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Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Steel Interstate (noun): A Network of Electrified Heavy and Rapid Rail corridors that will allow the United States to remain a sovereign national economy.

Integrated into the Steel Interstates are Electricity Superhighways to connect Renewable Energy Resource areas to each other, to substantially increase the stability of the available Renewable Energy Supply, and to Energy Consumers, to ensure that no rich Renewable Electricity Resource goes untapped for lack of access to a electricity markets.

This is something that the United States should do. Depending on the twists and turns of international energy markets in the coming decades, it may be something the United States must do, to remain a coherent national economy.

If the efforts of Big Oil and Big Coal are successful, it is the kind of thing that America will not be able to do.

Yet, I believe it is something that the United States actually can do.

The Millenium Institute National Rail Electrification Program

One cornerstone of the Steel Interstate proposal is the work of David Drake and the Millennium Institute on the electrification(pdf) of the roughly 20% of the national rail network that carried roughly 80% of the nation's rail traffic . The work of David Drake, A. M. Bassi, E. L. Tennyson, and H. R. Herren indicates:

Several policy scenarios were modeled with constrained oil supply using Millennium Institute’s T21-USA model. The most positive result by every significant metric (GDP, greenhouse gas emissions, oil used) came from the combination of the two most environmentally positive policies: a massive push for electrified rail transportation (inter-city railroads and Urban Rail) coupled with a massive push for renewable energy, to be completed by 2030.

With an estimated total investment of $250-500 billion in inter-city railroad lines Non-Oil Transportation could supplant most inter-city truck freight and unspecified modal share of passenger service. Up to $60 billion/year ($1.2 trillion over 20 years), spent cost effectively on Urban Rail, should allow for 28% annual growth (not compounded) in urban passenger-miles on Non-Oil Transportation.

These two investments create a 11% larger GDP, only 4% increase in Greenhouse Gas Emissions and a 26% reduction in oil consumption already in 2030 versus a strictly market based reaction. Adding renewable energy improved the results to GDP +13%, GHG (-38%) and oil consumption (-22%).

The Steel Interstates are not the entire policy package, but they are one major piece. To get an idea of the scope of the Millenium Institution Proposal, it is roughly equivalent to electrifying the Department of Defense STrategic RAil Corridor NETwork, STRACNET.

The provision of Rapid Freight Rail is a critical element of the proposal. Despite lower shipping cost by rail, the higher reliability and speed of truck shipping allows it to dominate long distance freight shipping in the United States for all except heavy bulk freight. And it is the capture of existing long haul truck freight that is the key element to the energy efficiency of the project. As noted in the Oil Drum piece:

Transferring freight from truck to electrified rail trades 17 to 21 BTUs of diesel for one BTU of electricity. Simply electrifying existing rail freight would trade 2,6 to 3 BTUs of diesel for one BTU of electricity.
The full build out of the Millenium Institute proposal is estimated at $500b.


The Steel Interstate Proposal

Complementing the work of David Drake and the Millenium Institute is the work of The National Steel Interstate Coalition. The National Steel Interstate Coalition started with the work of RAIL Solutions, based in western Virginia, proposing an alternative to the egregiously wasteful proposed expansion of I-81 in the form of an electrified steel interstate corridor from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, through to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, and then into Tennessee.

When I first encountered the RAIL Solutions proposed pilot corridor, it only extended to Knoxville, but for electric freight rail, the longer the run the better, since truck freight is faced with the fixed time cost of switching containers from truck to rail and back again, and rail freight is faced with the need to either switch locomotives or to acquire dual-mode locomotives, and in either case the longer run makes it worthwhile for a greater variety of freight. So the extension of the corridor through to Memphis seems natural to me.

Indeed, I thought it was so natural that I extended the pilot corridor in one direction through to the Gadsden Purchase alignment to California, and in the other direction through New York to Boston along an inland route to form the Liberty Line, in my proposed foundation Steel Interstate System.

Now, there are some substantial engineering hurdles facing this line, in particular in Massachusetts where the inland rail corridor at present is a wending, winding corridor, and in Tennessee, where Chattanooga westbound is a difficult alignment challenge. So when I looked to North/South corridors, I looked to leverage the investment in this corridor with a corridor starting in Florida, and extending up to the Great Plains (and access to a major Wind Resource grid) and up to the Canadian border to connect into the Canadian transcontinental rail corridor.

The National Line and Florida / Great Plains corridor leave broad swaths of territory between the northern and southern legs of their corridors. To fill that in, I adds a New Orleans corridor to the south, and a Louisville to Buffalo line to the north, connecting to the eastern Canadian rail network at the Niagara Falls border. So the "Heartland Line" forms an X that runs north to south in the eastern to midwestern US.

These two corridors provide ample connection the Southwest and the Northeast, but no direct connection between the Northeast and Great Lakes / Midwest, so the third Line starts in Delaware and runs through Pennsylvania to the Great Lakes States, and then through to Denver. From there it connects the central and southern Transcontinental routes with a corridor along the Front Range, the central route to California with a Cheyenne alignment to Salt Lake City and from there to Oakland via Reno, and a connection to a Pacific Northwest corridor, connecting from the Cheyenne alignment.

This forms the line I refer to as the National Line, and is the line that completes the foundation system.


But Can We Build It?

The critical question, through, is whether we can build it?

The question of whether we can built it is not a question of resources. Given our high unemployment rates, we have labor resource to spare, and given our depressed capacity utilization rates, ample resources of idle productive equipment. And the project is a massive economizer in natural resources. This included energy resources, but also includes economizing on the resource of the atmosphere used as unpaid but quite expensive CO2 dump. This last comes both from the elimination of problems such as "Stranded Wind", and also from the greater stability of "use it or lose it" resources like Wind and Solar when multiple independent resource areas are connected together.

And of course it is not a question of money, since money is a marker for the productive capacity of a national economy, and so we can afford to issue currency for such a productive investment in expanding our nation's productive capacity.

It is, of course, a question a politics. Can we build a coalition for building a Steel Interstate system with sufficient political clout to overcome the powerful and entrenched interests of Big Coal and Big Oil in retaining the status quo, no matter how suicidal it may be over the long haul for our nation's economy?

I am not political forecaster, so I do not know the answer to that question.

The best I know is to try, since if we do not try to succeed, we will surely fail, while if we do try, there is some chance, no matter how distant, that we can regain the national economic sovereignty that we lost in the 1970's. It will require overcoming three decades of radical reactionary political action have been directed to ensuring our continued economic subjegation to transnational energy corporations.

We need to work out a modus operandi with the Class I freight railroad: a broad agreement on a design envelope and funding of works that will satisfy their interests as owners of the corridors that will host the large majority of the Steel Interstate systems.

We need to get candidates on the record as support a Steel Interstate system.

Manufacturers will be beneficiaries of this system, as an appreciable share part of their exposure to oil price shocks lies in the impact of oil prices on shipping costs. This system would both reduce shipping costs and insure them against substantial oil-driven increases. We need to either wedge the National Association of Manufacturers from the embrace of the national business organizations captured by the radical reactionaries, or else spearhead the establishment of an alternative National Association of Entrepreneurs that can counter the radical reactionary propaganda of NAM, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the other national business organizations captured by political partisans with interests increasingly out of line with the interests of their business membership.

With respect to the "US Chamber of Commerce", we need to approach local, actual chambers of commerce for their support for a system of Steel Interstates.

Its not necessary to win support for the proposal from a majority of business interests. However, a broad base of support from some of the broad range of business interests who would benefit from the system is a key element to organizing a movement that can gain traction in our thoroughly corrupted political system.

And to that we need to add a progressive coalition of environmentalists, supporters of sustainable development, and organized labor.

And then more organizing and coalition building, since major policy wins against powerful, entrenched interests do not happen in a day ... but, even in our first Gilded Age, progressive coalitions were able to win the Women's Right to Vote and Direct Election of Senators, so even in the face of powerful, entrenched opposition taking full advantage of a thoroughly corrupted system, progressive change is possible.


Conclusions ...

As always, the next step is not arriving at final conclusions, but rather to throw the floor open for comments. Remember that comments on any topic on Sustainable Transport are welcomed and encouraged on the Sunday Train so do not feel yourself limited to the topic at hand ... though if its on another topic, make a note in your comment that you are raising another topic, so I don't sprain my poor brain trying to work out the connection to this evening's Sunday Train essay.

And now, as you gather your thoughts for the colloquy to follow, the opening act leaves the stage to make way for our headliners, Midnight Oil.


Midnight Oil ~ The Dead Heart (unplugged)


...
We carry in our hearts the true country
And that cannot be stolen
We follow in the steps of our ancestry
And that cannot be broken
We carry in our hearts the true country
And that cannot be stolen
We follow in the steps of our ancestry
And that cannot be broken

Mining companies, Big Mountain companies
Chemical companies, Uranium companies
Get out of those companies, yeah

Got more rights than people, oh yeah
More say than people, oh yeah
More say than people, oh yeah
More say than you and I, the people, yeah

oh yah yah yah the dead heart
oh yah yah yah the dead heart
oh yah yah yah the dead heart, lives

oh yah yah yah the dead heart
oh yah yah yah the dead heart
oh yah yah yah the dead heart, lives

Originally posted to Sunday Train on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 04:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks, In Support of Labor and Unions, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What, and force all those oil men (15+ / 0-)

    into poverty? How un-american of you, Bruce. Great diary, thanks.

    "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 Jun 03, 2012 at 04:13:36 PM PDT

  •  So in other words, (0+ / 0-)

    we're spending a bunch of money so Walmart's crap can make it to the stores faster from the prison labor camps where it's made?

  •  Why the drop (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, BruceMcF, RunawayRose, chimpy

    from Memphis to Huntsville and back up at Chattanooga?  Is that because the grade along that route is more hospitable, or because there is more need?

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

    by marykk on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 05:10:15 PM PDT

    •  Its likely the terrain ... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marykk, ozsea1, RunawayRose, chimpy

      ... avoiding steeps grades results in a winding route, which could be cut through with tunneling, but that would increase the expense ~ likely something they want to avoid for a demonstration project.

      In the network I sketched, I increased the net benefit of the engineering from Chattanooga to Nashville by using it for multiple lines. However, if the demonstration line was from Harrisburg to Memphis, the system might be redrawn so that the Florida / Great Plains line tackles the Chattanooga / Nashville alignment after it crosses the Liberty Line.

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

      by BruceMcF on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 05:28:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice job, as usual, Bruce...... (11+ / 0-)

      I like Sunday Train. It wouldn't be Sunday without it!

       The electrification will cost a ton of money, reckon what we could do with al the dough we wasted on Iraq?

    Best, Hoghead99

    PS: UP says they're second to the Navy in fuel usage, so this is no little bit of fuel they're talking about saving! I believe they say (UP),  they use an olympic-sized swimming pool of fuel every 4 hours....

    Compost for a greener planet.............got piles?

    by Hoghead99 on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 06:04:54 PM PDT

  •  Solar water highway, a proposal I've (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ozsea1, RunawayRose, samddobermann

    been pondering for years. Pump it out of the sea with solar electricity, and take out the salt with the same power, then pump it across the nation, wherever it is needed.

    "But Brandine, you're supposed to be in Iraq stopping 911!"

    by leftyguitarist on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 08:11:45 PM PDT

  •  I'd avoid trying to build a Southern route. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar

    The money that goes down there already exceeds the money that comes from there and there's no indication that they won't continue to fight for independence from the Federal Government, especially if the type of federal government that would support a national rail policy were to remain in DC.

    Then, of course, you have the Red State governors......when have they ever been anything but hostile to a national rail policy?

    "The disturbing footage depicts piglets being drop kicked and swung by their hind legs. Sows are seen being kicked and shoved as they resist leaving their piglets."

    by Bush Bites on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 08:23:27 PM PDT

    •  I see, your strategy is ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, MPociask

      ... to catch bees with vinegar. Honey works better.

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

      by BruceMcF on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 09:01:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, I'm just saying exactly what I mean. (0+ / 0-)

        The South doesn't want federal investment and they may not be part of the upper united states for much longer anyway, so why send money down there?

        "The disturbing footage depicts piglets being drop kicked and swung by their hind legs. Sows are seen being kicked and shoved as they resist leaving their piglets."

        by Bush Bites on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 10:42:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Because that is a major truck freight corridor ... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          MPociask, ColoTim

          ... and we don't get the benefit unless we cover the main long haul trucking routes.

          This is an investment that yields national dividends. Avoiding serving the Central Valley to Southeast Coast freight market, for example, means for one we import a hell of a lot more petroleum. And for another, it undermines the swing in Virginia and North Carolina and Georgia, driven by demographic change, by leaving them more oil dependent than the rest of the country.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:44:14 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Long term funding needs early success (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ColoTim

            I can see the benefit of starting off in friendly territory. Anything that needs state or community buy-in to build will need a public that understands its benefits. Over large blocks of our country, public opinion is pretty much dictated by Fox news and megachurches, neither of those are likely to break from the oil industry's party line. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for a Sunday sermon on rolling resistance, or a Fox and Friends session on thermodynamics. So, I can see the resignation to having to go it alone.

            On the other hand, national funding isn't going anywhere without at least grudging acceptance from the old South. Traitors or not, they've been (officially, anyway) Reconstructed. So, whether or not they share our interests, they do share in the vote.

            Could a consortium of northern states do it without the South? Maybe a few successful long-haul routes in the North, funded by those states, would soften the resistance, make businesses of the South demand a national network to help them compete.

            Modern hardware would open up routes that were impractical in the 1860's, so it could skip corners of states that didn't want to contribute, too. Being able to go from Redding, CA to Twin Falls, ID (for example) without stopping gives you a lot more leverage negotiating with Utah and Nevada than anyone had when they needed to plan frequent water stops.

            Why is there a Confederate Flag flying in Afghanistan?

            by chimpy on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 11:34:48 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  What state or community buy-in are you ... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              chimpy

              ... envisioning?

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              by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 12:32:04 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Various kinds of cost-sharing (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                MPociask

                First there would be the basics of cooperation, like allowing an out-of-state interest to buy up large rights of way, or making reasonable compromises on environmental impact studies. A trucks-only lobby might get behind an astroturf campaign to keep rail traffic out of towns at key passes. They might argue that construction would impact traffic, and operation would cause noise, and there may or may not be enough educated members of the public to counter them.

                Above that would be preferential tax status of the right of way, perhaps keeping its assessment at current levels through some period of its future growth, or letting the system share power through its whole length without taxing it at each state line.

                Best-case would be that states compete to get the benefits by sharing the cost of rails, service yards and freight transfer facilities. A state might lease a stretch free of charge in exchange for placement of a transfer station. Or, it might give land for a power station if it's combined with a jobs-rich maintenance yard.

                With the choices afforded by the range of modern systems, you could get states competing to host the first alignments. Our hope is that their success helps sell the other states on a truly national system. Their expectation would be that they get the first benefit and the best eventual connectivity.

                Why is there a Confederate Flag flying in Afghanistan?

                by chimpy on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 01:27:02 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  We are talking about existing rail ... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... corridors, here ~ indeed, existing STRACNET rail corridors. And primarily talking about works within existing rail right of way. You may be thinking about projects like Express HSR, where existing rail alignments generally have curves with too small a curve radius to host the HSR effectively.

                  And a state by state strategy is more for passenger rail corridor routes ~ the focus here is on freight hauls of 1,000 to 2,000 miles, and the freight markets that we are trying to displace can be seen by looking at long haul trucking traffic densities. In this context, a state by state strategy does not seem very appropriate.

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                  by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 03:40:29 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  One problem with a consoirtium of ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... northern states versus a consortium of southern states doing a pilot project is that the political boundary line in question is the divide between states with a larger urban population share and states with a larger rural population share.

              And if Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee is on the wrong side of that dividing line, then Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois is as well.

              The other problem is that seeing to the need to transport freight for 1,000 miles or 2,000 miles is well beyond the natural transport responsibility of any particular state ~ even California or Texas. Its a fundamentally Federal responsibility to see to the transport needs of interstate commerce.

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              by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 04:51:16 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I think, to get the South on board, ... (0+ / 0-)

                ... there has to be a realistic threat that they'll get left behind otherwise. That might mean building a workable plan that goes around Congress and outside of 150-year old alignments.

                Why is there a Confederate Flag flying in Afghanistan?

                by chimpy on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 05:51:04 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  That suggests that your answer to ... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... the implicit question in the title is that An America That Can Do Big Things lies only in the past. We can only do things that we can sneak around the back way, but can no longer do the things that are (1) urgent priorities and (2) require actual national programs to accomplish.

                  I do not understand the fixation on states. If a majority of Louisville comes to support it, that's support, even if they are a city in a "red" state. If a majority of Memphis comes to support it, that's support, even if they are in a city in a "red" state. If a majority of Indianapolis comes to support it, that's support, even if they are a city in a "red" state.

                  And it would be a serious mistake to assume that the current political status quo is fixed and immutable over a time scale of decades. Demographic trends suggest that Texas and Georgia are going to flip.

                  And it would be a serious mistake to assume that the present political tactic of fighting intercity passenger rail improvements in order to deny Democrats political victories from the Stimulus projects has much political impetus once it is determined whether President Obama has been defeated or re-elected. North Carolina pursued higher speed intercity passenger rail even though they have not quite yet flipped, because it is a service that benefits both large cities and small towns along the corridor. One reason Illinois has been so aggressive in pursuing intercity rail is that crosses the divide between upstate and downstate Illinois.

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                  by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 06:19:29 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Maybe it can't do the same great things, ... (0+ / 0-)

                    over again on the same routes. Maybe it can, and the possibility of an alternative is enough to get the holdouts on board.

                    There aren't that many Americans who hate rail. There aren't even that many who would oppose it when given cost/benefit comparisons to other modes. But there are many who respond to GOP marketing. It doesn't take many Senate seats to gum up the works for everyone. And, on the scale of multinational corporations, it doesn't take much money to secure the votes of those states with either small populations or a preexisting bias toward conservative brand identity.

                    Maybe they're against rail based on lobbying and campaign dollars that will dry up only when the oil does. Maybe having to share their schools with black kids soured them on the whole idea of shared infrastructure. Maybe they're really against rail on principle, and they'll never get on board anyway.

                    But, maybe some are just holding out for a better deal. Those are the ones who'll snap to when they see it happening with or without them. And maybe that's enough.

                    Why is there a Confederate Flag flying in Afghanistan?

                    by chimpy on Tue Jun 05, 2012 at 09:35:20 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                •  A substantial benefit to ... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... Southern states is the improved state of their Interstate Highways.

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                  by BruceMcF on Tue Jun 05, 2012 at 06:23:53 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

    •  Never underestimate the Red States' willingness (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chimpy, BruceMcF

      They're all for programs that bring jobs and prosperity to them, so they don't have to go out and get them themselves.

      To them, terms like welfare and handouts only apply when it's other people getting the benefit.

      Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

      by nominalize on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:50:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Florida killed a HSR line just because Rick Scott (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xaxnar

        could.  He invented reasons that have been proven to be wrong to justify it and was not happy to hear that he couldn't keep the federal funds anyway.

        They could have had the line for less than 10% of the cost, and they still turned it down.

        •  Yes, but that was a state ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... project, and a passenger rail project, and since then Florida East Coast Industries, owner of the Florida Atlantic Coast corridor, has proposed a passenger rail service that Rick Scott cannot kill, since it would be established and operated privately, in what seems primarily a means for FEC to get access from its Atlantic Coast line to the CSX corridor north of Orlando.

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

          by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 03:44:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  The Wide Lens (5+ / 0-)

    I suggest you take a look at the book The Wide Lens by Ron Adner. It has good information how to look at products that require multiple players in an economic ecosystem to work together.

  •  Thanks for the interesting read. It makes so much (6+ / 0-)

    sense to transport freight by rail instead of trucks.  

    I stayed in Kingston on Thames (outside London) for three weeks back in the 80's.  I was impressed how the trains moved people all day and freight all night.  My room faced the tracks, but I got used to it quickly, (and when I had free time I could hop on a train and be to Waterloo Station in short order).

    I'd like to think a project like this could be accomplished in America.

    "Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person." David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World

    by Delta Overdue on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 09:35:12 PM PDT

  •  I have always loved the concept of ... (9+ / 0-)

    ...the Steel Interstate and I always love your updates on the subject.

    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 Jun 03, 2012 at 10:34:46 PM PDT

  •  Great concept (5+ / 0-)

    Love reading your stuff.  Would love to see something like this happen. Would be a great help to the PacNW, if folks can get past their land use and enviro concerns. Would be great for our economy here.  

    Do you see this as dedicated for freight, or also for passenger use?  HSR seems to be stalled at the fed level, as our planning efforts here seem to have no urgency.  Disappointing...  And they're wasting time suggesting "higher speed rail" instead of true HSR.  It will never cost less to build it as it does today. Nobody seems to get that. Yet the foot dragging continues.

    •  I don't think the HSR is as stalled as it looks. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chimpy, MPociask, ColoTim

      Thing is, construction proceeds, in Washington, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina ... when those projects finish, and the trains start to run faster, then the "we want something like they have" effect kicks in, especially in neighboring states.

      As far as passenger rail, the Steel interstate coalition plan envisions passenger trains being able to book Rapid Rail slots on the Rapid Rail corridors, which would mean average station to station speeds of 60mph to 75mph, instead of the 30mph to 50mph of today.

      That higher speed makes labor costs per mile drop, the electric running makes operating cost drop, and the higher speed and improved on time performance raises demand ... all of which is good for  cost recovery ratios.

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

      by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:36:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks Bruce (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, Hoghead99, salmo, native, chimpy

    Good stuff.  I think the economic case for long haul railroads has long existed.  But the roads burned a lot of bridges in front of themselves with monopoly and anticompetetive practices from the 1880's to the 1940's.  It may take a while for the institutional memories to fade.

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 05:23:25 AM PDT

    •  I-40 is the main east/west corridor of New Mexico (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      markdd, BruceMcF, chimpy, MPociask, ColoTim

      It's often bumper to bumper with semis, doing a steady 75 mph. Way more than half the traffic on this heavily-traveled artery is trucks.

      From a distance it actually looks like a train. A few passenger cars buzzing in and out, but often mostly semis. Talk about inefficiency. I can't imagine how much gasoline is being burned collectively by this stream of monoliths, especially when it all gets slowed down by the frequent road repairs.

      "Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into." - Oliver Hardy

      by native on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 08:10:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I-85 South into Atlanta was the same (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BruceMcF, native, chimpy, ColoTim

        Local law confined 18 wheelers into the outer 2 of 5 lanes.  So morning rush hour included a 'steel' wall of trucks, virtually clearing traffic out of the inner 3 lanes.  What a mess.

        FWIW, CSX pulled off a deal in Virginia or Tennessee to have the state help pay for additional trackage along an interstate (I-81?).  The deal was to get intermodal freight off of the interstate and onto the rails.  Don't know how well it's working.

        “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

        by markdd on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 08:48:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, the Liberty Line would take ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        native

        ... over half of those trucks off the Interstate.

        Since the trucks do not pay the full cost of the wear and tear they impose on the Interstates, a side effect of the Steel Interstates would be to reduce the massive gap between the physical depreciation of the Interstate Highway system and the much smaller amount we spend on maintaining them in a state of good repair.

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        by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 03:46:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Am a big fan of trains but like underground tracks (0+ / 0-)

    Underground tracks would allow speeds well in excess of 300mph, perhaps eventually over 3000mph, and avoid a lot of surface issues.

    As train speeds increase, the negative effects of impact w. hail-stones and birds, never mind larger objects like people and semi-trucks, becomes ever more severe.

    As a rail project becomes larger in size and more long-term, small efficiencies really add up. An underground design is a much higher one-time cost, but allows for a much straighter and more direct path, while minimizing surface disruption. Once built, the absence of migrating birds, or rain and hail-stones, or even -- of most of the air-pressure-- would permit much faster speeds, with a lot less uncertainties.

    My ideal would be to use Mag-Lev tracks in a near vacuum to achieve near-space efficiencies of fuel use, and to be able to take less than an hour to go from one coast to the other.

     In order to minimize acceleration effects, only the last few 'cars' of each train would drop off and decel. to zero, to be replaced by newcomers accelerating up from behind. The energy retrieved by the braking of the arriving 'cars'(turning them into the kinetic part of a magnetic dynamo) would be used to help accelerate the replacement 'cars', so the net need for surge power is reduced and waste (including that from storage and conversion) is minimized. Passengers would experience only one take-off and landing, but have to move into and back out of, the main part of the train.

    Meanwhile, these nice straight underground paths would be perfect for the electrical and fiber-optics needs of a continental economy. They would be below the level of the various cities present subways (BART, etc. ... ) and far below most buildings foundations, so they might be installed with minimum impact or need of right of way.
    They should survive forest fires or riots without a ripple.

    Meanwhile some less ambitious projects will help the US, which has subsidized its highways and trucking, but left its railroads to struggle, to reap some of the efficiencies and safety of rail transport.

    •  What is the point of the 300mph, though? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Robert, MPociask

      90mph rail freight with assured delivery schedules is sufficient to capture the wagonload truck freight markets that cannot be captured by 60mph freight.

      Jumping up to 300mph increases energy consumption substantially, without substantial improved performance of the task, which is to take over the bulk of freight shipping currently taken by long distance trucking.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 12:39:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  REALLY High Speed Rail - and much more (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NoMoreLies

    This story at BBC Future is getting quite a bit of attention around the web. Combine mag-lev trains with tunnels pumped down to vacuum, and you could reach speeds of 4000 mph+.  The numbers are enough to get people thinking seriously about this.

    A related BBC story looks at the current situation re Mag-Lev trains.

    A third BBC story examines the prospect for high speed rail in the U.S. They link to a map from the US High Speed Rail Assoc. showing how the system could be built out in 4 stages into a national system by 2030 as part of a 3-tiered integrated system.

    None of this is rocket science (well except maybe the vacuum trains), we have the technology, we have the wealth (if concentrated in the hands of the few), and we have the need for this stuff. What we don't have is the vision or the leadership from either of our political parties. And given that one of those parties is functionally insane, there's only one that might get a clue about this any time soon.

    But we're more likely to get a "Grand Bargain" to formalize our descent into permanent third world status under an oligarchy than dare to grasp the future.

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

    by xaxnar on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 04:29:59 PM PDT

    •  Different issue, though. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NoMoreLies

      What particular transport problem is that technology resolving?

      Certainly not the transport problem that our long haul trucking is consuming over 10% of our imported petroleum.

      Certainly not the transport problem that our local transport is overwhelmingly oil-dependent.

      Gadgetbahn like that is most often used as an excuse to kick the can down the road with a small trickle of funding to some research projects, rather than serious funding of slam-dunk corridors for well-tested, mature technology.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 04:57:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, (0+ / 0-)

        I threw out those links to expand the range of possibilities. The last link at the USHSRA shows, if you look down the page, three different tiers of passenger service, from trams, to regional rail, to a national high speed passenger network.

        Having just endured some ridiculous routing by air to get to Abilene, Texas from Newburgh, NY and back, passenger rail enhancements would be a nice alternative. (We flew into D-FW; Amtrak runs through there last time I looked to Abilene - but doesn't stop in Abilene for example) Considering how energy intensive air travel is, making passenger rail alternatives available where they make sense can't hurt.

        And if you're focusing on rail to replace petroleum-wasteful trucking, as long as you're talking about the infrastructure investments for that, it wouldn't hurt to look at how they could leverage off simultaneous investments in passenger rail and vice versa. If you compare maps, you see a lot of the same segments coming up. If we're looking at investments in rights of way, bridges, signaling, electrification, etc. etc., we should look at the synergies that could be obtained.

        We have problems now between passenger rail and freight rail competing for trackage. If we're going to invest, we should do it in a way that minimizes that conflict.

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

        by xaxnar on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 05:17:14 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Regarding this ... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          xaxnar, NoMoreLies
          And if you're focusing on rail to replace petroleum-wasteful trucking, as long as you're talking about the infrastructure investments for that, it wouldn't hurt to look at how they could leverage off simultaneous investments in passenger rail and vice versa.
          ... with the Steel Interstates, I've looked at visa versa, how passenger rail can benefit from the infrastructure investments that we must make in long distance electric freight rail infrastructure. Infrastructure upgrades to improve the performance of once or twice a day long distance passenger trains is rarely justified by the benefit provided.

          On the other hand, infrastructure upgrades to improve the performance of long distance freight can be easily justified by the economic benefit of improvements, and indeed the original capital costs can be recouped from access charges and user fees, so that an interest subsidy is sufficient to finance the improvements. And then, if the freight rail system is operated in a way that allows long distance Rapid Freight Rail to get from railhead to railhead at a reliable schedule, it will be a system that can offer the same benefit to a long distance passenger train.

          The passenger rail corridors that justify the greatest infrastructure investment based on passenger transport benefits are dominated by corridors that provide 3hr and less trips, and then by corridors that provide 6hr and less trips. I've also long argued that Rapid Passenger Rail corridor investment should be pursued on the basis of no net interference with freight traffic, but given the typical transport demand, the net effect is an increase in overnight freight capacity, which could certainly be leveraged to feed freight through from the Steel Interstates into those improved Rapid Passenger Rail corridors.

          Of course, leveraging investments between Rapid Freight Rail on the one hand and Rapid Passenger Rail and Express HSR on the other hand requires compatible technology, which is one downside of gadgetbahn solutions that proceed as if the lack of choice in transport in the US is due to some kind of technological limitation, rather than policies of massively subsidizing oil-fueled transportation.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 06:04:17 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  West Coast line (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF

    Why did you end your west coast line in Seattle? I seems extending the line to Bellingham, WA and on to Vancouver, BC  is a no brainer.  Amtrak already does this.

    ex-SSP. What would Machiavelli do?

    by hankmeister on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 05:03:18 PM PDT

    •  Remember that its a freight rail corridor ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... first and foremost.

      The freight rail task from Seattle to Vancouver BC seems like it can be handled can be handled by the existing line.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 06:08:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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