonia combustion and Stirling cycle engines, sustainable biodiesel and diesel-electric locomotives are all technologies to keep an eye out on. Better to have more than enough technologies being developed than having not enough technologies being developed.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 05:49:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Steam Turbine Maybe? I Can't Imagine That a (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF, Magnifico, RunawayRose

    historic type piston engine could be very efficient, plus it has zillions of parts.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun May 27, 2012 at 05:34:51 PM PDT

    •  The site says ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, NoMoreLies
      Due to innovations in boiler maintenance, which traditionally accounted for up to 90% of all maintenance expenses, modern steam trains are expected to be cheaper to maintain and simpler to fix than current locomotives, while eliminating the need for catenary and its related expenses. Furthermore, burning torrefied biomass in a modern steam locomotive is notably less-expensive than burning diesel in a diesel-electric locomotive. CSR's planned technology will reduce cost at every stage, from infrastructure building and maintenance, to train maintenance and fuel cost.
      Modern Steam: cheaper

      They've got pages sketching out each of their "better / cheaper / cleaner" claims, and technical details. I've never looked into modern steam engines in any depth, so I wouldn't have independent information about any of that.

      They also engage in some pointless mode-warefare against electric rail, including the extra infrastructure cost and ignoring the substantial operating efficiencies in not carrying your power generator on your back.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 05:44:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Isnt there still a weight disadvantage? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The Germans have production models of electric locomotives that can run at 400 kph (250 mph). The fastest diesel electrics can only do 150 mph, I suspect that the difference is weight. Wouldn't a steam locompotve be even heavier?

        Just how stupid does Mitt Romney think we are? -Paul Krugman

        by Judge Moonbox on Sun May 27, 2012 at 05:53:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The 5AT project ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          ... referenced above would have been as light an axle load as the Spanish 125mph diesels that replaced the British 125mph HST ~ just under 22.5 tons axles loads for each. So it would be a suitable weight for over 110mph-125mph operation.

          There is, however, going to be an obvious weight disadvantage to overhead power supply electric trains ~ their claims regarding advantages over overhead power supply electric includes quite a bit of {... wait for it ... } blowing smoke {cymbal crash}

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          by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:35:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Weight is not a disadvantage to a locomotive (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Simplify, BruceMcF

          In fact, historic steam engines were built heavy on purpose.  In order to generate traction between steel wheels and steel rail, the weight of the locomotive needs to be between four and five times what is called the Tractive Effort...the amount of pulling force that the locomotive can generate to pull a train.  

          In order to pull a larger train, faster, the locomotive needs to have the right amount of weight on the driving wheels.  Less than about 4 time T.E., and the drivers will slip under load.  Much more than 5 times T.E. and it's just useless weight, putting unnecessary stress on rail, bridges, and reducing the load the engine can pull.  

          Steam engines typically have heavier frames, and often front or rear "bumpers" than they need just to be structurally sound, to adjust that weight ratio to the optimum.

          When banjos are outlawed, only outlaws will have banjos.

          by Bisbonian on Sun May 27, 2012 at 09:35:58 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Another reason why ... (0+ / 0-)

            ... freight locomotives and passenger trains are often such different designs ~ a lightweight EMU gains faster performance in "stop and go" station service by cutting the load and by distributing the traction across many of the cars of the train ~ but with a heavy rail passenger train, the train itself is the majority of the load.

            Our hypothetical container truckload rapid freight rail that is part of the strategy for kicking diesel wasting long haul trucking to the curb is more akin to passenger rail than to hauling coal or granite, but its still going to have a majority of the load in the freight itself, so the 17ton axle load of Express HSR could well be a little light. Still, an express corridor built for, say, 60mph 33ton axle loads wouldn't want to have that same axle load running through at 100mph ~ for the Rapid Freight Rail, I like the 22.5 ton axle load that is a common standard in much of Europe.

            And leave the real rail crushing loads for the flat track.

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            by BruceMcF on Mon May 28, 2012 at 07:50:48 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Steam is not as efficient as diesel (0+ / 0-)

    that is why diesel rules and steam is yesterday .
    I doubt they can out do diesel with steam .
    They might be able to make steam better ,
    and I'm all for that , but to out do diesel , I don't think so .

    BMW was doing work on a steam engine run on the exhaust of a gas or diesel motor . The steam motor used the waste heat lost out the exhaust pipe ...

    "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

    by indycam on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:01:42 PM PDT

    •  They claim they gain maximum ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... horsepower at a higher speed than diesel-electrics, so that they get better acceleration for a 110mph or 125mph Rapid Passenger Rail system than a diesel-electric is capable of.

      As far as efficiency, there is thermodynamic efficiency and there is financial efficiency: the financial efficiency would ask what is the horsepower per dollar.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:08:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Dollars to get down the line . (0+ / 0-)

        Cost per 1m miles .
        If you want "acceleration" , electrify the section of track where "acceleration" takes place . Or maybe don't , the time to get up to max speed isn't all that important , imho .

        "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

        by indycam on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:23:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Time to get up to speed is critical ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Calamity Jean

          ... for Rapid Passenger Rail in conventional rail corridors. For that matter, its critical for Express HSR as well.

          Cost per mile is dominant for the existing ultra-low-value per ton-mile freight that rail has been relegated to by the subsidies to truck freight over the past eighty years. For the majority of the freight market, however, time to market and schedule reliability are more critical and absolute minimum cost per mile less, which is why it goes cross country on trucks.

          Indeed, if freight rail is going to escape the low-value freight ghetto, freight rail operators are going to have to starting thinking how they can offer better time to market and schedule reliability at equal or lower cost per ton-mile as long haul trucking.

          If we want to kick the unnecessary oil imports and CO2 emissions of that long haul trucking to the curb, we have to find ways to convince freight rail operators to leave that low value freight ghetto.

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          by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:42:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  "is critical" because ? (0+ / 0-)

            "better time to market" ? Getting to market a few minutes sooner ?
            "schedule reliability" doesn't come from speed . Speed could be seen as the opposite of ...

            "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

            by indycam on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:51:31 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  What makes you reckon a few minute sooner? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Transit time tend to be dominated by the time spent in low speed zones, which is why the Acela, with a 150mph top speed, delivers transit speeds that could be matched by 110mph to 125mph corridors, depending on configuration.

              If you can cut the time spent in low speed zones by an appreciable fraction, you can therefore slice an appreciable fraction of time off the transit time.

              That is, after all, a large part of how electrifying a corridor can increase corridor capacity by over 10%.

              Now, one point that raises suspicions about the claims is that the they focus on the big diesel-electric bulk freight locomotives, when high speed diesels don't tend to be diesel-electrics and the highest speed trains are overhead powered locomotive or electric multiple unit trains. So there's a suspicious amount of misdirection in some of their arguments.

              As far as the argument that having the option to make up time after a delay reduces schedule reliability ... I can't create that argument from scratch, you'll have to step through it for me.

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              by BruceMcF on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:06:13 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Time to speed = minutes , not hours , not days . (0+ / 0-)

                "time spent in low speed zones" how does acceleration change this ?

                As far as the argument that having the option to make up time after a delay reduces schedule reliability
                So you would have a train that could do 100 do 50 so that if there is a delay it could do 100 to make up for the delay ?

                I think this has gotten so silly that I think I will stop responding .

                "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

                by indycam on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:31:26 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  How important ... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... time to speed is depends on how many times per hour the train encounters a slow speed limit for a curve. Obviously a train going at a top speed of 90mph is going to spend less time between the same curves, and if the track is superelevated for balanced running of heavy freight at 60mph, there will be curves that are a slow zone for the 90mph train that are full speed curves for the 60mph.

                  A 1deg 15min curve is balanced for 60mph heavy freight at about 3" of superelevation ~ 3" cant deficiency for a fast freight allows about 83mph.

                  A 2deg curve is balanced for 60mph heavy freight at 5" of superelevation ~ 3" cant deficiency for a fast freight allows 76mph.

                  A 3deg curve is balanced for 60mph heavy freight at 7.5" of superelevation ~ 3" cant deficiency for a fast freight allows 71mph.

                  So you could well have several 80mph, 75mph and 71mph light freight zones per hour on a corridor that is 60mph straight through for heavy freight.

                  As I've said elsewhere, I don't think this is an effective use of biocoal, and they rig the argument by looking at a high speed freight task in terms of diesel locomotives optimized for slow, heavy freight, rather than considering a diesel optimized for 125mph operations ... but as far as the importance of acceleration itself in rapid rail operations, I think that's quite valid.

                  On the 50mph/100mph argument, that's satire, not serious argument. Being scheduled to run at, eg, 80% of maximum transit speed in front of a time critical section, as when coming to a Rapid Freight Rail slot that is shared with a passenger service, is just normal schedule management ~ operating without slack means that the schedule fails in response to the slightest disturbance.

                  And the above indicates one attractive place to schedule that slack in ~ scheduling an express track section at 75mph that has a series of 1deg and 2deg curves superelevated for 60mph balanced running means that there is available recovery in running up to the speed limit between the sections ~ and when operated without a delay, is more fuel efficient on the scheduled run straight through at 75mph, only occasionally dropping down to 70mph, than getting the high on-time performance by running as fast as possible and then laying over at a siding waiting for the correct time to enter the time-critical section.

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                  by BruceMcF on Mon May 28, 2012 at 07:21:35 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

        •  On dollars to get down the line ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... half the energy efficiency, and half the fuel cost, is an equal fuel cost to get down the line.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon May 28, 2012 at 07:52:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  The "efficiency" of diesel also applies to crew (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        costs.  One crew can run multiple diesel/electric locomotives, through electrical connections.  But (at least in old technology locomotives), if multiple engines were needed, for hauling up hills or longer trains, then crews had to be paid to man each one.  That was the major selling point for the railroads in the transition to diesel.

        When banjos are outlawed, only outlaws will have banjos.

        by Bisbonian on Sun May 27, 2012 at 09:39:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I suspect that you, and other commenters.. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

         ..are right. I cannot imagine anything less in need of maintenance than a modern diesel locomotive. Those things run, and run, and run on a minimum of care.

         I mean, yes they have to do the maintenance sooner or later, but as far as reliability, there's not much to equal them. An anvil maybe........:)

      Compost for a greener piles?

      by Hoghead99 on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:11:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Didn't even know there was Biocoal...... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF, my, my. Seems to me that back in the late 70's the Crab Orchard & Egyptian RR here in Southern Illinois used an old tea kettle to switch and haul some tonnage on their shortline operation.....

       This is interesting stuff Bruce, thanks! I guess the old hoghead can count on you to keep us up-to-date on it, eh?

       The Museum Of Transport in St. Louis re-built the Frisco 1522, it's just sitting around, as far as I know. An engine like that might save them a lot of time, instead of more or less starting from scratch with a static display locomotive......

    Best, HH99

    Compost for a greener piles?

    by Hoghead99 on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:03:07 PM PDT

  •  Speedy Locomotives (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Magnifico, jabney, BruceMcF, NoMoreLies

    There is a web site called germansteam that describes in detail the speeds attained and the specs of fast locomotives as well as the terrain they traveled in setting speed records.  

    My grandfather worked his adult life for the Milwaukee Road, retiring in the early 40's.  He claimed that their fast locomotives would hit 120 mph on a long and level stretch of track.  He referred to speeds over 100mph as "highballing" it.

    Don't look back, something may be gaining on you. - L. "Satchel" Paige

    by arlene on Sun May 27, 2012 at 07:11:04 PM PDT

    •  The Milwaukee Road (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      arlene, BruceMcF

      fast steam locomotive was the Alco F7, which consistently exceeded 100 mph and was recorded at over 120 mph by outside observers. It was used to power the crack Hiawatha trains from Chicago to St. Paul from 1938 through 1950, in about 6 hours.The current Amtrak Empire Builder takes 8 hours to complete the same trip, with a similar consist, but is speed limited to 79 mph.

      Trickle Down Economics 101: They get the golden parachute, we get the golden shower.

      by NoMoreLies on Mon May 28, 2012 at 06:26:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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