Policies to Develop a Low Emissions Transport Sector in Australia

Mark Reynolds in NSW provided this excellent submission to the Australian Federal Government's Garnaut Climate Change Review on Issue Paper Number 5: Transport Planning and the Built Environment.

Mark's complete submission is available as a PDF.

Professor Garnaut,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission. In the following pages I set out to show that you have not included in your thinking to date the most disruptive factor affecting transport emissions. Given that oil is the lifeblood of our transport system I provide evidence that escalating oil costs and supply constraints are real and critical within short planning horizons. I then describe four linked and supportive policy thrusts to develop a low emissions transport sector in Australia, with economic, social and environmental benefits.

I write based on many years experience as a business advisor recommending ways for large companies to deliver goods to their customers more efficiently. I have worked on all types of freight networks from the transport of bulk goods to the "fresh daily" operations which deliver bread and milk to every food outlet in Australia. This submission focuses on the efficiency and sustainability of Australia's transport operations, including brief mention of the built environment which our transport networks serve and are shaped by.

The Issues paper from Forum 5 – Transport, Planning and Built Environment – highlights robust recent growth in emissions from the Australian transport sector and seeks input on policies to encourage cost-effective emissions reductions in passenger and freight transport by land, sea and air. Some technical options and barriers to change are discussed in the issues paper and the Forum presentations. The stated context for the issues paper is continued growth in demand for transport services as a key enabler of economic growth and social activity in Australia.

However the issues canvassed do not include a critical interfering factor from beyond our borders – the looming global supply-side constraints on the oil needed to fuel ongoing growth in transport activities and emissions. There is overwhelming evidence from numerous sources (for example IEA 2007, Rubin and Buchanan 2008, Simmons 2008, van der Veer 2008) predicting imminent and worsening supply shortages of oil fuels for transport during coming years and decades. Such shortages will seriously and rapidly disrupt past patterns of transport use, especially personal use of cars, and may be expected to significantly reduce emissions from some parts of the transport sector, perhaps in an abrupt and unplanned manner.

It is essential to extend the questions posed in the issues paper and ask: What should be a broader set of policy responses to address transport emissions reduction considering both demand and supply-side factors?

This submission contends that emissions from Australia's transport sector are best addressed as one part of an innovative and integrated policy package that tackles the inevitability of major reductions in oil use. Australia faces particular difficulties transitioning away from oil dependence because of the geographical realities that require us to deal with the "tyranny of distance" at all transport scales – globally, nationally, in our regional areas and across the sprawling suburbs of our large cities.

A comprehensive policy response to these challenges goes well beyond the remit of your current Climate Change Review so let us focus on policy matters most closely related to reducing emissions from transport. Four policy thrusts are required to shift economic resources away from business-as-usual into future-proofing Australia's transport sector, thus reducing the risk of disruptions from oil shortages and eventually reducing emissions by large amounts. I am confident that your review will deliver recommendations supporting all of these policy thrusts, not least through targeted application of the revenue from the rent value of emissions permits.

The four policy thrusts are;

  1. Redirect future infrastructure investments towards low emissions transport modes such as rail freight and public passenger transport. Urgent support for such investments is vital because transport construction projects take many years and lock in a legacy of favoured travel options, fixed emissions profiles and sunk costs that will be with us for decades
  2. Ensure the full cost impacts of emissions trading and global oil price rises flow directly through to end users to reshape consumer markets by encouraging transport usage efficiencies, modal changes and positive technology choices without interference from perverse subsidies or other mechanisms that may delay end-user moves to a future lower-emissions transport model
  3. Develop and fund social equity policies to compensate and help reorient the most disadvantaged, such as low-income residents of outer suburbs and country regions, towards less dependence on oil fuels
  4. Focus strong emissions reduction incentives and efforts on the electricity generation sector in anticipation of transport becoming a growing user of electricity in place of oil (indicative scale could be a currently unforeseen 20 – 50% addition to national electricity demand by 2030)

Australia is doubly fortunate in being a wealthy country and in having a comfortable though diminishing degree of self-sufficiency in oil supplies along with ample LPG and natural gas supplies (ABARE 2008). These factors can ease our transition to a low-emissions economy and make it a lot more painless than the journey faced by most other countries in the world.

The remainder of this submission enlarges on the global oil supply context and on each of the four policy thrusts outlined above. It also provides a set of references for more detailed support of the arguments presented here. A key reference is the recently published book Transport Revolutions – Moving People and Freight Without Oil (Gilbert and Perl 2008) which contains extensive data on the current realities of the global transport industry and puts forward policy options and plans for revolutionary changes to maintain transport services in an oil-depleted world.

The overriding message is one of urgency. Every week that passes now without vigorous action to prepare for the coming world of scarce and expensive oil has an opportunity cost that we will pay many times over if we are forced into crisis actions such as abandoning urban motorways half-built and scrambling to compete with other countries at high prices for railway and electric vehicle manufacturing capacity.

Why should talk of such crisis actions be taken seriously? Recent oil market movements point to the answers. Even without regard for the sound geological basis of "peak oil" arguments (see for example Hirsch et al 2005, Senate 2006), the sustained rise in the price of oil over the past 15 months exceeds any mainstream projections and suggests that larger forces are at work. Indications are that geopolitical factors may be converging to encourage some oil exporters to leave more of their petroleum assets in the ground while others are experiencing rapidly growing domestic demand which reduces their net export volumes (Brown & Foucher 2008).

Net oil exports are the critical survival issue for oil importing countries – the majority of nations – who rely on a few countries that are rich in oil to export enough to supply everybody else's needs for liquid fuels; needs which by and large can only be supplanted by other energy sources slowly and with difficulty.

Fig 1. Global net oil exports showing indications of decline over the last two years
Source: Net Oil Exports 2008

As shown in Fig 1 global net exports of crude oil are displaying a worrying downward trend in the face of global demand which has grown at 1.4% to 1.5% per year since 2004 (IEA 2008). Furthermore, known oil supply augmentation projects out as far as 2012 show little hope of adding new supply capacity fast enough to keep up with projected demand (Oil Megaprojects Task Force 2008). Some analysts predict that oil availability to OECD countries including Australia could be as much as 8% below today's volumes by 2012 (Rubin and Buchanan 2008, Table 2 on p6), and will likely decline further in future years.

Australia is in the happy position of being somewhat insulated from world oil supply shocks by our domestic production which provided 53% of consumption in 2007 (ABARE 2008). We imported the remaining 47%, partly as crude oil for local refining and partly as refined products. A concern is that the available historical data up to 2005-06 shows that diesel fuel imports grew in just 3 years from 30% to 40% of Australia's refined petroleum imports by volume while remaining about 30% of consumption by volume (ABARE 2007). This suggests that the diesel fuel vital for agriculture, mining and freight transport is increasingly import-exposed.

A temporary 4% dip in fuel supply was enough to cause hoarding, petrol queues, supply stoppages and empty supermarket shelves during the two-week-long tanker drivers' strike in the UK in September 2000 (PSEPC 2005). Transport fuel supply is close to being a Just In Time business with little buffer in the pipeline. Even with the cushion of our capable local oil industry the implications of a reduction of 8% in imports to Australia could be a 3 to 4% shortfall in total petroleum fuel volumes available to users. Further declines in imports would raise the shortfall steadily through 5% and beyond.

It is worth taking a look at the usage profile of petroleum fuels and biofuels in Australia. The transport sector is by far the biggest user at 69% as shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Australian Energy Disposal for 2005-06, in PJ
Petroleum fuels (crude, LPG and refined) plus biofuels

Note: Biofuels comprised 0.3% and LPG 7.9%. Energy units are Petajoules (PJ).
Source: ABARE 2008

Demand elasticity for transport fuels is conventionally regarded as low (Morgan & Emoto 2007) but some experts (Ashton-Graham 2008) suggest that 13% - 30% reductions in motor vehicle usage can be achieved through community awareness, involvement and incentive programs. Every bit of saving that can be achieved this way may be needed because simple modelling shows that private motorists will need to make the biggest cuts in fuel use.

Table 2 provides an illustrative example of how a 5% overall reduction in petroleum fuel usage might have to be achieved by voluntary and/or mandatory conservation actions in the case of sudden unplanned reductions in oil imports.

Table 2 Illustrative Scenario for a 5% Cut in Use of Petroleum and Biofuels

Sources: Sectoral energy disposal data for 2005-06 from ABARE 2008 Road transport vehicle type allocations of fuel usage from DEWHA 2006 Passenger and Light commercial fuel usage allocations from ABS 2007
Modelling by Anawhata Associates

The scenario in Table 2 has been constructed on the principle that reductions in freight transport, air transport, industrial and commercial demands should be minimised to keep the economy moving. Therefore the largest share of fuel savings can only come from the biggest usage sector – private cars. The modelling which generated Table 2 suggests a rule of thumb as follows;

5% oil supply cut = 12% less for cars = 10% cut in commuting + 15% cut in personal use

10% oil supply cut = 25% less for cars = 20% cut in commuting + 30% cut in personal use

The implications of supply cuts exceeding 5% quickly become confronting and probably economically damaging unless we can put in place more efficient and less oil dependent transport alternatives such as natural gas powered buses, electric railways, and electric or hybrid cars, which also produce lower emissions.

The precautionary principle argues for strong early action to mitigate the impact of such pervasive economic threats as oil supply cuts, even though the onset date is uncertain within a band of a few years, but could come soon. The peculiar threat to Australia of oil supply cuts is that our economy is highly dependent on oil fuels for transport and there are currently very few non-oil options offering any scale beyond the limited reach of our rail systems. Biofuels and LPG can be ramped up to play larger roles, especially in maintaining the viability of the current vehicle fleet with somewhat reduced emissions, but they have their own scale limits so we must set out to engineer a substantial increase in electrically powered transport by rail and road (Gilbert and Perl 2007). Natural gas can also play a greater role in Australian transport for a few decades.

The first critical step for freight rail in Australia does not even depend on electrification – it is simply the extensive and costly new trackworks needed to unblock the Sydney bottleneck and transform rail capacity and performance between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Diesel hauled rail on these heavily trafficked corridors can make a big contribution to reducing road freight haulage and transport emissions. Electrification is the logical next step.

Actions to reduce the oil dependency of transport also reduce emissions. Increased reliance on electricity should be welcomed because electricity generation from renewable sources is available and proven and will expand rapidly with the Federal Government's commitment to a 20% Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET). Competitive new electricity generation technologies are developing to industrial scale at a faster rate than likely demand growth from the transport sector (see for example Mills and Morgan 2008). Some attention will be needed to align the time of day of transport electricity use with supply from renewable sources such as large-scale solar. It is likely that people will find it convenient to charge electric cars overnight creating some unexpected additional demand for base load coal generation plant that is otherwise losing its night-time load as we shift from electric off peak hot water to gas and solar water heating.

The full submission expands on the four essential policy thrusts summarised above.

Six Sigma and Just-in-time practices can be applied to the mobility process.

  • Drive out sources of variation; preempt problems.
  • Drive batch size towards one; you cannot manage quality in a batch.

We need to start with where we want to be and engineer backwards to build the tools.

CSX is currently running a TV commercial showing a 50 mpg car on a rail car and state they "move a ton 423 miles with a gallon of fuel." We should not start with our current transport and try to coerce into an insignificant 50% improvement. We need to strive build 400 mpg tools. That is beyond the capacity of central planners; they do not invent.

We need less planning. In transportation (80% inefficient) and power generation (69% inefficient) we learned nothing for the centrally planned economy of the Soviet Union. It is impossible to plan breakthrough and breakdown.

We are currently in breakdown. It would be nice if we ended central planning so we can hopefully be lucky enough to have some breakthrough.

Example, the Internet would not have developed as quickly had not the porn industry excited a demand for bandwidth. No bureaucrat would have presented a plan to the FCC "We need to increase bandwidth, so lets encourage a larger porn industry."

We need to allow more random opportunities to find sustainable infrastructure.

Striving for 400 mpg tools seems inadequate, and to cut the other way, poor long-term planning. The author's suggestion to develop a more robust electrical generation capacity to anticipate transportation needs is the unique thrust of this article and one with which I would agree. Any country that succeeds, by any means, in creating a non-FF electrical generation capacity to at least serve the essential needs of a larger, electrical public transport sector would be ahead of the curve--and there's no time to lose or wait for a 'porn'-like stimulus.

Striving for 400 mpg tools seems inadequate, and to cut the other way, poor long-term planning.

I pretty much agree with you on planning. The reason we are in the mess we are is that infrastructure for power generation and transportation are centrally "planned". The result is that these regulated industries are 69% and 80% inefficient.

If we allowed free markets, there would be a swam of small businesses carving profits by preempting small bites of that inefficiency.

On electrical generation I also agree. One of the key benefits of striving for 400 mpg (actually, we are only striving for 200 mpg because of air conditioning and other creature comforts) is that it allows natural power sources to be harnessed in new ways.

Installing solar collectors 2 meters wide over these 200 mpg rails, it is practical to capture 12,500 vehicle-miles of power (2.5 million watt-hours in a typical day) per mile of rail. Transportation need for distributed power can be harvested from the sun's delivery of distributed power.

Solar power, when used where it is gathered is very potent.

I like your vision of collecting distributed solar power, but there are many other types of electrical infrastructure possible--still not on the map of the 'planners' such as they are. I suspect we have a different opinion about what constitutes planning, or even centralized planning. Corporations (small and large), in my view, are a form of centralized planning and the example of what happened to electric rail in Los Angeles is a case worth pondering. On the local level, 'central planning' decisions were made to install electric rail but that initial investment never gained momentum with the rise of the automobile. It is a complex story not easily summarized.

cf., http://www.scsra.org/library/rapid-transit-history/

I would argue that costs have generally been calculated on a short-term basis and without any consideration for entropy, energy, and thermodynamics which are topics generally beyond the purview of planners--whether corporate, municipal, or federal. That is essentially the historical problem before us.

We are beginning to see the emergence of new ways at looking at these matters and I remain optimistic that lower-energy throughput systems of transportation can be created--in theory. The practical implementation and design of such systems must follow a much-larger public awareness of the seriousness of fast-approaching limitations.

Best wishes!

The reason we are in the mess we are is that infrastructure for power generation and transportation are centrally "planned".

Individuals, families, businesses, cities, and governments all use planning extensively. Unless you live in a low population density tropical paradise, planning and economic survival go hand in hand. Nevertheless there is supposed to be an evil perverted mutant monster called “central planning” which is incapable of doing anything useful or good. This claim is nonsense. A high population density city needs to have a sewer system, a transportation system, a trash disposal system, etc. To claim that such public utililties should not be centrally planned with respect to the whole city as an entity defies common sense.

If the city and a surrounding area of agricultural land were a self sufficient economc unit (i.e. a city-state), then planning on larger scale would not be needed. On the other hand if economic trade on a larger scale is integral to normal funtioning of the city then planning on this scale will be needed as well. Planning at a large geographic scale is not needed if and only if self sufficiency exists on a smaller scale.

Our power generation systems and transportation systems are in trouble because they have assumed the existence of undending supplies of cheap fossil fuel, and not because they are centrally planned. If small scale generators could economically outperform the public grid, home owners would have started thumbing their noses at the power companies a long time ago.

A lot of the resistance to “central” planning is resistance to long term planning. If the economy and the population are growing vigorously, with continuous rapid changes in technology and patterns of population distribution then planning over long time scales is difficult. But it is precisely this pattern of constant economic ferment which has to come to an end in a finite world. We have to achieve some kind of economic maturity in which the human population and the material artifacts which support that population are not constantly changing. If the sustainable ecnomy which eventually emerges is to be something other than a series of isolated neolithic villages or hunter-gatherer bands, then some kind of long term large scale planning will be needed. The greater the material simplicity of our life style the less planning will be needed, but the idea that it can be avoided alltogether is false.

I do not wish to be overly simple-minded but there are some simple truths:

  • Our current infrastructure is the output of current plans
  • Our current infrastructure is the cause of Peak Oil and Climate Change
  • Peak Oil and Climate Change are civilization killers.

If more of what we have is what we need, then the current bureaucracies are seem capable of producing repetition. If there are fundamental changes to the our assumptions then adapting to those changes faster than they kill us off seems required.

How many city planners do you know who have filed patents? How many bureaucrats have mortgage their homes to push for an innovation?

If you need innovation, you need to allow the messy nature of innovation. If you need luck, you need to increase the number of attempts to find it.

Messy does not preclude having standards. It does not preclude planning. But unlike current policies, attempts must be allowed without having to be planned.

The discovery of penicillin was luck intersecting a prepared mind. The vulcanization of rubber was luck intersecting a prepared mind. If Fleming or Goodyear had to submit their plans to a city council and receive permission to be struck by serendipity we would be without the benefits of their discovery.

Planning is important only in as a support for increasing the nimbleness of our thinking. Current planning has made our infrastructure brittle with rules that applied only when oil was cheap and did not pollute.

Our current infrastructure is the output of current plans

All public infrastructure is the output of somebody's plan. It is true that the scientifc and technological inovations which made that infrastructure possible were not planned. I am not suggesting that scientific and technological innovation should come to an end. But if we want to build real world infrastructure with a long useful lifetime then planning is required. Furthermore, some technologies do have long term advantages. Railroads have been around for more than two centuries, but I see nothing on the horizon which has superior efficiency for overland heavy freight transportation. Of course innovations in engine efficiency or in sophisticated management techniqes to minimize empty freight car miles may still be possible.

Our current infrastructure is the cause of Peak Oil and Climate Change

Our current infrastructure is the result of an economic system which emphasizes the accumulation of short term private fortunes over the creation and maintenance of stable long term community wealth. That is to say that our current infrastructure is a result of piss poor planning which has resulted from incredibly stupid assumptions about long term resource costs. I agree that continued technological innovation is important, but the idea that pursuing such innovation in the context of an economic system in which every individual is striving to get richer as rapidly as possible will result in the emergence of a sustainable economic system is completely insane.

French planning is fairly derigiste.
They now have an electricity system which should survive peak oil nicely, with it's high input from nuclear power, and assured exports as other countries turn in this direction.
They are also implementing extensive renewables production.
Their transport infrastructure both within cities and nationally with their road and rail network is also exemplary.
There doesn't seem to be much wrong with planning, you just have to have the right plans and implement them well.

80% of trips in Europe (not sure about France individually) are still by car.

Trains have never been the primary provider of personal mobility. Before cars, there were horses. But then we had smaller populations and plenty of biofuel that had to be scraped off the streets.

Central planners have not, anywhere, adjusted to post oil needs for:

  • personal mobility
  • food distribution
  • medical access
  • subsidies to trains and buses provided by automobile use
  • etc...

Actions based on faulty assumptions are high risk.

I do agree that France is far better off than the US. But I think it is mostly because of bicycles and nukes. They are at nearly equal risk in food distribution and farming.

I think you need to read some of Alan from Big Easy's posts regarding French plans.

They are planning a lot of urban rail, and are putting in electric cars in many cities which you can hire by the hour or day.

When you say that 80% of trips are by car, that does not take account of the fact that walking is entirely practical and popular in many European cities, not to mention scooters and such which would be early targets for electrification.

Water transport is also fairly extensively used in Europe, and they have very wide canals capable of taking large freight vessels - an early one, the Canal du Midi, was ordered to be constructed by the entirely derigiste Louis IVX.
Here is a link to some information on the different effects of European planning versus British laissez-faire on water transport.

France is also the premier food producer in Europe, and transport distances are modest.

I will leave the rail and public transport to the much more knowledgeable Alan, but would remark that there is a lot more to France's energy policy than nuclear power.

They are installing 50,000 air heat pumps a year, and plan to install around 5 million residential solar thermal panels in the next few years, and are gearing themselves up to build one of the largest wind power systems in Europe.

I would therefore argue that your comments are not based on sufficient information about facts on the ground in France.

I know people who have lived comfortably in France for 30 years without a car. The metro in Paris suffices for those who live there and a car is an inconvenience.

But I agree that the facts show France is still consuming a large part of its total energy supply as FF. And as far as I'm concerned, nuclear power is a short-term fix and a long-term disaster that is an example of poor planning. But the French are well-positioned, of the oil-importing countries, to be less savaged than the US which seems to suffer from a sort of idiotic leadership, corrupt through and through, constipated and increasingly beset with the debts of an occupying empire in decline...

Trains have never been the primary provider of personal mobility

Factually wrong.

For over a century, the dominant means of inter-city transportation in both the USA and Europe (and I assume Australia as well) was trains. Armies planned around them in their campaigns.

And within New Orleans (and we were not unique) streetcars were the primary means of public transportation (shoe leather #2) for over 3 decades.

We had 222 miles of tracks in a dense urban network. Where I live, there was a choice of three streetcar lines within 3 blocks.

Horses were rare for personal use, even by gold and silver dollar millionaires, and used mainly for commercial hauling.

And even today, public transportation in Warsaw still has about 60% modal share (relayed to me by friend that talked with administration there).

Best Hopes for Understanding Historical Truths,


Yep, Australia, too. Well - Melbourne, at least. Our rail network in 1929, with frequencies of trains in minutes, peak/non-peak period.

These frequencies were achieved with manual signalling and track changes - a guy with a stick changed the sign, and another guy with a crowbar moved the tracks. They're twice the frequency achieved today. Yes, they ran twice as many trains 79 years ago.

In 1950 - still with the manual signalling and track changes - Melbourne had 1.3 million people, and carried 204 million passengers; that is, there 157 train trips annually per Melburnian. Nowadays we have 3.85 million people with 180 million trips, or 47 train trips per Melburnian annually. That is, trains were taken more than three times as often in 1950 as today, and again that was with "inefficient" manual signalling and track changes.

In Amsterdam and Copenhagen today, of all trips taken, about one-third are by private car, one-third by bike or foot, and one-third by public transport - buses, trains and trams.

So really the mixture of use of modes of transport you have in a city have not much to do with anything inherent in those modes, and all to do with the way you choose to run the things.

If you have a frequent, reliable, quick and pleasant service, people will use it. This is a basic principle understood by any businessperson who didn't go broke in the first six months, but is apparently a great puzzle and surprise to many public transport operators in the West.

Ships are the most efficient carriers, but they cannot deliver goods where there are no water ways.

Heavy rail is efficient at long haul freight movement, but they cannot go where there are not rails. They are not efficient if they have to start-stop for congested transport.

The point is there are niches. If confined to their niche, many things, including cars can provide great value at a reasonable cost.

My contempt for regulatory monopolies is the same as my contempt for political monopolies, they do not allow niche ideas and solutions. In the niche of highly repetitive transport ultra-light rail can provide the convenience of a chauffeured car with the energy use of an elevator. This systems are limited in carrying capacity and length of trips. But in the niche of urban transport, only bicycles are competitive.

Neither bicycles or automated guideways are aggressively supported by the current flock of "urban planners."

Neither bicycles or automated guideways are aggressively supported by the current flock of "urban planners."

Then they need to be educated. I do not see how we can move away from an automobile dominated urban infrastructure unless the public and their elected representives agree that we need to do so and plan accordingly. I can buy a bicycle or invent new and better bicycles on my own, but I cannot create a bicycle friendly infrastructure without community planing and consent.

I absolutely agree with you. If we made every 10th street in a city into an automated guideway/bike safe corridor, we can make the corner.

Here is an illustration of green space recovery:

Well, it seems like progress was made on this thread insofar as I understood positions better after their elaboration.

As an aside, I have a friend who is an urban planner and although largely informed by the dogma of economics, his opinions have shifted greatly on the topic of peak oil as I'm sure has been the case with many others in bureaucracies around the world.

Can changes be made quickly enough? I don't know, but that's the struggle and the push no matter the innovations. Planning & bureaucracies are slow, but we've never seen the pressures mounting so quickly for dramatic change that quite probably will affect the processes of planning and bureaucracies themselves!

There is an extraordinary book Black Swans.

Survivors will be the ones that adapted. Graveyard, which we largely ignore, will bare silent testimony for those who do not.

Which ones we will be is being determined now.

Here are two questions for your urban planner:
1. Do they have a 2020 plan?
2. Is their 2020 plan based on oil at $50 or $300 a barrel?

Plans built on uncertain forecasts (note all forecasts) are grave exposures to Black Swans, like Peak Oil.

They are not efficient if they have to start-stop for congested transport

Factually incorrect, as I have pointed out to you before.

Regenerative braking recycles the electricity from braking back into the system with quite good efficiency.

OTOH, your jpods that you are promoting are quite inefficient aerodynamically. One pod for every 1 or 2 people verses *MUCH* more aerodynamically efficient/person trains.

You are trying to create a philosophy (with several errors) to support your commercial enterprise, instead of deriving a solution from an underlying philosophy.


Oddly enough Alan, our first paying customer is a commuter railroad that wants to provide feeder networks.

I thought that your first line was going to be open at the Mall of America by now.

I question promoter claims.

And only VERY poor management at a commuter rail line would waste money on unproven gadgetbahn. Many better ways to spend money at EVERY commuter rail system in te USA.

What you are promoting, and spending so much effort on, is simply wrong. You cannot debug and prove your technology in time to make a difference, but you will confuse and delude people away from proven, GOOD solutions.

I wish that you had chosen a constructive, rather than destructive, path for your energy and efforts.


BTW: just HOW are you going to provide ADA access to wheelchair passengers stranded in mid-air ?

Good information on where the oil is used in Austrailia. Similar usage of liquid fuels is true for US.

From what I have read about lower world net exports and further declines expected in US domestic production, the US will need much greater remedies to cope with an expected loss of 1/3 of the available oil by 2025. Some sectors of the US economy will have to reduce oil consumption by large amounts, while others like rail transport should expand market share and be permitted to use larger amounts of liquid fuel. For example, rail freight transport is around 30 times more energy efficient than airplanes. Thus most air freight should be shifted to rail, even if the commodity has a shelf life, to get an order of magnitude improvement (>10x)in ton mile per gallon of fuel used.

In the US I don't see much vision for making any such changes in the near future, certainly not in the next two to three years. Here in St. Louis, Missouri the local government officials are promoting spending $250 million for an upgrade of the airport to encourage more air flights/new carriers, plus a big expansion of air freight. Most local and state officials in the US are still thinking that air traffic and highway traffic will continue to grow at the trend of the last few years and are oblivious to the peak net oil export problem that currently exists. They think if energy cost do rise, a solution exists with more fuel efficent cars and planes (Boeing 787 for example). Even shortages of liquid fuels may be seen as only temporary just as in the 1970's.

Very interesting keypost--Kudos! I sure wish my US leadership was discussing things as much as those Down Under appear to be!

I will merely suggest my non-FF powered, speculative suggestion for geo-dispersive SpiderWebRiding emanating as the 'ribcage' from the 'spine & limbs' of electric RRs and mass-transit options.

Whether my proposal ultimately hooks onto AlanfromBigEasy's or BillJames' ideas makes no difference to me, as I don't have the engineering expertise to effectively evaluate the total merits of their proposals--whatever others decide is fine with me.

IMO, [bicycles and wheelbarrows, then transfer to railbikes], and vice-versa; to facilitate the 'last miles' of bi-directional rural/urban dispersive resource flows to the electrified, standard-gauge transport/transfer points, is much better than waiting until these 'last miles' must be covered by heavily-laden imitators of the earlier Nuahtl Tlamemes.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

That's interesting the forecast that as oil supply tightens, what'll drop is personal transport rather than agriculture, commerce and industry. Setting aside the exaggerated sustainability picture given of them, it seems that that's just what happened when Cuba lost 20% of its oil supply in a few months, as I describe here.

Overall they now use about 10% less fossil fuel BTUs than in 1989, as you can see from the EIA figures here.

1989 peak = 0.51 quadrillion BTU
1993 trough = 0.402 quadrillion BTU
2005 most recent = 0.458 quadrillion BTU

So with Cuba's peak oil experience, essentially they first had a 20% decline in fossil fuel use, and this wiped out private cars - which were never very numerous in Cuba anyway - and then rose up to only a 10% decline from peak, where private transport is still relatively less common than at peak.

The power stations are still happily burning oil, and heaps more gas than before, too.


I know I'm going to wind up Alanfrombigeasy on this one but you propose an increase in Bus fuel use which is as insane as biofuels, Here (in Auckland NZ) which is much like most of Australia, metropolitan buses have an average pax per k of less than 5 which means in pure energy use they are basically the same as PT (personal transport) I am sick of the ignorant bleating that we require more "public transport" as if it is some panacea to our energy use when some forms (particularly suburban buses) are no better than private cars, Public transport planners are not interested in energy efficiency (if they were they wouldn't continually ask for bigger subsidies) they have a congestion and social policy agenda to follow. Australia (like NZ) is very much in the US urban sprawl mold and need to reurbanise itself, buses will simply swap one FF evil for another politically correct, bureaucratic inefficient other

I'd love to see a case study which proves me wrong


Buses are inefficient if they have few customers?

This is not really a revolutionary idea :)

Here's the thing. For some reason, public transport companies across the West just don't understand the basic principle of a retail business: if you provide a frequent, reliable, quick and pleasant service, people will use it. If your service is infrequent, unreliable and unpleasant, people won't use it.

Go to take the bus, and find it goes every 30-60 minutes, is often late and sometimes cancelled and never gives notice of this, is slow, and the buses are in general poorly-maintained and smelly.

Now imagine a restaurant where it took 30-60 minutes just to take your order, and as long to get it at your table, but sometimes the meal wasn't available and nobody told you, it just didn't come, and then the food wasn't very good. Would you go back? Of course not.

Yet we're expected to swarm to such a service when it's public transport.

If the buses, trains and trams are frequent, reliable, quick and pleasant, people will use them. And then they'll use fuel very efficiently.

Im not sure what you mean when you say,

“Thus most air freight should be shifted to rail, even if the commodity has a shelf life, to get an order of magnitude improvement (>10x)in ton mile per gallon of fuel used.”

I assume you would have no problem when your doctor tells you that the government bureaucrats say they will be shipping the heart, with an 8 hour shelf life, for your heart transplant via rail because of the ten times lower fuel usage. : )

People move products, and themselves, in the lowest cost method that will meet their objectives. Time, money, safety, convenience are the main inputs to their decision making. Government mandates rarely improve matters. As an example here in the U.S. local governments, coach builders, and the Teamsters Union spend millions each year lobbying our Congress to increase the size of the transit bus systems even though the average efficiency of transit buses in the U.S. is 32 pmpg (Passenger Miles Per Gallon). Adding buses will only reduce this average. Average pmpg for cars, in the U.S. is about 28 and improving with the increase in the cost of fuel, (I’ll take the small car to work today, the cost of gas is killing me.). Public transit system only work well in high density areas, and this is a real problem with countries like the U.S. and Australia.

Hi Neven911:
I have seen this measure of pax per k several times. Is it passenger kilometers per bus kilometer? If so this does not give us the fuel used to move people. I use the following data: average transit bus MPG = 3.5, (including stops) 1 mile = 1.61 km, 1 gallon = 3.79 l. For the U.S. this works out to 5.7 pkpl (passanger kilometers per liter). A Toyota Prius with the U.S. average of 1.17 persons per car would be getting 56 pmpg or 9.2 pkpl.

I believe the last two comments have correctly identified the need, human and efficiency.


If the buses, trains and trams are frequent, reliable, quick and pleasant, people will use them. And then they'll use fuel very efficiently.


Is it passenger kilometers per bus kilometer? If so this does not give us the fuel used to move people. I use the following data: average transit bus MPG = 3.5, (including stops) 1 mile = 1.61 km, 1 gallon = 3.79 l. For the U.S. this works out to 5.7 pkpl (passanger kilometers per liter). A Toyota Prius with the U.S. average of 1.17 persons per car would be getting 56 pmpg or 9.2 pkpl.

On-demand, efficient transport is within the state of the art. In repetitive travel we need the convenience of a car (on-demand, personal) with the efficiency of railroads. We currently have this in vertical travel with the elevator. Based on riders per day, it is the most successful form of public transportation.

We can build networks of horizontal-elevators that use about 200 watt-hours to travel a mile with up to 4 people. This is equivalent to 183 mpg of gas (203 mpg diesel as compared to CSX's 423 mpg of diesel). The convenience of a chauffeured car at the cost to operate an elevator. These networks of horizontal-elevators are starting to be built (Hearthrow, Uppsala, Stockton).

They, like cars and railroads, cannot operate where there is no infrastructure. So that infrastructure will have to be built. These small packet railroads have the advantage of being able to move packets of people and freight on the same rails. So the rail that moves customers to the grocery stores can also resupply the grocery store.

Here is a comment from the EU Study on Personal Rapid Transit (PRT, horizontal elevators).

EU Study GMA2/2001/52046-S07.13187
PRT contributes significantly to transport policy and all related policy objectives. This innovative transport concept allows affordable mobility for all groups in society and represents opportunities for achieving equity.

The demonstration of the PRT prototype system 'ULTRA' at a test site in Cardiff, four accompanying case studies at different cities and the overall European assessment indicated high overall benefits.

The specific urban transport problems in particular of new member states, accession and candidate countries could be alleviated significantly at a lower cost than any other transport system.

PRT is the personalisation of public transport, the first public transport system which can really attract car users and which can cover its operating cost and even capital cost at a wider market penetration. PRT complements existing public transport networks. PRT is characterised through attractive transport services and high safety.


No it is the average load of the bus, When buses are compared with cars the "spin merchants" show a single person in a car versus a full bus see NZ Herald They conveniently forget that a/ The bus repositions near empty b/ the bus picks up pax as it goes and c/ the car can have more than 1 occupant, so when you take all this into account a bus carries only 6 pax per k it travels, This is about its maximum


Great point.


If the buses, trains and trams are frequent, reliable, quick and pleasant, people will use them. And then they'll use fuel very efficiently.

If you have more frequent services and more comprehensive services to suburbs then you DECREASE the average pax per k number. The Auckland bus service (which runs at <6 pax per K) is running near capacity (rush hour buses are packed), hence your statement has no basis in fact, it is dogma

The perverse thing also about all Public Transport is that to make it more "energy efficient" then it is best when it carries pax farther, which is self defeating in terms of total energy use, we need to structure thing so these trips aren't necessary at all!


People ride cars because buses are infrequent. If buses were frequent, then people would ride buses. This is a simple experiment. Buy 20,000 vans, hire 40,000 drivers, and run the vans on every fourth street every 15 minutes.
Is this cheaper than cars? Cars cost 4,000$ per year each. So two car families become one car families and car use declines by 90%.
Do this before you spend a billion dollars on some kind of subway. The, after you've tried this, design your subway to take advantage of the van system as a feeder.

If you have more frequent services and more comprehensive services to suburbs then you DECREASE the average pax per k number.

You seem to be assuming a fixed number of customers.

Which is exactly the defeatist, bad business attitude of public transport operators across the West...


Read my other posts, it doesn't matter which way you spin it, you cant get more that 6 pax per 40 seater bus, in a perfect rushhour scenario, a 40 seater will start empty, end full and return empty, result an average load of 25% or 10 pax, I am pro public transport, just not bad public transport


I have been largely silent on buses because they are not a long term solution (other than as shuttles to neighborhood rail stops). In many ways better than cars and SUVs, but not good enough. Electric trolley buses (roughly) use 5x as much electricity as a tram. Diesel buses much worse.

As for "larger uses of electricity to support electrified transportation", I will point out that France uses 2.3% of her electricity for transportation (USA 0.19%). My dreams of rail for the USA could be realized if 4% of US electricity went to transportation.

Electrified rail is EXTRAORDINARILY energy efficient. Using double stack containers on electrified rail vs. heavy trucks trades 17 to 20 joules of diesel for one joule of electricity. Urban rail gives comparable #s when changes in urban form are considered.

Australia can surely conserve electricity faster than electrified rail can be built. I see no need for a massive growth in electrical generation to accommodate electrified transportation unless Australia moves massively to personal EVs.

Best Hopes for Energy Efficiency,



I know you are the "rail guy", but I see rail as a long distance (inter city) solution, basically a replacement for air travel. My problem with it intracity is that it gains efficiency from numbers and distance which is counter productive, not to mention it is 19th century technology. I am not a fan of PRT either, fine for airports, but as a intracity replacement it will not work, if you look closely at any PRT mock up on youtube you'll quickly notice there are 10x as many cars as PRT units, when you have the same number the problem moves from the roads to the PRT track, they are little more than autopiloted private vehicles.

My particular hobby horse (though no city/government is brave enough to do it) would be an automated GRT Monorail system. it has the following advantages

1/ Capacity (GRT is 8-12 pax per unit units can couple during rushhours like a train)
2/ Electrification
3/ Automation as there is no "other body" collision risk
4/ Community - we have to learn to share our resources
5/ Silent - so it can run through building

Maybe in my lifetime, but more likely a proliferation of EVs


Urban Rail, unlike buses, creates it's own ridership over time.

It facilitates walkable neighborhoods. I have consistently stated that the indirect energy savings from Urban Rail exceed the direct saviings.

Confirmed again from a recent study (commentary with links to APTA study)


I am NOT coming from a typical rail fan POV. Airplanes are more my "thing" (I am co-moderator for the Boeing board).

I moved to an extremely walkable neighborhood (Lower Garden District of New Orleans) and discovered how essential the streetcars were to it's existence.

But even absent the TOD effect (more than half of the energy savings), Urban Rail has good real world #s for energy efficiency. And the advantage of non-oil energy. In an oil constrained future, the marginal costs and marginal energy use for heavier passenger volumes will be below the average costs and energy use (i.e heavier use reduces average costs and energy use). That is until we hit the maximum.


Best Hopes,'


Thanks, Mark, for the table on fuel usage. So everyone should ask the question: who can and should save how much?
We have the summit 2020

this weekend. According to projections by the late Dr. Bakhtiari, global oil production will be 30% less by 2020. Australian oil production may drop by even a higher percentage. So apply this to your above rule of thumb for private cars. Commuting down by 60% and personal use down by 90%. And this does not distinguish between car usage in capital cities and rural areas. If we want to maintain a reasonable level of usage in agricultural areas, savings demanded from capital city motorists will be even higher.

These rough calculations do not include any constraints imposed by the kind of petrol/diesel mix our or the Singapore refineries produce.

I wrote 120 emails to participants in the groups

Future Directions for the Australian Economy
Population, sustainability, climate change and water

warning them that Capital city motorists will have 80% less fuels available by 2020. Not even mandatory car pooling can achieve this. Therefore, large scale long-distance commuting by private car the way we know it now will be history by then. This means that all toll-way companies will go out of business.

The IEA wrote in their 2007 medium term oil market report:

”Despite four years of high oil prices, this report sees increasing market tightness beyond 2010, with Opec’s spare capacity declining to minimal levels by 2012"

As if the market weren't tight already now. So this is diplomatic language for oil shortages.

Given this short time, the only "solution" to

(a) rescue toll-way companies and the superfunds who invested in these projects
(b) keep subcentres in capital cities connected

is to re-negotiate all deals done between the State governments and those tollway operators to allow them to make business with rail lines on their road corridors, repeating what Transperth has done. Where space is not available on median strips or where there are only 2 lanes, mandatory car pooling may be required during construction. When these projects are completed, less car lanes will be needed anyway. As Mark was rightly saying, it is very urgent now to order the rail cars necessary to run this new surface metro.

With every month of indecision and continuing debate the situation will get worse.


I hope that it is appropriate to repost what I originally posted on "National Liquid Fuels Vulnerability Assessment". The scope of this article is broader and addresses some issues not addressed in the earlier article, so the post below is not as broad as it could be.
May I suggest a Strategy to Reduce Australia's Vulnerability ?

Create a Non-Oil Transportation Alternative.

1) Electrify the railroads (at least half the track mileage), and induce freight to move from truck to rail by any of a variety of means. This also means less oil for roads repairs.

2) Construct either a high speed rail (300 kph) for passengers and packages only, or a semi-high speed rail (175 to 200 kph) for both passengers and express freight (such as fruit & vegetables, fish, critical inventory, etc.) from Adelaide to Brisbane. Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne would be a logical first phase.

I suspect that semi-HSR would have greater value at lower cost. Sydney-Melbourne might support one track at 300 kph and two tracks at 175 kph.

Combined with regular speed trains, such a system could provide a non-oil alternative for perhaps half of domestic air travel.

3) Rapidly expand trams, including some high value-high cost projects (Sydney comes to mind). Melbourne has a good system that could be improved, and all major Australian cities could be brought up to the Melbourne standard.

France intends to build 1,500 km of new tram lines in the next decade, some in cities as small as 100,000. Adjust for population and this puts Australia at 500 km of new tram lines.

4) Electrified commuter rail lines can be expanded significantly throughout Australia. Perth has just more than doubled it's commuter rail lines, yet still more can be done even there. (And Perth lacks trams).

5) Bicycles need to find a place for transport in Australia. Paris was "bike hostile" yet they have had great success with velibs (rental bicycles with kiosks every 600 m or so throughout Paris, first half hour free). More bike lanes and simply a change in attitude (commercials, TV programs, etc.) are likely needed IMVHO.

6) More walkable neighborhoods and less sprawl. Zoning and other changes are useful, but simply building more trams and higher petrol prices will do a lot to move in this direction.

Best Hopes,

Alan Drake

Points of Disagreement, or Clarification needed

...indicative scale could be a currently unforeseen 20 – 50% addition to national electricity demand by 2030)

Electrified rail uses 0.19% of USA electricity and 2.3% of French electricity today. My dreams for USA non-oil transportation could be meet with 4% of USA electricity.

If there was a massive shift to personal electric vehicles and minimal electric rail, perhaps these figures would come to pass (I am unsure).

Electrified rail is *SO* much more efficient than oil powered rubber tires (17 and 20 to 1 gains in efficiency) that one should not assume a simple energy mode transfer.

The first critical step for freight rail in Australia does not even depend on electrification – it is simply the extensive and costly new trackworks needed to unblock the Sydney bottleneck and transform rail capacity and performance between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Diesel hauled rail on these heavily trafficked corridors can make a big contribution to reducing road freight haulage and transport emissions. Electrification is the logical next step.

Electrification increases acceleration and braking. This increases, as a rule of thumb, rail capacity by 15% and average speed by 5% to 15%. So one should not uncouple the issues of capacity, delivery times and electrification as the above statement does.

I am fully supportive of increased rail grade separation (including rail over rail viaducts) but electrification is a very capable tool in rail capacity planning, not an afterthought.

Best Hopes for Good Work becoming a bit better,


Hi Alan, what are your views on battery / hybrid electric locomotives. Do you think they could offer a fast switch to electrified rail when only some sections of the track (ideally around the stations) are electrified in conjunction with installation of wind turbines. The costs of electrification would be reduced as the total distance electrified would be less, the train could accelerate with power from the grid, then rely on its battery / engine to maintain speed to the next station.

The latest high speed train designs have no locomotive units, instead they have all motors on board the passenger carriages. Do you see a way that rail can be connected across oceans to offer an alternative to airlines?


One nice thing about having a such a large and long lived installed base, is that one can look to what they have done in the real world instead of just speculating.

Battery locos are used, on rare occasions, in switchyards and local industrial sidings and that is about it. It is cheaper (and easier) to electrify than to deal with batteries.

There is also nothing new about EMUs (self propelled cars that can operate alone or in trains) and Ed Tennyson is a great fan of them for commuter lines.

Off-peak run one or two EMUs to provide decent frequency service mid-day, late in the evening and on weekends. During peak service run a mix of loco + cars consets and EMUs ganged together in a train (typically 5 or 6 EMUs).

All of the Japanese main islands are connected by rail tunnels (Hokkaido-Honshu is the longest rail tunnel in the world), the Chunnel and a new link between Germany and Denmark (> Sweden) is underway.

I never foresee an Ireland-Great Britain, Cuba-Florida, Bering Straits, etc. tunnels. Economics work against it.

A standard gauge, semi-high speed rail link from China to the EU is underway via Kazakhstan. One link south through Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey and Bulgaria and the other north via Russia and Ukraine.

A Hugo Chavez idea of a rail line east of the Andes from Venezuela to Argentina has some merit, perhaps with links to Brazil, Columbia and Chile (bad politics ATM).

The UN has studied some interesting rail links.


See "Corridors" on left side.


Alan, regarding my "20 to 50%" I put in a deliberately high range to get people's attention. It worked. I agree electric rail is the most energy-efficient means of land transport and needs surprisingly little of a nation's electricity – thanks for that figure of 2.3% for France.

My big percentage range envisages large-scale take-up of battery electric or plug-in hybrid cars as well as more electrified rail. Call me an optimist if you like but I would buy an electric car tomorrow even if it only has a range of 30 km (20 miles) and a maximum speed of 80 km/h (50 mph). That's enough to get to the train station in bad weather, do the heavy grocery shopping and all the other short-haul local trips. Something tiny like an electric Smart or the Indian Reva which our road safety bureaucrats refuse to allow into Australia.

I have not yet done careful analysis of the power demands of large-scale take-up of plug-in electric cars. It could be 20% of current load as Gilbert & Perl suggest but may be much less as you say. Furthermore there should be all sorts of demand smoothing benefits from adding distributed plug-in battery storage to the electricity distribution grid, so the net impacts will need close assessment.

I see a lot of potential in aligning electricity supply with demand and vice versa. Australia has a robust grid and exceptional resources of time-variable electricity from wind and solar which could perfectly match the charging needs of electric cars, and allow the stored electricity in batteries to even out peaks in supply and demand.

In this country we have only just started to exploit our world-best wind resources where the coasts of Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia encounter the Roaring Forties. In addition we have large areas of desert ideal for Concentrating Solar with high insolation and little cloud cover, located reasonably close to the electricity grid. It may sound like a bad message for conservation but Australia could run as much air conditioning as it likes provided it puts in the Concentrating Solar plants to supply the power – peak time of day for air conditioning corresponds closely with peak output time from solar.

So provided we get on with building wind farms and Concentrating Solar as fast as possible we have every reason to charge ahead with electrifying our rail and road transport systems, confident we will be able to retire coal-fired power stations while adding new transport loads (I am not a doomer).

On another of your points, freight rail is highly successful on certain legs in Australia. The long haul to Perth is the best example, using double-stacked containers like you do in the US. Our big problem is the almost complete blockage of rail through Sydney created by decades of chronic underinvestment, and the success of urban passenger transit in occupying all available slots which can be used for through-traffic. Practically the only freight slots through Sydney are in the middle of the night which leads to resident complaints about diesel engine noise!

The answers are well known and consist of massive costly track engineering such as a new up-and-over TGV-like electric passenger route across the 30 kilometres of mountainous river gorge terrain immediately north of Sydney to free up the existing heavily graded and curved dual-track alignment for freight trains. Then there are the other two problems of the remaining 800 kilometres of Victorian-era up, down and around rail track all the slow way to Brisbane, and the challenge of threading a new freight path through Sydney's tangled mess of heavily-used suburban passenger lines. At least the last of these problems is probably solvable at ground level with minimum tunnelling, if the Not In My Back Yard local pressure groups in each suburb can be won over.

Cheers, Mark