Multiple Birds – One Silver BB: A synergistic set of solutions to multiple issues focused on Electrified Railroads

This post was written by Alan Drake in response to an indirect query from an elected official. We wanted to put it up on The Oil Drum and let the infamous "TOD Meatgrinder" help vet the proposals--so we hope you will help Alan out. From what Alan tells me, this is a real shot at influencing public policy.


    • Excessive Oil Consumption by the USA, much higher than OECD average
    • Economic, Energy, and Environmental costs with related National Security issues that result from excessive oil consumption
    • No Real Plan to Significantly Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
    • Lack of Non-Oil Transportation: there are no alternatives for essential transportation that don’t use oil
    • Inadequate Railroad Capacity
    • Speed and reliability of today’s Rail Freight cannot compete with Truck Freight for many cargoes
    • Weak Electrical Grid with limited inter-regional transmission and stability problems
    • Lack of markets and transmission capacity for remote Prime Wind Farm Sites
    • Chronic Under-investment in long lived, beneficial infrastructure

The Silver BB

    • Electrify 36,000 miles of mainline railroads
    • Expand Railroad capacity and speed by adding double tracks, better signals and more grade separation
    • New 110 mph tracks for passengers and freight added to existing rail ROWs as a second step
    • In many, but not all cases, use the railroad ROW as new electrical transmission line corridors
    • Promote the use of rail lines, usually spur lines, as wind turbine sites with rail transported cranes and materials
    • Take advantage of the lower marginal economic costs of railroads, where the more we use it, the less it costs per unit. A diffuse economic benefit for many sectors of the economy.

The consensus on The Oil Drum is that there is no single “Silver Bullet” to deal with our related energy, oil and climate change problems, Rather a series of “Silver BBs” will be needed. This essay is about a cost effective, medium term, multi-faceted, synergistic Silver BB arguably our best one.

The USA has almost no Non-Oil Transportation and no real plans to create a parallel alternative to our existing Oil Based Transportation system. This is a deliberate policy choice because other nations, such as France, are moving aggressively to create a comprehensive Non-Oil Transportation system (see Appendix One).

Electrifying our freight rail system will provide a Non-Oil Transportation alternative in an oil emergency, whether acute or chronic. Regardless of oil prices or availability, there would be a backbone of essential long distance transportation that requires no oil. And the USA, with Peak Oil arriving, appears to be moving rapidly towards a chronic oil price and affordability emergency.

This was the aborted response to the last oil crisis:

Properly done, relatively small federal incentives can stimulate a roughly $90 billion investment in a short time period with a wide range of benefits, in large part due to the rapidly shifting economics of oil use.

A Major Benefit - Reduced Oil Use

Oil can be saved from the diesel that railroads use today (231,000 barrels/day in 2006) and from truck freight (2,552,000 barrels/day in 2006) by switching to electrified rail. Trucks carry about a quarter fewer ton-miles than rail, but with 11 times the oil.

The USA has 177,000 miles of railroads, with the Department of Defense classifying 32,421 miles as strategic (STRACNET). These selected rail lines correlate closely, but not exactly, with what are considered “main line” railroads. DoD only selected one rail line when two main lines parallel and a few main lines are not considered strategic. 36,000 miles should cover all of the main lines.

The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) suggests that the 36,000 miles of main line railroad should carry 80% of the railroad ton-miles, and burn 80% of the fuel (there being no electrified freight lines in the USA), or 185,000 barrels/day.

Electrifying 36,000 miles of US railroads could take as little as six years with “Maximum Commercial Urgency” (see Appendix Two). The Russians electrified the Trans-Siberian Railroad in 2002 and to the Arctic port of Murmansk in 2005, so there are no technical obstacles to electrifying American railroads. [See Appendix Three for an overview of foreign electrified rail lines].

However, this calculation of 185,000 barrels of oil/day saved seriously underestimates the fuel saving potential, especially in an oil constrained future, Transferring just 8% of the truck ton-miles to electrified rail would save another 204,000 barrel/day. Transferring half would save 1,276,000 barrels/day, plus the 185,000 barrels/day for 1,461,000 barrels/day saved (roughly equal to ANWR at its peak, but electrified rail does not deplete - which ANWR inevitably will). Transferring 85% of truck freight to rail, and electrifying half of US railroads, which the author considers to be possible with a large enough investment (see Appendix Four), would save 2.3 to 2.4 million barrels/day. That is 12% of USA oil used today for all purposes, not just transportation.

This dwarfs any other “silver BB” being actively discussed that can be implemented quickly. And best yet, no new technology is required. This analysis shows that the major oil savings are in transferring freight from trucks to electrified rail. Electrified rail passenger service is an added, but unspecified, bonus.

Electric Grid and Renewable Energy Benefits

Electrification will likely require substations every 20 to 30 miles, depending on the voltage chosen and the traffic density. In the more remote areas, the railroads will not be able to tap into the local grid and will have to bring their own high voltage lines with them, as Amtrak does on the Northeast Corridor from Washington DC to New Haven Connecticut. This will require new electrical maintenance work crews at the railroads, with supporting infrastructure, hired and built from scratch.

One innovative alternative is to use the existing railroad ROWs as electrical transmission corridors and have electrical utilities sell “Power at the Wire” to the railroads, if the railroads prefer that option. What would be a headache and a problem to the railroads - providing both high and medium voltage transmission along their ROW - is a scarce and valuable asset to the electric utilities.

The utilities will deal with one landowner instead of 10,000, two or three years to build instead of twelve years: a new customer immediately underneath their wires and special tax and financing incentives. The railroads can chose to go into the electrical transmission business if they so wish, or just supply their own needs, or buy “power at the wire” and let someone else perform their core competency while the railroads do theirs.

I would suggest both HV AC and HV DC transmission in many corridors, with HV DC being the long haul, high volume (only 5% loss per 1,000 miles) transmission and HV AC being the regional feeder and the feeder to the trolley wire.

A secondary benefit of these new transmission corridors will be to provide new markets for renewable, especially wind generated, electricity. In particular, HV DC could supply markets that are over 1,000 miles away.

Rail spur lines could also serve as sites for long rows of wind turbines. Today, the size of wind turbines is often limited by the capacity of local roads and bridges to support the large cranes involved, even though “larger and taller” is better in wind turbine economics. Rail mounted or rail delivered cranes to a series of wind turbines could potentially install 5 MW wind turbines now seen only at sea.

Rail spurs always connect to main line railroads and the HV transmission on these main lines could ship power to markets in distant cities and states.

If we wants significant improvements to our nations electrical grid within a decade, to support a more reliable grid and more renewable generation, electrified rail corridors are the best, and perhaps the only, hope.

More discussion in Appendix Five.

Energy and Environmental Benefits

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.

Transferring 100% of inter-city truck traffic (impractical) to electrified railroads, plus electrifying all (not 80%) of the existing rail traffic, would take about 100 TWh/year or 2.3% of total US electrical demand. Electrifying 80% of railroad ton-miles and transferring half of current truck freight to rail would take about 1% of US electricity. 1% is an amount that could be easily conserved, or, with less ease, provided by new renewable generation and/or new nuclear plants.

Such dramatic savings from shifting trucks to electrified rail means that electricity from modern coal plants, the worst environmental option to power electrified railroads, is still a large net environmental positive. The ability to use non-Greenhouse Gas sources of electricity, renewable and nuclear, creates the very real possibility of both Non-Oil and Non-GHG Transportation systems.

Appendix Six discusses this in more detail.

Economic Benefits

Electric locomotives can accelerate and brake faster because electric motors can be (and are) routinely run above their rated power for up to an hour without damage. The on-board diesel generator of a diesel-electric locomotive cannot supply this surge of power, but a trolley wire can. This extra acceleration and braking creates a 15% increase in track capacity for freight trains, as well as faster transit speeds.

In commuter train service, travel times are typically cut by 15% with electrification, which reduces labor and rolling stock costs and will increase ridership. All of these factors will reduce local subsidies for commuter rail, even at increased levels of service.

SBB (Swiss Rail) will operate up to 300 trains/day, at mixed speeds of 110 to 240 kph (66 to 150 mph) and with trains up to 1.5 km long, through a 58 km dual bore tunnel. Such volumes would be impossible without electrification. Few dual track US rail lines, operating with diesel-electric locomotives, can handle more than 100 trains/day.

Adding capacity for “rubber tires” (trucks, cars and SUVs) costs more for each additional unit (in capital or congestion costs). Adding just one lane to a freeway can cost more than the original freeway, even after adjusting for inflation. The more we use rubber tires, the more the average cost rises - a negative cost elasticity of demand.

On the other hand, rail, both freight and urban, has a positive cost elasticity of demand, Adding additional capacity lowers average costs instead of raising them, since the marginal cost of new capacity is typically lower than the initial cost per unit of capacity. Electrification by itself increases rail capacity by roughly 15% due to faster acceleration and braking and costs much less than 15% of a new rail line.

In simplest form, a double track railroad can carry 3x to 4x the freight of a single track railroad, but adding back a track torn up in the 1960s will not double costs. Some infrastructure, such as ROW and signals, can be used for either one or two tracks. Improved signals are an even more cost effective means of adding capacity than adding track.

Not only will double tracking dramatically increase capacity, it will also increase speed and reliability since trains will not have to queue for their turn or wait on a passing siding as trains come the opposite direction on a single track. This lowers labor, rolling stock and customer costs (the costs of slow transit and uncertainty about delivery dates).

Road damage is roughly proportional to the fourth power of the axle load. A 20,000 lb axle causes 16 times as much damage as a 10,000 axle, and 160,000 times as much damage as a 1,000 lb axle (wider tires mitigate the effect slightly). The net result is that 99% of the traffic damage to roads and highways comes from trucks and buses and far exceeds any fuel taxes paid. Removing as many trucks as possible (and shifting to Urban Rail with smaller feeder buses) is the best hope for keeping road maintenance affordable.

A massive capital spending program on long lived infrastructure that eliminates oil use is a nearly ideal economic stimulus. The majority of spending should be for domestic goods and services.

Rail freight is also significantly safer than heavy truck freight per ton-mile. Another economic, and human, benefit that could save thousands of lives each year. Electric rail should generate significantly less pollution, even after accounting for electrical generation.

The cost of electricity BTUs are much lower than the cost of diesel BTUs today, and are likely to stay cheaper and more stable. The only significant imports of electricity are from Canadian hydroelectric projects, which are superior to Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil imports in several ways.

National Defense Benefits

Nations can be defeated in two ways: on the battlefield or by collapse of the Home Front. During World War I, both Russia and Germany were defeated by a collapse of their respective home fronts.

In the author’s rough judgment, if the USA lost 6 to 7 million barrels/day of oil imports for 24 to 30 months, without any preparation or warning, and with a less than ideal crisis response, not only would the US economy collapse, but food distribution would become erratic as the effects of severe oil shortages cascade over time. If the USA cannot even feed its citizens, it is effectively defeated.

Military analysts will immediately think of the Islamic Republic of Arabia replacing Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, or the Straits of Hormuz being blockaded, or submarines around the Straits of Malacca stopping the flow of oil as part of a larger conflict. These are all credible threats to our national security and survival.

There is a different threat, rarely considered. If the US dollar collapses, and the USA has to buy oil with its exports, cash instead of credit, oil imports could be reduced by 6 to 7 million barrels/day, depending upon the scenario. Such an economic scenario has the unpleasant result of the USA being defeated, but surrendering to no one. A siege without end.

A related threat is posed by the post-Peak Oil world, where world oil exports are collapsing faster than world oil production. The economies of oil exporters boom, expanding domestic consumption and reducing their exports significantly faster than their production declines. A half dozen years after world oil and “all liquids” production peaks, world oil exports (not production, but exports) can be reduced by half, two thirds, or more. A number of real world examples of this Export Land Model have surfaced in the last few years. In the author’s opinion, this is the most likely scenario and a very real threat to national security - even survival.

Creating a Non-Oil Transportation System

Electrified railroads, a massive build–out of Urban Rail, much more bicycling and many more walkable neighborhoods, could insulate the USA from the worst effects of a prolonged oil emergency from any cause. Switzerland and Sweden used precisely these strategies to survive and function during six year long, 100% oil embargoes. The most crucial of these four elements of Non-Oil Transportation is electrified railroads but all four will be needed.

36,000 miles of electrified and expanded rail lines could provide a Non-Oil transportation backbone for this nation for both essential goods and some passengers. Total volumes would likely decline with the economic stress, so almost all freight (and many passengers) could be transported long distances without oil. Trucks could be used only for local deliveries and sites remote from rail sidings, just as the USA did during World War II.

The Best Policy by Every Metric

An as yet unpublished analysis by the Millennium Institute using their T21 model strongly implies that a combined policy of a maximum push for renewable energy with a maximum push for electrified transportation (railroads and Urban Rail) gives the largest GDP, the largest reduction in Greenhouse Gases and the Largest reduction in oil consumption over decade and longer time horizons,

The best Economic Policy is the best Environmental Policy and the best Energy Policy ! And such a policy combination also has extremely positive National Defense implications. With some justification it could also be called the best National Defense Policy as well.

Just two major policy initiatives, renewable energy and electrified rail (Urban & freight) address every major public policy conundrum. If pursued with extreme vigor, these two policies, combined, are better than every other examined alternative.

One interesting observation is the positive effects of these two policies were not simply additive but multiplicative. There is a subtle but strong synergy between these two policies for the economy, energy and the environment.

The limitations of the Millennium Institute project did not allow for modeling increased transportation bicycling, but there is no doubt that any increase in bicycle modal share can only improve the results by every metric.

The First Step (Small)

Politics is the art of the possible. If only minimal funding of $1 billion/year or so is possible to support electrified rail, despite the enumerated benefits, then leverage is needed.

Most states are served by one or two Class I railroads, making a local monopoly or duopoly. Regionally, most of the Western USA is served by Union Pacific and/or BN-SF and the Eastern USA by Norfolk Southern and CSX. Canadian Pacific, Canadian National and Kansas City Southern provide a third Class I alternative in a few states.

This lack of competition stifles innovation. However, once one member of a duopoly successfully innovates, the other member is compelled to match them.

The issue then is to ignite the spark and get at least two of the Class I railroads (one each in the East and West) to make the first move. Such a “chain reaction” will not result in the fastest possible electrification and expansion, but it will eventually get us there.

The incentives given to the first six nuclear power plants are a model for the “chain reaction” needed. Applied to railroads, this would give incentives to the first railroad to electrify (East & West) and none for the second or third. Of course, if two or three railroads electrify at about the same time (hopefully), the incentives would be split.

One way, of many, to ignite this spark would be to grant $1 billion/year (inflation adjusted) for ten years as a 25% tax credit for electrification, with no more than 66% going to either East or West of the Mississippi River. These benefits would be granted when placed into commercial service, then – and this is a crucial point - put on both a “first come, first served” and accrued basis.

To illustrate if $3 billion worth of tax credits are issued in 2011 for $12 billion of electrification, which would be $2 billion in excess of that years tax credit budget, the overage would be issued tax credits good for the 2012 and 2013 tax years. Any work completed in 2012 would be issued tax credits usable in 2014 and beyond until the tax credits are exhausted.

This accrual of limited tax benefits would place a premium on being first to complete electrification - which serves public policy goals admirably. And railroads that failed to join the rush to electrify would be forced by competitive pressures to electrify without tax incentives at a later date.

Ten years of $1 billion (2008 $) of 25% tax credits would support $40 billion worth (2008 $) of electrification. $40 billion of electrification should electrify about 16,000 miles of US rail lines.

The First Step (Large)

The USA needs to start electrifying our main line railroads. The railroads can do it, or utilities can do it and sell “Power at the Wire” to the railroads, and use the railroad ROWs as transmission corridors, strengthening our electrical grid and providing Non-Oil Transportation.

The United States of America needs electrified rail done as soon as possible, given the growing crisis in energy and climate. The “First Step (Small)” is clearly inadequate to the looming crisis.

The preferred alternative is to get everybody to electrify everything as fast as possible. The author believes that a fixed incentive would create delay and cautious evaluation in the early years, with a mad rush as the incentives expiration nears. A carefully timed decline in incentives, rewarding first movers the most but still providing reduced incentives for laggards, would have the greatest public policy benefit, i.e. the most electrified miles ASAP.

We also need to increase capacity, speed and reliability of rail shipments to better serve the economy and to attract more shipments from trucks.

Some Possible Incentives

A declining investment tax credit - An example, a 25% investment tax credit for electrification, given only when the electrification infrastructure is operational, that is flat at 25% for the first 30 months and then declines by 1% a quarter for four years to 9% and then continues at that level for several years. The electrification tax credit would be available to either railroads or electric utilities.

Since the major oil savings come from shifting truck freight to rail, increasing capacity by just 15% from electrification is clearly inadequate. Perhaps half of this tax credit (12.5%) could be offered for double tracking, improved signals and other measures that increase rail capacity, speed and improve reliability on electrified rail lines. No tax credit should be given for improvements to rail lines that are not electrified. A slightly slower decline in the investment tax credit could be justified for these improvements. Perhaps 12.5% for five years, then a half percent/year decline to 9%..

Reduced cost of capital - Railroads are a capital intensive business. To build out electrification and to expand and improve rail service as a viable Non-Oil Transportation alternative for all types of freight will require hundreds of billions of dollars. Lowering this cost, and making the capital available as needed, is a daunting challenge that needs federal support.

One alternative is Industrial Revenue bonds - a lower cost to the railroads and a higher cost to the US Treasury. However, a series of delays are endemic in issuing these bonds. A policy decision is needed to determine whether we should encourage these or not.

Another alternative is an US Treasury guarantees for railroad or electric utility bonds issued to support electrification and improvements to electrified rail lines. Such guarantees would use the rail lines as collateral. These bonds could be issued quickly, in volume and at reduced cost to the railroads or utilities.

One needs to remember that the USA is facing a growing and ever more desperate crisis fueled by a lack of oil at affordable prices. Such a slow motion but extraordinary crisis requires extraordinary measures.

Property Tax Exemptions or Caps – The traditional reason/excuse given by US railroads for not electrifying is that the electrification infrastructure will be subject to heavy property taxes, and railroad diesel is tax free. This is an obstacle not faced by other national railroads, most of which have electrified (See Appendix Three).

It appears that both the Interstate Commerce and Common Defense clauses of the US Constitution give the federal government the power to regulate local property taxes on interstate commerce common carriers.

One approach is to give property tax exemptions on new infrastructure for a limited time. Perhaps a 30 year property tax exemption for electrification and capacity expansion infrastructure completed by 2010, with that exemption shrinking by three years for each additional calendar year.

One possibility to assist local taxing jurisdictions would be to place a cap on their prospective losses for new infrastructure. Local taxing jurisdictions that lose more than, say, 0,3% of their revenues, could have the excess above 0.3% compensated by the federal government. Such a cap would dramatically cut the cost to the federal government. And once the property tax exemption expired, they would have new property to tax. There are many other possibilities.

Refocus Highway Improvements – Vehicle miles traveled are dropping and with that, the need for additional lane miles. Refocus highway improvements on railroad grade separation and improving access to inter-modal rail-truck-barge facilities.

State and locally owned railroads (Alaskan RR, Long Island RR, various port RRs, commuter rail lines and various branch lines) would receive XX% federal matching funds. I would suggest the same percentage used to build the Interstate Highway System, 90% federal matching then, 80% now.

A never before considered funding source, that follows Senator Russell Long’s famous dictum “Don’t Tax You, Don’t Tax Me, Let’s Tax that Fellow behind the Tree” is discussed at

This could finance the massive rush to electrification and quite a bit of Urban Rail as well. And it reasonable to expect that those taxed would strongly support lower US oil consumption.

The Second Step – Semi-High Speed Rail

CSX has proposed an upgrade for its East Coast Line from Washington DC to Miami that should serve as a model for a national system of 14,000 or so miles. CSX proposes to grade separate the entire 1,200 miles, and run regular freight trains at 60 to 70 mph on two tracks. Between Richmond and Miami, there would be one track for passenger service at 110 mph, and two semi-high speed tracks between Washington DC and Richmond.

SBB (SwissRail) has firm plans for a new express freight service, with special streamlined cars, at 160 kph (100 mph). The CSX and SBB concepts should be merged and both 100 mph express freight and 110 mph passenger service should be run on new tracks built on existing railroad ROWs.

The USA does not have enough rail passenger demand to justify more than isolated sections of high or semi-high speed rail passenger only service. The author’s position is that EU and Japanese style High Speed Rail is wasteful of both scarce capital and energy at this time,

HSR costs much more per mile than semi-HSR and cannot handle medium density freight, only passengers and light parcels. CSX estimates 1,200 miles of semi-HSR will cost $15 to $25 billion which is much lower per mile than any of the varying California estimates for High Speed Rail. Energy consumption increases with the square of the speed, a 190 mph train will use 3 times as much energy as a 110 mph train, a 220 mph train 4 times as much. The USA is not France: we simply cannot afford the “best” service in this generation and we do not have the energy to waste on maximum speed.

However, if express freight demand (with refrigerated vegetables and fruit being high volume customers) is combined with passenger demand, a viable national system can be created combining passenger service at 100 to 125 mph with express freight at 90 to 100 mph on existing but upgraded ROWs. The two concepts would work synergistically, operate on existing railroad ROWs and would economically justify a widespread network. Reliable 90 to 100 mph freight service should take modal share not only from trucks, but from air freight as well, vastly expending the scope of Non-Oil Transportation.

First Steps - Other Non-Oil Transportation

Vastly expanding Urban Rail, in towns as small as 100,000 (see Appendix One) has the potential to mitigate an oil emergency as much as electrifying freight railroads. An excellent first step would be to build “on-the-shelf” projects that could start construction (and create jobs) in 12 to 36 months from a national decision.

A jobs program focused on Urban Rail could create oil saving infrastructure that will last over a century,

Regional passenger rail, serving travel from 100 to 300 or 500 miles, has the potential to expand dramatically with an expanded and electrified rail system, with notable oil savings. Cross-country Amtrak is unlikely to gain significant market share, except in an extremely oil constrained future. Generally, in OECD nations, rail modal share drops quickly as trip times exceed three hours.

Additional non-published work is on-going for increased transportation bicycling and encouraging walkable neighborhoods and Transit Orientated development.

Necessary, but not Sufficient

Electrifying America’s Railroads is not going to be enough to solve our energy and environmental problems without many other Silver BBs. But it is difficult to model a realistic solution that does not include electrifying our railroads and shifting much of our truck freight to rail.

The question is not “if” we will electrify our railroads, but “when” and “how fast.”

Best Hopes,

Alan Drake

Appendix One

France – A Comprehensive Non-Oil Transportation System

    • High Speed Inter-City Rail
    • Inter-City Freight Rail
    • Urban Rail
    • Bicycles
    • Walkable Neighborhoods

President Chirac made it a national goal to electrify “every meter” of the French National railroads (SNCF) and “burn not one drop of oil.” This goal was set on January 1st, 2006 with a twenty-year deadline.

France has been building their famous TGV lines for over 30 years, one line at a time. Now that the original Paris-centric system is 100 km from completion, a new network of additions, bypassing Paris, have been announced and for the first time three different TGV lines are simultaneously under construction.

France has had an aggressive tram (Light Rail) building program for over fifteen years, with only five French towns of population 100,000 or more without a tram or plans for one. Recently, France has stepped up the pace with plans for 1,500 km of new tram lines (22 billion euros) in the next decade.

And then there is vélib’, rental bicycles scattered every few hundred meters in almost a dozen French cities, typically with the first half hour free. A French bicycling initiative has a stated goal of 10% of urban trips by bicycle in 2010. Bicycle lanes and paths have been built, but so far only 3% of trips are on bicycles. This statistic is up from slightly more than 1%, so it is difficult to call the program a true failure.

During a prolonged oil emergency this new bicycling infrastructure, and the vélib’, will see good use. A French Strategic Bicycling Reserve ? In the USA, only Portland, Oregon and Davis, California (to the author’s knowledge) exceed the French average.

Mulhouse, France (population 110,900, metro 271,000) illustrates just how comprehensive the French program can be in a best case. This remote town where France, Germany and Switzerland meet, got its first tram (Light Rail) line in 2006. By 2012, they will have 58 km (34 miles) of new tram lines (they would also have had a tram line to Basel Switzerland if Franco-Swiss co-operation had been better).

In 2011, Mulhouse will be the temporary terminus of a new TGV line and 200 vélib’, (rental bicycles) have recently been installed.

The end result is that by 2012 a resident of Mulhouse can walk out their door, grab a vélib’, drop it off at the tram station or just walk, take the tram to the TGV station and be in Paris in 4 or so hours – or be anywhere in France in a long day, all with a drop or two of lubricating oil and minimal carbon footprint.

In the non-transportation area, France is installing large numbers of solar hot water heaters and geothermal heat pumps. With significant difficulty and economic loss, France could adapt to a prolonged loss of a large fraction of their imported oil.

Switzerland started building their Non-Oil Transportation system in the 1920’s as a national defense policy. This policy enabled Switzerland to endure a six year 100% oil embargo during WW II with a functional industrial economy, democratic institutions and a deterrent defense.

Germany, unlike France, kept their urban rail network after WW II and has been steadily enhancing it instead of rebuilding it in a crash program. They are also building a high speed rail network, but at a slower pace than France and have world class insulation and energy efficiency standards.

Appendix Two

How quickly can the USA Electrify our Railroads ?

I contacted the premier US consultant I know of on this issue, John Schumann P.E. of LTK Engineering. He graciously gave me several hours of his time to work out a schedule for electrifying US railroads.

We assumed Maximum Commercial Urgency, the maximum effort that people driven by the profit motive can sustain on large scale projects. War time efforts are a step above Maximum Commercial Urgency since national survival is clearly at stake (the development of tar sands in Alberta Canada is a contemporary example of Maximum Commercial Urgency).

We agreed to five groups. Four would be run by the four major Class I railroads in the USA, Union Pacific, BN-SF, Norfolk Southern and CSX. Separate efforts by Kansas City Southern, the US divisions of Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, as well as Class II railroads such as Florida East Coast would be the equivalent of a fifth group. All five groups would make roughly equivalent efforts and try to create new electrification work teams at the rate of about eight teams/year/group, using a combination of in house labor and contracted labor. This is as fast as possible, within the boundaries of cost control (they would not be operating at war time urgency).

Our conclusion was that the following is an aggressive but possible effort for railroad electrification.

Year 1 – 0 (Design, Planning, Mobilization, Materials)
Year 2 – 5 x 500 miles = 2,500 miles
Year 3 – 5 x 1,000 miles = 5,000 miles
Year 4 – 5 x 1,500 miles = 7.500 miles
Year 5 – 5 x 2,000 miles = 10,000 miles
Year 6 – 4.5 x 2,500 miles = 11,250 miles

A total of 36,250 miles electrified in six years. The slight slowdown in the sixth year reflects a saturation of lines worth electrifying at Maximum Commercial Urgency. The low hanging fruit would have been picked.

Depending upon future oil prices and the efficiency of running an all-electric rather than mixed fuel railroad, the pace of electrification may slow after the main lines are electrified - or a prolonged oil emergency may compel further acceleration.

[Subsequent to our discussions, I discovered a never implemented 1979 contingency plan for British Rail that envisioned five teams electrifying 250 miles/year as a response to a prolonged oil emergency. This is 50 miles/year/team and we assumed 62.5 miles/year/team].

Appendix Three

Electrified Rail in Other Nations

As of 2000 (source Indian Railways*)

Route km Electrified % Electrified Switzerland 3,284 3,057 93% Japan 12,668 8,939 71%

Sweden 11,797 7,440 63%

Italy 16,146 10,030 62%

Germany 40,710 16,202 40%

France 34,837 12,611 36%

Russia 88,716 38,600 43%

Ukraine 22,631 8,348 37%

U.K. 16,938 4,911 29%

Portugal 3,068 2,132 69%

South Africa 20,319 8,976 44%

India 63,140 16,986 27%

China 61,539 16,000 26%

From Azeri Railways

Azerbaijan 2,125 1,278 60%

* This is from a paper where Indian Railways argued that 27% electrification was clearly inadequate and failed to meet international standards. 20% electrification is proposed for the USA in this article.

More Recent Data

Switzerland – Switzerland voted in 1998** for a 31 billion Swiss franc 20 year program# to improve Swiss rail with one of the main goals to move freight from trucks to (hydro) electric railroads.

Railways handle 32% of Swiss freight traffic and 16% of passenger traffic, but they use only 3% of the total energy required for all transportation.”
- SBB (SwissRail) Environmental Report

** Adjusted for population and currency, the Swiss plebiscite is comparable to USA citizens voting $1 trillion to improve our railroads and reduce oil use. The Swiss have the deserved reputation as the most conservative nation in Western Europe. Making long term investments in efficiency to reduce energy dependence is seen as a conservative value.

Finland – 42% electrified.
France – 100% electrified by 2025.

Not one drop of oil will be burned.” – President Chirac

Chile – North-South main line electrified (many years ago) and planned $2+ billion Trans-Andean link to Argentina will be electrified.

China - Plans to expand its rail system from 43,000 to 62,000 miles and electrify half of that network.

Taiwan – Just approved electrifying and partially double tracking the East Line, the last non-electrified main line.

India – 28% electrified today, recently 801 km more approved.

Iran – 148 km electrified in 2006; recently signed MOU with Russia to electrify about 400 km more.

Kazakhstan – Plans to sign contracts to electrify 2,700 km in 2009.

“Use of electric traction on railways is one of the most important technical measures to raise economic efficiency of the railway sector. For example, electric locomotives consume less energy and their exploitation takes less spending. The share of electric haulage carrier cost is 1.6 times less than on diesel traction locomotive”
- Kazakh Minister of Transportation

Korea – North – Reportedly 70% electrified in 1976.

Korea – South – 21% electrified (2000), goal is 100%.

Kyrgyz Republic – Just started electrifying ~105 km with a $100 million loan from Kuwait.

Mongolia – Seeking funding to electrify and double track 1,110 km Russia-China line (out of total 1,835 km).

Namibia & Botswana – New 1,600 km electrified rail line opens in 2009.

New Zealand – Electrification of commuter rail into Auckland approved.

Russia - Increased electrification from 43% in 2000 to 47% in 2007, including finishing electrifying the Trans-Siberian in 2002 and to the Arctic port of Murmansk in 2005. New plans call for electrifying more than 7,400 km (8.6% of current track) by 2030.

Saudi Arabia – New electrified rail line Mecca-Jeddah-Medina.

Sweden – Increased electrification from 63% in 2000 to 70% today.

Tanzania – Electrification of the main line a condition for 25-year concession

Turkey – New electrified passenger rail lines of 76 and 590 km are under construction and another new 471 km line has been announced, The status is uncertain on electrification of 1,300 km of existing rail lines previously announced.

UK – Dramatic but vague promises for massive rail electrification recently made by Government Ministers.

Appendix Four

How much truck freight can be shifted to rail?

The correct answer from several public policy perspectives is “as much as possible, as soon as possible”.

There are several variables in this calculation:

Cost - Rail is already cheaper than trucking, but trucks have a larger modal share except for the lowest value cargoes (coal, gravel, grain). The cost differential is growing rapidly, and there is a shift from truck to rail, but not fast enough for public policy goals. Electrified rail will be even cheaper than diesel rail.

Speed & Reliability – It is critical to close the speed and reliability advantage that trucks have over rail. Electrification, double tracking, track improvements and better signals will all speed up trains and reduce the uncertainty about transit times and delivery dates.

Management Philosophy - Railroads currently want to run their tracks very close to capacity and they avoid “overbuilding” at all costs. A change in business philosophy will be required to capture higher value cargoes - cargoes from shippers willing to pay a premium rate several times coal rates. For example, Union Pacific stopped carrying UPS shipments because they did not want the operational hassle of running trains on time. US railroads will need to “overbuild” and change operating procedures to get the required capacity, speed and reliability needed to attract a majority of truck freight. Federal policy can help change this with incentives.

Semi-High Speed Express Freight - Offering express freight service (with refrigeration as needed) at 90 to 100 mph will capture large segments of the truck market and part of the air freight market. Express freight service is the essential economic driver for a 14,000-mile Semi-High Speed Rail network (more published at a later date on this). Regional passenger service at 110 mph will likely be a large but secondary benefit.

Time – Time will be required for shippers to adjust to rail. For example, WalMart has gone almost exclusively to trucking and their many regional distribution centers were built with only trucks in mind. WalMart, and other like shippers, will have to build new regional distribution centers that can accept container trains from ports and domestic factories, and the railroads will need to improve service enough to attract behemoths such as WalMart. Under the pressure of ever-higher oil prices, such changes will still likely take a decade to complete (and the abandoning some not fully depreciated real estate).

In some cases, rail will come to the factories and distributors with new spur lines. In other cases, the factories and distributors will move to rail spurs. And in many cases, “the last mile” will be by truck from a local or regional rail-truck inter-modal facility. The key to such a large scale migration is improved rail service more than a cost differential.

During WW II, public/military policy was to ship everything by rail and as little as possible by truck in order to save fuel and trucks for overseas operations. Lieut. E. L. Tennyson, Office of Chief of Transportation, US Army states that 90% of ton-miles in the 48 states were by rail during WW II.

Ed Tennyson has made the rough estimation that a $250 billion investment in rail infrastructure (electrification, double tracking, no semi-High Speed Rail) would result in an eventual transfer of 67% of truck ton-miles to rail in a high oil price environment.

I believe that, in an environment of very high oil prices, an investment of $400 to $450 billion (including semi-High Speed Rail and some new rail lines) could result in an 85% shift of existing truck freight ton-miles to rail. It is difficult to calculate the long term road maintenance savings from such a shift, but that savings alone may justify such massive investments. The bulk of rail investments have 50-year useful lives.

A nation-wide improved and electrified rail system would be a very worthwhile inheritance for the next generation facing a post-Peak Oil future.

Appendix Five

Railroad Right-of-Ways as Electrical Transmission Corridors

The railroads will have no choice but to supply their own high voltage to their substations in less populated areas of the USA. This is a major additional cost but it can also be a major benefit if the larger grid uses these new transmission lines. Most railroad ROWs are 100’ wide, which allows for multiple tracks and high voltage transmission towers.

Rail lines running through densely populated states might have the option to tap into local power lines for each substation (Amtrak did this from New Haven to Boston) but there are financial advantages to selecting the lowest cost utility and paying for only one system peak charge instead of a series of local peak charges. Generally speaking, high voltage transmission is not required for electrified railroads through densely populated states, but they may still be worthwhile.

Almost all electrical transmission in the USA today is HV AC which only requires transforming down to useful voltages. Many rail lines will have a HV AC line that conforms to regional standard voltages (345 kV in Texas for example).

Some rail line ROWs may also carry HV DC lines for long distance transmission. HV DC has much lower transmission losses (5%/1000 miles) but requires expensive power electronics to convert from AC to DC and then back at every node. “Northern Lights” is an ongoing project that illustrates how and where HV DC is economic today.

The USA has several out-of-sync grids and only HV DC can transfer power between these grids.

An informal consensus was formed during the plans for electrification of US rail lines in the 1970s that the USA west of the Mississippi and Canada would be electrified at 50 kV AC and east of the Mississippi at 25 kV AC, all at the grid 60 Hz. Such voltages would require substations every 20 to 30 miles.

One can conceive of an electrified rail line operating at 55 kV AC, with a 345 kV HV AC line, interconnecting to every other HV AC line it crosses and feeding 55 kV substations every 30 miles. Local wind turbines would feed into the 55 kV line (with a 55 kV-345 kV substation conveniently near by). In addition a +500 kV DC and -500 kV DC line would be strung from the same towers (an interesting design challenge) with nodes converting to 345 kV AC every 200 to 500 miles.

Railroads could start a new business, electrical transmission (the owner of Northern Lights is a Canadian pipeline company, not an electric utility), or form joint ventures with regional utilities or just lease space on their ROWs to electric utilities.

Dual use of rail ROWs appears to be the best and fastest way to improve our electrical grid.

There is one caveat. I have received assurances from experienced power electrical engineers that this is “doable” but such assurances are not yet definitive. Unique tower designs may be required to accommodate HV DC, HV AC and electrified rail lines..

Appendix Six

Electrical Demand for Electrified Railroads and Environmental Impact

[Electrified] Railways handle 32% of Swiss freight traffic and 16% of passenger traffic, but they use only 3% of the total energy required for all transportation.”
- SBB (SwissRail) Environmental Report

Electrified railroads would use 2.37% of US electrical generation (about as much as France today) if all truck freight was shifted to electrified rail, and all rail was electrified. A more realistic (very successful) rail electrification program could use 1% of US electricity in a decade and more in later years.

In 2006, the USA generated 4,065 TWh. Translating 2,552,000 barrels/day for trucks to electricity (using 18 : 1 ratio) and 231,000 barrels/day (2.6 : 1 ratio) gives 88.5 and 8 TWh respectively. This is 2.37% of US electrical generation if all truck freight was shifted to electrified rail, and all rail was electrified. Adjust downward from 100% of truck to rail and 100% of rail electrified and the USA would be very well served if an additional 1% of US electrical demand went to electrified rail

Today, 0.19% of US electricity goes to transportation - enough to run New York City subways, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, Long Island Railroad, subways in Chicago, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston and elsewhere, as well all Light Rail and streetcar systems.

Modern main line locomotives are diesel-electric. A small (2 to 5 MW) diesel generator is coupled with an electric motor for traction power. Such small diesel generators are only used on small islands and for emergency generators because of their low efficiency and high cost for fuel and maintenance.

The overall efficiency of diesel-electric locomotives (99+% of US locomotives) is slightly more than 2.6 BTUs of diesel generating 1 BTU of electricity. Both diesel-electric and all electric locomotives use an electric motor as the final drive.

Modern electric locomotives can regenerate power during braking, feeding electricity back into the grid, an energy savings that diesel electrics put into waste heat.

Gil Carmichael, former head of the Federal Railroad Administration, has stated that unit trains of double stack containers with diesel-electric locomotives are nine times as efficient as trucks in transporting freight. If one adjusts for less than ideal circumstances (such as more miles A to B by rail than by truck, some less efficient roll on-roll off trailers, some single stack containers) then 7:1 or 8:1 is more realistic. Regenerative braking in hilly terrain and built-up areas increases the diesel to electricity efficiency ratio from 2.6:1 to 3:1 (an industry rule of thumb).

So seven or eight times 2.6 to 3.0 gives about 18 to 21:1 diesel to electricity BTU ratio (I’m rounding for national average) between diesel trucks and electrified rail.

Overall, the USA grid loses about 10% of the electricity generated to transforming and transmission losses. Large industrial users, that use higher voltages, have optimized transmission and high efficiency transformers, are closer to 6% T&T losses. If railways improve the grid with more transmission lines, they would, in a sense, “make” electricity by reducing losses, so I have not allocated anything to T&T losses. Diesel also incurs energy losses in transportation before final use.

There is no other widespread economic use for falling water, blowing wind, geothermal heat or nuclear heat except to make electricity. None of these sources release large scale greenhouse gases outside the natural cycle, Therefore, the relative efficiency of each is irrelevant; only maximizing their generation matters.

Among the fossil fuels, natural gas emits 115 lbs of carbon dioxide for 1 million BTUs, oil (not diesel per se) 155 to 164 lbs and coal 205 to 227 lbs (some variance depending upon type). Locomotive diesels are in the 34% to 38% thermodynamic efficiency range. Modern super critical double reheat coal fired plants are in the 40% to 43% range, and combined cycle natural gas plants are 50% to 59% efficient.

Combining the thermodynamics and emissions of modern coal plants vs. small diesels, and factoring in regenerative braking, I conclude that coal fired electric trains should emit as much CO2 as diesel-electric trains, unless the diesel comes from Canadian tar sands (a growing source with high CO2 emissions).

All sources of electricity (except coal) are clear environmental winners for electrified railroads over diesel-electric trains. And even coal is better than diesel refined from Albertan tar sands.

The impact of shifting freight from trucks to electrified rail (as opposed to diesel rail to electrified rail) is a massive environmental improvement (1:8+ improvement) with very dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases regardless of the source

Except to interface with legacy equipment (read everything that exists today) I don't see why we would string HVAC rather than HVDC even on a branch line.

One major interface is the electric train on the ROW.

3 kV DC is used in some trains (Belgium, Italy, older Russian from memory) but one cannot transform HV DC down to 3 kV DC (only AC works that way). AC to DC and DC to AC power electronics are expensive, and one cannot afford them (unless the price has dropped a LOT in the last 4 years) every 30 miles. Even HV to 25 or 50 kV AC transformers are not cheap, but not as pricy as DC > AC power electronics.

AFAIK, no new systems are being installed with DC (some add-ons are of course). Russia went away from 3 kV DC and to AC (25 kV AC from memory).

Thanks for the Input !


Vicksburg bridge must be electrified.

KCS Meridian Speedway.

To take pressure off Memphis, if nothing else.

And/or electric must be able to switch to diesel.

The most likely solution when overhead wire just will not fit (New Orleans Huey Long double track bridge will be tight at spots) is to fit a 3rd rail. Eurostar trains can switch from 25 kV AC to 1.5 kV DC third rail when they get close to London (no longer needed as of a year ago).

The beauty of rail is that innumerable issues have already been resolved somewhere in the world in the last century.

Best Hopes,

go for it, and good luck.

Trains are the future.


With a certain amount of digging, you can lower the track within the tunnel to get the overhead wire to fit. This has been done in North London to get Eurostar trains from the Acton depot to St Pancras through the Hampstead tunnel (built in the late 1850s).

This is common approach, just lower the floor of the tunnel. Norfolk Southern is doing this to a East-West line to allow double stack containers.

Bridges can be more complex.

Best Hopes for solutions,


Or put in a third rail. A large Steel rail is much cheaper than a copper wire and can carry more electricity. And you don't have as many height clearance problems.


It reads well; a great proposal! I have no technical much for the TOD meat grinder. Do you want grammatical/punctuation corrections as well?


If you knew how many hours I have looked at this ...

Thanks, but NO thanks :-)


I understand...but there is a comma in the...

No, AC is still cheaper than DC for a substation every 30 miles. I just worry as electronics get cheaper, AC is going to become a dinosaur. But not yet. Say the railroad puts wind and solar along the way. Than it will be easier to interface to DC. But one humungous project at a time I guess.

I just worry as electronics get cheaper, AC is going to become a dinosaur.

Alas, "we" have no way of knowing if the doomer predictions of 'no IC's' will be the way things go, copper becomes expensive due to mass electrification, or some break-through with super-conductors make them truly room-temp - picking AC or DC might be seen as a bad move with the lens of history. (Great IC's should make DC 'better', no copper and no superconductors ruins the tradition of AC step up/step down transformers as 2 examples)

I'd worry more about government mandates being made not due to being the 'best' choice but because some quid crossed the right palms.

Perhaps Alan can toss into the mix suggestions about Open Records so if there is corruption, the parties can be fingered in the future or perhaps get lucky in preventing the public funds being used for private benefit.

Why would 110VAC become a dinosaur, compared to 110VDC?

After all, we won't be connecting houses to the grid at 12VDC, the line losses are too large at low voltages.

For long hauls, HVDC makes a lot of sense ... both because of the line losses and because the conversion to AC to feed into a regional grid eliminates the problem of synchronizing AC over long distances ...

... but what pressure does that place on the local grid to change over?

One explanation I've seen is that more and more appliances don't need AC. Computers, TV:s and such would work just fine with DC; they have chopper power supplies since that's cheaper than a transformer, and such devices can work with DC input as well (meaning that nowadays you can cheaply and efficiently convert one DC voltage to another without an AC transformer in between). I've heard of other appliances like fridges and washing machines that have variable frequency drives in order to run at the optimal frequency rather than the usual stop-start with the 50/60 Hz from the grid.

That being said, the potential savings from switching to a DC local grid are almost certainly not worth the hassle.

One place where we might see more DC equipment in the future is data centers. Nowadays it's quite wasteful that input AC is first rectified to DC for the UPS:es, then it's inverted back to AC since all the machines have AC input, and the the power supply in each machine rectifies it back to DC.

Also, the power feed line for 25kVAC is lighter, along with all associated support structure, than for 1.5kVDC - 3kVDC ... and the substations are not only more costly, but have to be put at closer intervals.

On the Sydney forum of the Australian railpage, bemoaning the failure to start the conversion from DC to AC is a recurrent theme. Its one of the big obstacles for electrification from the regional center of Newcastle to Maitland, the country town an hour rail commute up the line.

Alan, all I can say is "go ahead knock yourself out", continue the rhetoric, dream on and further encourage the cornucopians.
But, you had better get it done before the people start to move, before any economic collapse.

As usual assume BAU for the future. Even be so bold as to assume business growth.
Assume if capital is pulled from somewhere that no other department will suffer, and
Assume costs won't rise, assume construction, steel, copper and fuel costs remain steady while the job gets done. Assume a constant supply.

Assume there will be plenty of business for goods and personnel traffic to pay maintenance and wages.
Assume power generation will be continuous and low cost.
Assume we can engineer and buy our way out of any mess we get into.
We should expend all the energy we want now to build a better future for.........well who? Us, or future generations?
We should assume we know best for future generations, just as past generations knew and cared about what was best for us.

Of course, as the reality of our plight hits well and truly home, all kinds of desperate engineering feats will be posed and attempted.
Electrifying railways will be one of them.

While the cost of fuel and energy keeps rising but availability manageable the populace will continue to battle with what they have and can afford.
When shortages bite and hoarding begins, a new type of economy and political climate will emerge.
It's anyone's guess as to what life will be like then.
I assume it won't be BAU. We won't be moving billions of tons of freight around the country.
Unless it's coal.

Or as I have read before its because we'll have electric railways to be able to go on vacation, visit grandma and Disneyland.

No such assumptions required.

The schedule will change as the economy shrinks, but the job of 100% electrification can, and will, be finished in a world quite different from today. We can get a lot done in the next few years.

As for the doomers, the organization required to keep the rails going (useful even during social collapse in Liberia & Cambodia) may be one of the fundamental organizing principles in what is left.

And no, taking tourists to Disneyland is not the ultimate goal of electrified rail. You just applied your prejudices without reading or understanding my article.


Sorry, but behind on answering comments. Try to catch up tonight.

guys, this is all great stuff but you have a big challenge I don't see addressed: where are you going to go to get the investment capital for all this? I'd say maybe you could get Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers to look into ponying up some dough but . . .

(Better call Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan while you can as it looks like they'll be the last one standing the way things are going.)

Remember, both World War II and the Marshall Plan required HUGE amounts of borrowed/invested capital. Without those you can't even buy brass BBs at the local Big-5. And right now the whole country is being sold off at fire-sale rates because we are - at every level - in debt up to our eyeballs.

In all honestly, I'm really curious how you could write something up like this without at least addressing who and/or where we're going to borrow the money from to finance these things? I don't have to tell you - at least I hope not - that the financial situation of the country is already dire and is going to almost certainly being getting a lot worse for a long time coming. Heck, according to that UK indpedent article, 10% of the U.S. is already on food stamps and this while food/fuel are still relatively cheap all things considered.

Meeting the U.S. DOT’s forecast demand will require the Class I freight railroads
to increase their investment in infrastructure expansion. The AAR estimates that
between 2005 and 2007, Class I freight railroad capital expenditures for infrastructure
expansion averaged $1.5 billion per year. To meet the U.S. DOT’s forecast
demand for 2035, the Class I freight railroads must invest $135 billion over
the next 28 years or about $4.8 billion per year."


One alternative is Industrial Revenue bonds - a lower cost to the railroads and a higher cost to the US Treasury. However, a series of delays are endemic in issuing these bonds. A policy decision is needed to determine whether we should encourage these or not.

Another alternative is an US Treasury guarantees for railroad or electric utility bonds issued to support electrification and improvements to electrified rail lines. Such guarantees would use the rail lines as collateral. These bonds could be issued quickly, in volume and at reduced cost to the railroads or utilities

It would be a stretch, but Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet's firm, could finance the electrification by themselves.

These are long lived and valuable investments. Retirement funds should find these better investments than many on their books. Or the Sovereign Investment funds (30% to Norway, 25% to Kuwait, 10% to Qatar, 35% to Dubai ?) should be an easy sale.

The sums involved over the time required are not outrageous. I would be pleased to take a 0.001% commission.


How about a bake sale?

Impossible. After the last blackout, baking pans will no longer function.

$200+ billion per year by getting out of Iraq, $500 billion per year by eliminating subsidies to the fossil fuel industries, billions more from carbon could build a lot of rail for that kind of money.

Right and we should have done it while we could. Soon "we" won't be able to afford Iraq, or ff subsidies, or much of anything else for that matter. It's all dependent on a continued influx of massive amounts of borrowed money and smoothly functioning (if corrupted) financial markets. Those days are almost over and soon they won't even be in the rear-view mirror.

There is AT LEAST $200B of military spending per year being spent on advanced aircraft (1 generation better those that "won" the cold war), a 2nd new class of nuclear attack submarines (Virginia class) better than the LA Class which was (and still is) superior to any other nation's submarines, that is next to militarily useless (or really useless) for anything except political purposes (i.e. political clout in certain key electoral districts). Much of US military spending is of NO military use. NOTE that this does NOT include the spending on Iraq. The US spends MORE on military spending than the REST of the World put together. We could half our military spending and redirect it to your electric rail idea (and still reduce the deficit). What about $100B-$200B PER YEAR? Would that help?? If we could convince the US electorate that military spending on militarily useless advanced weapon's systems is MUCH LESS important than spending on building infrastructure that we need, we have a chance to mitigate some of the cataclysm from Peak Oil.


Just in case Warren Buffet, the end of the Iraq war, bonds and other investments aren't enough for this plan let's volunteer! Habitat For Humanity volunteers build houses for poor people. Couldn't we even do more to save humanity by building electric street cars, electric trolleys, electric light rail and intercity electric rail? I would love to help humanity and volunteer to get this electric transport system built. Anyone else want to volunteer?

Anyone else want to volunteer?

Public effort for private benefit?

Naw, I'll pass. Besides, the effective tax rate is 50% - so I have to work plenty hard to keep the tax man happy.

Anyone else want to volunteer?

Sure! One of the great things about this proposal is that it is so concrete. The benefits are easy-to-understand and the means is very physical and easy-to-imagine. Often in conversation with others about energy issues, climate issues, and environmental issues I hear people say they would like to be involved in something that has a direct, physical, long-lasting impact on the problem. This qualifies on all accounts.

The volunteer part could be very multi-faceted. Alan already mentioned involving the electric utilities as a way to get more transmission line and wind generation capability, but we could also involve...

* Businesses wanting to get carbon credits, or just some Green marketing cred.

* Environmental groups wanting to promote an actual solution, or maybe even put up some of the "prize money" Alan mentioned.

* Unions wanting to get in on a definite "Made in America" project.

* Trucker associations (unions?) wanting to help their members transistion to a different transportation career.

* Cities along the routes that want to attract manufacturing business, perhaps even by covering the cost of adding a spur to their industrial park zone.

* State Highway departments wanting to decrease the load and damage to their road surfaces could even get in on the act somehow. They definitely have some of the right equipment spread out all along the routes, or could help with access roads to the track or electrification construction areas.

* Politicians who want to stand behind issues like:
"More jobs, better jobs"
"Energy Independence"
"A cleaner environment"
"Safer, less crowded highways"
"Keeping US dollars in the US"
"Fighting global warming"
Anybody know how to get Alan and his idea a nice long meeting with the Obama and the McCain policy advisor teams?

Greg in MO

How about volunteering our bicycles to local rental programs? Or fat people volunteering to pedal tourists around on rickshaws? We have a lot of bicycles that sit around collecting dust; let's spread those out some instead of importing more from China.

My thoughts exactly. US treasury will go belly up.
Federal USA will break up like the former USSR.
Improved national rail is as likely as single payor health care.

The railroads can collect private investment capital, use their own capital and the U.S. government can provide loans that are not payable until the projects are completed. The government is so far in debt that it must stop tax credits and corporate welfare and use some sound investment strategies.

If it requires subsidies to operate it is not sustainable.

If networks can be expanded with private capital and operated at a profit, the private capital can build them.

It's a capitalization mountain for the private railroads even the states have funding problems for small transit projects:

It doesn't help that these projects become fiendishly complex with overlapping specifications. Everything winds up costing $2 billion.

An alternative is the Highway Trust Fund approach that has the rail trackage nationalized and administered by the states, with the Feds taking upon themselves the bulk of the funding requirements. In today's 'nationalize this, nationalize that ... ' environment, it might not cause a stir. The railroad companies would own and operate their equipment but not the road. Any railroad could operate on any track, and any number of railroads could exist which would dampen the tendency of the 'Big Four' towards monopoly. Even trucking companies with access to capital could get into the rail business, such as Schneider National or UPS.

The Trust Fund would add needed ROW by eminent domain which would allow for more economical routing and expansion as necessary. US railroads are grossly inadequate for anything but trunk cartage of bulk carges; the country has simply outgrown the 1930's era trackage and routes. Even with Alan Drake's plan there is the cost issues associated with real estate acquisition for power substations, access roads, modal yards and non- grade crossings. Don't forget stations. The government's eminent domain power would be the only way to move forward.

A trust fund is one way to fund and build such a system in the current environment. The fund would issue bonds for itself and no other purpose, guaranteed by the Treasury that would have a dedicated funding source, such as a gasoline tax or excise on imported petroleum. Some will complain about the subsidy, but ALL forms of transport are subsidized. The issue is more one of priorities.

The credit system is in terrible shape and more and more government projects -and even many private initiatives- will have to be incorporated into some form of trust. If the trust is initially a government creation, it can over time be taken private when the markets for equities and debt improve. (Which may take years.)

BTW, this country is not insolvent. It has a serious problem with the mis-allocation of capital. Sub- zero interest rates don't help at all! The problem is serious, but not fatal. This railroad project is affordable; a small fraction of the $400b lost to date in suspect mortgages would pay for the entire electrification project and leave a couple of hundred billion left over for all the golf courses.

Ultimately, The trunk rail corridors should all be four tracks, BTW.

The 'Big Three' automakers in Detroit should get into the street car business. I told a friend of mine that the old Packard factory could be turned into street car plant and it would make money. This was over five years ago. In ten years every middlesx city and town will have streetcars. Streetcars are fun! They are also ironic:

The high tension conductors should be placed underground. Ultimately they would be cryogenic superconductors:

At one time, the major railroads in the Northeast began a complete electrification; this began with the Pennsylvania Railroad and included the B&O, the C&O, the New York Central and the New Haven Railroads. Pennsylvania RR used the famous 'GG1's:

Now, Amtrak uses the old Penn Central system, including the catenaries and substations.

I may be forgetful, but most transit systems such as the NYC subways and DC's Metro use DC voltage for power; easy to reverse the traction motors. The line roads such as Amtrak use AC power.

The U.S. had an interurban electric RR system at one time. It had the Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul's electric RR over the Rocky Mountains with 14 substations that received 100kVAC from hydropower at Great Falls MT and put out 3000VDC for the engines along the 440 mile route. See where some of the virtues cited for electric traction are mentioned.

I visited the remains of the eastern terminus, where people got off the steam trains from the east to board the electric line. The tracks are long gone along with the wires but some poles still standing in the yard and the main building remains. Now, here we are in a bind on oil and thinking of things that existed (in basic form) decades ago. What a huge waste to have destroyed it all only to find we'd like to take up the idea again!

The efficiency of diesel-electric engines on the RR that was mentioned...that must be for long distance hauling with relatively steady engine RPM? I look out my window at the Chicago METRA commuter line with those diesel-electrics straining out of stations every few miles (or less) only to brake again. The efficiency on commuter runs must be truly awful. Electrifying the METRA lines might be a good start on electrification...only fitting to do it in Chicago, THE railroad town of them all in days past.

The a note about the efficiency of diesel-electrics stopping here and there..

Thats the whole point! The diesel generator can run on steady constant efficient RPM while charging a fairly large bank of batteries. The electric motor will only take from the battery bank what it needs, when it needs it, at ideal efficiency. There is no difference at efficiency whether the train stops here and there to driving at constant speed!

Old diesel powered engines can be converted to diesel-electric by taking out the often enourmous diesel-engine and transmission in them and replacing it with a nimble electric motor, a smaller and simpler constant speed generator, and fill the rest of the space with wet-NiCd batteries (similar to aviation batteries). Atleast in europe they have successfully converted many slow freight train engines and switch yard tug engines to diesel-electric like this precisely because of the efficiency factor.

Battery diesel-electrics exist, but they are an oddity. Far more common is just electrifying a rail spur.

Battery diesel-electrics are hardly the "wave of the future", except, perhaps in switchyards (switchyards are difficult and expensive to electrify every track).

Best Hopes,


Can you possibly convert diesel electric engines of today to dual mode operation.... drawing electric power either from wires or from their diesel engines when outside of the grid?

I notice that the Portland trolley line to Lake Oswego tows a diesel generator behind an electric trolley because the overhead wires no longer exist.

The streetcars in Galveston and Whitehorse Yukon do the same thing.

Such hybrid locos do exist, but are rare. Magnus's idea of a small electric "helper" loco when under wire may be a better idea today.

Lots of detailed economics & engineering required, so I look at what other nations do instead of re-inventing the wheel. High oil costs upset old economic calculations, so check in 2 or 3 years and see what is happening in Sweden, India, UK, China, Italy and other nations with mixed fuel rail (most of them).

First, build some electrified rail. THEN worry about mixed fuel operation :-)


Hybrid diesel-electric/electric aren't that difficult. NYNH&H ran Hybrid diesel-electric/electric FL9 out of Grand Central Station.
All you really need is the pantograms and/or 3rd rail shoes and a converter on a diesel electric engine. In the grand scheme of this plan, converting diesel-electrics to hybrid diesel-electric/electrics is the least of the worries.

U.S. locomotives have had electric transmissions since the first U.S. diesel which was introduced in 1917 so there is no "enormous" mechanical or hydraulic transmission to remove. Beyond just having an electric transmission, most U.S. diesels have what is termed dynamic braking where the electric motors are used as generators which dissipate their power into a resistor grid. You are hardly the first person to have the idea of adding a battery bank to a locomotive. People try it every 30 years or so.

For switchers, it looks like this generation of hybrid switchers is a good deal and they are being slowly adopted. For mainline freight locomotives experience has shown that the amount of energy saved by the battery bank is small and not worth its cost. The reason is that U.S. freight trains don't have a lot of extra horsepower and run their engines at their most efficient setting anyway for most of the time.

You also have to remember the scale of these things. A typical diesel locomotive is built around a 3-4 MW generator. A 2000 kWh NiCd battery bank (which would be about the right size for such a locomotive) would weigh around 21 Tonnes and cost around 2 million dollars.

A 2000 kWh NiCd battery bank (which would be about the right size for such a locomotive) would weigh around 21 Tonnes

When tossing around big numbers it helps to put it into perspective. So looking it up it appears that a full car is about 80 Tons and the locomotive is about 150 Tons with a wide variance in both. So adding 21 Tons to the locomotive weight might reduce the hauling capacity by 1/4 car (Or it might not).

It probably wouldn't reduce the hauling capacity at all. However it would be a hell of a big, expensive battery.

It would probably increase hauling capacity, since that depends largely on the tractive effort that the locomotive can generate. With more weight on the locomotive, there is less chance for wheel slip.

The problem is axle weight limits, on US freight railroads IIRC it's typically 25-30 metric tons; current locomotives are already practically at the limit. So either the locomotive needs to lose 21 tons, or it needs more axles.

Cut the military budget!

I would buy bonds from BNSF for an electrification project.

I agree that getting the resources to do these things is a problem. Any plans now on the drawing boards (these are not yet even at that stage) will take years to get into the field to start. By that time, we likely will be facing an annual decline in world oil production, meaning less energy to survive on much less to pour into all the grand schemes to build an alternative infrastructure.

All projects like these initially drain energy because the investment in up front; the savings if there really is any comes dribbling in later. And everyone has their scheme, most wanting government money to fund them. Problem is the government is broke and is just getting by themselves by monetizing debt (printing up new money, diluting the value of existing money). Some, many, most ?? of these projects will actually never even work as they are planned, so there is a substantial argument that they should stand the test of being capable of gaining private funding on their own merits; efficiency is more and more important as we have fewer and fewer resources to squander.

My own pessimistic view is that we are much, much too far down the path of having squandered the planets savings account to expect anything buy less of everything; schemes to have an alternative version of life as we know it, I think are more in the dream department.

Any plans now on the drawing boards (these are not yet even at that stage)

The plans from the 1970s (see map) still exist. Some updating, but not that long or difficult in most cases.


Gosh, I think GE did a study of electrifying the SP from Colton to El Paso in the 50' or 60's. I know it's in the book "Beaumont Hill" by Signor (the dean of SP historians). I have the book at home. Donner Pass was also studied, by Kaiser Engineering in 1945-46 timeframe who proposed a revised, lower gradient route with lots of tunnels (Swiss style) which would have required electrification Sparks - Roseville. Longest tunnel was I believe 9 miles, with an 8 miler and some sixes, fives and fours. Would have cut the time between those two points by two hours for freight trains and two hours fifteen minutes for the City of San Francisco (That was the crack passenger train on the line for those that don't know). This is in the book "Donner Pass", also by Signor.

Many old studies are gathering dust. Many very worthwhile investments that will last centuries waiting for funding (much of that ROW that was hand carved by Chinese laborers for the first Trans-Continental RR is still in service).

Katy studied electrifying Houston-Dallas. The Houston end of that ROW is now under a 14 lane TxDot expansion of I-10.

TxDot said that there was not room left to reserve any for a future Light Rail line.


I believe that that I-10 expansion as will many other multilane and even two-lane road ROW's will serve as a potential focus for new rail corridors in the future as the traffic demand in a peak oil/contracting economy scenario will not support today's truck/auto traffic on the roads, nor will it support maintenance of asphalt and concrete at today's levels. Cost and legal (condemnation) constraints will dictate that these disused highway corridors will be low hanging fruit as the government already owns them, eliminating the need to condemn private property to use as railroad right of way. Also, many highways and roads already have electric transmission lines and towers located along them for ease of maintenance, so the electric infrastructure is already there to provide juice for electrified railroad lines.


There is discussion of perhaps releasing limited amounts of the SPR.

If 200,000 barrels/day were being released from the SPR, that is $25 million+ per day (assuming some fall back from $140+ plus costs of operating SPR). That $25 million translates into about $10 billion per year. Something like 20 percent of that for the federal portion of helping spark electrification of rail? Does that $2 billion start to influence things?

Are you kidding? That is small potatoes when compared to government obligations and the collapse in federal revenues has just begun.

Plus don't you know, they are saving the SPR to fritter away in current and future wars.

And again, if this is such a worthy project, don't you think it should have the financial equivalent of a positive EROEI? So if this is so, why would it need government funding? I sort of suspect that more resources would be consumed than saved, which is the only reason why anyone would suggest that government use its plundered funds to defy the reason of informed investors and lenders.

And again, if this is such a worthy project, don't you think it should have the financial equivalent of a positive EROEI? So if this is so, why would it need government funding?

Because the government is also indirectly subsidizing the competition (trucking) through highway building, refusal to tax or otherwise penalize the external costs of trucking (pollution, accidents, ...), engaging in foreign policy adventures with the aim of securing plentiful and cheap oil supply, and so forth.

Take away all that, and I'd think the railroads would be quite able to finance their expansion and electrification on their own. As you can certainly imagine, this would be politically impossible, so the remaining option is to stick your hand into the pork pie. Just like everyone else.

No road pays for itself

Texas Department of Transportation

(Longer quotes in first post of Drumbeat a few days ago).

I sort of suspect that more resources would be consumed than saved

Read Appendix 3, the listing of international railroads electrified.

When oil was cheap, few electrified more than 67% of their rail network, so there are limits. But even Iran is electrifying their railroads !


If the US has the slack production capacity, then the only real financial constraint is financing the import bill ... and that is a pure finance question, because in terms of the external balances, this is self-funding ... it saves far more in imports than it will ever cost.

If private markets cannot come up with the finance, then the government can do so. Its not like a major investment in a massive productivity gain during a time of recession is going to be inflationary!

Well chimp, we have a chump in the white house who has had no trouble spending a trillion invading a foreign country for no discernible benefit so far. could we not spend a trillion to save our transport system?

There are very real cost barriers to long distance rail electrification using DC ... AC has substanially lower infrastructure costs per mile.

In greater detail, the trolley wire would have transformers every 20 to 30 miles to the HV AC.

HV AC has definite limits in transmission distance before the waveform deforms from capacitance, etc. and little usable power is left. Interfacing with loads (cities & towns) and especially generating plants along the way can extend this range. (I am trying to keep this accessible).

It is my understanding that modern DC rectifiers can supply reactive power, which can help reform AC power that has been transmitted a long distance. Thus I said that DC rectifiers would be every 200 to 500 miles to interface with the HV AC lines.

I propose trolley wire only (transformers supplied by local power), trolley + HVAC (which supplies the trolley voltage & power via the transformers) and trolley + HV AC + HV DC. Which of the three "depends" upon local conditions and business decisions.

I hope this clarifies my concept,


And am I the only one who sees HV AC and thinks Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning?

Under BB to be added:

Micro generation of heat by using available pellet fuels and thermo solar in fully automated and integrated systems for residential and commercial applications as a direct replacement for oil and NG.

Microgeneration of electricity by wind and solar.


I wish I could find some real weaknesses in this proposal. I will leave that to others more knowledgable. I guess the main question that comes to mind is what is the economic and political environment of other nations that permitted them to implement electrified rail expansion? It seems that the asset inertia of the embedded industries in the USA and their powerful corporate lobbyists dominate the politics. The industries like wind, rail and utilities that would benefit along with good unionized labor should be forming a powerful alliance to push the awareness of these benefits through the currently stalemeated political system. The silver BB of this proposal combined with the silver BB proposed by T.Boon Pickens of expanding wind power for electrical generation to free up natural gas for use as a transportation fuel start to add up to serious mitigation of our dependence on imported fossil fuels and fossil fuels in general. Both of these silver BB's are also able to be implemented within the short term of say 10-15 years.

I think the best approach to pushing this proposal is to piggyback it on the T. Boone Pickens proposal. The core of Pickens' proposal is to substitute renewable electrical power for a fossil fuel. The emphasis should be on this core strategy. By electrifying trains and integrating renewable power into the infrastructure, the substitution can be more direct and long term, than shifting natural gas to transportation.

The core of Pickens' proposal is to substitute renewable electrical power for a fossil fuel. The emphasis should be on this core strategy.

I'm not sure that the 'core strategy' is ff->electromotive force VS adjusting what 'we' have come to 'expect'. FF used to provide 'on demand' transport VS planed transportation. A business expression of this would be JIT shipping. has Nate Hagens touching on 'adjusting expectations'.

The paper needs more laying the groundwork at the very top. The paragraph with the Millenium Institute needs to be moved to the top as the overall strategy. Then start going into the specific proposal stating that rail electrification will address specific strategic goals of improved efficiency and fossil fuel substitution with renewable energy to reduce fossil fuel usage.

One of the big differences between the US and Western European nations after WWII is that Western European nations were oil importers operating under a sometimes severe external balance constraint, so they taxed gasoline and diesel accordingly, while the US was an oil exporting nation with massive trade surpluses.

Now, incrementally over time, the US became more like European nations in its actual circumstance, but we are by and large still working with a property zoning and property development system established when we were self sufficient in oil and were selling as much stuff abroad as customers abroad could afford to buy.

Electric locomotives can accelerate and brake faster because electric motors can be (and are) routinely run above their rated power for up to an hour without damage.

I am not an engineer, but the explanation I have read for the faster acceleration of electric locomotives versus diesel is that an electric motor can provide it's maximum torque as soon as it is turned on, whereas a diesel doesn't reach it until higher rpms as it gets up to speed.

The electrication of the freight (or entire) rail system is such a no-brainer that you wonder why France is the only country you hear doing it. But America is still "on a witch-hunt" as Matthew Simmons said today, for who is causing prices to rise when there is "plenty of oil". The government and its citizens are so clueless as to the problem that they still cherish population growth and want to "drill their way out of it". So it will be a while before electrification of freight gets into the main discourse.

But I would guess there will be a surge in railroad freight traffic as a push is made to decrease transport costs of goods and the more economic rail becomes more popular. As the truck lobby begins to crumble that will make a public debate on electrifying rail freight much easier for our elected lawyers in the federal government.

The Swiss have only 227 km not electrified. Much of that is a tourist line that, I was told, still runs steam locomotives on occasion. Steam locos and overhead wires may not work well together (I really do not know). The rest are factory sidings or spurs that do not get enough traffic to keep the weeds down.

Several nations are 60% electrified or more. Given the 80/20 rule, this means that only a few % of the ton-miles are with diesel.

In the USA, one might have a spur line to a grain elevator. Only a dozen trains/year may come down that spur to the elevator. I can think of better uses of capital than electrifying that spur line.

In other words, there is a strong case for electrifying half of US rail lines. The case for electrifying the other half is much weaker. But let us electrify 40% to 50% and then talk about it :-)


It wouldn't be necessary to completely electrify all rails, switch engines servicing spur lines can run on batteries that recharge off the catenaries when on the main lines or in the yard.

I would bet that all non-pedal transport will be electic in ten - fifteen years. Climate change/carbon taxes will get internal combustion engines off the road. A boost will be better batteries. A battery that weighs half as much and is half the size of current lithium batteries yets holds an equal charge would be a game changer. A problem with electric vehicles has always been the great weight of the batteries. Weight would not be a problem on a locomotive, however.

Diesel locomotives are already serial electric hybrids. Not sure why they're slower to accelerate, maybe weight, but it's not because of the mechanical transmissions.

The upper limit of power that can be generated by the on-board diesel generator is much lower than what can be pulled off a trolley wire for a "surge" of acceleration. As noted electric motors can be run past their nameplate rating for up to an hour repeatedly without damage.


This is no longer true for modern Locos. Those convert the line AC to DC and then to 3-phase variable voltage, variable frequency AC, using power electronics. The surge capability of the electronics is almost nil.
Nontheless do electric locos have much higher power then diesels.
german series 152, first build in 1996
Weight 86.7 tonnes
Max speed 140km/h
Power (cont.) 6.4MW
Starting tractive effort 300kN

One point why the RR companies may be reluctant to start quick electrification is that they have invested a lot of money into their existing diesels.
It may be possible to rebuild those into electric, but I doubt that this will be cheaper then a new of-the-shelf loco from Bombardier.
They will not be able to sell those diesels because very few RRs worldwide can stand the enormous axel-loads they have.

So, unless the incentives offered make it worthwhile to scrap rather new diesels, the speed of transformation may be governed by the existing stock of locos reaching it's end of useful live.
While it may be possible to string up 36000 miles of catenary within 6 years, it will take much longer (and cost much more) to replace the rolling stock, retool maintenance facilities, educate engineers and service personal and, and, and.

A time frame of 20-30 years to have full electric traffic on the main lines seems more realistic.

A massive expansion and electrification of the mainlines would probably also lead to an expansion and increased usage of the non-mainline non-electrified part of the network. While a mainline diesel loco would probably be quite overkill for most spur lines, whether to sell the loco for scrap and buy a new more appropriate sized one vs. higher running costs is something for the beancounters to decide, just like any other investment decision.

I would agree with Ratz were it not for Peak Oil. $200+ oil will "change things".

Note the down thread quote about electrification of SBB (Swiss Federal Rail) in 1928. After reaching 60% electrification, the Swiss "paused" for organizational reasons. To slow the reduction in personal (and I am sure SBB had some newer steam locos that they wanted to wear out).

And note the 1970s plans. Other than, maybe, Illinois Central, every RR would have plenty of places to use their displaced diesel locos.

There has been a step change in fuel efficiency (3% to 5% improved) between the newest locos and those of 12 or so years ago (guess on years). Even though the 1992 locos are not fully depreciated, it is best (from an oil & GW POV and maybe economic) if they were scrapped.

Any surplus eleven year old GE Evolution locos will find eager buyers on the Class II and Class III RRs.

We electrify 36,000 miles by 2015. Very few diesel locos ordered and many orders converted to electric (so diesel electric fleet ages by 4 years in 6). Volume increases (as noted above) on remaining 80% of track (20% of ton-miles, perhaps 40% of locos since spur trains are shorter and slower). Oldest locos are scrapped, in between are sold to Class IIs and Class IIIs, newest diesel electric locos are assigned to non-electrified lines. Some locos are sold to mines abroad (these use high axle loads), some are mothballed.

All in all, I see relatively little economic waste. On the scale of post-Peak Oil, not even a drop in the bucket !

Best hopes,


The German electric loco specs:

Power (cont.) 6.4MW

That is 8,542 hp !

I could not help but notice the "continuous" rating. This implies some surge capability. Perhaps the power electronics are a bit oversized ?

Diesel locomotives are already serial electric hybrids. Not sure why they're slower to accelerate, maybe weight, but it's not because of the mechanical transmissions.

I think that most diesel locomotives are "diesel-electric" ( ) which includes a diesel engine and a generator, but not a battery. So I think the diesel engine is producing less power at startup and in turn the electric generator produces less power for the electric motor at startup.

Diesel locomotives typically have between 4000 and 6000 horsepower (limited by the size of the diesel engine). Electric locomotives typically are considerably more powerful and thus the trains to which they are attach accelerate faster.

DO some math,,, a steam turbine powered by atom energy or, NG, or oil, or coal, can easily produce 10.000 hp. How many solor panals or windmills are needed to equal the hp that just one steam turbine can produce?. how many?? youall are soon going to have unafordable electricity if you refuse to learn who's lying about what the value of solor and wind really are.

what needs to be kept in mind here are the def of the two words,,,,possable,,,,practical,,,,

The electric utility's SUPPLY and our
people CONSUME massive amounts of energy,,,it's a fact we are losing
our long enjoyed inexpensive,, [[ oil ]], and [ NG ] ,---If--- we can maintain
inexpensive electricity [ atom power ] I am not a big fan of coal I'am hopeful we may be able

to [,,Adapt,,] to the ,unavailability & unaffordability,,, that
millions now face as a result of the steady loss of oil as an energy source not only for electricity but also and more so for the loss of our transportation fuel.

Solar: As little as $3 million dollars at present lab tech (this new plant mimicking stuff is cool...but we'll really need to use off the shelf if adapting in short term). $35 million commercial. It's a point. Nuclear is $7.5 million. Get a breeder, cheaper in the longterm, provided you can secure it. Actually, if you have $1 per watt solar, it's comparable to nuclear. Wind will operate one of these engines at ~$1300 per hour (derived from Jerome a Paris' numbers), ~ 30-40% of commercial solar.

Enerwise3, have you heard of peak coal? It happens when you run out the liquid fuels that allow you to destroy mountains to get at coal seams profitably. It's like the problem solar has with platinum metals peaking. Electricity, like everything else, is going to be quite a bit more expensive, no matter how it's generated.

Some time ago I made some fast calculations based on the available low-cost uraniun resources of 5,469,000 tons with a usage at 65,000 tU/yr that provide 15% of the word electricity ( and

For 100% of the electricity produced by nuclear plants, the consumption would be 433,333 tons/yr, so the cheap reserves would last 12.6 years without considering the escalating cost of extraction and “peak uranium”. Sure, there is more uranium available at higher cost, but that “cost” translates in energy invested at the extraction/refining process. What energy would that be? Electric?

There is also the breeder reactor type, that uses the more abundant uranium (thousands of years of reserves), but that is still under development. As I remember the US canceled such a plant after a massive over-budget.

So, nuclear energy is only a solution if just one country invests in it. And it would be a bad solution, because you run away from a “peak oil system” to a “peak uranium system”.

As for wind and solar power, actually the problem is more technical than financial, because the costs count for little when your life depends on it - take medical bills as an example. The major problem is the intermittent nature of these power sources, and the limited storage systems that we have.

And in the end, cost is a purely abstract issue. The physical reality is that you need energy, raw material, a capable workforce and some organization. All of these are at our disposal, so it is feasible to convert society to solar and wind power.
However, we leave organization to the “economic system”, and that one says the costs make it impractical.
So, we have to wait until economy completely collapse before we find out that it is just one way of organizing things.

The trouble is that other possible organizations may take a while to be implemented... What happens during that time?

The BN-600 has been operated since *1980*, for example. My understanding is the technology is well understood, but cost-competativeness with thermal reactors is the issue for commercialization in an environment of cheap Uranium. I think any massive scale-up of nuclear power would require fast-reactors, but there are no gaping holes in the technology that would prevent this. Anyone please correct me if I'm wrong on this!

So, I believe it is incorrect to say we would just walk into "Peak Uranium" because of technological barriers that would exclude breeder-type reactors in a big scale-up scenario. Don't forget, Thorium fuel cycles can be implemented too. CANDUs could act as thermal breeders using Thorium, for example. Then there is the Molten Salt Thorium reactor design that was prototyped and tested in the 60s that has many advantages re burn-up, waste, scalability, cost, non-proliferation. There are MANY options re nuclear power that have been studied extensively and have been patiently waiting for prime time in the fossil-fuel era of plenty, which is now likely drawing to a close.

I did not say that the breeder reactor types where impossible, but they are certainly immature, and most operating plants are experimental.
However they suffer exactly from the same problem as solar and wind energy: they are expensive.

The propose “nuclear solution” is all based on old, cheap & dirty reactor types. It takes a long time to implement a nuclear solution, and the worst mistake would be to implement the wrong one.

From wikipedia:

“The breeding of plutonium fuel in FBRs, known as the plutonium economy, was for a time believed to be the future of nuclear power. It remains the strategic direction of the power program of Japan. However, cheap supplies of 'off the shelf' uranium and especially of enriched uranium have made current FBR technology uncompetitive with PWR and other thermal reactor designs. PWR designs remain the most common existing power reactor type and also represent most current proposals for new nuclear power stations.”

The computer I'm typing this comment on is powered by the breader reactor. And the second one is being built as we speak.


I didn't know that Russia was building new Breeders, but it is a smart move.
It would be a great idea to use this technology to burn the nuclear waste from conventional reactors, especial in the former USSR countries, since I think the storage methods where not very secure.
We still have the problem of decommission the old reactors and especially troublesome is all those waste containers drooped in the ocean. Something for future generations to worry about...

South Korea, Japan, China and India are interested an pursuing breeder reactors. There various information on that in the Fast Breeder link you provided. It is useful to read the links that you provide.

China is making a full scale high temperature reactor starting in 2009. 200MW meltdown proof. Would use fuel at higher efficiency 80GW days per ton of fuel and with refinements can get to 200-220 GW days per ton. Not as good as the 900 GW days per ton from molten salt reactors but better than the 25-50 GW days per ton of current reactors. The follow on HTR will be able to use the waste (unburned fuel) of existing reactors. China plans to factory mass produce the high temperature reactors.

50-60% efficient Uranium hydride reactors are funded and in development for 2012 deployment. (450 GW days per ton)

There are operating fuel reprocessing plants in France, Japan, Russia and England. So the 12 years can be doubled. Plus thorium power should soon have thorium fuel rods that can go into current reactors. Plus it takes many years to scale up from the current 70,000 tons of fuel usage up to 440,000 tons/year of fuel usage. the 5.5 million tons of reserves increased by 30% over the last few years when exploration restarted.

3 billion tons of uranium can be extracted from seawater. Japan proved this experimentally with kg extraction. the cost is about $200/kg.

Currently it costs about $1500/kg to process the raw nuclear fuel. About $500 will start come off that cost in 2012 when GE rolls out laser enrichment which is 3-20 times more cost and energy effective as centrifuge enrichment.


“It is useful to read the links that you provide.” I appreciate the advice, but I do not have a religious aversion to nuclear energy, and you will find me a defender of breeder technology. Therefore I did read the information provided by me ;) and a lot more.
So, the question of the 12 years is pertinent only when the majority of the proposed nuclear plants are not of the breeder type. And in all the literature, that is plainly stated.

You mentioned the fuel reprocessing I did some reading about it, and this is what I think you where mentioning:

“After breeder reactors were postponed, recycling plutonium once as MOX fuel for thermal reactors, extending energy extracted by only about 30%”.

There you go, I didn't know this information, and now we have not 12 years of conventional reactors but 17 years. Now let me ask you this: how long do you take to build a conventional reactor ? Take the last reactor build in the US:

“This plant has one Westinghouse pressurized water reactor, one of two reactor units whose construction commenced in 1973. Unit 1 was completed in 1996, and has a winter net dependable generating capacity of 1,167 megawatts.”

That is 23 years!
I guess a crash project could achieve a faster construction, but the core issue is that when you have the units running, it is time to think in replacing them! Besides, you need energy for yesterday, not in 5-10 years.

So, solar and wind power, despite their problems in scale and costs, can be immediately implemented. At a long run, breeder technology is the way to go, or better: fusion power.

As for uranium from see water, how about this:
“When 6g-U/kg-adsorbent and 20 repetitions or more becomes possible, the uranium cost reduces to 15,000 yen. This price level is equivalent to that of the highest cost of the minable uranium. The lowest cost attainable now is 25,000 yen with 4g-U/kg-adsorbent used in the sea area of Okinawa, with 18 repetitionuses. In this case, the initial investment to collect the uranium from seawater is 107.7 billion yen, which is 1/3 of the construction cost of a one million-kilowatt class nuclear power plant.”


This is great. The ~ twentyfold advantage in freight haulage energy costs is something I had heard, but I didn't remember the numbers exactly.

"The USA does not have enough rail passenger demand to justify more than isolated sections of high or semi-high speed rail passenger only service. The author’s position is that EU and Japanese style High Speed Rail is wasteful of both scarce capital and energy at this time."

If jet fuel doubles and the present airline business model tanks, I think this may change quite quickly. At the moment, Los Angeles to Philadelphia is sixty hours. I would ride fifteen hours to Kansas to a railroad hotel and another fifteen hours the next day. And I'm 25. It's not like I'm nostalgic about the golden age of the railroad. But it does use less oil. It sure beats driving cross-country at $8 per gallon gas. That's not exactly TGV speed, but don't undersell the need for transcontinental interurban. Los Angeles to Seattle in a day could beat the air route, once people realized that extra travel time on a train is not the end of the world.

Amtrak California is slow, prone to delays, and currently requires at least a bus transfer to get anywhere, but for solo travel, it beats a car by fuel price alone. Its ridership has increased significantly. And I found it to be a pleasant, if slow ride (~ 30% slower than by automobile).

The political trick here is to get the mayors of small towns stranded by airline bankruptcies aware of railroads as a dual-use alternative; both passenger and freight traffic to shore up their dying economies. They will start whining to the states, who will start whining to the feds.

Amtrak California is less prone to delays than any other part of the Amtrak system, but that's not saying much. Over the length of the Capitol Corridor and Surfliner routes Amtrak California averages 45 MPH (which isn't exactly blazing speed) and the San Joaquins average 55 MPH. The lack of a connection between Bakersfield and Los Angeles does is slow. I hope prop 1 (CA HSR) passes this November so that we can get better service between San Francisco and L.A.

Great idea - set of ideas, really. I would love to see it all happen. Quibbles...

Rail is already about 10 times as efficient in fuel terms as road freight. The -6M bbl/day scenario can be handled by rationing domestic production with rail having priority, road freight second, and PPVs last. No spending required, for 90% of the benefit. So this part of the paper is not convincing.

There must be powerful reasons, some of them social/political rather than economic, why so much freight is transported by road instead of rail. The paper does not talk about those reasons, or what can be done to remove them, with the exception of the implicit road maintenance subsidy to large freight trucks. Eliminating the subsidy may simply result in a larger fleet of smaller trucks, if there is a strong underlying preference for road transport. These issues need to be addressed before this proposal can work. They may have been outside the brief, of course.

Best of luck!

"There must be powerful reasons, some of them social/political rather than economic, why so much freight is transported by road instead of rail."

As an importer I can tell you one big advantage trucks have over rails is speed. Long Beach to Dallas by rail is 7-10 days. Long Beach to Dallas by truck is 2-3 days. This is all the time from shipment to receipt.

In 2008 America speed is worth a lot of money/oil.

Thus my emphasis on speed and reliability of rail shipments.

I understand that since UP has double tracked LA to El Paso (should be done by now, but I have not heard of an announcement), ship times are down. Still more than truck though.


LA to El Paso double-tracking is not even close to being finished. Tucson to Maricopa is this year's project - well underway and should be done by this fall. That still leaves about 3 stretches in Arizona between Maricopa and Yuma. I think Tucson to the New Mexico border is complete. I don't think any of the DTing across the California desert (Araz (west of Yuma) to Indio) is completed. It will be a few years yet.

Oops !

BN-SF has finished up double tracking LA to Chicago. The difference between the two RRs.


By hindsight, Eisenhower's Interstate Highway program does not look so good. Too bad he didn't listen to Admiral Hyman G. Rickover or use some common sense. The BIG WAR was about OIL, why encourage people and trucks driving around, using up the good stuff? Do you open up all of the best wine when the relatives are visiting? :)

Meanwhile back at the ranch. I know I am repeating what others are saying, but where is the electric power gong to come from?

And for those who drool at the sound of "electric power" and efficient electric motors, as compared to those bad dirty stinky polluting internal combustion engines, consider this. There is more than a 50% loss of fossil energy in power plants (some stinky pollution too.....oooooo), then some loss of electric power in transmission, and then a lot of loss in batteries (yes, I know the trains won't have batteries).

Finally, if you are just talking about electrifying the current rail lines, it could be done, but would do little. The trucks and cars are chewing up the lions share of petrol.

So you burn coal for the electricity - yeah, carbon output, but then you run the carbon through this process and you get good liquid fuel to displace oil on those Eisenhower Interstates. So the gain is still pretty good.

Please, for the most part, corn ethanol is a dirty word (basic polluting energy sink), except in the context of white lightning and moonshine. And if you keep talking about corn ethanol, you will drive me to drinking. Reminds me, time for some more aged grape juice, suppose to be good for me, and I have noticed, the more I drink the less I worry about Peak Oil :)

How about some overhead electricity on the interstates that cars can run on like bumper cars at an amusement park and allow people with electric cars to go over 100 miles?

GO ELECTRIFIED RAIL. [Why?] No parasitic load of fuel. Regenerative braking. No fumes.
GO 3 Phase AC [Why?] Most efficient transmission of electricity.
Untax Rail tracks [Why?] Underlying economic reason for ROW to be torn up is the tax penalty.
Only allow public authorities to build / maintain tracks, not operate trains.(no explanation necessary - see Amtrak) (Ex: Georgia owns tracks that it leases to CSX. That appears to work well.)
Segregate Slow Heavy Freight tracks from Fast Light Passenger / Light Freight tracks.[Why?] FRA regulations are incompatible for dual use. High speed Light trains need a different set of rules for superelevation, incline, tilting suspension, axle load and radius of curvature.
MULTIMODAL RAIL - High speed passenger service between major destinations, moderate speed commuter service to metropolitan areas, interurban light rail, slow speed streetcar / tram urban network. Integrate funiculars, cable cars, and cog railways for steep gradient corridors. There is no one single configuration for all, and it is foolish to focus on only one part of the comprehensive solution.

And, no, we can't "Drill" or "Mine" our way out of this mess. Hitting "empty" when it takes 60 million years to recharge the "fossil fuel tank" is not an option.

An interesting idea but shooting at sparrows instead of the elephants.
According to the numbers presented above the electrification part gets you a savings of 200,000 barrels a day. The bigger piece is the transfer of truck traffic to rail where the potential is 2.5 million barrels a day. There is really no need to do the first in order to do the second. Just looking at the payoff of the first part:

200,000 x $150 = $30,000,000 per day on the $90 billion investment.

The really big elephant is the electrification of cars. Take the same 90 billion and subsidize 30 million GM volts or other equivalents to the tune of $3,000 per in the form of a $10000 tax deduction. This would replace some chunk of the active car fleet and since these would be likely be the high mileage drivers you might expect 30 miles per day of pure electric use. Assume you are replacing 1.5 gallons of gasoline and your payoff is 45 million gallons of gasoline a day which is more than a 5x better payoff.

There is no doubt that the electrification of transport is what is needed. The sooner this starts getting discussed for real the faster we will leave the oil era behind with its despots, monarchs, oligopies and medieval societies.

I was preparing a similar response when I saw this above from david_in_ct. David has made a few good points.
My observations in visiting US is that its economy is almost entirely organized for the interstate/truck transport. It would be worthwhile considering a few East-West double track corridors that could replace long distance trucks driving on roads( roll-on roll-off) as is done with ferry transport in Norway/Canada or in Switzerland to travel under mountains. Such a plan could include high voltage DC and also electrification in time but the main aim should be to exploit the x15 better fuel economy of rail. Trains would have to leave hourly, traveling at 70-100 mph and stopping just 5-10 mins every few hours to detach and pick up trailers and tractors or containers, pre-loaded onto rail flat beds. Trucks could be handed off at destination to a new driver and immediately driven last 100-300 miles to destination.
Wind and solar should be sited at the best locations, but could feed into a rail corridor similar to the LA to Chicago SF route're missing the point(s).

Does electrifying cars result in a twenty-fold increase in energy efficiency compared to gasoline powered cars? (Answer: I don't think so.)

Does electrifying railroads by itself save oil? (Yes.)

What's wrong with saving $30 million a day on $90 billion? (Nothing. Payback in ten years, after that, net positive. Plus an infrastructure that is not dependent on oil. Also, not sure if the article actually says it will cost $90 billion to electrify railroads.)

How many BARRELS of oil is 45 million GALLONS of gasoline saved from your GM volt idea? (Answer: 2.3 million. Hmmmm...let's reread the article.)

Do you think oil is going to stay at $150 a barrel? (Not a good bet. Redo the math on the $90 billion/ten years. Probably be saving at least $100 million/day in ten years. Also note that Alan's actual policy proposal is only $10 billion.)

I think Alan has laid out a variety of reasons why electrification is cost-effective/necessary both to increase rail capacity and also keep it running in the advent of high oil prices or oil shortage, as well as have the option for using renewable energy. To say "there's no need" without addressing those points is...not convincing.

In any case, the "second part" is what it's all about. It is cost savings via efficiency. Not only will we not be paying for oil, we won't be paying for an equal amount of electrical energy.

How much electricity are those 30 million GM volts going to require? %1 of US electricity use? Let's not even get started on converting the whole US car fleet. Where is the energy savings? On the other hand, if you stop driving and take the train...


Hi Jaggedben,
I think you are also missing a few points; 1)the big savings in rail are from getting passengers and trucks off roads. Adding electrification is only a small saving.2) still need cars and trucks to get from rail stations to destinations because the whole country is designed around express-ways.
Davids point ( fairly understated), is 30 million PHEV are going to save about 10 times more oil than electrifying all rail, about the same savings of getting ALL commercial truck traffic onto rail(either diesel or electric).
If price of oil keeps rising may pay to do all three, but then again, 60 million PHEV's would be an even better use of funds.
If all passenger and light trucks were PHEV's would require about 20% of US electricity consumption, but could eliminate oil imports, not a bad trade-off.

The savings David and you talk about are not actually savings, they are just wishing that we can easily substitute some other energy source for oil. Alan's proposal actually saves ENERGY needed from any and all sources.

David's 30 million PHEVs aren't going to save a joule of work energy. If anything, they are going to require more source energy than gasoline powered cars (due to the inefficiency of batteries compared to gasoline as a medium of energy storage). Since there is no current energy supply to support 30 million PHEVs being plugged in every night, David has to say a lot more to prove that his idea is even workable. Not to mention there is NO existing car fleet of the sort in any country that provides firm figures about what such a car fleet would mean in all sorts of practical terms (how costly to make and service all those batteries, for example). By contrast, Alan's proposal relies on technology with a proven track record (so to speak) and copious knowledge from other countries about what approaches are most efficient and what the energy savings are.

Yes, the big savings are from getting passengers and trucks off the roads and onto the rails. How you could have read Alan's article or my comment and not realize we both get that is beyond me. That's exactly why I would oppose subsidizing car use, no matter the oil savings. I think that as gas prices rise there will be no need for subsidies to encourage people to buy high MPG cars, but subsidies WILL encourage people to continue to use cars instead of pursuing other options, such as the train. The person who changes to a PHEV cuts their GASOLINE use (but not their energy use) in half. The person who takes the train cuts their ENERGY use by a factor of 10 or more.

Ergo: there is no good use of government funds that encourages people to buy cars and continue to use them, IMO. It is not just about using less oil, it is about using less energy total (not to mention carbon emissions). There is no way reducing overall energy use involves maintaining the amount of car use we currently have in the US. OTOH, transferring our transportation needs to rail has inherent energy savings. In the worst case (sudden crash in available oil) we will be able to continue to transport food via rail with less total energy sources needed. People will walk or bike to the railroad in their area to accept food deliveries if necessary, but they won't be able to wave their magic wands to create more diesel or gasoline for trucks to deliver it from hundreds of miles away. So that's where the investment should be made, IMO. Both because it will reduce our overall energy use, which is good (economically, strategically, and because of global warming), and as a safety net in the event of severe crisis.

Perhaps another way of looking at the problem is to consider that the US consumers about 20 million barrels of oil per day, moving ALL long distance trucks to rail and electrifying ALL railroads would save about 13%. A very big part of the other 87% is used for transport within cities. If industrial parks were all served by rail, all shopping centers, all suburbs, sports grounds etc serviced by rail or bus, and most people were prepared to spend a lot more of their time commuting then we could save a considerable amount of that 87%.
Alternatively, if all new passenger and light truck ICE vehicles achieved about double the 25 mpg fuel economy in 6 years, 50% of VMT would be by these vehicles and you would be saving about 25% of gasoline use(about 13% oil use).
PHEV's and EV's use a lot less energy than a similar sized ICE vehicle, because they are about 90% efficient versus the the 20-25% efficiency of ICE. Since electricity can be generated from many sources and the US has almost the highest per capita electricity production of any nation( using almost no oil), there is ample room to save a little for PHEV's as they become a significant part of fleet. Even burning oil in a power plant( 35-50% efficiency) to generate electricity would be more efficient than burning in vehicle ICE's .

The cost of rail transport isn't just fuel costs, its the time to move goods, cost of transfers, massive capital costs. Countries where rail works have high population densities, often cities build in 19th century and even then there is massive vehicle use( but usually shorter average trips than the 40-50miles/day in US). The US can not go back to the efficient system used in Europe today because it never had it.

Where a good urban train or tram system is available its great to use if you live within 1 mile from a station and work within 1 mile of another station and do not have to make 2-4 transfers. Unfortunately most people in Australian and US cities don't have that and wont unless the cities are re-build on a European high density design. This is going to take considerably more than 6 years.

Okay, fair Alan took pains to point out, we need many solutions, not one. There is no reason these two ideas should have to compete for the same $90 billion. However, supposing they did have to compete, the rail solution still comes out (way) on top for me, for the following reasons:

-The rail solution is based on proven technologies and known costs. I would much rather have government subsidy go to that, and let the market figure out if the cost/benefits of PHEVs etc are worth it/possible, than vice versa. No one has debated in this thread whether we can actually electrify railroads and build new tracks. There's a lot of debate about batteries.

-As I said, I'm not at all convinced that subsidies are crucial to convince people to convert to PHEVs given the current market pressures of gasoline prices.

-Long term, the cost of the PHEV subsidy program does not include the cost of maintaining the current road network for current vehicle use, nor does the cost of the rail subsidy program include the savings of not having to maintain that road network.

-The strategic/crisis response reasons stated in my last reply.

-I don't think the "lifestyle" concerns in your latest reply are nearly as insurmountable as you make them out to be. On the San Francisco Penisula, I can easily estimate that %50 or more of the population already does live within 1 mile of a rail station. Similar for the East Bay. Do you think that people will find it cheaper to buy PHEVs than to keep (or NOT keep) their old car after moving closer to existing transit (not to mention newly built transit)? Though I'm sure you're not surprised, I am doubtful...

Gasoline Car Math:

Current US Car fleet is about 250 million vehicles about 60% passenger cars and 40% light trucks, SUV etc.

Fleet fuel mileage is about 20MPG

Total Vehicle Miles Traveled per year ballpark 2.8 trillion (The gov published vehicle miles traveled for trucks buses and car and this is around 3 trillion per year so I knocked off some to get to cars)

Total gasoline 390 million gallons per day. (per EIA rounded up actual is less now)

At 20 MPG 7.8 billion miles per day or 365 * 7.8 = 2,847 billion miles per year which is around the estimates from the DOT vehicle miles per year.

GM volt math:
The first 40 miles of driving per charge is on the battery so no gas.
It takes 8KWH of electric to fuel the battery to this level. (the Imiev claims a distance of 100 miles from the same charge but is a much smaller and less powerful car and perhaps not big enough so will stick with the more conservative GM claim)

Operating Cost Comparisons:
Current cost at 20MPG and $4 gasoline is 20 cents per mile.
At 10 cents per KWH (average US retail price) 40 miles is 80 cents or 2 cents per mile.

Energy Efficiency:

1 KWH (kilowatt hour) = 3.6 MJ (mega joules)
.2 KWH = .72 MJ = 1 mile traveled in Volt
1 Gallon Gasoline = 132 MJ per gallon
6.6 MJ per mile in gas car
6.6 / .72 ~ 9 times more efficient energy use in Volt than average car

Electrical energy needed to replace 100% of vehicle miles assuming all electric:

7.8 billion miles per day * .2 KWH / mile = 1.56 billion KWH per day

1GW Power plant produces 1 million KWH per hour or 24 million KWH per day. Put in some down time and you get maybe 20 million KWH per day. Leaving out peak effects it would required about 80 1GW Power Plants to provide enough electrical energy to fuel the entire car fleet assuming it ran on battery power.

Power Plant Costs:
AP1000 (Westinghouse) $1.4 per watt to build (ex regulatory madness) So ballpark $100 billion dollars (few months in Iraq so a no brainer)
Average US operating Costs per nuclear KWH is 2 cents. Of the 2 cents .5 cents is fuel with .2 of the .5 cents being actual uranium cost.

So the math is pretty straight forward.
If you electrify the US car fleet you cut oil consumption nearly in half.

If you simply replace existing cars at the new car run rate it would take about 8 years to replace half the fleet though in reality newer cars are driven disproportionately more to older cars so you would probably replace significantly more than half the gas usage if you replaced half the fleet.

There is very little that actually needs to be done to get this going. The battery technology exists and will only get better. The power generating side also existing and it too is getting better (Westinghouse has announced plans for a 1.7 GW version of the AP1000)

The only real impediments to this process are political. If this was outlined clearly to the American people I believe it would take on a life of its own especially if the car production was moved onshore. If I was running someones political campaign this would be my sole platform. If we cut our oil imports by 9 million BPD over the next 10 years a lot of our foreign policy will take care of itself.

BTW, taken to conclusion around the world this will also end greenhouse gas emission and the whole global warming problem.

AP1000 (Westinghouse) $1.4 per watt to build (ex regulatory madness)

Multiply x3 for a more realistic/conservative number.

Adjust that the USA can only build eight new nukes in the next decade (Dept of Energy report) and the first eight should go for replacing NG and coal, 2% of US generation for electrified rail (Urban and inter-city p[ax & freight) and other higher priorities. etc.

After 2020 we can start building new nukes in volume.

Volt production

2013 - 100,000
2014 - 250,000
2015 - 600,000 etc.


Why multiply by 3x for a conservative estimate when real production costs of real plants are available?

By Bonnie Pfister, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jun. 28--China wants to have 100 of Westinghouse Electric Co.'s nuclear reactors in operation or under construction by 2020 -- more than double what was anticipated, according to the company's incoming CEO.

Aris Candris, who will lead the Monroeville-based firm beginning Tuesday, said Chinese officials shared those plans with Westinghouse during a mid-May meeting.

"It is huge," Candris said in an interview Thursday with the Tribune-Review. "Originally we were thinking somewhere around 40."

If you read the links you will find that the costs are actually less than the $1.40 per watt. China bought 4 plants for $5.2 billion dollars.

So the idea that only 8 can be built in the US over the next decade is surely not one based on engineering or resources. It may be political but thats impossible to discuss. I'm sure shareholders in XOM won't be too happy...

As for the GM volt production schedule it is a reflection of a single model and what they think the market might bare. There is little doubt that if all the auto companies were given a mandate tomorrow to convert all their production to battery/electric in 3 years the only bottleneck would be battery production. Electric motors are not very scarce, nor are the IC's to control them.

There are no engineering impediments to getting this done.

So the idea that only 8 can be built in the US over the next decade is surely not one based on engineering or resources

Yes it is. The Dept. of Energy found that the limiting factor was skilled, nuke rated labor. We could cannibalize the maintenance workforce (to a limit)and those that worked on Browns Ferry repair & Watts Bar.

I read the report and found them a tad optimistic, six or seven seems a better estimate.

I strongly support building those 6,7, or 8, but understand that new nukes are a very small BB for the the next decade. Completions after 2024 are a VERY different story.

what they think the market might bare.

No, it is production issues.

There is little doubt that if all the auto companies were given a mandate tomorrow to convert all their production to battery/electric in 3 years the only bottleneck would be battery production. Electric motors are not very scarce, nor are the IC's to control them.

Wrong again. First of all "only batteries" ignores a elephant !

Even expanding lead acid battery production for 15 million GEMs/yr would be a serious constraint ! Roughly about x5. Wheres the lead, etc. ?

Power electronics are NOT logic chips, and there are serious production constraints for that many, that big.

And the volume of electric motors of the size and shape required for Volts, etc. are an order or two magnitude too small for 15 million/yr.

And 15 million/yr will still take over a decade to replace ICEs.

Best Hopes for Realistic Planning (EVs aren't it),


PS: Those Chinese reactors are not yet built. And Chinese labor is a bit cheaper, their safety regs laxer, etc. The Finnish reactor is a bit closer comparable,

"Yes it is. The Dept. of Energy found that the limiting factor was skilled, nuke rated labor. We could cannibalize the maintenance workforce (to a limit)and those that worked on Browns Ferry repair & Watts Bar."

Wow, maybe we can send some folks to China to go to school so they can become 'nuke rated laborers'. Seriously, go take a look a the westinghouse site to see how these things are built now as factory modules. The on-site labor is much different than it used to be and revolves around pouring concrete and the like.

"Even expanding lead acid battery production for 15 million GEMs/yr would be a serious constraint ! Roughly about x5. Wheres the lead, etc. ?"

I think you might want to check up on the battery tech now being used for EV's. The chemistry is all lithium based. There is no lead.

"Power electronics are NOT logic chips, and there are serious production constraints for that many, that big."

IGBT's have been around for 20 years, though the more hi-tech ones are within the last decade. These are silicon based devices, yes just like the stuff in the PC's we are both typing upon. There is no way that this could be a production constraint. These things are used all over the place.

"Even expanding lead acid battery production for 15 million GEMs/yr would be a serious constraint ! Roughly about x5. Wheres the lead, etc. ?"

I think you might want to check up on the battery tech now being used for EV's. The chemistry is all lithium based. There is no lead.

Yeah. Uh. I'm not sure I'm groking how satisfying a vastly increased demand for lithium (and really it's more like a complex lithium oxide) is going to be easier than satisfying a vastly increased demand for lead. Last I heard, lithium wasn't exactly what you'd consider a common element.

"Power electronics are NOT logic chips, and there are serious production constraints for that many, that big."

IGBT's have been around for 20 years, though the more hi-tech ones are within the last decade. These are silicon based devices, yes just like the stuff in the PC's we are both typing upon. There is no way that this could be a production constraint. These things are used all over the place.

What he's saying here is that the physical devices that are "power electronics" are very different from IC's both in terms of physical dimensions and the manufacturing techniques. You can't use a fab that produces the IC's in your computer to make them. So, to increase production you'd need to build new factories. Additionally, the larger size means they use MORE silicon, dopants, etc. and that there might be supply limitations on how much of these devices you can build.

You shouldn't be so quick to dismiss what he's saying out of hand.

There is very little that actually needs to be done to get this going. The battery technology exists and will only get better.

You may want to look at the supply bottlenecks of the batteries, like lithium when demand from batteries starts pushing up prices. This is the only story I could find. I can't comment on its accuracy.
EVWORLD FEATURE: Lithium in Abundance: Battery | Lithium | Evans | Tahil

There are other materials which can be used for advanced batteries such as zinc.

I have no doubt that there will be short term price responses to some of this, but the general availability of lithium is quite high. There is no great rush to explore because there is no price signal from the market. Right now it pays to look for a lot of other things.

I read the original 'peak lithium' paper and it was put out by someone at a company with a competing technology (zinc air). I generally don't get too worked up when a potential competitor starts releasing white papers on what is wrong with the competition. I'll see if I can find it but someone put out a geological rebuttal.

It is the size of the tap.

Best case it is going to take MANY years to expand existing mines and start new ones to generate the flow rates of lithium required to build 15 million LARGE batteries/year, or any other metal. Like with oil, it may be in the ground, but we can only use it in refined form above ground.

Lead may be the best case, and even then large increases in production will be needed.


The Firefly advanced lead acid battery uses around half the lead of a conventional batterry.
Also, if oil is expensive and many SUV's etc no longer viable, large quantities of scrap batteries will enter the market.

Zinc can also be used as a battery and has very high power density if as it does not need to carry oxygen and simply burns in air.

Should lithium run into a bottleneck it is reassuring to note that around 21 months of current Zinc production would be sufficient for the batteries of 1 billion cars:

Zinc can also be used as a battery and has very high power density if as it does not need to carry oxygen and simply burns in air.

The first person to create an open air rechargeable battery will get very rich. For now, we need some heavy machinery to get the zinc again breaking the zinc-oxygen bounds.

True, but the zinc batteries can take the form of a slurry, and be pumped in, very like gasoline, and using similar infrastructure.

The zinc oxide can then be split at a central location where power is available.

Lead is going to be no case. No one is using it for anything in EV's. The older hybrids use NimH all the new batteries are Li based.

Todays mining methods allow for extraordinary amounts of processing. Given that the Lithium deposits are mostly surface brines they can effectively be open pit mined. The amount of material that can be moved in such an operation is mind boggling. I own shares in a small canadian copper mine that in about two years will have increased the size of their mining thru put by about of factor of two, from 40 million to 80 million pounds of copper per year. This is a tiny company (TGB) with a market cap of a few hundred million dollars. To do this they are mining something on the order of 55,000 tons per day of ore, and stripping something like 2x that.

If the world needs lots of lithium it will get it just fine.

And how many months/years to do the engineering design and cost/economic analysis, in order to get management and then board approval ? And how long from a financial "OK" to copper ingots being unloaded at a factory ?

I would be very surprised if it was much less than 4 to 5 years.

Please note that expanding existing operations has much quicker (x 2 ? x 4 ?) than green field start-ups.

You are making a series of very unrealistic assumptions to think that we can build a majority of EVs and PHEVs (not 100%, just 51% of 15 million/yr) in much less than a decade (July 2018). If new car sales fall to 5 million/ year (Great Depression II) then I can see a higher % sooner. ANY economic activity will get people and resources.


I'd see the timeline as similar to that which you project, Alan, although Mercedes reckon that they will be producing all non-oil using cars by 2015.

Much of the delay will be caused by depression, in my view, as much as any difficulty building the cars and batteries, although as you say ramping will take time.

Some areas should be able to do much better - France for instance should survive relatively well, and has spare power to run electric cars, so I would see the changeover as being uneven, with come countries changing much faster.

China and Japan may also change relatively fast in my view.

For most of the rest of us I see the immediate future of personal transportation as being electric bikes and trikes - with yearly production of around 30 million already ramping up should be fairly easy, and would need much less battery capacity:
Next Big Future: Status of electric bikes and scooters

There are new lightweight electric cars coming and some at a price that is in between the 200-1000 of the electric bikes and scooters and the common $10K-50K of a car.

Tata has announced plans for an electric and other enviro friendly versions of the Tata nano (initial production run of 250,000 for existing 50mpg car). Presumably the price would be in their $2500 range.

XP Vehicles a startup is making inflatable electric cars. They will be flat shipped like Ikea furniture. One version will be in the $2500 price range. Like driving around in shaped air bags.
Production and commercial sales target of 2010

$2500 electric cars using a lot less weight and materials should be able to be ramped up to far higher production levels faster. The $2500 level is also less than one years gasoline bill for many people. So adding a cheap electric car as an extra vehicle for all commuting and most travel situations allows the in place stock of cars to not wait to be worn out. It then just becomes a matter of ramping up production. I believe getting up to the near the level of electric bike and scooter production is possible by 2013-2016.

The expansion plan was announced on May 17,2007. I don't know how long it took to do the engineering studies. They were basically retrofitting the mill and the flotation circuits and ramping up the mining rate. Project completion is expected at the end of 2008 or about 19 months from inception. Mining and milling will go from 36,000 tpd to over 55. They have hit every milestone on route. The current production rate of copper concentrate is 80% higher than it was in Jan 08. They are now ramping up a new expansion to increase total output to 120 million pounds per year which is scheduled to be completed next year. So in about 2.5 years they will have about tripled production.

For your reading pleasure:

I missed most of this exchange while sleeping. Thanks for your very detailed comments and calculations on EV or PHEV's.
I totally agree with the statement that converting from gasoline to electric vehicles is the one big idea that can really capture the imagination of US and help to start to solve a few major problems.
A few small points, I think average fuel use per VMT is a little higher than 20mpg( more like 22-25). New vehicles have 24.5mpg average.
Also about half VMT are by cars and light trucks, aged 6 years or less.
Another important issue is that 100 million households have an average of over 2 cars, so when PHEV become available they would probably be used much more, keeping the SUV as a back-up or for occasional longer trips, so may see more than 50% of VMT by newer(0-6year) cars.
Australia has a 4-5 h low electricity demand 1am-5.30am, that is 30-40% below winter peak and 50% below summer peak. I would expect similar low demand in US, so could re-charge a very large EV fleet without any additional generator capacity. If people re-charge at work could be a problem, unless they plugged in before 9am, and were re-charged before 1pm.

In addition, that $30 million is only counting savings on the fuel that is currently burnt by diesel trains. Now, what about X% of truck cargo that would end up on rails? Would that make the $30 into $60 million/day?

In addition, what impact does removing 500,000+ barrels/day of 2017 demand have on the overall prices (especially in the face of declining production)? Are the remaining, let us say, 65 million barrels/day globally $0.50 less expensive? $1 less expensive? What is the systems-of-systems impact economically?

Good questions, Hard answers !

Best Hopes for Both,


According to the numbers presented above the electrification part gets you a savings of 200,000 barrels a day

I think you could raise that figure considerable as you get people out of aircraft and into passenger trains. Airlines use enormous amounts of fuel.

I think you should add some information on the health benefits and the healthcare savings of switching from diesel-electric to electric-traction locomotives.

The following will give you a brief look at some of the problems. I have been trying to find some of the government studies that show the full extent of the diesel exhaust pollution along the rail corridors and the potential health effects that I saw back when the efforts to stop the DM&E expansion and increase to 45+ coal trains per day along their track from Wyoming to the Minnesota/Wisconsin border, but have not been able to find the right search parameters.
The health care savings long term would more than pay for the costs of electrifying!
Hope this helps.

Curbing Air Pollution in the San Joaquin Valley by Greater Use of Trains

Ports in a storm: debatable point: challenges center on growth, pollution
Los Angeles Business Journal, Jan 2, 2006 by Howard Fine!OpenDocument&Highlight=0,rail

U.S EPA, California, Oregon, Washington join to announce comprehensive West Coast diesel initiative

Health Effects Task Force Studies 1995-2006

Guest Editorial: Ships, Trucks, and Trains: Effects of Goods Movement on Environmental Health!OpenDocument&Highlight=0,rail

U.S. EPA awards $150,000 to Sacramento air district for diesel reduction

Sustainable Adelaide: trains will breathe life into tired rail corridors while .... electric instead of diesel? Electric trains reduce. local air pollution. ...

Sorry, but I wrote a section on health benefits (perhaps 5,000 lives /year saved in truck vs. rail accidents) plus pollution.

Cut it for length (if you think this was long ...) and all that was left was:

Rail freight is also significantly safer than heavy truck freight per ton-mile. Another economic, and human, benefit that could save thousands of lives each year. Electric rail should generate significantly less pollution, even after accounting for electrical generation


John, I had to cut those out...way too long. left the titles below.

If we electrified as much rail as you suggest, how many locomotives would one need, and how much would they cost?

To what extent can a diesel-electric locomotive be retrofitted to run on an electrified line? Yes, they have a lot of the same components, so in *theory* you could just add a pantograph and turn off the diesel engine when not in use. In practice things are always more complicated than this however, so I am guessing one would really need to strip the thing and rebuild it, but many components could still be reused, so it ought to be cheaper than buying a brand new locomotive.

Because of their "surge" capacity, and faster acceleration & braking (faster > fewer), I have been told (Ed Tennyson ?) that 4 electric locos can replace 7 diesel locos.

Double tracking, by speeding up trains, also cuts the # of locos significantly. Growth will offset these savings.

"Below" the deck can be reused (Kazakhstan had 150 Soviet diesel-electric locos stripped to the deck and new GE diesel-electric locos put on top of the deck).

1950s & 1960s diesel-electric locos would have been cheap to convert to 1950s electric locos. Modern electric locos take single phase AC, convert to DC then convert to 3 phase AC. The electronics of this are half the cost of an electric loco.

IMHO, one could take a 10 year old diesel-electric loco and convert it to a modern all electric, but the savings would be smaller than expected. Converting to a 1960's type electric loco would be cheaper (even if they use more electricity).

Thanks for the good question,


Modern electric locos take single phase AC, convert to DC then convert to 3 phase AC.

Modern diesel-electric locos also do the AC-DC-AC dance, for that matter. Higher capital costs due to the inverters, but cheaper to maintain. AC traction motors are cheaper, more efficient, and more reliable than DC motors.

I am ashamed to say I did not know that !


I would not worry much about surplus diesel locomotives since the electrified sections would give increased railway traffic that spills over to the non electrifiel feed lines and not yet electrified main lines. They will all be used up even if some will spend a few years in storage.

One niche locomotive that is lacking on the market is a small electrical locomotive with supplemental high efficiency diesel engines to lower the cost for freight that pass both electrified and non electrified lines and avoid expensive electrification of switchyards, loading tracs etc.

I would rather spend money establishing new locomotive factories then retrofitting old diesels.

I'm not sure you could get delivery of any major equipment in a year or less. Major equipment can take 2-3 years from order date. Could be even worse, considering the U.S. doesn't manufacture much of this any more.

Probably will set back your schedule by a few years.

Look to tar sands to see what money can do for "bottlenecks". First step is 4 shifts, 24/7 production.

As the international listing shows there is an international industry. And very few parts are really "high tech" (there are some).

Best Hopes for Mobilization,


Yeah, look at the tar sands. The expansions are behind schedule and way over budget.

No project manager worth more than a bucket of spit is going to give you a one year schedule for anything, especially when all the vendors and factories are overseas.

John Schumann supervised the design, construction and start-up of Sacramento's first Light Rail line, at very low cost/mile and on-budget. He is one of the best rail construction managers in the USA.

Ed Tennyson speaks very highly of him and recommended him.

He and I discussed equipment availability and ramp-up times. Some parts (transfortmers for example) for the first lines may not arrive for 18 to 20 months, but we could, we believed, make the 500 mile goal/team in Year 2.


Ohio Brass (since sold into a larger company) makes some of the better bits & pieces. I think they still export electrification equipment.

Brookville Equipment makes small loco in the USA, GE and EMD (former GM division sold to Warren Buffett) make large locos. All three export.

Harsco makes some good rail equipment (track laying, etc.) and they export.

Two US steel mills make rail, and more could.

IMO, much of the electrification equipment will be made in the USA.

Concerning the locos I will defer to you, since I have no experience with them. I will say that in a shop running one shift at present going to 24/7 is not a trivial matter; it can take years to get ramped up.

I was thinking about switchgear, large motors, MCCs, large inverters, etc. Those are all essentially made to order and have 18-24 months delivery times.

One thing: on squirrel cage motors, for a slight premium (used to be ~10%) you can buy a motor with an overload factor of 1.05 up to 1.15. Let's you run it a lot longer than 1 hour in overload. I don't know if this can be done with traction motors, though.

The super-giant tire makers for tar sands dump trucks have ramped up production fairly quickly.

1 to 4 shifts is a struggle, I agree, but 1 to 2.5 shifts (small night shift works on "hot jobs" and critical path work) is less difficult.

And most equipment makers will quote a "hot job" price.

Still, I give 30 months to put electrified lines into service (see tax credit). And if the first few thousand miles have to wait for one or two critical pieces before operations begin, this need not slow down the overall pace.


I'm pretty sure the railroads could do it that fast if they were motivated. I've always been impressed by how quickly Union Pacific (the railroad around here) can get things done when they decide that it is worth the expense.

How are the utilities? Because I'm guessing the schedules would be more dependent on them.

(roughly equal to ANWR at its peak, but electrified rail does not deplete - which ANWR inevitably will).

Alan, Great work and very detailed. Haven't read it all yet but makes a lot of sense.

Just a bit of a nitpick really but I think the above phrase might be a bit misleading. Electricity, like hydrogen, will never deplete. But it is an energy carrier, not a fuel, so comparing it with ANWR oil reseves, or any other fuel source is an apples and oranges comparison.

I think of electrified rail like insulation.

Regardless of the heat source (oil, natural gas, wood, propane, electric resistance, heat pump) an extra 6" of insulation in the attic will save energy and it will last a LONG time :-)


In the early 1900's the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific, having just added the Western Extension to their milage, decided for multiple reasons to electrify especially the portions crossing multiple mountain ranges in the western United States. When completed, it was the longest electrified main line in the world.

Indeed, representatives from everywhere else in the world came to study what they had done.

Given the very early state of AC (Alternating Current) technology, they elected to go with a 3000 volt DC system for the actual operating current. The 100,000 volt AC that was carried on the lines running on the right of way were "transformed" into DC by motor - generator sets in substations placed about every 60 to 70 miles (as I recall).

What I find THE MOST INTRIGUING is that this suggestion is purportedly an "idea" from an ELECTED individual. This fact alone eases my anxiety.

If, as I have been told, THE most cost efficient method of moving ANYTHING - frieight or passengers - through any given cross sectional area of right of way is by rail, then this suggestion is , given the current situation we face, probably the first logical suggestion to appear in the media.

I support it whole heartedly and feel we should get on with it NOW.


The biggest irony is the Milwaukee road's de-electrification, coinciding with the first oil crisis and falling copper prices.

Rejecting this, the railroad dismantled its electrification just as the 1973 oil crisis took hold. By 1974, when the electrification was shut down, the electric locomotives operated at half the cost of the diesels that replaced them. Worse, the railroad had to spend $39 million, as much as the GE-sponsored revitalisation plan, to buy more diesel locomotives to replace the electrics, and only received $5 million for the copper scrap since prices had fallen.

It would be great to turn this completely around to implement Alan's plan in the second oil crisis. I just wonder how much refrigerated fruits and vegetables will actually be carried from CA and the Southeast as climate change takes hold.


I see only one issue, but it's a biggie. It looks to me like you get 80-90% of your diesel savings by shifting truck freight to diesel rail. The percentage savings from electrification is great, but it's a high percentage of a much smaller number.

Given that the rail system is running at capacity now, and that capital (and skilled labor, and manufacturing capacity) is limited, it sure looks tempting to put the money into the track and signal upgrades and catch the electrification later. I agree we need the electrification, but I might have to agree with a beancounter on this one.

Counter points.

Electrification increases capacity by 15% by itself.

Electrification uses different skills and infrastructure than tracks or signals. Both can be done, rarely will the two efforts interfere with each other, or even compete for the same scarce resources (below the managerial level).

Electrification of commuter lines speeds times by 15%, attracting more pax (with their fares) and lowering costs (labor & rolling stock). Something similar but more diffuse should happen with freight.

To quote the Kazakh Minister of Transport

Use of electric traction on railways is one of the most important technical measures to raise economic efficiency of the railway sector. For example, electric locomotives consume less energy and their exploitation takes less spending. The share of electric haulage carrier cost is 1.6 times less than on diesel traction locomotive

1.6 times less should please the bean counters :-)

Electrification also has the potential for crucial grid upgrades and enhanced wind generation.

More when I get a some rest.


Frank Richards has a point, though. The meat of this proposal, as far as reducing oil consumption is concerned, is really about moving from truck to rail (diesel or electric). Electrification is secondary and not strictly speaking necessary in order to enjoy a large majority of the savings.... if it is in fact feasible to replace most of our trucks with trains.

Incidentally, are we sure quoting Kazakhstan bolsters the argument unless the context is potassium production? ;-)

I do agree that electrification of rail is inevitable, however. But it may occur slowly because existing rail infrastructure works so well and uses very little oil.

And may I be permitted to quibble with the idea that we are stuck with silver BBs? IMO electric cars have the potential to be a regular 38 caliber silver bullet with respect to personal transport. (not yet with freight)

Kazakhstan has 2,900 km of rail electrification out to bid. Awarded and signed in 2009.

They are using some of their early oil export earnings to electrify their railroads (and build more). Is this a hint ?

The old Packard Motorcar slogan was "Ask a man that owns one". In this case, ask a man who is buying them.

Best Hopes,


Incidentally, are we sure quoting Kazakhstan bolsters the argument

Actually, Kazakhstan is an excellent boost to a pro-railway argument.

First up, Kazakhstan is undemocratic, and has a history of traditional Communist corruption, incompetence and inefficiency. The Kazakhs having a better railway system than the US is like Cubans having a greater life expectancy and lower infant mortality than the US. A bit bloody embarrassing. Thus, if they can manage it, for us in the West it should be a doddle.

Secondly, they're an oil and gas exporter, with subsidised fuel for the population, and such countries find it difficult to be tempted by fuel efficient things like railways.

In addition Iran recently signed an MOU with Russia to electrify an additional 400 km of their railroads.

Do they know something we do not ?


IMO electric cars have the potential to be a regular 38 caliber silver bullet with respect to personal transport

MAYBE ? At some vague, uncertain time in the distant future.

This is the EV you can buy today (a couple in my neighborhood BTW).

Low volume production today, but it could be the Model T of EVs as Peak Oil progresses. But it will take time top ramp up. And it will supplement Urban Rail in TOD, but NOT preserve Suburbia in BAU.

I read that the Telsa will start production with 5 cars/week and will then ramp up to 25 cars/week. The USA has 240 million registered vehicles.

The GM Volt, 70,000 produced by 2012 (if all goes well). 0.03% 0f all registered vehicles.

Uncertain technology, VERY long lead times, I really do not rank EVs as even a silver BB by the time the post-Peak Oil crunch hits.

OTOH, the table from 2000 by Indian Railways lists 155,000 km of electrified rail lines (and not every nation is listed, and more have been electrified since then). I posted an excerpt from 1928 that Swiss Federal Railways will be 60% electrified that year.

That is 80 years ago !!

Compare that to the glossy brochures of Telsa and GM.

We can, and must, start electrifying our Railroads ASAP as fast as possible and not be distracted by PR spin and vague promises as world oil exports decline (-1 million b/day in 2007).

By the time that 1%, just 1%, of USA vehicles are EVs, we should be debating which spur rail lines to electrify.

Best Hopes for Realistic Planning,


Here's an exercise that would make my point:

Develop a time table year by year (out to 2030 say) of how much total US oil consumption can be reduced by pursuing a more efficient, expanded, (and increasing electrified) rail system.

Then do the same for the auto fleet. So hybrids, EVs, efficient FF vehicles, other alt fuels etc all go into the mix. The EV silver bullet is the end point.

Re the Swiss.... remember they have no oil whereas contrastingly it takes take only a tiny fraction of US production to run the rail system on diesel. In fact, you could run it for almost a decade using only the SPR.

But my intent is not to diss electric trains. I'm in favor of them. What I'd like to see is some number crunching that clearly shows the savings with respect to oil consumption.

Develop a time table year by year (out to 2030 say) of how much total US oil consumption can be reduced by pursuing a more efficient, expanded, (and increasing electrified) rail system

I have, for all four elements of Non-Oil transportation that I support.

1) Electrified railroads (freight and inter-city passenger)
2) Urban Rail (widespread and down to towns of 100,000)
3) Bicycling (plus Segways, eTrikes, etc.)
4) Transit Orientated Development/walkable neighborhoods (shoe leather is Non-Oil Transportation)

for a variety of scenarios that are within the realistic post-Peak Oil boundaries.

EVs are the laggard and smallest 5th element (they can catch up with bicycles at the very end of 20 years, maybe, but bikes are the quickest reaction at the beginning of the 20 years).

One weakness of EVs that they have no elasticity of transportation supply except car-pooling.

EVs are, however, "sexy" because they carry the illusion of continuing BAU (GWB just said at his press conference that they would not have to look like golf carts). Unless ELM is not real, the Saudis and the rest of OPEC REALLY do have those stated reserves and everyone here is mistaken, EVs cannot preserve BAU. Twenty years is too long to tie bicycles.

So I do not support any actions towards EVs (the 5th, smallest and slowest Non-Oil Transportation element) except to let the marketplace build them ASAP (i.e. not that fast in reality). Once the first four are moving along at breakneck speed, support for EVs should be reconsidered.

Best Hopes for Realistic Planning,


My thoughts and analysis have matured and developed since I wrote this, but it is still a good basis to start with

Apologies but I can't seem to locate the table you are referring to.

Are you sure you have the correct link?

The table is for personal use.

The USA 2034 was a verbal description of a vision that developed from that.


Why not publish it?

or just post it in the comments here

I proposed an "Alternative Hirsch Report" to ASPO-Sacramento, but not accepted (too late).

LOTS of work, little return in preparing something that can withstand critique.

I use TOD as a tool to further my agenda, which is to change the course that the USA is taking and make things "not quite as bad as they would otherwise be".

This article was worth making the effort. More speculative number crunching is not, in my judgment.

Perhaps later.


Come on, Alan!!

How can we grind if you won't give us meat???

Some distant time past I recall the story of a man
who wandered a land filled with hunger and despair.
Hungry and tired he stumbled into a small village and
begged a family for some food.
The family was gaunt and starving themselves and
explained they had no food to share with the man or
they surely would.
From his pocket he pulled what he called a "magic soup
He then asked if they had a pot and some water..which
were soon produced and offered freely.
He placed the "magic soup stone" into the water and
began to build a fire....asking if there might be any
old potatos laying about...someone said they knew of a few and went to get them.
As he lit the wood on fire he inquired about any
grain that might be laying on the floor of the hay
mow...children were instructed to sweep any they
found and bring it so the "magic soup stone" could
work better.
Could there be any carrots in that garden over there
he asked?....possibly even just the green tops he
I believe so said a women who went to get them.
The strange man kept this up for some time and the pot
began to fill with all manner of food and simmered
and boiled and the people all gathered and began
to partake of the bounty.
All were fed and profusely thanked the stranger who
left them with the magic soup stone and the instructions on how too use it.

Could the above article to which I post be just such
a magic soup stone?
A concerted effort to rethink about energy and utilise
all that we have?

Would it be possible to use the country's Interstate Freeway corridors for possible rail corridors? The Interstate probably won't be used to the extent that it is now
and probably will have large sections closed down as the traffic declines due to fuel problems. Also, the truckers are worried about not having jobs. The railroads, and the companies that make the equipment to run the railroads will be hiring, and probably pay better than what they would make while driving trucks. The interstate system wouldn't require as much modification to accommodate the rails and maybe one side could be used for rails, while the other side could be modified to accomodate what little, local automobile traffic there may be.

Perhaps in a few places (coming out of California comes to mind) but look at the Stracnet map in the article. Just 18% of all rail lines.

For long haul, we have the railroad ROWs already in place. Add a second and third tracks to the same ROW is the way to go.

Best Hopes,


Probably not. Freeways can have steeper grades and sharper and more frequent turns.

What would the safety factors be with the electrified tracks out on the landscape? Children and other living things would be exposed to the electrical hazards.

Heavy trucks kill about 6,000 people/year. Trains about 700 (not confirmed, data from 3rd party source).

The power is 22' or so overhead (except in a few tunnels or bridges where it might be 3rd rail). OTOH, Long Island Railroad runs 3rd rail though urban and suburban neighborhoods (fences except at grade crossings)

Look at the table of different nations using electrified rail, they do not seem to have a major problem.

History shows most electrification deaths are to railroad employees.

Best Hopes for 5,000 fewer deaths/year,


Best Hopes for 5,000 fewer deaths/year,

Arrr, but that helps to reduce the overpopulation!

(takes another swig of snarkanol)

The high voltage is on the overhead wires, and not on the tracks. Although children playing next to the tracks isn't exactly safe no matter what type of railroad you are running.

In residential areas you're going to be forced to fence off the right of ways.

NOT a lawyer, but

I think if the RR was there first, the homeowners can fence it off if they want to.


In populated areas, it's a good idea even if you don't have to. A cyclone fence keeps out pets and deer, holds down theft, and makes dumping trash on the tracks a lot harder. And doesn't add a lot of cost.

Hey hey Alan,

I think that you should include an appendix that lists the dollar savings on shipping. You cite the increase in fuel economy and the cost of heavy trucking on the highways which are important for federal highway spending and energy security but you don't list the savings on shipping which is important for businesses.

I'm sure that you already have this information so just rattle off some figures about how much businesses could save transporting their goods if fast and reliable rail was widely available. You might also factor this into exports. Something like: "Switching to rail saves X dollars on transport which reduces the cost of goods by Y percent." And be sure to include this phrase: "making American goods more competitive in the global market.

The strategic importance in an oil shortage is compelling to the folks here at the drum, but politicians wants happy news. Sell the upside.

Otherwise outstanding work.

A Bastille day comment from La Belle Province... There was a Hydro-Quebec engineer on TV a while ago explaining that while Hydro-Quebec had run HVDC (745kv) to the Quebec borders, there was no practical interconnect possible with the New England utilities. He explained that it was like an 8 lane autoroute ending up at the border to connect to a one lane dirt road. It may interest TOD readers to know that Quebec has surplus power, which could be multiplied many times with the construction of more dammed rivers; construction of which would depend entirely on very long-term supply contracts with U.S. utilities. All this power is as clean as it gets, and I believe Hydro-Quebec is the largest profitable electricity provider on the planet.

There's a little potentially good news on that issue..

By connecting to the New England grid, officials hope to increase competition in the Maine Public Service area, where customers were walloped by a 45 percent increase in January 2007 because there was only one bid from a supplier for the standard offer paid by most consumers.

At the same time, the improvements would accommodate 800 megawatts of power from proposed wind turbine projects in northern Maine, while opening the door to more electricity flowing from Canadian hydroelectric and nuclear power projects down the road.

As members of ISO-New England, Maine ratepayers will be responsible for only about 8 percent of the overall cost of the projects, Burns said.

Hey hey Alan,

Do you have a short (two page) summary of this for me to give to elected officials? Like the executive summary of the Hirsch Report.

The reason I ask is because all people that I've talked to about reaching government officials recommend bringing some literature, but no more than two pages or it doesn't get looked at. I know that this post is in response to an inquiry by a representative and it should therefore be detailed and informative, but I would like an executive summary for all the representatives who haven't asked you.

In draft form. Sleep, clear mind, good food, good jazz, it has been a tough 3 weeks writing this. Soon. I will post it here.

Best Hopes,


Hey Alan,

Thank you very much.


Diesel-Electric Locomotives would be a dime a dozen after conversion of all the main line railways to electricity. Would it be possible to convert many of these to dual use by adding the appropriate transformers to them and running them on electrified lines and even on regular rail lines if needed?


There is just one slight problem with all these proposals that focus on the technical and economic aspect of expanding the use of electricity and railways.

Railroads, and the auxiliary / ancillary businesses like loading and unloading freight / passengers, etc. is a technology that has an organizational structure from the early days of the industrial revolution.

It is heavily unionized, tightly regulated with work rules, etc. In a way, ports like LA are very similar.

Energy efficiency aside, this organization structure is, and will be one of the biggest hurdles to a significant expansion of rail carrying capacity.

For an expansion to happen, a new, post "modern" organization need to emerge. That would almost inevitably mean the end of traditional unions and industrial era labor relations at railways. This is not about to happen anytime soon.

Because the railway unions still wield considerable residual political clout --- despite a half-century of dilution of their powers by other modes of transport like trucking, air freight, etc. --- it is unlikely or impossible for Congress to move against them when railway transportation are "in demand" again.

What it means is that the industry is "frozen" in a pattern of inefficiencies that can gobble up the alleged energy savings. You will be amazed how quickly unionized Teamsters that load freight containers at rail yards can eat up the money you "save" from switching from trucking to rail.

The bottom line --- a new, entirely independent, entirely fresh from the ground up system of rail transport need to come into being for the potential efficiencies offered by electrified rail to be realized.

The hurdles to this happening are far higher than technical hurdles mentioned above.

In 1980 the railroads had 450,000 employees, most of them union. Today the railroads move around one and a half times the freight with 175,000 employees, more than half are union. Much of the maintenance of cars and locomotives, construction of new track, manufacture of supplies and components is done by non union labor or unionized workforce that is not the same union as the RR's.

During the past twenty five years US rail labor unions have accepted new work rules requiring fewer people to run the trains and have fewer fully paid benefits (union employees contribute to health care costs and retirement plans). In many locations, like here in St. Louis, rail labor never gets near the trains once they are parked at a terminal for tranfer to road haulage. I know this because I have friends that work for those non union rail transfer operations.

Before you make such statements about unions hindering railroad operation and expansion, get an education about how and where union employment is used in the US railroad and railroad supply industry. I have worked mostly for RR's and the RR supply industry since 1979.

Mark in St Louis

The reason for the drop in the number of rail employees is that rail has basically been converted into a mover of bulk cargo (i.e. coal, grain, etc.) and some containerized cargo and the virtual disappearance of passenger rail service.

If what we are talking about is a new rail system (much larger, broader, built with modern technology that gives us lighter, more efficient vehicles, perhaps automatically piloted), then it is a huge investment of the scale and magnitude of a building a system of highways and automobiles in the 20th century.

The acceptable number of unionized employees in a radically new rail system is zero.

The reason is even if there is one holdover from the old era, they hinder the new system with their mindset.

Likewise, the acceptable number of 'carryovers' from the old management to a new from the ground up system is zero. Even in a non-union environment, they think and act as if there is a union there with work rules, contracts, etc.

Another way to look at this is how many firms / persons successfully made the transition from operating stage coaches and wagon trains to railways? How many railway people successfully got into airlines? How many railroad firms / people became successful in autos and trucks?

There may be a few, but it is a very few.

I hate to put it to you this way, but no serious from the ground up system will be funded if the investors have a hint they are funding "General Motors II". The level of investment is just too high to risk. If this was not the case, why can't the existing railroad firms do it themselves?

There are independent truckers out there that are every bit viable alternatives to rail for most non-bulk cargo.

Let's electricify long haul trucks instead. Not as efficient in absolute terms, but unless you are hauling bulk goods like iron ore or coal, it can work pretty good.

For the price of building a 3rd rail electric railroad system, the same 3rd rail system can be build for electric / hybrid trucks using dedicated lanes on the Interstate system, and the diesel engines retained just for the "off grid" last miles.

D111 you need a reallity check immediatly.

"The reason for the drop in the number of rail employees is that rail has basically been converted into a mover of bulk cargo (i.e. coal, grain, etc.) and some containerized cargo and the virtual disappearance of passenger rail service. "

Wrong! More union employees now work in the passenger railroad operations (commuter and Amtrak) now than in 1980. Today the intermodal freight business of railroads produces far more revenue than any other commodity hauled and that is mostly finished goods. The carloads and ton miles of railroads have never been higher.

So most RR stock prices have tripled in the last three years due to high profits using union employess. No financial house will back such an industry? Warren Buffet did not buy BNSF stock to see his money go into a 19th century labor burdened industry. Like I said before "get an education" in the subject before spouting off about a topic you obviously know little about.

"I hate to put it to you this way, but no serious from the ground up system will be funded if the investors have a hint they are funding "General Motors II". The level of investment is just too high to risk. If this was not the case, why can't the existing railroad firms do it themselves?"

The existing railroads do not fund such $100 billion expenditures because they are competing against "free" money the trucking industry receives from the federal government for its infrastructure needs. The US DOT has documented numerous times that trucks pay only a small percentage of the real costs to build and maintain highways that handle trucks.

"There are independent truckers out there that are every bit viable alternatives to rail for most non-bulk cargo."

Viable in what sense? Explain please. These truckers are dying on the vine with diesel fuel over $5.00/gallon in most states. They have raised their prices so much that many shippers would rather call up a broker, get a trailer or container delivered, then have the broker ship it by intermodal rail if the distance is more than 400 or 500 miles. I know this because that is what companies that I deal with are doing. I work in the supply business and make a living at it.

"Let's electricify long haul trucks instead. Not as efficient in absolute terms, but unless you are hauling bulk goods like iron ore or coal, it can work pretty good"

And how do you electrify trucking? I am a mechanical engineer that has worked on transportation products for 30 years. The capability of vehicle batteries will never reach the energy capacity of a 150 gallon tank of diesel fuel! And to surmise that you are going to have 2KV power lines over highways with trucks having trolley poles is fantasy. The mechanics and capital cost of such a system would be impossible, besides the difficulties in metering the power would be enormous.

The US electric grid and power generation system would need a huge expansion and who would pay for this before the million or two trucks have electric motors? Right now the truckers are claiming they cannot even pay the current road use tax of $0.45/gallon. The hundreds of billions $$ in capital cost to electrify highways would require a tax of at least a dollar a gallon (125 million gallons diesel/day x 365 x $1.00 per gallon = $45 billion per year for a 12 year cost recovery of a $500 billion investment (with interest). Cost would easily be $10 - 15 million per mile on 45,000 miles of interstate with grid costs, substation costs, safety systems built in.

So, please point me to any study that would back up your promotion of keeping the current amount of freight on trucks when in 2025 the US will likely have less than half the oil availble compared to today and prices for alternative energy like coal and gas have risen at the same rate as oil?

Trucks, and private cars, may not be the most energy efficient means of transport, but they represent an expression of a deeply held value in America called personal freedom.

No matter how you cut it, railroads, as it is currently implemented for freight and passengers, represent a collectivist tradition that has been rejected by Americans in many situations.

That is why Americans overwhelmingly prefer to live in private homes, and not shared spaces like condominiums, or even attached homes.

Without a doubt the energy efficiency of America have to improve, but it will not necessarily come at the expense of these deeply held values.

I find it remarkable that the discussion here have seemingly left out the issue of values that Americans have held since before the nation was founded.

America got by with high energy prices in the 17th and 18th centuries, and will do so again in the 21st without giving up its core beliefs and values.

I don't see how rail based transportation is incompatible with American individualism. Americans moved about the country via rail in the past, and will again in the future. We are no more individualist now than we were prior to the invention of the automobile. I've have to guess that we actually have more of a herd mentality now, with the concentration of mass media ownership.

I agree in that the "individualism" regarding the automobile has been something that required a fair amount of training/coercion over the last past century. What people fail to realize is that oil has never been that cheap given it's externalized costs. Granted, everything likely has externalized costs, rail included, but the magnitude in this case is proportional to the inefficiency of design, which countries who have rail networks have seen.

It is heavily unionized, tightly regulated with work rules, etc ... this organization structure is, and will be one of the biggest hurdles to a significant expansion of rail carrying capacity.

Well, if the corporate masters of the past had not abused the workers, the workers would not have felt the need to form a union would they?

The removal of the 'organization structure' would require a modern history of corporations to have treated workers well and provide a safe work environment.

Any clue when corporations will act in a way where unions won't be needed?

"Any clue when corporations will act in a way where unions won't be needed?"

Um, you heard of Intel? Microsoft? Yahoo? eBay? Amazon? Google?

See what I said? None of these companies will be around if they were unionized early on.

Um, you heard of Intel? Microsoft? Yahoo? eBay? Amazon? Google?

Um, yea. I've Um, heard of Um these Um firms. You got an actual point you are gonnna make?

See what I said?

I saw what you typed.

None of these companies will be around if they were unionized early on.

Do you have proof of this claim sir, or just a handwave? Because, I'd like to see actual proof to this claim. I'll also point out that you did not challenge the statement that unions formed due to bad behavior of corporations and the corporations have a continued history of bad behavior.

The 1st one I opted to pick got a hit. And frankly the effort to inform others when there is a handwaving claim on the table ends here. Do feel free to come back with actual proof to your claim about 'early on' unionization. Oh, and when you do come back with proof, also define 'early on' - as that is a rather vague statement.
David Sirota on Union-Busting at Microsoft . . .

Since you ask me to prove a negative, surely you can prove a positive.

Well, go ahead and offer some proof.

Name all high tech startup firms in the United States founded from April 4, 1975 (the date Microsoft was founded) that is unionized and is still in existence today.

There isn't a single major one I can think of.

I would be delighted to see a proposal to an American venture capital firm that has in it a plan to unionize the start-up. Show me one that got funded.



EADS is an AMERICAN startup?

They started up some American operations.

However, I think your anti-union screed is quite off topic.


Agree with Alan. Unions are not a serious problem for this initiative and should in fact be considered as replacement for any recalcitrant ownership (buyouts via pension funds) of existing RR's who (will likly) try to impede the transition.

Name all high tech startup firms in the United States founded from April 4, 1975

I'm not going to try for ALL but how about:
Qwest Communications
Charter Communications
Intel (Ok, probably founded before 1975)

Assuming that Microsoft doesn't have unions the only reason is that they outsource all non-professional jobs. If they didn't the cleaning staff would have a union, their building maintenance would be unionized, food service likewise.

Qwest, Charter, Comcast are all utilities.

Specifically, Qwest began as a fiber optic laying firm for Southern Pacific Railroad.

Hence, these companies hardly qualify as American high tech startups.

Intel is not unionized.

There is a reason why high tech companies generally outsource jobs like cleaning, building maintenance, etc.

I do concur that a discussion of organizational structure / mindset is beyond what is a geeky debate on here narrowly focused on technical, rather than practical merits of using electricity in transportation.

The core issues being raised are a pattern of relationships premised on conflict between labor and management that dates from the industrial revolution, is one of these problems. Other problems include the desire of people for private space while traveling, and shippers for private transport for their goods. Both of these go flat against the existing organizational structure of railroads, which is premised on public, shared space transport.

Let's start a new post about the organizational and sociological issues.

If there is enough interest, I will write the first post.

Since you ask me to prove a negative,

No I asked you to prove your position.

I can't help it if your position is negative.

Now, if you can't answer questions asked of you, just say so, or take the golden answer of silence.

it's a shortterm no brainer that we will end up with federal assistance to passenger airlines due to the fuel cost escalation.
when we do it is imperative that elected officials do not make a repeat of the their relatively unstructured 9/11 package- this time we need to forbid airlines from serving shorthaul corriodors where both cities are 50,000 population or higher and closer than 400 rail miles.
the insanity of amtrak having to compete with continental and us air et al has to end!( to make up for their biz loss let them sell the tickets and determine scheduling)
I've written this to both congressman and senators here in NJ- and have not gotten any reply.
could not agree with you more that we need passenger rail - and sooner the much better.

This is the best post I have seen for solving our transport "oil dependency" problem, which consumes nearly 75% of all the oil used in the US.

I have worked in the railroad and railroad supply industry for much of the last 27 years. From this experience I can say that with the proper incentives the supply industry can expand production of existing components and creat new product lines relatively quickly. The US already has dozens of suppliers making locomotives, cars, rail, ties, signals systems, bridges, buildings, computer dispatching systems, intermodal transfer equipment, bulk material loading/unloading equipment, and much of this is sold to railroads outside the US. With use of transferable tax credits these supply industries could quickly ramp up production, maybe two to three years at the most.

One of the greatest advantages of Alan's plan is the use of domestic materials and labor to produce this most efficient transport system. Unemployment will probably reach 10% in a year or two. We must convince the politicians that we need to cut excess (30 - 50% of present amount) defense spending and put the money into this expanded rail system. With so much of the defense spending doing the equivilent of gold plating rocks, we will need domestic spending that solves real problems like peak oil, not military spending that chases the boogeyman around the planet. I am a former defense contractor engineer.

Mark in St. Louis, MO

This is definitely a good short-mid term solution. However, my position is that a short term increase in trucking efficiency could be completed much quicker than the electrification plan.

Given your consumption of 2,552,000 barrels a day, 16.6% fuel savings (average trucker max upgrades), 75% trucks upgraded that is a savings of 317,000 barrels per day. ROI = 1 year at 4.50 a gallon diesel

Total estimated cost per truck: $13,300

# of trucks on the road (this is a complete SWAG 2,555,000 barrels a day * 42 gallons/barrel * truck uses /49 gallons per day {^}) = 2,200,000 trucks

2,200,000 trucks * (75% conversion rate) * $13,300 = $22 billion

How to pay for this:

Based on a 3 year government loan at 8% interest the average trucker would still pocket $700 in monthly savings from the upgrades. (Even at usury like rates of 50% the trucker would still take home a net profit from the efficiency upgrades).

Further even with your ambitious cut in truck freight traffic there would still be a savings of fuel from these upgrades

^ based on EPA estimated 18,000 gallons per year per average truck, 18,000/365 = 49 gallons per day.

A good advocacy piece, but most of the savings would be from
shifting from long haul truck freight at 1 mile ton per kwhr to diesel freight train at 10 mile ton per kwhr.

"The second key unknown in estimating the energy savings potential of mode shifts is the amount of freight that could be shifted. OTA reports that trucks move about half of the non-bulk, long haul freight traffic. Shifting all the competitive freight would double present-day long-haul non-bulk train movements. This would raise annual train carbon dioxide emission about 840,000 tons and lower truck emissions by 2.52 million tons for an overall emission reduction benefit of 1.68 million tons. The feasibility of such a shift depends on both the proximity of current rail facilities to cargo origination and destination points and the capacity of rail facilities to absorb new load. While the second part of this equation is likely met (the national rail network operates at about 20-25 percent of capacity), whether rail facilities are located to take advantage of a shift is uncertain."

Electric train are better still at 20 mile tons per kwhr.

2.52 million tons of CO2 saved by reducing truck traffic corresponds to something like 6 million barrels of oil. If we double rail traffic and electrify the system with nuclear reactors we save 2 x 840000 tons of CO2 or 4 million barrels of oil. That totals 10,000,000 barrels of oil saved.

The DOT says that in the US diesel Class 1 freight trains(motor generator~35% efficient) average about 10 ton miles per kwhr and moved about 1.8 trillion ton miles of freight in 2006; .18 trillion kwh/40.74x.35=~13 billion gallons of diesel fuel(~300 million barrels of oil eq.--2 quads out of 28 quads the US uses for transport--just 7% ).
Electrified frieght trains are about 20 ton miles per kwhr.

Freight trucks carry about 1.15 times more ton miles than rails do, but use about 1 kwhr per ton mile.
About 5% of freight ton miles are intermodal(truck/rail).

One of the first things that comes to mind reading this (which I'm totally on board with the idea), is JOBS JOBS JOBS. Think of the stimulus to the economy from a large revamping of the rail system...

My concern is the train switching yards and road infrastructure required to transfer freight to and from trucks. The NIMBY problem will be substantial. In my neck of the woods, most of the train switching yards are in the center of the metropolitan areas with little room for expansion. The phrase "the wrong side of the tracks" is an indication of the type of resistance planners will face when designing new switching yards with heavy truck access.

Then there is the problem with railroad crossings. Trains can't be easily scheduled around rush hour traffic. Throw a couple of new trains into the morning and afternoon peak travel times and you create the need for substantial engineering solutions.

I guess what I'm saying is we have spent years turning railroad tracks into bike paths and quaint railroad stations into restaurants. A project of this magnitude will have to consider what it will cost to upgrade the current switching yard infrastructure and add the new switching yards that are needed to cut truck miles to the extent proposed. Switching yards are like interstate exits, you need a lot of them.

We Oil Drum readers are convinced that electric train transport is best way to kick the oil habit. But it doesn't seem to be in the imagination of the general public. One thing that might turn some heads and get some train converts would be statistics that show train efficiency. A car that gets 20 MPG costs about 20 cents a mile w/ $4 gas. An electric car costs about 5 times less. What would it cost for train travel per mile per person?

Also, what would the cost comparisons for transporting merchandise be?

A few examples:

Service Energy consumed per unit distance Number of seats Energy consumed per unit distance per seat Cost per available seat-km Cost per available seat-mile Average load factor Actual cost per seat-mile
TGV Duplex Paris-Lyon 3 intermediate stops 18.0 kWh/train-km 545 seats 33.0 Wh/seat-km 0.33 cents per seat-km 0.53 cents per seat-mile 80% 0.66 cents per passenger-mile
Swedish Railways X2000 11.87 kWh/train-km 320 seats 37.1 Wh/seat-km 0.37 cents per seat-km 0.594 cents per seat-mile 55% 1.08 cents per passenger-mile
Swedish Railways Regina (2-car trains, regional service, 10 km average between stops) 6.25 kWh/train-km 167 seats 37.4 Wh/seat-km 0.37 cents per seat-km 0.60 cents per seat-mile 20% 3.0 cents per passenger-mile
Transrapid maglev train manufacturer's claim @ 300 km/h 47 Wh/seat-km 0.47 cents per seat-km 0.75 cents per seat-mile let's assume 80% 0.94 cents per passenger-mile
Transrapid maglev train manufacturer's claim @ 400 km/h 66 Wh/seat-km 0.66 cents per seat-km 1.06 cents per seat-mile let's assume 80% 1.33 cents per passenger-mile

Assumption: 10 cents per kWh, or 0.01 cents per Wh.

Quick comparison: the best commercial aircraft in service achieve at most 80 available-seat-miles per USgallon of jet fuel. Assuming a very high load factor - say, 85% - that's 68 passenger-miles per USgallon, or 0.015 USgallons per passenger-mile. The IATA says the global average price for jet fuel is $4.30 per USgallon, making the cost 6.3 cents per passenger-mile. Even the most efficient airlines are clearly not energy-cost competitive with electric railways.

One other fun comment: the energy content of JetA is roughly 36 MJ/L, or 10 kWh/L. So it takes the energy equivalent of 1.8 L (half a gallon) of jet fuel to move the TGV Duplex, with 545 seats, restaurant bar car, office, public telephones, family cubicles, baby changing stations, etc etc, one km. In U.S.-citizen-familiar terms: the TGV Duplex manages the gasoline-energy equivalent of 1.16 miles per gallon. Yes, the whole frigging train. In service, at speeds up to 300 km/h (187 mph).

For more, please see

(Please let me know if I made a calculation error!)

Nice analysis.

You allude to this several places, but there ought to be especially good synergies in the mid-West:

- MANY and widespread RR lines, including spurs - many lines were built before trucking grew to serve the farms. This is unlike CA's much more concentrated RR routes.

- good wind resources

- likely future farm profile, where 3-4% of farmland can profitably be dedicated to turbines, but need transmission. A large fraction of farms are not too far from railroads.

- Hence, even if it's not worth electrifying some spur any time soon, using the ROW for transmission might make sense as part of coherent plan.

For instance, here's RR map of Kansas.

That looks very different from, say, CA's map, but seems pretty typical of the mid-West. Iowa has similar maps, and also abandonment plans.

Iowa also has an interesting Iowa Office of Energy Independence. When the dust settles on this, you might want to send this to them.

Alan and TOD,

I'm really glad to see this piece. Puts together a lot of thoughts I had that I wouldn't have had the time to research or put together myself.
A few questions and suggestions:

-What exactly would $90 billion buy? Does this just include electrification of the key 36,000 miles? Or does it include increasing capacity to take trucks and cars off the road?

-A comparison of said $90 billion to the amount that the country spends on highways each year might put your investment proposal in perspective. I imagine it would make rail electrification look cheap.

-How much additional rail capacity is needed to take a given percentage of truck traffic off the roads?

-How much of current rail traffic is dedicated to the "land-bridge"? (i.e. double-stacked container trains that are simply moving containers from Pacific ports to Atlantic ports, or vice versa). What capacity for taking trucks (and cars) off the road would be opened up if "land bridge" trains were to eventually disappear (either through policy or a global recession)?

How much additional rail capacity is needed to take a given percentage of truck traffic off the roads?

Build CREATE plans in Chicago (there is CREATE II when that one is finished). $1.5 billion.

West of the Mississippi to the West Coast, double tracking and electrifying the six main East-West rail lines and the two Canadian ones and adding one track of semi-HSR on the Southern Pacific route should do it except for specific bottlenecks (Cajun Pass). A second semi-HSR line from Los Angeles to Chicago might be needed (I am thinking El Paso to Kansas City).

Convert the proposed California HSR to semi-HSR for passengers and freight instead of pax only (I think grades can be adjusted).

CSX's proposal for their East Coast Line (two tracks of regular freight at 60 to 70 mph without grade crossings and one 110 mph track) will do a lot. $15 to $25 billion.

Just add back second tracks torn up in the 1950s and 1960s. etc.

The shift will not happen in one year, so there will be time to plan and adjust as things change.'
Best Hopes,


Cajon Pass, not Cajun. Freudian slip there Alan? ;-)

Yes !! :-)


California's HSR is already planned to carry light, high speed freight. As for freight service, California is already spending state money to upgrade (but not electrify) the major freight bottlenecks (the Tehachapi pass, the tunnels over Donner Summit, the tracks leading from the Port of L.A. to points east and the tracks accessing the port of Oakland). I would prefer to separate freight and passenger track as much as possible because the practices and standards that make an efficient freight railroad are incompatible with successful passenger railroads, or at least reasonably fast ones. In the United States we have very efficient freight railroads but our passenger service stinks. Europe has made the opposite set of decisions. If you want good service for both freight and passengers you're just going to need seperate tracks.

If you want good service for both freight and passengers you're just going to need separate tracks

It is not that simple.

SBB is going to run up to 300 trains/day, up to 1.5 km long, at mixed speeds of 110 to 240 kph through their under construction 58 km long tunnel.

Queensland Rail does a good job with both (so I have heard). etc.

It takes good management, but I believe that express medium density (not just light duty parcels, but fruit & vegetables, inventory, fish, etc.) can be dual operated. Freight at 90 to 100 mph, passengers perhaps 100 up to 125 mph (tilt or not, etc.)

There is a sweet spot of overlap. Not a large overlap (no high density cargoes, minimum speed delta, etc.) but an overlap.

Best Hopes for Good Management,


It comes down to two things: axle load differences and speed differences. American railroads are very fuel efficient because they run long, fairly slow, heavy, fuel efficient trains (35 ton per axle). The Swiss run light (22.5 ton per axle), fast, less fuel efficient freight trains). The U.S. regularly runs 10,000 ft (3 km long trains). Because of the difference in loading gauge (larger in the U.S.) and allowable axle load, a 3km train in the U.S. would haul about 3-6 times the freight that a comparable Swiss train could haul and consume much less energy doing so.

The disadvantage of the very efficient freight railroads in the U.S. is that they move more slowly (40-69MPH in normal terrain) and that they cause the track to become misaligned more quickly. These two features make it very difficult to keep track in good enough condition to run high speed passenger trains. This also means that trains in the U.S. are much less frequent, which is great if you have to pay to maintain the track, but less bad if you want to add a passenger train every hour. While mixed freight and passenger operation can make sense under some conditions, on it presents lots of problems that can often best be solved by separating them.

Thus my concept of using no more than medium density express freight on semi-HSR track and a tight speed delta between express freight & passenger service. I suspect that a load of tomatoes or fish could stay well within 22.5 tons/axle (I assume special freight cars that have advanced suspensions that prevent "hunting". I think only CN has these suspensions in North American freight service. They are kinder to the track).

Super elevation, curve radius and grade constraints are also limitations on mixing freight and passenger service.

I still maintain that there is an economic and physical "sweet spot" for semi-HSR pax service and express freight service (light & medium density).

Best Hopes,


It is important to consider the long-term strategy too. What if we assume that semi-HSR with mixed passenger/freight service is an interim stage, and that ultimately, long-term, we would like to have a fully HSR passenger system that is equal to the European system.

If we make that assumption about the long term goal, what is the best strategy for getting there?

This article and the comments have aroused similar concerns in my mind regarding European railway freight transport.
I had naively assumed that because we have a good high speed network for passengers, that switching freight to rail would largely be a case of providing more trains etc.

From the informative discussion here it seems that much of the network may have been made unsuitable for goods, due to different radius curves and designs optimised for high speed.
Perversely it sounds as though countries like Britain may have some advantages in this respect, as the network has not been upgraded.
Can anyone give some idea of what it would take to shift most of the goods traffic in Europe back to rail?
Would new track have to be built, together with interchange points for road transport etc?

Any guidance on the costs and difficulties at all would be appreciated.

The French retained most of their branch rail lines (and preserved the ROWs even when closed).

They are upgrading many passenger lines to lines to "modern lines" capable of 200 to 220 kph service. The low axle weights typical of EU freight should make these still suitable for lower speed freight (any confirmation from France ?).

The "modern lines" are the thin solid gold lines in the first map at

More thoughts later (if I have them)

Best Hopes for EU freight,


Thanks Alan.
One more naive question:
Can you have 'fast freight?'
If the energy cost is as low as indicated here:

then perhaps the way to go would be simply to have a super-efficient high speed freight system running on the same tracks as the passenger vehicles - not ultimately the most efficient transport, but we don't need to move the really heavy stuff by rail in Europe, as we don't have the coal which constitutes the great bulk of it, I believe.

Light density (mail, parcels) yes.

Medium density (food, inventory) maybe.

More later.


I think this is where your "semi-fast freight and passenger" system breaks down. You are trying to build the "classic" railway lines that Europe is replacing with High Speed Rail (HSR), but even these are incompatible with our current freight lines. UP et al. do not want to switch from ultra-heavy US freight rail to medium-weight semi-fast European style freight trains. That would be an economic disaster for them.

So if you want real HSR or semi-HSR America still needs to build a whole new set of lines either way. High speed 180-220 mph, high grade 3.5-5% max. grade, passenger only rail is the more cost effective route. Germany tried to build low max. grade HSR + freight lines and the gave up as it was not cost effective.

The CA HSR proposal has all the elements you mention HSR passenger + parcel (daytime) and medium weight 100 mph, medium weight freight (nighttime). Stop attacking real HSR and instead embrace it. We do deserve as good as the Spanish and we can afford it too if they can.

As we electrifying the heavy-weight freight lines at the same time, I agree. Let's put $5 billion a year into both. That is a very small piece of our current Airport and highway expansion funding.

What do you say Alan?

Some good technical discussion at

Pages 4, 5 and 6 in particular with links.

that Europe is replacing with High Speed Rail (HSR)

That vastly overstates the case. Even in France, after 50 years of building (their plans for 2030), they will have substantial "Classic Lines" still in operation. And only Japan rivals France for HSR.

Thin solid gold lines are the classic lines, Red solid is what has been completed since late 1970s, red dashed under construction, dark gold dashed by 2020, light gold dashed by 2030, blue "distant hopes" (still classic lines in 2030).

I oppose HSR in the USA because:

1) We cannot afford it, The limited capital budgets we have (even if we spend $450 billion on improved railroads) are much better spent elsewhere.

2) We do not have enough time. Every EU nation & Japan has been working on HSR networks for several decades. We do not have till 2035.

3) It uses too much energy

4) The CA HSR EIS has dropped all discussion of freight in the last version that I read. I seriously doubt that they can run medium density freight on the same tracks as 220 mph trains.

5) Freight is more important than passengers. Passenger service has never been profitable (even in 1800s apparently, certainly not in the USA today or tomorrow). And socially, moving food and freight is more important that saving people a few hours.

You misunderstood the semi-HSR proposal. Separate tracks on the same ROW (slightly improved, wider curves in places) as heavy freight. The standard for heavy freight would be improved (CSX talks about 60 to 70 mph). Run medium density freight and passengers at almost the same speeds.

If I lived in California, I might very well vote against it. It is a 20th Century solution (SF to LA in less than 3 hours at all costs was the overriding design requirement). Ill suited for our coming post-Peak Oil world, and the large funds required for the "basics" would be consumed by the sexy HSR.


Alan explained some of the technical problems. Another problem is politics. Most of Europe's railways are national railways, and they are very reluctant to let other trains run on their tracks. You can dig up graphs showing the market share of rail freight vs. distance; in the US the market share grows and grows up until 6000 km (coast to coast), but in the EU rail market share plummets after 500-1000 km, since that is about the size of the nation states. In practice, almost all cross-border freight traffic in the EU goes by truck or sea.

Now, the EU has been trying to open up the national rail networks for a long time, e.g. the common ERTMS traffic control system, the TERFN network etc., but progress is agonizingly slow. Then again, these are not really fundamental technical/physical/geological issues, so e.g. rapidly increasing price of oil might bring about change faster.

Great presentation, Alan. Electrifying our long distant rail lines is critical and should be one of the highest priority projects for dealing with peak oil. I have a few suggestions.

When the railroads pass through desert, add solar thermal systems to your list of renewable alternative energy options.

Add a paragraph discussing the disruption of current freight traffic during the conversion. Can an existing train use the track while an overhead electric line is being added or does the section of track being converted have to be closed and the freight temporarily shifted to semi-trailer trucks?

For too long the U.S. government has been mired in incentives, subsidies and tax breaks to encourage things. Forget the incentives to first adopters. Congress should simply create a law requiring all long distance rail to be electrified. After railroads raise sufficient capital using their own assets and private investment (such as bonds), the government could provide loans to complete the necessary amount. This would be a superior use of tax payer dollars helping to reduce the federal debt in the long term. To encourage a speedy conversion a bonus could be offered to those companies who complete their conversions quickly.

Best of luck in this endeavor! I moved from USA to a country with great trains 12 years ago and I can't imagine ever managing without trains ever! Especially with kids trains are great because the kids can get up and walk around and you can draw/ read w/ them without having to drive. Also you can sleep or read or eat without worrying about driving. I feel that the way highways and cars are managed in the USA isn't optimal for safety and I don't have a driver's license anymore so I haven't visited in a while. (Which means getting relatives to meet me in other countries or in my new country, which has made some of them quite annoyed with me!).

Once you get a lot of trains, IF you get a lot of trains, you will love it !

I would think that electric power companies would push this. Don't they have an analysis available?

How about T. Boon Pickens? He seems to be very interested.

Why would electric power companies want this? In the U.S., who does substation installation and maintenance, high voltage transmission, etc.? You're talking a hell of a lot of low ROI work that they really don't have the personnel for right now. I'm thinking they're going to be a bigger lobbying obstacle than the RR cos.

I can't resist posting this here. Having an electrified rail system means that you can keep going when the fossil fuels really do run short.

During World War 2 Switzerland had a severe coal shortage... but with plenty of hydro power they just fitted a couple of their steam shunting engines with pantographs and 11 MW immersion heaters and kept going...

While I'm in history mode check out M.Heilmann's experimental steam-electric locos from the 1890s:

Human inventiveness is a wonderful thing.


Another historical note

At December 31, 1927, the Swiss Government Railways operated approximately 1,000 miles of electrified track, to which there will be added about 100 miles during 1928. By the end of the present year some 60 per cent. of the Swiss Government Railways will have been converted to electricity. After 1928 a pause will intervene in the electrification plan, this halt being designed to allow of a more gradual reduction in the staff and in the number of steam locomotives which are being replaced by electric traction in the new era. The Swiss Government Railways are among the most efficiently managed and operated transportation undertakings in the world. By means of electrification a great deal is being done to retain business to rail which would otherwise be captured by the road carriers, and trans-Alpine travel is also being immensely stimulated by the replacement of steam by electrification

60% electrified in 1928 !

Best Hopes,


Before Olduvai kicks in we really only seem to have two choices, Electric trains or horse buggies.

40 years ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina the socialized bus services were a disaster. They finally privatized part-routes for individuals to work for their own account.

It was magic. I could literally walk two blocks and a bus would be going generally where I wanted to go within a very few minutes. A few hops and one could get anywhere in the city.

I think we generally agree that Airlines are on the way out.

Dedicate a series of Nuclear Power Stations to railroads, Divide up the US into a series of workable part-routes to get almost anywhere. Let the government lay down rails with the same abandon they laid down roads and then bid out short routes to private enterprise.

All the lost money in airlines will soon gravitate to the rail system. It would probably be cheaper to run than the airlines.

Mag-lev seems a reality and could be the way to go.

It was quite amusing in Buenos Aires to get on a one-man bus. The second the the last passenger had boarded the driver hit the gas hard, so as to get in as many trips as he could.

He would put out his hand without looking and take the fare. By intuition he would know what change to make. He had the "tens" in his left hat-band, the "twenties" in his right hat band, the fifties on his left leg, etc.

It was an experience to see him, while driving with full concentration, pull out the necessary change from its special places without having to look, and place it in your hand.

All the USA needs is the "Political will" and it could make it. Unfortunately the "Economic-Dilemma-of-the-Commons" will negate any
attempts at change.


Or both horses & electric transportation, plus walking & bikes. San Angelo, Texas 100 years ago:

I usually finish my Peak Oil presentations with this slide, and a plug for Alan's plans. Regarding the Matt Savinar versus Alan Drake debate, while Matt may be right, I hope that Alan is right. At least Alan has a plan for "Making things not as bad as they would have otherwise have been," using proven technology, that does not require oil.

That I think is the key point. Use proven off-the-shelf technology that is ready to go today, and where there are no big scale-up problems.

Not stuff that *might* be ready in 20 years. Sure, I the folks in the research labs can continue working on those types of projects, but we can't make public policy based upon what might work at some point in the future.

I'm a big fan of nuclear energy, but the railroads offer a great option for distributed power.
It is not do-able at any reasonable cost at the moment, but solar panels placed over the railway, so on 'free' land could provide much of the daylight power for the railway, and a surplus for 'export' to nearby cities - it would be much cheaper to have maintenance gangs going down the tracks rather than servicing individual roofs. - by around 2012 given progress in reducing solar costs, this might well be a viable option.

Two other points:

The cost savings from pulling heavy trucks off the road system, reducing road maintenance, should properly be offset against the cost of building the rail network - some rough figures on that might help make the case obvious to the people who can authorise it.

Secondly, a minor correction, France is installing air-source heat pumps at a rate of 50,000 a year, not ground source as stated in the article.

Great job, Alan, but I would suggest making some mention of the states as potential fiscal partners in much of this, especially when it comes to inter-urban passenger rail. Several states, including NC, are presently subsidizing or operating inter-urban passenger rail service that would otherwise be impossible for Amtrak to continue. The problem at present is that each state is naturally enough mainly focused only on rail service within their state's borders. It would be helpful if the Federal government would take a more active leadership role in bringing neighboring states together and facilitating their cooperation so that these inter-urban rail links can be extended across state lines.

I am thinking that inter-urban rail might best evolve bottom-up from a growing set of individual links rather than as a top-down system.

Alan, another thought:

You make only a tiny, passing mention of electrified rail replacing air transport, but more could be said about this. I believe that most people are now aware that the air transportation industry is facing very hard times and is bound to contract substantially. Facilitating the movement of freight and passengers from airplanes to railroads is very quickly becoming an urgent priority.

I de-emphasized passenger service because the numbers are not as hard and the analysis is MUCH more complex. And a 25,000 word essay ....

And moving food & essential goods around will be the highest priority post-Peak Oil if a severe oil supply emergency develops.

None-the-less rail passenger service will be a major savings, especially for regional travel.

Best Hopes for Rail passengers and Rail freight,


Someone else mentioned the lack of "sexiness" in your plan. I do think that at least selling the vision of a Euro-style HSR, even if that isn't in the "phase I" cards will go along way towards captivating the public's imagination. "Light Rail" sells better than "streetcars" or "trams" for the same reason. Imagine a national campaign called "20 MPH Trams Now!" (yes, I know LRT is capable of 55 mph, but you get my point)

Even if we don't realistically have the capital to construct HSR now, it should be planned for. I mean, is the track design THAT much different? How much extra $ would it take to plan the grades, curves, tangents, radii, etc. to HS standards?

Are the track design THAT much different?

The biggest single difference is grades. HSR can take 5% and 6% grades (France -Italy tunnel is talking 8.x% grades) by using a running start and more powered axles (Streetcars can take 10% and even 14% grades will all axles powered). Freight gets unhappy with much over 1.3% grades and prefers < 1%. A historical story on a low grade mountain RR.

So HSR goes over steep hills, freight goes around them, switchbacks or tunnels.

OTOH, HSR requires much larger radius curves and much higher super elevation (in curves the outside rail is higher than the inside curve, called super elevation). Heavy, slow freight will derail if it takes a high super elevation curve.

There are more subtle differences as well.

SBB is drilling a 58 km tunnel (and plans for 20 & 10 km as well) to create a flat, straight rail line from Zürich to Milan that can be used by all types of trains. It can be done. It ain't cheap !


Technically, a very sound proposal. Politically and environmentally, not so valuable, since it is based on the assumptions that we can maintain essentially the same level of economic activity with a sustainable energy regime, or that we would want to.

Comments already made on efficiency are on point, but the notion that we should continue to expect to ship refrigerated fruit cross country is chimerical, to be plain spoken. Dramatically reducing the need for long distance freight transport (at the same time that we could, actually, increase the capacity for passenger travel) is both necessary and inevitable as we relocalize our economy.

Also not seriously addressed in the proposal is the EROI on the infrastructure rebuild, although it was addressed in a few comments.

"National security" (Caveat I am not interested in maintaining the integrity of this country into the future, it seems an enormous waste of energy) would in any case be best served by reducing the need for long distance transport.

Final comment, energy efficiency decreases radically with increased speed; current mainlines, well-maintained, support speeds as fast as we need to go (100 or so mph). Re-engineering for additional speed is also an unpardonable waste of energy.

You make a compelling case.

One potential area which will require some work is your proposal to have electric utilities run their lines along railroad rights of way. Technically it looks like an excellent idea. My experience with railroad rights of way is limited but in my experience railroads do not neccesarily own their "ROWs" (which may in fact be easements). One of my experiences was with a line originally run in 1879 and individual landowners got different deals so the ROW was a patchwork of legal agreements. This is a solvable problem but one that will need to be addressed before some landowner gets an injunction to stop work.

In North London, high voltage power cables run across the city under the towpath of the Grand Union canal. I sometimes wonder if the people fishing are aware that they are sitting on top of a 275 kV cable that has canal water pumped round it to keep it cool.


Good point !

More of an issue East of the Mississippi than Western USA.

Fortunately (?), lawyers are a renewable resource and we do not face a shortage.


Alan, just one question:

Are you at least 35 years old and a natural-born citizen of the US?

The amount of oil consumed by rail is so small, that it seems that it would actually not be that hard (in a pinch) to substitute bio-diesel.

These days the US produces about 550,000 bpd in corn ethanol.

How hard would it be to reduce that and instead grow soy beans for 250,000 bpd of bio-diesel?

One US company has already switched their locomotives to 20% bio-diesel. Technically very easy.

I'm not an advocate of that approach. But it is important to keep in mind that trains use so little fuel that they are essentially a niche application of petroleum. Substituting a renewable fuel isn't a showstopper.


This is an amazing proposal. It is incredibly cheap!! I strongly suspect that what you are proposing is a LOT cheaper than current US expenditures on pet-food or cosmetics. Offering the truckers access to high-speed (100 mph) "piggy-back" trains would dramatically reduce their costs.

HOWEVER, I notice that you didn't dwell on the economic dislocations that would likely occur. The current dismal spiral of the airlines comes to mind. This would the "last spike" in their coffins. You might consider adding a paragraph or two on the implications to the airlines of the cost of airline fuel at $200/barrel (next year? by Christmas of this year?). I wonder if airplanes can piggy-back on trains?? (bad joke).

A note on your military scenarios for a crisis to oil deliveries to the US. Please be aware that there is NO naval threat to the US that is likely in the next 10-20 years. The military technology lead by the US navy over any potential rival is just so overwhelming that people have no concept of just how big it really is. There is precedent in world history for the current US naval domination (of literally the whole world's oceans). People have rightly mentioned that Iran might be able to close the Straight of Hormuz (and of course that is a possibility), but no submarine threat to the US navy is even remotely likely unless there is huge submarine building program by a potential rival and that would take a minimum of 10 years (even with MASSIVE effort). Also, the submarine building assets are just not there. I believe that your economic scenarios are MUCH more likely, but again, you might consider factoring in the naval domination aspect. The US will likely not tolerate an interruption of its oil supplies (rightly thinking that it is critical to its national interests). I believe that the US President (and Congress) would authorize (and have authorized) the use of ALL US armed forces to prevent/react to such a scenario. Please never underestimate the ability, the capability, training, etc. of American armed forces. The current problems in Iraq might tempt some people to suspect that American ground forces are not capable of running an occupation (I would argue that they have done very well considering the obstacles, both political and regional), HOWEVER, if it was truly apparent to every American (e.g. no gas at the gas stations) that Oil was needed and NOW, I believe that Americans, en masse, would support a military intervention. Do not underestimate how desperate a REAL oil crisis would plunge the American electorate into.

Of course, all of this simply means that your proposal needs ALL of the support that we can provide (and everyone can provide), because it would reduce or eliminate the need for such a military scenario. Notice also, that the $90B that you are proposing is "spare change" compared to the amounts that the US military currently spends. The US budget is about $2.4 trillion per year and tax revenues are in the vicinity of $2.1 trillion (those will drop). You are proposing a total expenditure over 5 years of less than 1% of the US budget (over 5 years) even if the WHOLE AMOUNT was paid for by the US tax-payer (but you are not suggesting that). It would cost the US tax-payer nothing (over time) because the overall economic benefits would more than outweigh the costs (which cannot be said of much that the US treasury spends its money on).

Keep up the great work!! Perhaps we are politically naive, but perhaps this is something to mention to the Candidates for President??


Iran can do more than close the Straight of Hormuz with shore-to-ship missiles and burning oil spills because they can shoot missiles at the oil fields in Saudi Arabia. If their aim is true, kiss goodbye to the oil wells, steam injectors and more than 10 Mb/d of crude oil. If Israel or the U.S. attack Iran, we will wish we had electrified the rail lines in the 1980's. Iran has picked a fortuitous time to go nuclear because the U.S. can not stop them without massively disrupting the world crude oil supply. Peak oil means that all the countries of the world combined can not compensate for the loss of oil from the Middle East.

"New 110 mph tracks for passengers and freight added to existing rail ROWs as a second step"

Regarding the dual use passenger/freight, there is a wealth of experience with this in the different European rail systems beyond the SBB plans you mentioned. I remember that the German high speed rail system (ICE) was planned for 200-250 km/h passenger rail combined with high-speed freight rail at night. This led to high cost and delayed construction compared with the French TGV. Therefore, one has to plan the speed very carefully and maybe drop it to 100mph. This also depends on the grading of the track, I think the main problem in Germany was that the dual use required very flat grades leading to lots of tunnel building ("the largest subway system of the world"). Flat grades would be easy to build in Florida but difficult in California.

Diesel trucks are used for more than long haul freight. The percentage of trucking miles, and fuel used, on the Interstate vs the "last mile" needs to be answered for your projected savings to be realistic. Just looking at your map shows that trucks will still be needed to fill the rail station to destination gap. Does the data already exist somewhere to show this ratio? Also what is the median distance between rail stations? Just looking at the map raises doubts about how many ton-miles and fuel use can be shifted from road to rail.

The USA has about 177,000 miles of railroads. The map is of the most strategic 32,000. Most of the population and most of the economic activity is within a few miles of a rail line.

According to Lt. Ed Tennyson, we did 90% by rail during WW II. I understand the delta with today, and allocated a 50% increase to non-rail transportation (85%) in a best case over a long term.


Don't forget all the extra time freight is sitting around relative to the present system. This is not just additional costs (more inventory).

Waiting time before it is loaded on a train, then unloading time while it is loaded back on a truck.

Then, what about the wait time at either end as it is impossible to perfectly match demand and supply at the terminus.

A lot of the trucks picking up and delivering at either end could also end up empty on either leg --- further reducing the "savings".

An immediate question is for the "long hauls" from overseas that need to make it to "the other coast", are they better to stick it on a boat and go through the Panama canal?

The "savings" being talked about here more and more sound like the "savings" in military programs.

I have been building dynamic systems models to look for synergies which can be modeled on a computer. This article is an excellent precis of a subsystem of our energy infrastructure and its economic impacts. Since the Stranded Wind web site went up in December, 2007, I have been using their local solution at the county and small town level as an example of a mezzoeconomy model. One of their proposed sinks for "stranded energy" in the form of wind-generated electricity is to power the rail lines passing through Northern Iowa.

A nationwide network of electricity corridors overlaid on railroad right-of-ways would allow the state of Iowa to reach every small town with a grain elevator and upgrade the electrical infrastructure so farms and small towns can generate surplus electricity and sell it to a broader market, approaching electricity-as-a-commodity at the mezzoeconomic scale of county, town and township level. At this scale, many other synergistic subsystems can be employed to produce ammonia (the major pipeline runs through the same area for efficient distribution) for current uses and for running engines formerly requiring diesel fuel. Irrigation pumps in rural areas are one example of where ammonia as a hydrogen carrier, produced regionally in small towns with high electrical production, is used in stationary power applications for farming and manufacturing. Synergies expand to impact the rural electical grid and encourage more electical production.

Hydrogen production through electrolysis creates local opportunites which a classical "hydrogen economy" has difficulty justifying. Hydrogen can be used to produce ammonia and, combined with CO2 output from ethanol plants, methane without having to scrub the hydrogen sulfide out like biogas plants have to do. Many small towns are in proximity to natural gas pipelines and terminals, so high-quality methane can be produced with planning from the CO2 from coal-fired plants (of which we have too many, but we already have them) and ethanol plants (ditto). Many small towns already have natural-gas electical generators, so the feedstock could be consumed locally to produce power on a baseload level. Here again, the infrastructure you propose would allow these production opportunities to become more feasible.

Picken's proposals for natural gas transportation could be moved ahead locally with all city and county vehicles using ammonia for diesel-type applications and natural gas for gasoline-type applications. The same policies which encouraged convenience stores in Iowa to provide ethanol options at the pump could be expanded to ammonia, methane, recharged vehicle batteries using solar and electric vehicle recharge stations throughout small towns and in cities in the state. Farmers cooperatives often provide fuels to both farms and small towns, and they are equipped already with the infrastructure to provide these options with little investment.

Combined with electrical production from biogas, solar panels, windmills and heating systems using solar and methane, Iowa could embark on its own journey toward self-sufficiency and net energy exports without requiring ethanol or biodiesel. Indeed, as deeply committed as the state is now to these biofuels, it needs next-generation plans to move beyond economic dependency on them.

Your proposal could be promoted at the state and local political level in economic development plans for small rural communites. The shortage of labor in these areas, at least in Iowa, is the major impediment to implementation. The net export of our young people which has been going on for decades is a persistent political issue in the state. By providing more opportunities in their home towns and nearby communities, we address the labor drain out of the state (often to exurban commuter lives in urbanized areas on the coasts or in the Southwest where they add to the resource consumption there) and, potentially, encourage workers who have moved away to return. This happenstance political synergy in this context also has synergies in increasing the population of small towns and plausible self-sufficiency of those communities. Production of methane from biomass improves water quality and from CO2 reduces (but does not eliminate since the methane will be combusted downstream) the production of greenhouse gases from biofuels and coal use.

Iowa has also been building bike trails and have prioritized water and air quality since our shallow wells are nitrified and sewage treatment investments needed at small-town level to comply with Federal standards are formidible obstacles economically. Manure management and sewage management problems are merging into watershed-level planning and investment. The township level of government organization, long atrophied, can be revived to township-level energy import/export planning using models which include water and air quality objectives.

Google and Microsoft are building, or planning to build, major data centers in the state. Raising our power availability and generating power from a hive of small producers assures data center operations of better quality power with costs which can decouple from coal or petroleum price curves over time. These kinds of synergies are yet another avenue to be exploited with dynamic systems modeling to attract other operations which can consume the energy as close to the point of generation as possible, lowering the over-the-supply-chain carbon output and increasing the systemwide EROI by optimizing the EROI of each component subsystem to the overall EROI of the whole.

T. Boone Pickens has now set his sights on wind power farms from Texas to the Canadian border, so his proposals would set up the opportunity for small communities in those regions to capitalize on local uses of electricity which allow people now communting across the state to, instead, work in their small communities where biking or walking to work are real possibilities. The unique conditions in Iowa would encourage electrification of spur lines to grain elevators and expansion to local freight and, possibly, passenger traffic like was already done in the early 1900s. A small town every ten miles laid out in a grid allows this state to maximize the railroad right-of-ways to reach populations spread out in small clusters and provide them with working opportunities which do not involve driving and ICE vehicle.

I just want to point out the local and state synergies this kind of plan presents to planners and modelers working at that level on economic development and business plans for new ventures in a specific locale like Iowa. As a plan such as this moves forward, it can be used to recalculate the costs and benefits of various policy initiatives and business opportunites in a way which makes payback and ROI much more attractive. This ultimate synergy can lead to grassroots support in rural areas politically, and lend some mojo to the political battles ahead.

Ultimately, many of us in cybernetics and computer modeling are looking for how to combine the EROI measures being discussed here and traditional ROI measures in a single multidimensional model. We want to optimize for EROI and ROI and be able to embed the business plan of any business or the policy plan of any state or local agency in that context. Where ROI is enhanced along with EROI (and carbon output is minimized), we have the ability to help businesspeople lobby government officials for those solutions to come to fruition. Articles like this, and many others on this site, are helping us move forward in this effort much faster than we could otherwise. I hope, and expect to see, more of this kind of proposal to be forthcoming.

Each uptick in the cost of energy brings business ventures long planned but on the shelf closer to economic viability. Those of us in the software industry building planning models for businesspeople and government agencies can use proposals written up in this kind of detail to improve the models and connect them together in ways which encourage our clients to think of synergies -- and how to make money or further political policy ends from those synergies. Not to say these changes in one state will have a massive impact at the national level, but similar efforts in every state could end up driving national policy like the Framers intended.

On the financing:

I'd be glad to invest, once I can get the Russian government to honor the Imperial Russian Railroad bonds my great grandfather bought. I still have the coupons starting with the second half of 1917....

Reading you and Jim Kunstler gives me hope. Now we just need to force our politicians to deal with reality.

Although I do not live in the USA I found this article very interesting.

One can conceive of an electrified rail line operating at 55 kV AC, with a 345 kV HV AC line, interconnecting to every other HV AC line it crosses and feeding 55 kV substations every 30 miles.

A 2 x 25 kV AC system with autotransformers could be useful out in the wilds where the HV electricity grid is limited.

In a standard 25 kV system one phase of the three-phase grid supply is transformed to 25 kV and fed to the catenary wire above the track with the return current carried by the running rails.

In a 2 x 25 kV system the return current does not pass through the running rails. Instead it is carried by an additional 25 kV wire in anti-phase with the catenary wire such that the maximum voltage between the two is 50 kV.

The parallel feeder at -25 kV is suspended from the opposite side of the electrification masts to the catenary wire. Every six miles or so autotransformers are placed between the +25 kV and -25 kV wires with the central tap at 0 V connected to the running rails and ground.

The voltage relative to ground is never more than 25 kV, so the insulation requirements are the same as in a standard 25 kV system, but the distance between feeder stations can be doubled.

I read that Italy tried a system that sounds like that, but gave it up. REALLY unsure of the details.


2 x 25 kV AC electrification has been installed in Great Britain (Channel Tunnel Rail Link, West Coast Main Line), France, Japan and elsewhere on high-speed passenger and heavy freight lines, so the technology is tried and tested.

In this pic you can see how the negative 25 kV wire is attached:

I'd like to correct something I wrote in my earlier message. Current does flow through the running rails with 2 x 25 kV AC, but only for a relatively short distance to the autotransformers in front of and behind the train, from where the current returns to the feeder station via the negative 25 kV wire.

Large parts of the electrified rail for hauling iron ore from the LKAB mines in Kiruna has been retrofitted with such a feeding system to strenghten it.

Most of the electrified rail in Sweden has one catenary at 15-16 kV 16 2/3 Hz and a ground wire in parallell with "suction" transformers with one catenary winding and one ground wire winding to force the ground current from the rail to the ground wire to minimise disturbances to telecommunication systems and so on. This system is less elegant and I do not know why it were selected since both were known when electrification started.

The first electrified railway in Sweden were 15 Hz since they could make stronger generators and motors with a low frequenzy. It were later changed to 16 2/3 Hz since the feed were changed from dedicated generators to rotating machines drawing power from the 50 Hz national grid being built in the same era. There were a debate if the railways should have their own grid or use the national grid and the national grid won the economical/political debate.

The rotating machines were from their second generation built on rail cars to make them easy to move to a centralized maintainance facility and movable to wartime shelters. They proved to be maintainable and extremely long lived and units from the 40:s are still being used. The latest news is upgrading them with brush free feeds of the rotor windings and a new generation of rotating machinery is being proposed that would give 16 kV directly withouth a transformer and thus avoid the transformers losses and cost. They are currently used in parallell with solid state rectifiers since the solid state AC-DC-AC converters have less losses but the rotating machinery is good at providing reactive power and give a good waveform and is more reliable. The old rotating stuff is also more reliable over time since specilized solid state spare parts get scarce after a decade or two and a generation or two of technology development.

The railway system is slowly getting its own 16 2/3 Hz 130 kV grid along the main lines to even out the load and make it easier to feed back power from the trains.

Almost all of the electrified rail has gotten a second ground wire to make losses lower and fairly often a parallell line to the catenary. Cheap to implement cludges, an AC system built from scratch would use higher voltage, at least 25 kV, and less metal and probably the system you describe. 60 Hz or lower could be an open question since capacitive losses are much lower with 20-15 Hz making it easier to feed long lines. A strong three phase grid can feed a single phase load and that could make it easier to build a 60 Hz system.

And fairly high voltage DC like 40-50 kV could be a good system with todays and tomorrows solid state technology but you do not want to build a crash program on new technology.

Wow. Over 7000 words, and over 170 comments, and I can't find more than a handful of words, a mere hint, a trifle of an aside, even a speck of speculation on exactly where all that electricity is going to come from.

I can't think of a diplomatic way to phrase this, so at the risk of being a "meat-grinder" I'll just come right out and say it:

Pull your heads out.


The USA could easily conserve 1% of our electricity. If GWB had not rolled back the minimum SEER for air conditioners from 13 to 12, etc.

And 1% from wind, geothermal and/or nuke is certainly doable.



Assuming, of course, as you obviously are, no further increases in demand and no future disruptions in supply. As for your wishful thinking on the fabulous new sources, well, good luck with that.

It's absolutely beyond belief that I should even have to explain this to a presumably sentient life form, but the TW of base load you want to add to the grid have to come from somewhere, and unless your hand-waving has some sort of magical quality that I'm not aware of your fantasy world will remain just that.


Your post is both ill-mannered and inaccurate.

A recession, let alone any depression which is very likely with very expensive oil, would reduce demand by far more than the power Alan would need for his system.

Secondly, there is this stuff called coal, which the US has large amounts of, so supplying the electricity for the rail system would be easily possible reasonably cheaply by any reckoning, although new bui9ld of wind will likely make it not necessary to go there.

I've heard that if you burn coal, it can produce steam that will turn a turbine, which will produce electricity. I'm not sure if it's ever been tried.


Sources for more electricity (fossil sources omitted)
Direct Solar: photovoltaic, boiler to turbine, photosynthesis (biofuel)
Indirect Solar: Wind turbine, Hydropower (rain fed watersheds), Ocean waves / currents
Previous Star's contribution: Geothermal, Fission to boiler to turbine
Recapture of electricity by dynamic braking (20% - 40%)

(Investment / development of these alternatives are hampered by an accounting system that prices fossil fuels below actual costs. If they had to factor in replacement costs for when it's all consumed, fossil fuels would become priceless.)

Savings via conservation
Boost housing insulation to at least R30/R60 (augment windows with insulated shutters)
Increase efficiencies of industrial processes (on going process)
Innovative design (ex: appliances that vent waste heat directly outside of a conditioned envelope - save on air conditioning costs)

(* Not sure on this one - but read somewhere that in one small town, the land line telephone company consumed 40% of the electrical power in the area. Cell phones may be "green" if that is the case.)

Indirect benefits of electrified rail based mass transit infrastructure
+ reduction in highway expansion and paving
+ breathing cleaner air
+ more efficient use of surface area

Just say NO to fossil fuels!
Hitting "empty" when it takes 60 million years to recharge the "fossil fuel tank" is not an option.

Excellent article Alan. Two additional items.

1) About four years ago I did an analysis of adding HVDC transmission to rail (and freeway) ROW's. It made a lot of sense in the form you propose. I then stopped and actually looked at what it amounted to (tall high-strength vertical supports in a fairly straight line with HV and MV conductors slung between) and decided to add wind generators to 50% of the vertical towers. 1.5 MW wind generators on towers 30% taller than they are normally installed on to provide for the required conductor clearance, with slightly increased blade area to compensate for imperfect wind conditions and some lateral guying at corners. The system a) is entirely technically feasible b) improves the economics of all participants by eliminating many of the costs of wind generation companies i) of arranging and paying for easements ii) doing costly performance studies (the generators are going onto every tower on a hill anyway, so performance studies are less important, though still needed) iii) eliminating their need for transmission iv) reducing / eliminating their cost to market the generated power. iv) the ideal wind generator spacing is also an ideal transmission tower spacing. v) providing easy access for equipment delivery, cranes, and regular maintenance crews eliminates a lot of civil work costs of windfarm construction vi) several others. Also noteworty is that the stress calculations of the engineers designing the towers and bases MAY be able to reduce those costs by exploiting the strains of the conductors when the wind blows within 45 degrees of the transmission line's direction (the line tension takes all the stress) and lateral stress can be reduced to allow reduced tower weight / cost by simply adjusting the generator's blade pitch angle with automated controls if the wind is blowing across the transmission line and guying hasn't been provided. Economics of that would be site-dependent.

The scale of it is impressive though. One doesn't realize until they see an actual scale drawing of this system installed over a railway track. The insulator string alone on a 745 KVDC line is longer than the height of a railway locomotive, height and clearance of which simply disappear on the drawings. Also questionable whether a 100 ft wide ROW could provide space for a pair of rail tracks and the huge base required for wind generator towers. Perhaps a creative new tower base system pre-fabricated of concrete which would span the tracks as a bridge and support the wind generator tower above it and the locomotive feeding conductors below it.

2) Once a rail line is electrified, esp. with HV transmission included higher on the line, then diesel locomotives (should probably / may) need to be barred from using the right-of-way, because their exhaust pollution will likely very quickly mess up the insulator systems, and those are costly to clean, usually done with helicopters spraying high-pressure distilled water to wash the insulators.

The impressive part was the economics. The transmission company could nearly pay the entire cost of the installation from Chicago to LA simply by selling the electricity generated along the line into the California market. All other revenue streams would be profit.....

Of course I then considered the further potential of changing the HVDC conductors from steel-reinforced aluminum cables to carbon-fiber-reinforced thinwall aluminum pipes. Stringing 2 to 4 8" dia. tubes on each side of the towers as the DC conductors and providing fiberglass entry and exit tubes from the tubes into each tower provides some interesting possibilities. DOE has done some studies of using the towers of wind generators (essentially a long tapered high-strength steel cylinder) as pressure tanks to store hydrogen in. Then providing Proton Energy's bi-directional hydrolysers / fuel cells once every ten generators, and perhaps picking up some hydrogen and electricity from the gas generators of some oxy-blown gassifiers of IGCC plants with CO2 sequestration off-peak in Wyoming and injecting it into the system allows the system to deliver a) full CO2-free electricity to the rail lines b) H2 to refilling stations along Interstate highways which the transmission line may cross. c) long-term storage and re-supply of electricity (any source, including wind). d) delivery of "coal-by-wire" from Wyoming coalfields to both LA and Chicago (massive amounts, eg. 10 to 14 GW) e) peak load sharing between midwest and west coast. f) others.

A physically closely integrate railway-grid-powerproduction-hydrogen distribution infrastructure... For you favorite deitys sake, separate the systems or get the ultimate maintainance nightmare.

Based on what. Your PO? Documentation.

Common engineering sense.

Two points:
a) Why would you assume that I would do all the complex engineering and financial research to design the system, but not include a generous maintenance factor in the O&M budget? (which I did).
b) There are essentially three system to be maintained. The Wind generation system, the HV / MV transmission system and associated hydrogen fuel cell systems, and the railway overhead conductors and feeder systems. Obviously these three separate systems could be separately maintained by three separate groups of specialists, though trends in modern industrial maintenance are to cross-train and de-specialize the skilled workforce. Is it you thesis that the system cannot be maintained simply because they are co-located on the same support structures? That seems far fetched to me.

Most of the difficulties go away if you use solar instead of wind.
With costs now at around $3.50/kw installed, then the ability to distribute the power along the line may be advantageous in some areas.
33,000 solar panels going atop warehouse - Green Machines-

At the average US solar incidence of 0.18, that is still nearly $20/kwh installed actual average output, way too expensive.
According to the link that comes out at around 20cents kwh, although I tend to take levelised costs with several shovelfuls of salt.

With costs dropping by around 20% with every doubling of output, and output doubling every couple of years, then it should not take long for the costs to be reasonable, considering it is right there where you want it.

I don't mean to be a wet blanket on this, because overall it is a good idea, but, I worked for railroads for years and now run a rail-truck transfer terminal, so I have an idea of what I'm talking about.

A few points:

1. There are a heckuva a lot more clearance problems for stringing wire in the US East than the Trans-Siberan Railroad. Those are the issues that slow you down.

2. Efficiency - I think (?) you are applying unit train efficiency to stack trains. Not so. Stack trains have MUCH more air resistance and are generally lighter in weight. Although its been a long time since I was an executive department analyst, junior grade, the general rules of thumb were carload freight is 4 times as efficient as truck, intermodal (piggyback, stack trains) was twice as efficient. Coal unit trains are more efficient than carload, but they generally travel at slower speeds (45 mph) so using their efficiency factor for express freight doesn't apply.

3. Adding additional main tracks is a royal pain in the butt - about equivalent to adding an additional lane on freeways. There's some situation where alternatives could be used - for example, Amtrak presently travels from Chicago to Omaha on the BNSF - and it misses the Quad Cities and Des Moines in exchange for Burlington and Osceola. Upgrade the IAIS for passenger, you get Des Moines and the Quad Cities, and the freights don't have the hassle of passenger service on the same track a coal unit trains (The IAIS is still somewhat light on freight). Probably more situations like this around the country.

4. Comparing European train frequencies to American trains is not valid. They run very light and nimble high horsepower per ton trains, we move houses at low horsepower per ton ratios.

5. Wind turbines along the RoW - yeah, I've thought of that one too - but he modern turbines have blade sweep areas that are wider than most railroad right of ways. Gonna have to talk with that farmer about buying the rights for the tips to go over his property. Also, many, maybe most railroads are paralleled by roads, you have to deal with ice throw and blade throw issues (Been through that with some NIMBYS regarding a wind farm proposed for the nearby township).

6. I feel the best way to convert truck traffic to train is by use of RoadRailer technology - it is very fuel efficient, the terminal costs and land requirements are not that great. However, they are limited in terms of train length - IIRR, it's 60 units (trailers) per train. Need to double track in order to make a significant dent with them.

7. Need some organizational changes at the railroads too - in order to attract the goods and express traffic now moving by truck, you have to run and think on a schedule, not when there's enough tonnage. Likewise, for carload freight, shortlines because of their cost structure (essentially fixed at a given level of service, be it three or 3 or 5 times per week) are much more interested in attracting additional traffic than the Class I's, they perceive everything to be a variable cost. Shortlines are better marketers of light density lines, Class I's are better operators/marketers of mainlines. I would propose regional railroads (think "Delmarva Peninsula" or "Wisconsin and Upper Peninsula") do the local switching, Class I's do the line haul.


Good effort Alan. But I do think we need to explore the whole "gallons saved per buck" issue to make sure we're doing the right thing with the first dollars.

(And as an aside - we ban TV advertising for cigarettes and liquor, why not ban it for vehicles greater than, say, 4,000 pounds?)

Very good points. Too many to address at one go properly.

#7 I believe CN operates on a schedule with excellent operating results. Lower labor costs are one, happier shippers are another. CN is near or top of class for profitability.

#6 RoadRailer (truck trailers with RR wheels) cannot interface with other RR equipment, Breakdown can shut line out down for a day. I think only N-S uses them.

I can see a niche, but not widespread use. Double stack containers are the way to go.

#5 No doubt wind turbines will need "air rights" at a minimum. Farmers like mail box money, so not that big a deal.

Think spur line with a couple of grain elevators on it. WIDE loading gauge except by elevators. Lay a bit of track around the elevators. Use rail mounted crane to erect & service wind turbines . Wind shadow when wind blows along track direction (put WTs left-right-left-right to minimize that). Accepting that loss allows very tight spacing. Or space more widely to minimize wind shadow effect.

Ice throw is an issue but I do not know about it. Not sure what to say, but existing WTs have that issue. How far can a 2 MW WT throw a 5 kg block of ice ? Miles ? Blade throw is almost non-existent now AFAIK.

#4 They run electrics, we run diesels. The surge ability of electric motors can give us more power (or fewer locos in some cases). No refueling issues with electrics. SBB maxes out with 1.5 km trains, we can do twice that.

I never expect to see a North American RR run 300 trains/day on double track (if anyone but SBB had said it, I would wonder), but I can see 115 or 120/day on Class I double track with electrification. Electrics ARE more "nimble".

#3 Near my grandfather's (now father's farm) in Georgetown KY is a N-S crossing with a cross buck that still says "3 tracks". But I swear there are only two tracks (one a siding I think). In track work during the last 30 years, no allowance was made for retaining ROW for that lost track. None the less, adding it back will not be THAT difficult.

OTOH, where there has never been a second track, adding it can be expensive (sections of BN-SF LA to Chicago had been single track since built). A second Moffett tunnel is the only solution west of Denver.

CSX has published plans for 3 tracks from Richmond to Miami and 4 tracks DC to Richmond. Interesting that they spec 30' clearance between tracks for ease of maintenance. Some new slivers of ROW (straighten out curves). Doable !

Icing on an airfoil such as a wind turbine blade decreases its lift and therefore the blades speed unless load is reduced. On MW scale turbines the centripetal forces are much lower than on much smaller home sized turbines at the same wind speed. Therefore Ice throw and blade separation are a bigger problem for small turbines than for the utility scale multi megawatt machines that would power the trains.

I love freight trains. They have an average efficiency of 436 ton-miles per gallon. Spending a lot of effort to electrify such an efficient transport may not be a top priority.

Moving food distribution to freight rail transport should be a national priority regardless of cost. The current 97% transport of food by truck risks famine.

As efficient as freight rail is, passenger and high speed rail are terrible. Parasitic Mass is the mass we pay to move that is not cargo or passengers. Every start-stop of requires power to be applied to re-build kinetic energy. With passenger rail we move about 3 tons per passenger.

Ultra-light Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) rails can provide the rolling efficiency of rail without the parasitic mass. PRT is like a personal roller coaster that exits the traveling rail to stop.

Morgantown PRT was built in response to the 1973 Oil Embargo and has delivered 110 million injury-free, oil-free passenger miles. Masdar, the zero-carbon city being built in Abu Dhabi will use PRT as its only internal transportation system and will be solar powered. Heathrow is installing a PRT system now. POSCO, the Korean Steel giant is building as PRT system in Uppsala.

PRT cannot meet US ADA standards (wheelchair passengers traveling alone cannot evacuate themselves in case of fire, etc.), among several other issues I have repeatedly pointed out.

So no-one can build PRT for use in the ISA.


So no-one can build PRT for use in the ISA.

And we cannot engineer heavier than air flying machines either.

It is uninteresting to debate you. You sight a minor engineering requirement as a fundamental barrier to gaining mobility in the 200-400 mile per gallon class. The limits you see are more perceived than real.

Study Just-in-Time and Six Sigma to see how quality cannot be managed in a batch; how productivity and value increase as batch size approaches one. A car trip is tailored to your needs; a train trip is scheduled and tailored to the needs of the train. In a train the traveler has no control over who else is on the train or their behavior. Here is a study on transportation process flows.

PRT provides the efficiency of rail with the on-demand service of a chauffeured car. Here is a European Union study which outlines how PRT is the "personalization of mass transit."

PRT is so efficient, it can be privately financed. I paid to built the system we have. We are only waiting on governments to allow access to rights of way based on achieving performance standards of exceeding 100 miles per gallon.

PRT is 17 times more efficient that cars in providing on-demand personal mobility in urban areas. A 17 time gain in efficiency can off-set a 6 times price increase in oil. Government control of HOW infrastructure is built is focused on making 18th (passenger trains) and 19th Century (automobiles) technologies work with 21st Century population loads.

We have the wrong problem. Efficiency is the cheap and easy solution, but we keep trying to move a ton to move a person in a car and 3 tons to move a person in passenger trains.

The ADA law will prohibit you, of anyone else, from operating PRT in the USA (except pre-ADA systems that have been grandfathered. That is NOT a "minor engineering issue". Build it, open it and the next day a court injunction shuts it down !

gaining mobility in the 200-400 mile per gallon class

Urban Rail, despite your self serving (financial) analysis and made up "parasitic mass", easily reaches that level.

If you do not wish to debate me, just stop posting on TOD.


ADA requirements are easily complied with. There are much more difficult engineering and compliance requirements.

What makes the debate uninteresting is you pick simple issues them into emotional barriers of absolutes.

The reason to post here is that the awareness of Peak Oil is growing. The quality of information here is excellent. Emotional decision making by a few people is tolerable, just uninteresting.

Your accusations that I in this for money is weird. A person does not work on a project for 10 years and spend over a million bucks of their own money without a paycheck for lust of money. If we start building networks on a large scale, I will make a lot of money. We will add great value at radically lower costs. That too I can tolerate.

I'm not a lawyer, but can't the transit agency just subsidize taxi rides for the disabled at the same price as the PRT? My city operates a door to door shuttle bus and offers subsidized taxi fares for seniors and the disabled.

BillJames, it is uninteresting to debate you because you insist on spouting the same factual errors, and you keep focusing on "parasitic mass", which is not the be-all and end-all measure that you think it is. Every time we (Alan, I, others) point this out to you, you ignore us and continue to spout the same nonsense. While it is true that hauling more weight around in the same vehicle operated in the same conditions will cost more in terms of energy, it is not true that heavier vehicles always consume more energy per unit of useful work. It is a question of frictional losses - that's where the energy goes. The frictional losses from steel-wheel-on-steel-rail are much, MUCH lower than those from rubber on concrete or asphalt. The frictional losses from "pushing aside" the air essentially only once for a trainset such as a TGV, versus 10 times for an equivalent number of buses, also makes a big difference. These are the main factors determining efficiency, not the mass of the vehicle. The effects are borne out in the real world: simply observe the fuel efficiency of passenger trains versus buses, or freight trains versus trucks.

100 mpg is nothing, electric trains achieve the gasoline-energy-equivalent of 300-700 passenger miles per gallon. See my comment in this thread, or

You keep spouting easily-contradicted nonsense about the mass of trains and buses. The empty weight of a 40' urban transit bus is on the order of 12 tonnes, and such a bus can easily carry 36 people - ergo 1/3 of a tonne of vehicle per person. The empty weight of a TGV Duplex is 386 tonnes, with 545 seats, or 0.7 tonnes of vehicle per person if full, which is one quarter of what you claim. Even small cars can weigh about a tonne and carry 5 people - say, 4 in relative comfort - for a grand total of 0.25 tonnes of vehicle per person. (Yet they are typically less efficient than even high-speed trains! Lower mass isn't everything!)

Please stop spreading false information.

Trains are always full? Buses are always full?

Add all the trips times the mass of a train and divide it by a count of all the passengers you will find you move about 3 tons of vehicle per passenger.

PRT can have the rolling efficiency as trains, hard wheels on metal rails.

JPods get 200 mpg. Put 4 people in a JPod and the vehicle weight is about 100 pounds per passenger and the passenger mileage is 800 mpg.

You cannot move mass without an energy cost. You cannot start-stop vehicles without energy costs. No matter how emotional you get about it the larger your moving mass the more energy it takes to get it moving.

Engineering to recover waste, like regenerative braking can be applied to any type of vehicle, PRT, trains and cars. Engineering can help but it does not change the physics.

Moving mass costs; moving more mass costs more. This is not false information. It is simple physics.

Moving mass costs; moving more mass costs more. This is not false information. It is simple physics.

Read "American Narrow Gauge Railroads" by Hilton. That was the exact same argument used by the "Narrow Gauge Movement" in the late 1800's, early 1900's. Standard gauge railroads were "over-engineered" and wasteful. Where are the narrow gauge railroads today?

Interestingly I was having a discussion with some fellow railroad/transit advocates and consultants recently and PRT came up because we were laughing at some new "gadget transit" proposal or other. One of these people worked for METRO here in Phoenix and now works in the transit department of one of the local cities.

I asked: "With regards to PRT, has anybody asked them what happens during the off peak hours? You need just as many pods as you do automobiles during the peak, so during the off peak do they: A) just cruise around consuming power; or B) do you have huge parking garages for PRT pods so they can spend 95% of their time stored, just as the average automobile spends 95% of its time parked."

His answer was (some editing to protect identities since I am copying from my e-mail):

"Back in 2000, Valley Metro asked that same question to the (company trying to sell PRT to Phoenix) people. (They) were trying to derail the Prop 2000 light rail initiative [which passed resulting in the LRT about to open - Ed] while trying to solicit business from Phoenix!!!

"- Valley Metro basically asked "Hey, you have 300 people lined up to ride (your PRT) pods at a station in town during rush hour. How are people going to board 300 pods for 300 destinations in a matter of minutes, especially when you have 20,000 other people trying to board pods all over the city?" (They) retorted "(our system) can go 100mph... and its physics... thats how (our system) works". -The answer is a massive breakdown of transit services with multi-hour long queus and too little supply for too much demand.

"- Valley Metro followed with "a Honda Accord can theoretically go 100mph on Central Ave, but not when 20,000 other cars are vying for road space and you're dealing with intersections, etc!"

Further, Valley Metro closed the discussion with stating that (the PRT system) is essentially an "single-occupancy vehicle system hoisted onto an aerial single lane roadway network". Humorously, they mentioned that (the system in question) is the equivalent of all the arterials, interstates and highways reduced to one-lane in both directions. (But it's okay because) you CAN go 100mph, but only if NO ONE else is in front of you!!"

In other words it's just like all the people (yes I've heard them) who say if only speed limits were eliminated, traffic congestion would go away! It's JUST physics. It's JUST engineering. Trust us. Buy our system and we'll show you!

Here is a video clip on capacity.

Listening to transit experts talk about PRT is like listening to Yergin talk about Peak Oil.

Comments alleging inefficiencies of electrified rail are specious.
It works well and has been proven in country after country... except in most of the USA.

Comments regarding high speed rail fall into the same category. I personally traveled by rail from Hong Kong to Beijing in 25 comfortable hours at 160 km / hr.

What is needed is nationalization of the roadbed. Railbed should be organized similarly to the highways and barge routes... public thoroughfare. Were this done, you could electrify at a wartime level of effort.

Further, consider the trillion spent on the fruitless wars in Central Asia, and on various schemes to control asian resources. Had that been spent on wind turbines and associated infrastructure at $3000/kwe, 330 Gwe could have been built, this sum is also sufficient for geothermal plants and solar plants. Had that been done, energy use in the USA would be far different.

What is lacking is leadership... what is occuring is a disaster...


Obama hasn't made any detailed plans for rail, but he has at least voiced support for it conceptually.

McCain, unfortunately, has a long history of staunch opposition to rail, and regularly tried to destroy Amtrak while he was chairman of the Commerce, Science, Transport committee.

Well, you asked for comments.

First I don't think this will get anywhere. It doesn't have the right 'smell' for something of this scale. You throw around technical considerations and $1bn per year but its politics that drives this scale of investment and its not here. As I say, it smells wrong. You need to think who can benefit, who can be supported, how it can play politically.

Second, as far as routes is concerned, your focus is freight but a quick comparison of largest ports with this network shows no obvious connection. You are electrifying between cities, ignoring where the freight is going from/to. Pick the prime routes, not 36,000 miles in one hit. Its much easier to sell up than go for broke.

Third, system issues. How is the last 10-100 miles dealt with? Are you going to shift that by local rail, truck, barge - what? If you shift mode, how is that dealt with and where are those yards. Can you cope with that and what's the cost?

Fourth, power. You are effectively going to need new power stations to make this work, and that effectively means new nukes. Where are you going to place them and how are you going to get agreement. Wind and solar will get laughed at, push that to the background unless asked for.

Lastly, its boring. Needs some sex, even if its not purposeful. Where is the superconductors for power distribution, or the computer control system for routing, or something new? I know, risk reduced is never sexy - but getting a politician behind me too is an uphill task.

It may sound overly negative, but the case just doesn't seem to be here in a form that will be heard by a seasoned politico. It sounds less silver BB and more gold plated. Find the pain that a politician will feel and scope a solution around that. Don't start with a wish list and attempt to justify it. And define exactly the "so what", what will they get out of it that they care about?


Perhaps the budget is missing the 1/10th of billions needed to "contribute to re-election campaigns".

I know this is simplistic, but most of the reductions in oil usage the author claims can be realized merely by taxing trucks and subsidizing rail. Of course, we may rapidly run into capacity limitations which would take longer to resolve. But, the longest haul trucks could be addressed first.

Then add additional railroad cars followed by double tracks. Finally convert to electric. It is also possible to convert existing diesels over to natural gas as a bridge step while electric locomotives and electrification are being implemented.

Cummins diesel has already developed LNG fueled diesel trucks and achieved EPA 2012 certification.

We need to get off of oil ASAP and with these steps, we can start the process sooner.

Good work. I spent 6 years as a Senior Executive at a Class 1 railroad and 35 years in the supply chain world. I have spent the last 4 trying to educate the supply chain world about Peak Oil with limited success. The proposal is outstanding and if we had started it 30 years ago, we probably wouldn't be in the mess we are in today.

While technically feasible, you are talking about changing a couple of cultures that are very change adverse. Railroad management and labor operate in a late 19th to early 20th cnetury mind set. After all you are talking about an industry that reached it's apex in the 1940's with a 19th century technology. Don't underestimate the challenge of culture change.

The other culture, if you can call it that, is the supply chain world. Supply chains are messy. Physically moving massive amounts of product from one location to another is complex.

Supply chains today are all based on cheap oil. You don't just change modes of transport to change a supply chain. You have networks of plants, distribution centers, stores that are built in place that are truck friendly. The prevailing thought over the last decades in supply chains has been to go to smaller just-in-time deliveries.

Most companies supply chains are designed for flexibility and low inventories.

Not saying that all these can't change over time and with sufficient pain, but please don't disregard the significant cultural and physical limitations to rapid change.

Keep up the good work and thought leadership.

Thanks !

That is why I made RR management philosophy an issue, And mentioned that customers (WalMart was an example) will need to change as well. I think I said that WalMart would take at least a decade to completely change over AFTER RR service improved.

This issue has as many facets as a well cut diamond ! Despite my best efforts, it is difficult to mention them all, and many get a sentence or two (I cut several paragraphs on safety & pollution for example).

Best Hopes,


You mentioned in your article that UPS could not work Union Pacific due to their inability to run scheduled service. That one sentence got me thinking about an aspect missing from your presentation. I suspect JB Hunt, the largest U.S. truckload carrier (last I knew), will be willing to spend a considerable amount to lobby against your proposal. So will the American Trucking Association (ATA). There needs to be major shippers who support your proposal to offset the negative response of the trucking industry. I can think of only three who have the clout (and name recognition) to effectively support your proposal. The U.S. Post Office, UPS, and FedEx. They do not have a vested interest in the status quo. They will benefit If they can move their freight more economically.

Are you assuming shippers will come on board, or has your research found there is a large percentage of major shippers who favor your proposal?

In the case of the U.S Post Office, UPS, and FedEx a lack of reliable scheduled service is a deal breaker. They will need a service level equal to or greater than what they currently get from their trucking networks. The same applies for increasing passenger traffic. To attract more people to rail will require a scheduled service they can base their plans on. I'm not familiar with Amtrack's on time performance. Perhaps someone can chime in to give us an idea of the scope of the task to expand passenger rail and do it with a high level of on time success.

In the case of the U.S Post Office, UPS, and FedEx a lack of reliable scheduled service is a deal breaker

I tend to agree. CN has gone to scheduled service with favorable results. Others should as well. Besides inertia, the biggest obstacle to scheduled service is lack of track capacity.

Are you assuming shippers will come on board, or has your research found there is a large percentage of major shippers who favor your proposal?

As fuel prices rise (and truckers slow down), shippers (WalMart an exception) are searching for ways to use rail more, much more.

FedEx made a proposal to SNCF to use the TGV tracks at night with specialty package trains. The French were not that interested.


Hello Again:

I saw all the responses to my comment. Most seem to miss the idea that we will also have shortages of materials to build these high tech items. Batteries take a lot of lithium, copper,zinc, Etc, which are in short supply. You will probably have to use a low tech approach to revitalizing the rails. This means using the materials that were used in the railroads in the past. Actually, I didn't think the passenger cars back in the 50s - 60s were bad, and they weren't high speed. Why do we have this obsession with speed? We really need to slow down and smell the roses. I realize that there are some things that really would require speed such as life or death situations. These can be accommodated with aircraft but these won't be used as everyday means of transportation. Trains were able to meet the needs of most areas of the country. There were rail spurs to just about every food store and factory. The rail stations had depots where people could come to pick up their shipments. I realize that these were slower times but whats wrong with slowing down? Even the mail was sent by trains.

hi James,
There are shortages of most metals because China is using about 50% of world production due to a 25%growth per year in infrastructure and industry. This will slow as the economy matures and moves to more a service base.
It may be desirable to travel by train but there are practical reasons why most of us do not. A lot of US workers have 2-3 weeks vacation a year, and don't want to spend half of it traveling. For those with more time its still a problem to get to many destinations.
Commerce moved to truck transport when the interstates were built, re-located to less expensive out of town sites, because they could have reliable delivery. If a train de-rails a line may be out of action for a day, if a truck crashes usually can drive around or on opposite lane. A shipment can be picked-up at a precise time and delivered 2,000 miles away within a few hours of ETA. Rail spurs have been removed because they were no longer used or interfered with traffic.
As a tourist I have enjoyed train trips in Canada, Australia and Europe, but they are expensive. The best part is that they stop in the center of a city. It works in Canada because almost everyone lives within 100miles of the 49th parallel.In Europe you have a high density of cities and shorter distances, and in Australia everyone lives on the coast but the rail doesn't go along the coast( thus it isn't very good for a tourist). The US is as large as Canada and Australia, but the population is spread out in 3 dimensions not in a line. Does Amtrak go to Mammoth Caves?, Mt Rushmore?, Yellowstone Nat Park?, Grand Canyon,? If so, how do you carry a tent etc that fits in the back of a SUV? As a tourist in the US I usually drive.

Somehow convenient tourism does not strike me as the number one priority at the moment!
It should be pointed out though that when they become very widely available, which I would not expect before 2015 at the earliest, EV's would do very well for most of the tourism needs providing that you did not attempt to get to the region by that means, so in practise you would catch a train or a bus to the holiday area then hire an EV and drive it for less than 100 miles a day in the area, and not use your own car to go there.
PHEV's would not have any such limits though, providing you could afford the gas for a long run.

Your other point about factories and outlets being located in reference to highways, not railheads, is the more substantial in my view in any scheme to return to railways.

Some combination of destruction of the property asset base with many becoming uneconomic and switching modes to road for final delivery, which also costs a lot of money, would happen.

Electric delivery vehicles would be useful, but building up the fleet would be neither cheap nor easy:
2008 Electrorides Zero Truck Test Drive: All-Electric Heavy Hauler’s 100-mile Range Costs $3 to Recharge - Popular Mechanics

It seems inevitable that dear oil will destroy the value of many assets, and need massive investment in infrastructure to compensate, as opposed to money going to fuel bubbles.

Their high savings rates should mean that even though they have blown a lot of money in asset-bubbles in the US, nations like Japan and China are significantly better placed to retire assets and build new than the US and UK, for instance.

We have a similar problem in Australia, similar distances but different scale.
The Australian Post office is to shift from road and air to rail for mail.

Each passenger train should have a parcel van attached. A re-establishment of the rail
parcel service will remove a lot of parcel couriers and trucks from the highways.
In earlier times every railway station had a parcel office, even city & suburban stations had their parcel office.

It is the only way to go.

Your post captures many thoughts I had with a depth and accuracy I could only hope to attempt. I will cogitate further, but here are some initial thoughts.

1) This plan cannot win until things get worse. You need broad support to make a change, and right now there are PLENTY of lobbies against such a change. Wait a year or two and they'll be out of money and the gov't cronies will be tired of pandering. When there are bulk shippers who CANNOT get their products delivered you'll have allies. And hungry people vote as well.

2) I think a key weakness of trains is the switch yard process. Why must power be centralized? Cannot every car have its own motors and contactors, or at least a much more distributed arrangement? With such a shift, a train could be broken down and rebuilt on the fly. A few cars in the middle break loose and drop off automatically at a siding, and the cars behind catch up to the cars in front and speed on. Sure, they all slow down, but why STOP? Why not support some of the notions of PRT? This can be an upgrade of course........

3) To me (a communications engineer) all a train or any vehicle network is a physical representation of a packet network. Let's get with the program and prioritize payloads and manage latency. Coal needs constant throughput but is delay tolerant. Fed-X needs low-latency buy is limited in quantity. Human travelers like short latency and determinism. It seems that you should be able to have a limited quantity of dual-track "passing lanes" before you have full dual-track build-out. As with the switching notion above, feeder tracks could carry a mix of slow and fast cars, but once you got to the primary tracks the fast cars would hook up together and the slow ones would have well. This is "class of service" based packet handling in the communications world. Smart cars should be able to do this sort of work automatically. This isn't the 1900's, and I don't much care for people doing stuff that machines can do better.

4) I think some new battery technologies, maybe LI-Iron, (not li-ion) might work for short-haul siding-track work. If you're just ambling down sidings to pick up a car or two, a battery-car that could charge from the powered track would work fine. That way the low-use tracks could stay unpowered (greatly reducing construction and maintenance costs).

5) For air travel replacement, being able to take along your personal car has value - a land-ferry. In time alone, cutting out the car rental/return step buys you about an hour for free (a half hour to get your bags and find the rental counter, 15 minutes to gas up at the drop off, and 15 minutes worth of stress in finding the wipers and dome light switches in an unfamiliar car). Cost saving would be good too, assuming you can ship the car almost for free (less than the rental cost for sure?).

I like the windmills along the way. I would bet that once farmers along the right-of-way start getting checks the other farmers nearby will be signing up as well. Ditto for ranchers. I used to have a rancher buddy who claimed that his cow herds always seemed to do better when they had an oil well to rub up against.

There is the little-advertized project underway to build the trans-Texas (actually Mex to Can) corridor, which includes rail. I'm no fan of Mexican trucks on US roads, but the notion of making a N-S rail corridor seems reasonable. After all, as we dig through the depression we're going to need to export our products. :)

Excellent contribution. Just a few days ago I was criticizing TOD for not putting up enough solutions and here you've posted a really helpful and interesting solution.

I have a few suggestions that may or may not be a help:

1) I am being a little bit of a hypocrite here but I believe that you should focus on the transport benefits of your proposed solution and perhaps mention the linkage with renewable generators on the rail ROW. I just think that the proposal looks like you are trying do too much with the proposal; trying to compact "all good things" into one package and type of real estate. This is hypocritical because I advocate the linkage between electrification of transportation and renewable electric generators in the concept "The Renewable Electron Economy". Maybe it's simply my prejudice but I believe that energy supply and energy demand will have a relative autonomy from each other even though your idea is an inspiring linkage of the two.
2) Similarly, I would do a little more justifying or at least create diagrams of how it would look to have all the HVAC or HVDC transmission in the same ROW as electrified rail. Again, it seems like "piling on" rather than focusing on the very real benefits of your proposal
3) I would explain a little more why you are focusing on freight rather than passenger rail. Most people think of passenger car travel when they think of oil dependence as well as think of European or Japanese style passenger rail systems when they think of (electrified) rail. Also you should spend a little more time explaining why High speed rail is a waste. I actually think that HSR in certain corridors is compatible with your proposal though adds yet more infrastructure to build.

In any case, keep up the good work and keep us posted how your proposal is received.

Regarding maglevs: this is something that LaRouche (yeah, I know, something
of a nutball) has been talking about for a long time. FYI:
Danish Schiller Institute's Maglev Proposal Sets Debate
Maglev: The Technology of the 21st Century
China Agrees with LaRouche: Emphasize Rail, not Automobiles

this could be one of the best most informative postings ever to appear on TOD. It certainly belongs in the legacy classics file. a must read for all. do politicians read?


It seems to me that an intermediate step that railroads would benefit from electrifying are the mountainous regions where they add pusher locomotives (or at least used to) to boost the train up the steeper grades. From my lay perspective, it seems the great benefit is they could recover a significant proportion of that invested potential energy on the way down the other side. With the right system it seems to me they could even recover electrical energy from the conventional diesel electric locomotives.

That was the first step in electrification for many RRs. For example some short stretches in the Trans-Siberian through mountain ranges were electrified in the 1920s (Lenin was a big electrification fan). Finished up in 2002.

I am not sure that we have time for that approach.


Never-mind trains, the most efficient way to transport cargo is by water. If the author of this proposal has the ear of any policy maker he must urge the amending of the Jones act to allow existing steam ship companies to move containers between US ports. This infrastructure is in place now, the ships run regularly and on-time, only policy prevents them from carrying as significant fraction of east coast and gulf coast traffic.

Granted, container ships burn residual petroleum as fuel, but their efficiency is orders of magnitude better than even trains. In the future new ships can be built to use coal or even wind for motive power as oil supplies tighten.

Please send me some background on this.

but their efficiency is orders of magnitude better than even trains

Not so. A cargo from, say New Orleans to Philadelphia would use less energy by electrified rail than by ship.

Shorter distances (detour around Florida by ship, slight curve, almost straight line by rail) and the efficiency of electrified rail vs. water balance things out.

Lower labor costs (US union labor vs. Indians on cargo ships) and infrastructure costs may still make the higher energy and oil based option cheaper.


Actually, it takes less energy to move a ton of freight the same distance in the U.S. using rail than it does to move it over water. From Table 2.16 of the DOE transportation energy book it takes 337 BTU to move a ton of freight one mile via rail and 514 BTU to move a ton of freight one mile via water.

This reveals the sorry state of US water transport, its mostly barge traffic pushed by tugs. Now! have a look at the efficiency of a state-of-the-art container ship, the kind we don't allow to move traffic between US ocean ports. "A PS-class vessel travels 66 kilometres using 1 kWh of energy per ton of cargo." That works out to 83 BTU per ton-mile! An order of magnitude more efficient than a train.

*WAY* too large for intercoastal trade. Energy efficiency scales with size. Look at intercoastal trade in the EU & Japan, MUCH smaller ships.

And no law against them. Build them in the USA, hire Americans instead of Filipinos & Indians for crew, and go for it !

I still think that Florida is too big an obstacle/detour for rail vs. coastal shipping between the East & Gulf Coasts.

As noted elsewhere diesel rail takes EU-Japan trade by rail instead of the Panama Canal.


I suspect the only sensible use for a Emma Maersk sized ship in inter-USA traffic would be for west coast <=> east coast traffic. Except that the thing is too big for the Panama Canal. It's even (barely, but still) too big for the new set of locks which are supposed to be completed in 2014. See

Freight rail and ships are wonderfully efficient.

The problem is with people and truck frieght:
BTU's per passenger mile
- cars: 3,512
- buses: 4,235
- commuter rail: 2,996

Verses PRT at 412 BTU's per passenger mile.

We cannot afford to move a ton to move a person in repetitive stop-start transport.


Pack of lies again, you self serving snake oil salesman, pushing pixie dust in an effort to stop REAL solutions. I wonder what Road Warrior neo-con is financing you.

from upthread

Valley Metro asked that same question to the (company trying to sell PRT to Phoenix) people. (They) were trying to derail the Prop 2000 light rail initiative

THAT is all that PRT is used for, as a way of throwing dust in the air to confuse and stop REAL solutions !

You are doing your ABSOLUTE best to make sure, absolutely sure, that the USA slams into the brick wall of Peak Oil at full throttle. Traitor is a word that comes to mind.

Commuter trains typically stop every 3 to 5 miles (no stop/start) and run on diesel. Hardly "stop start", not electrified.

No jPod exists so your BTU #s are pixie dust, whatever you want them to be.

Of course, your link is bad.


Here was the original rail. and an updated version of the JPod rail

It is not commercial quality but the Wright Brothers did not invent flight in a 747 either. The difficult action was to cut waste of 2,996 BTU/passenger mile (commuter rail) to 412 BTU's per passenger mile (JPods measurable result with this vehicle and motor).

Here is a picture of the drive system in the box beam and sitting on the ground:

Rail has had 175 years to "get the bugs out". Aviation 105 years. You are several years away (best case) from the first working prototype. *MANY* years too late to have an impact of the world before post-Peak Oil economic distress.

You claim energy consumption #s from a prototype (unlikely to last a year in service) motor and drive and a couple of yards of box beam ?!?!

I can point to over 100,000 miles of electrified railroad in service around the world.

I can point to an industrial nation that transports a third of it's freight ton-km and a sixth of it's passenger-km by electrified rail with just 3% of it's transportation energy. Where is the "problem" with Parasitic Mass ?

BTW, the co-efficient of friction for plastic on steel is different, and generally higher, than steel on steel. Every wonder why you never see plastic ball bearings ?

Your drive is as practical as plastic ball bearings for heavy duty, constant use.

I strongly suspect that you are financed by some neo-con for nefarious ends (as most gadgetbahn sales people are). OTOH, you may be some obsessed inventor who has poured your heart and soul and every penny you can scrap up into your idea.

I have nothing but utter contempt for the first but some pity and compassion for the second.

But in either case, you are "throwing dust in the air" and hurting our ability to deal with the coming disasters (see several PRT sales efforts to stop Light Rail). I have greater compassion for the rest of the world that you are hurting than I do for you individually.

I sincerely hope that you abandon your efforts and do nothing rather than continue to waste my time and that of others trying to do the right thing.


It is the petty name calling that makes debating you so uninteresting and the sign of very weak arguments.

If JPods can derail your effort, then your effort is full of flaws. The entire PRT industry has great and hard working people trying to make a difference. But the industry is very small, under capitalized with no political strength. Simply, no one in the industry as the ability to derail anything.

You face the same problem as PRT people. Efforts fail for one of two reasons: bad idea or bad presenters. Time will tell which is each of our problem. In the mean time, name calling makes your arguments look childish and weak, harming your presentation.

no one in the industry as the ability to derail anything

Austin Texas would have approved a very useful starter Light Rail line of (from memory) 15 miles as part of a larger 50 miles systems in 2000. It failed by about a 1,000 votes. The gadgetbahn sales people were thick on the ground and there is no doubt, none, that the neo-con Road Warrior money was very well spent. For they were clearly the margin of defeat.

Instead, Austin is getting a Republican designed (Krusee) nearly useless diesel commuter rail line.

You tried, and failed in Phoenix (see report from "on-the-ground") but have succeeded elsewhere. And you took valuable efforts to deal with PRT in Phoenix that would have been better served elsewhere.

I have massive in-service infrastructure to point to, over a century of experience, etc. Entire NATIONS that heavily use what I support ! What I support WORKS and works well !

Perhaps I am not the best spokesperson, but I have lost what little tolerance I had for snake oil salespeople.

PRT simply does not work in ways that support your claims, and barely works at all in a few obscure prototypes.

Best Hopes for Doing Something Useful,


Would you like to make a Matt Simmons like bet? I am willing to bet $1,000 by Dec 2009 there is 50 miles of PRT operating (not counting Morgantown) and orders in place for 2,000 more miles.

In the mean time, debates should not include petty name calling.

I think you are confusing the best known PRT which eventually became AutoTaxi, became SkyCab, and changes its name every so often to continue doing harm with ultralight rail in general. For example CyberTran is a non-PRT ultralight shared mass transit system. Because it is mass transit, currently configured to hold 12 passengers at a time, it can be designed to allow disabled people to self-evacaute by putting wheelchair ties by exists and providing manaul switches by those ties which, when released, automatically lower ramps.

However I do agree that offering them as a current alternative to conventional rail is absurd. A number of ultralight systems claim to be ready for development. What I think should be offered is chance for such systems to offer bids to deploy demonstration systems. Such bids would be fixed price, and payable only upon completion of the system followed by two months of successful operation. This would still allow market discipline because that means they have to find a combination of lenders and investors to provide 100% of financing. Given that these are first deployments I think bids of up to 20 million per mile should be accepted, but for comparatively low mileage systems. Bids must include full financing commitments to be considered. (20 million per mile is not out of line for conventional light rail, but high compared to what ultralights claim to be able to deliver. As you have pointed out very high compared to transit on existing ROW) If no one can win a bid under those circumstances your point is proved. Conventional rail bids would be accepted under standard terms as backup should no ultralight qualify, so that communities participating would get a light rail system regardless.

On the other hand a successful bid would give us a next generation light rail - I suspect CyberTran in spite of the fact that their web site sucks, which is a bad thing in a company claiming competence to build an automated train.

For what purpose ?

In a nation with superb system of Urban Rail, that has pretty well built out every viable route with conventional rail (even Japan and Switzerland to do quite reach that goal), then there may be a need to find mini-mass transit technology to fill the remaining niches.

The USA is *SO* far from that point, there are *SO* many worthwhile systems "on-the-shelf" that we simply do not NEED "mini systems" that serve fewer people.

It would be like a food stamp recipient, faced with every higher food prices, and quite uncertain if this month's stamps will stretch to the end of the month, shopping at the first of the month for lobster and filet mignon.

The USA needs the basics; the potatoes, red beans and rice, some skim milk, generic peanut butter, some frozen veggies, maybe a dozen eggs if they are sale, and so forth. NOT sexy, but cost effective and affordable.


PS: New Orleans also had 12 passenger mass transit. #29, an 1897 Ford, Davis & Bacon streetcar (single truck) is now a work car, but once carried about 12 seated passnegers.

>For what purpose?

Because it is cheaper than most of the proposals you are supporting and carries as many passengers per mile. Of course the caveat is if it works, which is why right now I'd just fund a test case and build your proposals over the next ten years, then start on CyberTran (or some other ultralight) if and after it proved itself. That it carries 12 passengers per car does not make it mini system, because it is designed to run a lot of cars, with minimum header space if necessary. It can carry the volume of all existing light rail system, and of most (but not all) existing commuter rail including heavy commuter rail. Of course we need to do your automation of freight first which includes some passenger. And to the extent we can place commuter passenger rail on the same tracks we can do that too. But a lot of existing proposals are for new track at a cost of 40 million or 80 million or 120 million per mile. And because we are in an emergency, I don't think we should wait. But are you seriously telling me would not want a 15 or 20 million per mile system that could carry the same volume of passengers as an 80 million per mile system - and have 24 hour a day on demand availability besides? And of course we should be skeptical. But CyberTran has been vetted by BART, and a lot of light rail people. It may be wrong but it is not nut stuff, it is professional, and it is not an attempt at sabotage. The inventor gave up a secure government job to found the company, and work on it for many years before he passed away. I don't want it used as an excuse to kill existing projects, but I want it investigated and given a chance to prove itself it passes all other tests. But the only reason not to advocate it as a replacement for a lot the projects you support at a fraction of the cost and twice the performance is that we don't know that it will work. That is a damn good reason, trumps any "pro" anyone can come up with. But that is not a reason we should want to continue. If it passes all the theoretical tests, and since a full size prototype was briefly tested, I think it damn well should be given a shot at a real life test. Unless you think we are going to build all the light rail we need in the next ten years, and it is not worth looking at a shot at any projects starting after 2018 being less expensive and higher quality, then why would you be against such a test?

Many nations in the world have better phone networks than we have, better fiber optic networks, better electric grids than we have. Much of that is more willingness to spend on public goods than we have. But some of the rest is starting later and getting the opportunity to use better technology. Why not do the same when we have the opportunity? We have let our passenger rail deteriorate to near zero compared to most of the global north. Lets put up what we know how to build now, now. But at the end of ten years we are going to having begun to caught up to France or even England for passenger rail. If at that time we know how to build better rail than they do, why not deploy it?

I took a 3 day course at Portland State University on how to build streetcar tracks (sans electric & streetcars) for $300/foot (2003 costs).

New Orleans built 24 streetcars in-house at a budgeted $1.5 million each, and went under budget. After the the first five the cost was about $1 million each (2003 & 2004 costs).

France is planning to build 1,500 km of new tram lines for 22 billion euros (and to a very high aesthetic standard). The purchasing power parity of the euro is about US$1.12.

Best practices more than some new gadgets seem to be needed by me.

Let some other nations pay for the experiments. They can afford to, we cannot.


Best practices more than some new gadgets seem to be needed by me.

Let some other nations pay for the experiments. They can afford to, we cannot.

If you had your way we would close the patent office and outlaw cell phones, the Internet and all gadgets.

If you think there is no need or market for innovation take me up on the bet listed above. I will gladly give you $1,000 if we do not have significant rails in operation and significant orders.

JPods will open March 1, 2008 at the Mall of America. ...

Yeah, right.

How about we bet about the Mall of America ?

I suggest that we bet that if you do actually fail to do whatever claim you make (you have made several) you stop posting on TOD and other Peak Oil related sites ?

You have wasted *FAR* more than $1,000 of my time and aggravation already.


OK, Do I understand you correctly? Between now and Dec 2009 you will be civil. If there is not 50 miles of operational PRT and documented orders for 2,000 miles by Dec 15, 2009, (not including Morgantown) I will quit posting at theOilDrum. If there is, you will quit posting?

I do not like censorship in nearly any form, and I do think you have things to offer but if this is what you want to bet, I will accept.

I find your basic attitude much more reasonable than Mr. James and I understand (I think) your "well, let's try it" attitude.

There are a VAST number out of gadgetbahn out there, and once the infrastructure is built, cities are stuck with them.

The "one off" Metromover (PRT like) sold by Westinghouse (certainly a confidence inspiring name at that time) to Miami never had another like it sold (Ed Tennyson blocked one in Pittsburgh, Westinghouse HQ). It routinely has the higher cost per pax-mile of any mass transit system in the nation. I rode it and found it quite unattractive.

The original rolling stock is wearing out and Miami is paying a fortune designing a replacement (Westinghouse in gone). If they can find the money, Miami would like to replace Metromover with a streetcar system downtown. But they can't, so they keep pouring money into a money pit.

Bombardier sold the first induction systems to Toronto. Then Vancouver and a couple others. Toronto got Mark 1 cars and Bombardier does not want to make more (and, as a single source provider want LOTS for Mark II cars).

Converting the line to Mark II cars might require an almost year long shut-down in Toronto. They are looking at building an all new line to replace this unique technology, but not enough money.

History shows buyer's remorse eventually for almost every gadgetgbahn buy.

Only once have I speced an elevator system. I took some good advice, and required ONLY generic parts, so that annual maintenance could go to any of several vendors, and parts could be sourced from several vendors. Otis et al were VERY insistent that I needed their proprietary bells & whistles. But I checked and prices were double and triple for parts and maintenance was higher too.

That is how I would build a transit system as well.


Small comment: at least in the case of the Bombardier linear-propulsion system, the only real difference is the existence of a reaction rail. It's a standard gauge rail system with 3rd rail (actually 3rd&4th rail, one at +300V, the other at -300V) electrification. You could, in principle, run any LRT car design you wanted that fit the existing stations and had power pickup shoes. Or, you could string overhead. The line itself, in other words, is not a complete waste.


For lots more on Toronto transit issues, see

I like your idea of build it, get it into operation, then get paid. It should be the model for all transportation systems. As you note, it will enforce market discipline. If a system is efficient it will be able to add more value than it costs.

No, they aren't. In the U.S. rail consumes less energy than shipping by water and this has been the case since the early 1990's.

Kudos, Alan - GREAT JOB!!!!

There may be hope for an electrification system that does not require overhead supply:

Caveat - ground level power supply is much more expensive than overhead supply.


Excellent article on the major obstacles in the USA regarding the implementation of European / Asian high speed rail.

His major points regarding America's rail future:
[] Regulatory abuse by Federal Railroad Administration (antiquated rules)
[] Private ownership and taxation of railroad tracks impede improved rights of way
[] Emphasis on slow, heavy cargo and low superelevation levels on curves exclude high speed rail

In America, the track specifications were tailored for low speed, heavy freight, which is wholly inadequate for high speed, light weight passenger service. {superelevation, radius of curvature, axle loading, tilting suspensions, safety regs, track geometry}

An example of FRA ruling that impedes high speed rail:
"In the USA, trains like the type 411 EMU are not allowed to operate. US regulations require a very high carbody strength for political reasons, which adds several tons of weight to a vehicle. If this mass is added to a European tilting EMU or DMU, it is no longer safe to operate at 11.8 inches of unbalanced superelevation, because the maximum safe axleload is exceeded.

The Acela Express is built to these strength standards. It is nearly double as heavy as European or Japanese tilting trains. Instead of restricting the axleload to 16 tons or less, the powercars weigh 25 tons per axle. No safety authority would allow values like those for the German 411 or 610 for this train, because the forces at the wheel-rail contact point would be too high for safe operation.

As a result, the "Acela Express" looses about half an hour between New York and Boston, compared to best practice in tilting train usage."

[] Reverse Regulatory abuse by Federal Railroad Administration
[] Change Private ownership to public ownership of tracks, but let private companies use them for a fee.
[] Build new rail tracks suitable for high speed rail [160+ MPH], and segregate slow, heavy cargo.
[] Rebuild urban rail / streetcars / trolleys / inter urban networks [Dreams of PCC streetcars, gliding by...]

{Special Benefit for long haul business travelers: take a sleeper car, overnight, and return by same. No "red eye".}

Excellent piece....great BB! I was a little surprised not to see any reference to the ability to move large groups of people in emergency situations. Then I saw that you are from the Big Easy, and I was a bit more surprised that such possibilities were not included. We've seen during Katrina, New Orleans the year before Katrina, Houston the same year as Katrina, etc. large automobile traffic problems as people all try to get out of the way at once. Of course many are left without even that possibility.

It seems to me that any planning to get people out of the way of these storms should majorly include the railroads. Of course this doesn't require the electrification of the main lines and 100+ MPH trains, but that would certainly help in distributing the people to neighboring states etc. In case of emergencies, box cars could be used to get the folks to the major stations. One of the benefits of having a solid mass transit solution to move the people out of harms way is that people in these vulnerable locations would then have one less reason to own private vehicles.

A solid railroad network could also be used to more rapidly get relief to areas that have been hit by calamities.

Amtrak is scheduled to take about 1,000 people with disabilities out "next time".

New Orleans had only 40 hours from first warning (probability > 6%) to roads were closed (less for rail) although Houston had over 100 hours warning.

Trains can make only a couple of round trips to, say, Jackson MS in that time, but no reasonable system can evacuate 1 to 2.5 million people in that time frame.


Hmmmm.... 1 million people moved 100 miles in 40 hours at 100 MPH.
26315 people per hour (over 38 hour time period).
80 people per train car.
329 carloads per hour.
6 carloads per minute.

3 hour roundtrip per car.
Each car can do 13 roundtrips in 38 hours.
Minimum of 963 cars could do the evacuation, with an hour to spare.

This shows the dichotomy between "engineering" analysis and reality.

The warning start was 10 PM Friday night, hardly optimum for a quick ramp-up.

Each train would require extended time to load at Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans (a couple of thousand/hr max) and unloading in Jackson MS, Memphis TN, Atlanta GA , Houston TX would be at lower rates for each but cumulative total would be greater. But time to unload as well before turning around (a bigger issue than you imagine for trains to just turn around).

The distances required to get to suitable locations that could absorb 1 million displaced people (I drove to Kentucky) are very little short of a six hundred miles.

Amtrak has less than 1,000 rail cars in service.


I heartily agree that reality bites blue sky paper doodling every time.
The exercise was to show that if everything was optimized, the logistical task could be broken down into manageable pieces. Obviously, where there are bottlenecks, something has to change.

As you rightly pointed out, the typical passenger terminal is not capable of handling emergency evacuations of such a magnitude. Loading might have to be done at unconventional locations to keep the flow of cars. Ditto, for debarkation and hosting the refugees.

Amtrak? AMTRAK ... tee hee. (ROFL)

Amtrak is a pitiful reminder why we should never, ever let a political bureaucracy operate a mass transit system.

Private rail should prevail.

In one Canadian show about streetcars in Toronto, the host mentioned that streetcars in North America once totaled 60,000 cars (300 per city, on average!) running on over 26,000 miles of track - not counting interurbans. Wiki lists interurbans peaking out at 15,500 miles.

So why don't we have massive fleets of steely wheelies?

By mid 20th century, streetcars were allegedly twice as expensive to operate compared to buses.

Cost of operation was influenced by subsidy of automobiles and buses (via taxpayer funded roads, cheap subsidized fuel, infrastructure support and maintenance), and penalty on private rail companies (taxation of ROWs, track maintenance, repaving expense, fixed fares, and providing electrical power infrastructure - built before public utilities).

Reborn Private rail may avoid these pitfalls, if:
(1) the track ROWs were tax exempt or public owned and maintained,
(2) electric utilities installed and maintained the power feeds to the ROWs,
(3) road repaving was not charged against the private carrier.

Is it possible that we could resurrect and surpass the old urban and interurban rails, as well as add high speed tracks, along with electrification of heavy rail?
I believe so.
But I do not believe that government will help. In fact, waiting for government to act is futile.
(Case in point - the Streetcar debacle in Washington DC. The cars were ordered and built, and were sitting in storage for years, while the politicians bickered over the construction of the rail lines.)

If history is our guide, the last thing we should do is allow a government monopoly to operate mass transit, local, state or federal.

The End of Innovation
New York City politics was not standing still, however. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who had taken office in 1933, was no friend of streetcars, of elevated lines, or of private ownership of transit. He pressed relentlessly for “Unification,” the City takeover of the BMT and IRT. The IRT was happy to go out of business but the BMT fought almost to the last.
On June 2, 1940, the BMT was in City hands. Of the fleet of 50 Bluebird cars ordered, five were under construction by the Clark Equipment Company. It was the City that took delivery. The cars ran, but theirs was a lonely existence, for the rest of the order was cancelled. The stolid Board of Transportation was in the driver’s seat.

After the Fall
After taking over the private companies, not only did the innovations of the BMT end, but the City lost its taste for subway building. The IND “Second System” of 1929 remains unbuilt. The private lines that attracted IND competition were abandoned, several immediately and more as the years went on. Major improvements have been proposed periodically and in 1950 a $500M bond issue was passed, ostensibly to build the Second Avenue Subway. But despite revived plans from time to time, including an ambitious program proposed in 1968, the Second Avenue Subway remains unbuilt and most other plans are pipedreams.

When the NY private subways and streetcars were taken over by the city, they entered the "Twilight Zone". Innovations ended, no new tracks, and stagnation became the rule.

(Gee, that sounds like NASA. Their "new crew spacecraft" looks like a retro 1960s Apollo space capsule. Will it also land in the water, too? Sarcasm flag off.)

To be fair, government was not instituted to operate services. Government was instituted to secure rights and govern those who consent. The rest should be left up to the people, in their private capacity. Instead of tax subsidy, just stop taking taxes from private mass transit. Enlightened Self Interest should attract investors seeking tax exempt profits.

Last I heard there is a shortage of metals such as copper, iron, and aluminum (energy intensive metal). So, where is all of this stuff gonna come from to make all these high tech railroads? You say that at the moment, China and India are using a lot more. Well, what makes you think they will slow down consumption just to make us happy? They will probably be trying to do the same thing at the same time we are. Iron isn't really in short supply here. They are in things like cars, trucks, and infra-structure that will be useless when we don't get the fuel to run them. High Tech is energy intensive, resource intensive, and requires a lot of technical people to run them. So, what happens to all the unemployed people who can't obtain the technical know how to run these high tech trains? Why not keep it simple and low tech? I don't have the need for speed.

The railroads of today use a variety of skills. Overall, mainly "medium tech". Little unskilled labor, but few hard to acquire skills. My proposals would require only slightly higher average skill set.

The copper saved from reduced housing should provide most of what is needed. Then pre-1982 pennies and other scrap.

In a deep recession post-Peak Oil world, materials should not be a significant issue IMO.



(repeat 1000 times)

Support private mass transit by NOT TAXING IT TO DEATH.
(Don't give it money - stop taking money from it)

Support a permanent tax exemption for electrified rail mass transit, and tax exemption for transit workers.

Think about it...

The risk for investment in building a rail infrastructure is offset by a permanent tax exemption. Other benefits: No reward for wasteful spending, eliminates bizarre tax based accounting, and reduces wasteful administrative overhead.

Investors seeking to get rich and not pay Uncle Sam will move their money from "Secret Unnamed Countries" into American RAIL. (Uncounted billions, perhaps?)

Workers would flock to railway companies for permanent tax exemption, no matter what the wage.

Sure beats begging Government for public funding. No more wasted time funding "Studies" and holding up progress. No partisan bickering. No legal maneuvering.
(-Expletive Deleted- GREAT !)

(applause, applause)

Several points.

There is very little difference from a financial POV between a 30 year (or even 20 year) tax abatement and a permanent one. But from a social POV there is quite a large difference.

What is the fundamental difference between a check cut from yax funds and a tax abatement ? Less bureaucracy, yes. But other than that ?

The railroads already have a separate retirement system from social security. Not sure how much of an advantage that is. Not much IMO.

I can see drug barons buying a small short-line RR and using it to laundry their profits. One of many possible abuses of the proposed system.


I would like to offer support for the battery idea. There are a few variations that either exist or are under testing that may be applicable here.

1. For additional power in accelerating I think consideration should be given to Lead Foam batteries and to capacitors. I do not know much about either but from news releases that I've seen they both could provide more power in a short period of time than traditional batteries do. Lead foam is a process that I know nothing about, but it supposedly greatly expands the surface area where electric charge is stored and allows for providing a rapid burst of energy and also allows for rapid recharging and greater density of energy stored. It is currently being tested with big rig trucks as they go through a deep cycle electricity use with batteries. The capacitors are being implemented by a firm that is using the idea for electric cars.

2. For a more continous application of electricity the NaS battery may be of value. It was studied by Ford Motor for potential use in electric vehicles due to its light weight in comparison to traditional lead batteries. It is being tested by a utility ( I don't remember which) for storing excess electricity produced at night for delivery during high demand periods. They are described as boxcar sized batteries.

My thoughts on this are similar to the development of solar power in the 1970s/1980s. The 1st applications were pretty much done in an "off the grid" approach and it had a limited development due to the costs. Many of the current approaches are directed towards replacing "peak" demand which is high priced. In a tight energy economy, any reduction is of great benefit.

Nice essay.