Electrifying the Railroads - Alan Drake's manual

While I was away Alan Drake sent me his “An American Citizen’s Guide to an Oil-Free Economy -A How-To Manual for Ending Oil Dependency.” It is only now that I am able to review it. His objective is sound

We can transfer our economy, bit by bit, to the new, more efficient and oil-free replacement as our present system becomes increasingly more fragile and eventually unsustainable. These plans all rely on mature, proven and economically viable technologies and not the current “Hunt for Miracles” that Secretary of Energy Chu has so aptly described his department’s Advanced Projects Research.

As new technologies develop, as they will, and are debugged and scaled up, our plans can be adjusted to incorporate these new solutions. Yet we can make a viable, workable plan with what we have “on the shelf”, ready to go today. We need not gamble our future on “Just-in-Time Technology” appearing at just the right time and with just the right technology. No miracles are required, simply foresight, persistence and hard work.

Alan is a great believer in the energy savings that can be achieved with a transfer to electrically powered railways. I largely agree with that underlying premise, and in Europe particularly, generally travel by train, where I have a choice. In his manual Alan points out some of the considerable savings that can be achieved if the country were to switch to an enhanced electrically-powered railroad system, relative to the oil-based transportation that we currently enjoy.

There are two factors that are required to achieve, in the long run, considerable energy savings, as well as a move toward energy independence, rather than our continued, and growing dependence on importing oil. The first is the transition itself, from diesel locomotives to electrically powered engines. It is a change that has already occurred in many parts of the world. He points out that the current system, which relies heavily on diesel-powered truck transport, could reduce energy costs comparatively, from 20 Btu’s of diesel power, to 1 Btu of electrical power, if long-distance haulage was carried out using Double Stacked Trains. In Europe, without the stacking, the trade-off is still 2.5 to 3.0 Btus of refined diesel converted to 1 Btu of electricity, with a slight reduction (circa 10%) in transit times. He cites Switzerland, China and France among those making the change. Roughly 30% of the 10,000 miles of track in the UK is electrified and the system is one of the busiest in Europe. (And on a personal note I have seen the density of passengers increase over the years as I ride the trains from London to Carlisle and beyond. And, in Austria, an off-peak trip from Vienna to Graz last week was made in a train that was close to full.)

Double Stack Train (Source Freephoto.com)

He notes the lower maintenance costs of train over road transport, and given the delays that have been encountered around the country this summer as more highways were repaired under the Stimulus program, that is not a small consideration. I am reminded of a British Rail ad from some years ago, showing a commuter looking at his watch aboard a train running past a highway blocked and stalled with cars, and complaining that the train was running 5 minutes late again. (On the road into St Louis this summer delays of more than half-an-hour have not been uncommon as the highway has been widened near Pacific.) Rail is also a safer method of transport (he conjectures the savings in life would be from 4,000 to 5,000 individuals a year).

However the second step that must be made is to increase the capacity of the existing rail system. Even as far back as 1998 Brennan was writing for the USDA of concerns that the existing system was reaching capacity.

Employment in the industry fell from 532,000 in 1980 to 256,000 in 1996. Similarly, rail mileage fell from 179,000 miles of road in 1980 to 147,210 in 1996. Over the same time period, the number of freight cars fell from 1.7 million to 1.2 million and the number of locomotives dropped from 28,094 to 19,269 units.

Even though their miles of track and number of employees, cars, and locomotives decreased after deregulation, railroad output has increased. Measured by carloads originated, output increased from 22.2 million carloads in 1980 to 24.2 million in 1996. In addition, shipments of intermodal containers and trailers increased from 3.1 million to 8.2 million over the same time period. Measured in terms of revenue ton-miles, the growth has been even more impressive. In 1980, railroads handled 919 billion ton-miles of traffic. By 1996, that number had increased to 1,356 billion ton-miles of traffic. U.S. railroads have been able to move this increased volume of freight by handling larger shipments over a longer distance at a much greater velocity. . . . . . However, the recent rail congestion problems suggest that U.S. railroads may have reached the practical limit of their possible productivity increases without major expansion in the capacity of their basic infrastructure. Increasing the volume of freight movements on a fixed network by handling larger shipments over a longer distance at greater velocities cannot be continued indefinitely. Indeed, one of the lessons of the western railroad crisis is the sensitivity of current railroad operations and the productivity of major sections of the U.S. rail system to even a slight downturn in the velocity of the system.

To overcome this more of the track will have to be converted from single to double tracking. However, as Alan points out, most of the infrastructure is already in place, and the right-of-way established, so that it will not incur the high costs of a totally new development.

Good cost estimation is difficult given the variety of issues with the existing infrastructure. However, rail investments can provide superb value for money. An excellent investment example is BNSF double tracked and improved 2,217 miles (Los Angeles to Chicago) for slightly over $2 billion recently. BNSF more than doubled track capacity and now offers 70 mph express container freight service.

A $2 billion investment made BNSF’s Transcon line the world’s busiest container rail line (the Trans-Siberian is #2). By comparison, $2 billion spent on highway expansion projects would have no national and limited local impact. For example, $2.3 billion is proposed to just rebuild the Milwaukee Zoo interchange and $1.2 billion to add two lanes to the Huey Long Bridge outside New Orleans.

The arguments that he makes are strong and should be persuasive, after all – as he points out -

Warren Buffett (BNSF Railroad is his largest single investment) and Bill Gates (30% of his non-Microsoft stock portfolio is in CN Railroad) are hardly charity cases.

Smart though they may be in foreseeing the benefits of investment, the money is not yet being fully invested to make the transitions that Alan feels are needed.

The following are reasonable cost estimates for what is being proposed, given the available information, in 2010 dollars.

• Electrify 36,000 miles of double track railroads - $100 billion.

• Double track 15,000 miles of single track, new rail over rail bridges, better signals, improved curves and grades – $75 to $150 billion.

• Grade Separation (a cost that should be borne by highway budgets) could easily absorb $50 to $100 billion.

• Semi-High Speed “3rd track” on existing ROW - 7,000 to 14,000 miles - $140 to $280 billion.

• Strategic Railcar Reserve – perhaps a couple of billion dollars for mothballed used equipment. New equipment, when used is not available, should be an order of magnitude more expensive.

• Improved Intermodal Centers – a very rough estimate to supplant 85% of existing truck traffic would be $50 billion or so.

Given the investors, it will be interesting to see how this catches on.

Thanks for putting this up here, HO.

I did look at it at your blog the other day as well.

Could you or Alan clarify a number for me?

"In Europe, without the stacking, the trade-off is still 2.5 to 3.0 Btus of refined diesel converted to 1 Btu of electricity.."

..Compared to the 20:1 ratio that Alan has offered, if I got it straight, for 'Diesel Truck:Electric Rail-Freight(Double-Stack)' .. are we still talking about the Truck to Rail improvement of Electric Drive, or just the conversion in Europe from Diesel Trains to Electric Trains?

I'm sure the comparisons have numerous other factors to weed out, but the difference is a little startling.


Clarity is needed on this point.

If one transfers freight from trucks to electrified double stack trains, the "trade" is 20 BTUs of diesel for 1 BTU of electricity.

If one electrifies an existing diesel train, the "trade" is 2.5 to 3 BTUs of diesel for 1 BTU of electricity. Basically 2.5 : 1 in flat, rural land. 3 : 1 in mountains or urban areas (lots of braking). The delta is regenerative braking.

Many diesel-electric locomotives also use regenerative braking, they just dissipate the generated electricity in resistor grids.

Best Hopes for Clarity,


Thanks Alan, that helps. (A lot)

HO was also making a point about double-stacked US trains in the same sentence, so I wasn't clear how that factored into this efficiency for the single-stacked European Trains.

Do you have a figure for single-stacked US trains, or some other way to keep apples/apples? Maybe a comparison with Euro Truck-freight vs Euro E-Rail?


Much of the advantage of double stack vs. single is aerodynamic. The savings there are highly speed dependent (square of speed from memory).

Higher payload as a % of total weight in double stack. Double axle loadings just about doubles frictional losses AFAIK so no real savings there with fewer wheels.

In addition, trucks typically travel fewer miles/km (less circuity) to get from A to B (say 3% to 5%) BUT they go up and down more than trains (more losses there).

My SWAG is that single stack would take about a 10% to 15% hit on fuel efficiency vs. double stack. However, the density that a rail line can carry is doubled when they go to double stack (two months ago Norfolk-Southern finished double stack clearance from Chicago to Norfolk, VA and saw an immediate jump in traffic).

Hope that helps,


Alan, any information on how wear, on tracks, and rail cars scales with weight. I've no doubt that double stack saves nearterm cost and energy. But we know from the trucks/versus roads case that road damage scales as a pretty high power of axle weight. I would think something like that also applies to railcar axles and track.

The axle loading issue is with coal, gravel, etc. trains, not container trains. Stuff that has to move by train and does so today.

The US railroads run exceptional high axle loadings, past the cold deformation of steel limit at the extreme. And mile plus long trains, one after another in Wyoming, etc.

They have found that the savings from heavy weight/axle loadings more than pay for the additional maintenance. Steel suffers abuse better than concrete and asphalt roads do.

Best Hopes for durable railroads,


PS: The Swiss plan to make their tracks last 100 years in the 58 km long Gotthard Base Tunnel. 300 trains/day, pax + freight, but lighter axle loadings gives VERY long life even with a VERY busy line.

US railroads run very high axle loads on coal cars, but the axle loads on double-stacked container cars are unexceptional. The maximum weight of a truck on the Interstate Highways is 40 tons. Two 40-ton trucks are 80 tons, and the standard US rail car capacity is 100 tons. It's much more than the capacity of two highway trucks.

If you need more weight capacity than that, you can always buy higher-strength alloy rails. Maybe not from US steel mills, but you can buy them.

Single-stacked containers weigh less than half the axle load that a rail car can handle. Double-stacked containers are closer to the maximum loading capacity, and so the additional capacity comes more or less "for free". Twice as many containers, same number of locomotives and cars. This makes the economics of double-stacking containers somewhat overwhelming for railroads.

Another factor that shippers like is that, when you put a container into the lower level of a container well car, you can't open the doors without taking the container out of the car. And you need a ladder to get to the doors of the upper level containers. This reduces their pilferage rate dramatically. Thieves don't like to be standing at the top of a ladder leaning against a two story high railway car when the police come along and say, "Hey! What are you doing?"

PS: Ratios of 27 : 1 to 17.5 : 1 or even 15 : 1 can be rationally calculated . I chose a round and defensible ratio of 20 : 1.


Truck to diesel rail: 3 to 1?
diesel rail to electric rail: 3 to 1.
single stack rail to double stack: 2 to 1.

Total ratio: 3x3x2 = 18 to 1.

I should think that the largest benefit from double stacking would be the 50% reduction of labor and overhead cost per container.

Gil Carmichael, former head of the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) has used a 9 to 1 savings for for diesel truck to diesel double stack container trains repeatedly.

One example: Today, a doublestack train leaving a coastal port can replace 280 trucks, run at speeds up to 90 miles an hour on the western railroads, and afford as much as nine times the fuel efficiency of container transport by highway.


I had this article reviewed by a number of experts and professionals, and I modified a number of claims.

One pointed out that no one knows the transit time savings for electrifying US style freight trains. Big, long, heavy. I can make % claims for EU trains, but he advised that I just hand wave for US trains. Which I did.

Others believed that that I over-estimated costs. My response was that doing things in a hurry adds cost.

The energy savings were not controversial with the reviewers. Or the claim that the more rail is used, the cheaper it is.

The basic physics of rolling resistance and aerodynamics support a large delta as well.


Alan, here's one reference for rail CdA improvements from TOD's Fuel Economy Factors - Part 1: The Role of Aerodynamic Drag article, if you want to get into that level of detail;

Lai, Barkan, Onal, Optimizing the aerodynamic efficiency of intermodal freight trains, Transportation Research, 2008

Overall recommendations (the article details expand on these);

1. Use an aerodynamic loading assignment model (ALAM) for for intermodal train loading

2. Better matching of loads with railcars

3. Optimize loading for more than a single train simultaneously

4. Uncouple empty railcars at the end of IM trains

I should think that the largest benefit from double stacking would be the 50% reduction of labor and overhead cost per container.

? were you assuming the containers are always-paired, so are loaded/unloaded as doubles ?

I would add other factors, like absolute train length limits, allowing ~twice the container count in the same limit, and for a single labour cost.
The tonnage of containers, I'd think would be relatively low, so it's a volumetric issue.

Ports and hubs tend to be very land constrained, so they can dictate train length.

? were you assuming the containers are always-paired, so are loaded/unloaded as doubles ?

I'm suspecting that the labor costs of running the trains (engineers, etc) are a much bigger % of overall labor costs than the labor costs of loading/unloading.

That's a weird assumption.

First of all...
Running a train takes two people. Loading/unloading takes two people per crane (more than one crane is usually used), plus a switch crew, plus crews to stage container chassis. All these guys probably work fewer hours per train, but there are more of them, so man hours are probably similar.

Some stack trains are short enough that if the containers weren't double-stacked, they'd just be longer, but not require extra train crews.

Labor for running trains probably costs less than fuel consumption in most cases, so it's doubtful that anything to do with labor would be the 'largest benefit' involved.

How is electrified freight made compatible with container operations?

The cranes used to handle containers would seem to be incompatible with catenaries. And I doubt that one would want third rails in a container terminal.

There must also be a similar requirement for overhead clearance for loading hopper cars and tank cars.

Perhaps diesel electric switching engines must always be used for these operations?

Loading facilities simply don't need catenary above them. Electric locomotives can spot cars from the ends of the loading facility tracks. Some facilities may need track modifications to make operations of this type practical, but that's a small cost compared to electrifying mainlines. And yes, in the meantime, diesels can be used for switching loading facilities.

Battery locos with pantographs (run off wire when you can) are another solution used.

Some, such as the Swiss, just do not want to deal with diesel fuel tanks, refueling, etc. Or even the smell of diesel in their nice clean rail yards.


Well, if a train takes 24 hours to travel, 2 hours to load, and 2 staff during travel, then 12 staff for unloading would cost 50% as much as the onboard staff. I don't know what these numbers should be - it would be interesting to get good data.

I looked at a financial statement for BNSF( http://www.stb.dot.gov/econdata.nsf/f039526076cc0f8e8525660b006870c9/4e5f07db852df4e78525770300603a5c/$FILE/BNSF%20Railway%20Company%202009%20R-1.pdf table 750).

The fuel cost is $1.2B. Wikipedia says their revenue is $38B, so that would mean fuel is only 3% of their revenue. Does anyone have good data for this?

Just from watching container operations in Oakland, I'd guess 4 hours each for loading and unloading long trains. Of course loading times vary with train length, and travel times vary with the destinations. I think your guestimate goes to show that the man hours for running the train and (un)loading would be in the same general overlapping range, keeping in mind that both would be highly variable. Pay rates for different tasks may not be the same either.

Amtrak's 2009 annual report shows $272,801,000 for "Fuel, power, and utilities". This is a small part of the total expenses of $3,507,238,000 or their net loss of $1,264,355,000.

Amtrak's largest expense item is "Salaries, wages, and benefits" of $1,699,101,000.

They probably have way too many stations and people spread out across the country on poor revenue routes. Amtrak's energy costs for the trains could go to zero and it wouldn't make them profitable.

Not that that has anything to do with container trains. Comparing the labor expenses of passenger and freight operations is no doubt apples and oranges.

There was a time when passenger trains were profitable, before cars and planes took over. Those circumstances may re-emerge at some point.

It looks like an Acela train would have about the same size crew and carry about the same number of passengers as a medium sized airliner, e.g. one of the larger model 737s.

However, the crew probably works about 4 times as long for the DC to Boston journey. So for longer distances, the train has a definite handicap in terms of operating labor expense that has to be made up by lower expenses in other categories.

It looks like an Acela train would have about the same size crew and carry about the same number of passengers as a medium sized airliner, e.g. one of the larger model 737s.

It thought you were underestimating the train capacity. Quick googling:
Acela: 304-321
largest 737: 215 when all coach
largest 747: 467
TGV duplex: 545

Labor cost isn't going to be the determining factor. Passenger trains were profitable before commercial jetliners existed, and if liquid fuel scarcity in the future makes jetliners prohibitively expensive for ordinary folks, then passenger trains running on electricity might be profitable again.

Air transport is the most difficult area in which to eliminate fossil fuels, but

1) 3x greater efficiency is possible, and synthetic FF-free fuel is unlikely to be more than 3x as expensive per gallon, and

3)We're going to have fossil fuels for many decades, should we want them, albeit at lower levels than today - we have time to find the cheapest and most convenient way to replace aviation FF consumption.

I'm suspecting that the labor costs of running the trains (engineers, etc) are a much bigger % of overall labor costs than the labor costs of loading/unloading.

No. Since they started running with 2-person crews, labor costs have not been that bad. Remember, you can move 200-250 containers on a double-stacked freight train with 2 people, whereas on the highway it would require 200-250 truck drivers.

In Europe they often get by with 1-person crews on the trains, but then they usually run only single-stacked trains.

The new EPA standard(2017) for big rig truck tractor-trailers configurations(+8500#) will be 6.3-11.4 gallons of diesel per 1000 ton-miles, which works out to 850-1570 BTU per ton-mile. Right now there are no efficiency standards and tractor trailer trucks average 5-6 mpg.
In the broad scheme of things trucks(55% of ton miles) use 10% of transportation energy frieght trains (45% of ton-miles)use 1.4%.

Diesel electric trains get ~457 BTU per ton mile.
Since the difference between a diesel electric and electric is the regenerative braking(17% savings) and the efficiency of grid power at 37% nationally) versus the efficiency of diesel engines (30%) x fuel production(80%); overall 20% efficiency. So electric frieght trains would get about
247 BTU per ton mile.


Newer truck technology(hybrids,advanced diesel) will substantially close the gap between electric trains and tractor-trailers.

So an electric train with regenerative braking sends juice back to the grid?

Yes, or to another train, in the vast majority of cases.

One example in British Columbia where they were too cheap to. Some issues with old DC electrification and so forth.


Discussion Continues after TOD closes here


Best Hopes for More,


The full 21 pages are available at three sites:


Energy Bulletin

Steel Interstate

The last one has a discussion forum that is being set up for long term use.

In addition, another review at Energy Smart (Adam Siegel)


Best Hopes for Creating a Meme,


One of the objections to Alan's plans for what is in many ways a return to electrified rail, especially on the local level, is that our low density auto centric suburban lifestyle is not conducive to mass transit, which is largely true, but I would question the underlying premise of this objection--that the low density auto centric suburban way of life is sustainable.

In my opinion, we need to start thinking seriously about a triage operation, about how we are going to start abandoning (or in some cases continue abandoning) outlying suburban areas--as part of Alan's plan to build, or in many cases rebuild, an electrified rail system. The great post-war tragedy was that so many electrified rail systems were torn up and paved over, starting in the late Forties. Here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, at one time we had about 350 miles of electrified streetcar lines, plus an electric Interurban system.

Maine had a number of interurban and trolley rail companies running in the first third of the century, which made sense before cheap oil undercut the market.

They'll be back.


Alan asks a brilliantly simple question, to-wit, how did we arrange for transportation before the widespread use of automobiles and trucks? Rather than waiting on a "Mr. Fusion" device, why not go back to what we know worked (and is working), and which can be powered by non-fossil fuel sources of energy?

It seems to me that there are really two ways of doing this:

1. Going back to what we did before what we have now.

2. Adopting the latest technology.

If Alan had said, we are working on a plan that can be done with robust, older technologies, and with local materials that can be easily repaired 50 years from now, and entirely uses a US work force, I would be more enthusiastic about the idea. I would like to hear that the windows will open, and the doors will have simple mechanical controls. I would like to hear that current trains in India are being studied, for robustness and cost effectiveness. I would like to hear that cars will not have to be taken off line for months, because some replacement part from an exotic part of the world is not available.

A couple of days ago, I was driving in Atlanta on a sunny day, and had to go through several major intersections where the electric traffic lights were out. It was no fun! Alan has great hope for electricity. Maybe we can keep a robust international system indefinitely, but I am less hopeful. Is there a way to have duel-fuel (or multiple fuel) trains?

The overwhelming bulk of the railroad infrastructure and rolling stock is made in the USA or Canada. All reachable by rail. Some specific types of switches are made in Europe, but US production of these long lived switches should not be a problem. We have repair shops here for these switches.

I can think of nothing else that is dependent on non-NAFTA imports. Anyone else ?

Indian Railways are 29% electrified today and they are lobbying fiercely for more.

Electric locos last much longer, and require less maintenance, than diesel-electrics.

In dealing with high value, perishable cargo, I would suggest using, say, two electric locos and one hybrid (electric & diesel) to get over a bad spot.

The Trans-Siberian RR was electrified in 2002. And to the Arctic port of Murmansk in 2005.

This thin link is an INCREDIBLY strategic railroad#. Without it, Russia could not maintain control over Siberia. The weather and distances to outposts of civilization are quite daunting in Siberia.

If electrification was fragile and vulnerable, the Russians would not have electrified the Trans-Siberian, regardless of economics. Or to their primary northern port.


# The last major project of the Soviet Union was to construct BAM, a single track rail line parallel and north of the Trans-Siberian (double track), from mid-Siberia to the Pacific. A $14 billion strategic insurance policy.


Cars "built" in this country probably use castings from Brazil and imported steel plate. The Huck bolts that fasten it are made in Mexico.
Considering the education level in India, any "lobbying" is probably being done by Siemens and Alstom.
Amtrak has just ordered 70 locomotives from Siemens, replacing some as little as 8 years old.
The trans Siberian is electrified not from nonexistant savings, but because it is an environment where crankcase oil becomes too thick to pump, fuel gells with wax crystals, and cooling systems could freeze even with the engine running.

There is a Made in the USA requirement for Amtrak purchases that extends to the nuts & bolts and steel plate.

The trans Siberian is electrified not from nonexistant savings ...

You have no proof of that claim. Just made up. I have read proof to the contrary.

The Russians, and then the Soviets and then the Russians managed to keep the Trans-Siberian running for a century before electrification was completed. And many more temperate lines have been electrified as well, all over the world.

So you appear to be grasping for straws to support your prejudices.


Considering the education level in India, any "lobbying" is probably being done by Siemens and Alstom.

It's best not to underestimate the educational capabilities of countries like India. India graduates about 350,000 engineering students per year, versus 70,000 in the US. Meanwhile China graduates 600,000 engineers per year.

They are quite capable of building high-tech railway equipment, and they can do it quite cheaply given their low labor costs.


"Is there a way to have duel-fuel (or multiple fuel) trains?"

I think that is an important transition consideration. It is difficult to get congress to agree on any one thing even on a sunny day, but something that allows multiple choice may have a better go of it.

One nice thing about trains is that there can be multiple "engines", meaning multiple types of engines as well. Heck, even on the same train.

So, we know that methanol can be converted to run in diesel engines that already exist, but without the pollution. Methanol can be created, among other ways, from grabbing the CO2 on the stacks of coal fired power plants then converting it into methanol.

In the transition context, a mix of fuels and electricity could be a smart strategy too it seems, depending on the type of grid technology used to get the electricity to the train's electric engine.

During the transition from fossils fuels to others, we could try all of the above then see which one pans out as the best in any given area.

The "allie samie" or one size fits all approach we adopted with petroleum / coal / gas is not likely to be as effective in the long run as diversity is.

I should think that a well run electric railroad would have as part of its equipment, locomotives that are held for rescue operations in the event an accident interrupts the electric system, or in case the electric system must be turn off for safety during a rescue. The cost of promising to Congress that there will be locomotives using alternative fuels seems to me trivial and well worth the extra expense of ink on the sales brochures.

It may, however, be difficult to convince any serious locomotive manufacturer to pay the development costs of an alternative fuel design locomotive, since it would almost certainly be more expensive than preferred fuel, whatever that is at various times in the future.

About diversity and competition: I think Alan assumes that the electrified rail system will be managed as a unitary enterprise, or at worst an oligopoly of regional enterprises. The hard part of selling this might be convincing market fundamentalist that there are not cost saving in chopping it up into independently managed competing chunks.

"An oligopoly of regional enterprises" is a very apt description of the railroad network as it already exists. Only seven Class I carriers in the US and Canada, with numerous run-through and trackage rights agreements.


The article Gail referred to says this:

An oil-free transportation system can be enthusiastically supported by those who do not acknowledge the gravity or severity of climate change. An oil-free transportation system provides effective and efficient remedies to several critical national problems. However, the creation of an oil-free transportation system is also one of the two most effective ways to control our carbon emissions (the other being conservation & efficiency). An oil-free transportation system effectively addresses the single greatest strategic threat to the national security of the United States of America - the possibility and indeed probability that “one day” we will no longer be able to import and produce enough oil to keep our economy, our society and eventually our military functioning properly. This threat is discussed further in Appendix B.

Like the Beatles said, we don't want a destructive revolution, but since there is no choice we have to have a constructive revolution or peak oil reality will provide the destructive revolution for us.

I don't think I was the one who referred to that article.

Dredd, I don't understand how your comment is a response to mine.


"locomotives that are held for rescue operations"

That is what an electric train system is ... a rescue of civilization that is coming down unless we deal with peak oil and climate change by using non-fossil locomotives ... you know getting rid of the LOCO MOTIVE if you know what I mean.

"an alternative fuel design locomotive, since it would almost certainly be more expensive than preferred fuel"

There is no alternative ... the best fuel is the one that saves civilization ... biofuels and methanol already run in diesels with minor, not major, modifications to filters and the like.

They are already running in diesels ... they are already running in diesels ... they are already running in diesels ...

Did I mention that they are already running in diesels?


My comment was intended to add support to Gail's comment that pushing a variety of fuels might make the proposal more palitable to Congress. I see that it doesn't make a lot of sense when read outside of that context.

I think the extra cost of pushing variety is trivial cost of extra ink for extra words on sales brochures. And the reality is that under competent management, which Congress might not allow, but assuming it happens anyway --- under competent management there will be one optimum fuel and one plausible backup fuel during any decade in the future.

I really feel that there is already a cadre of competent operational managers of railroads, such that discussions here do little to advance the state of the art of railroad management. I don't know anything about current academic programs in railroad management. Are there schools that offer an MBA specialty in railroads?

A big part of the appeal of railroads for me is that there is a strong tradition of having them operate under a unitary management without the hodge-podge of 'stake holders' with conflicting agendas that compete for attention on issues of public highways.

Methanol can be created, among other ways, from grabbing the CO2 on the stacks of coal fired power plants then converting it into methanol.

With what energy?

This is one of the least-practical schemes I've ever seen touted.

Is there a way to have duel-fuel (or multiple fuel) trains?

Yes, it's incredibly easy to simply couple both a diesel locomotive and an electric one on the front of a train. You can even add a coal-fired steam locomotive, too, if you want.

A couple of days ago, I was driving in Atlanta on a sunny day, and had to go through several major intersections where the electric traffic lights were out. It was no fun! Alan has great hope for electricity.

As do I !

Unfortunately I've missed out on most of this discussion today because I was on site installing another low voltage off grid solar powered LED lighting system. There is absolutely no reason those traffic lights shouldn't be powered by Solar with battery backup so they keep working when the grid goes down. Of course if you were on an electric train you wouldn't have to worry about traffic lights at all.

The problem is the current system, we just need to change how we do things.

No, no, please NO. The only time we get free running traffic, without hold ups is when there is a power cut and the traffic lights are out.


Sooooo, you're the guy blowing thru the intersection and causing havoc!!

Basic traffic laws that the killers in their SUV's continue to ignore.


Just can't fix stupid.

LEDs are where the traffic light market is going. Much more efficient. Much longer life means lower maintenance costs and Total Cost of Operations.

Only disadvantage: little excess heat to melt snow and ice in northern climates.

LEDs are where the traffic light market is going.

This transition has already happened. I can't remember the last time I saw non-LED traffic light. I have in my house a front glass from an old pedestrian "Walk/Don't Walk" sign that the city of San Francisco was dumping because in the new ones the symbols are made up of LEDs.

Ah. Well, it's still happening right now in some places - I just had a highway engineer from a large county telling me about it last week.

Well, we don't get a snow problem here :) The biggest advantage I have seen for LED traffic lights is the visibility in strong sunlight. When traditional lights cannot be seen the LED lights still stand out.


Sure. Incandescents have to be filtered to get a color, which knocks out most the light.

Is there a way to have dual-fuel (or multiple fuel) trains?

It's not clear exactly what you were meaning by dual, but an obvious transitional step, is to run diesel-electric, simply designed to derive Electric from overhead, where available.

With local energy storage (natural for regen braking) the diesel size (thus weight) shrinks drastically, as it needs provide averages only.

That slashes diesel consumption, but also means you avoid having to electrify ALL rail.

So it's a very simple, and clean way to handle your electrification upgrades, and it avoids any bottlenecks.

It's not clear exactly what you were meaning by dual, but an obvious transitional step, is to run diesel-electric, simply designed to derive Electric from overhead, where available.

I had taken him to mean, can use other non oil derived liquid fuels in a pinch. But I think that presumes that oil will be completely unavailable. If we did as you suggest, we would only need relatively small amounts of diesel to overcome local or temporary unavailability of electricty. We could also make electric trains with diesel backup run on interruptable power, which gives the grid an extra dollop of swing load, which will be needed in the future to balance out variable renewable sources.

Hi folks

Dual mode electro-diesel has already been done in the UK ages ago. The Class 73 is still active in some places in Southern England, and can either use a (relatively small 1420HP) diesel engine or pick up current from the 750V third rail available in most places in that part of the world. It was originally used for pick-up freight so that it could work temporarily off the third-rail system in non-electrified yards.

Obviously this locomotive would not pass muster for today's traffic, but the principle is there.


The US has had them for ages too - NYC at least banned anything non electric from the centre and electro-diesels were part of the solution. More importantly the US and Canada are both getting modern ones.

Almost all the large rail systems in the world (outside NA) are dual fuel, electric + diesel. They may have a few hybrids running around, but that is *NOT* the common solution.

Everybody else gets by with electric locos and diesel locos and that is it.

*WHY* do Americans think that this is some new unique problem that has not been dealt with, efficiently, for a century elsewhere (MANY elsewheres, from Chile to Germany, China to South Africa) and no new inventions are required.

This is MATURE technology !



One puzzle for me is:
If it is a mature technology and it actually works, how come it hasn't been invaded and raped by Wall Street, and totally trashed? ;0)

They are too busy strangling it to protect their investment in oil.


Yair...from Gail's post "2. Adopting the latest technology."

Seeing as here in Australia our electricity will most always be sourced from coal powered generators I have often wondered if some modern thinking could be applied to developing a locomotive using a reciprocating steam engine and "state of the art" boiler technology.

It seems it would be more efficient in this country to go back to burning coal direct in locos and avoid transmission losses and the huge expense of overhead electric catenerys.

That is to say:- Australia is a similar landmass to the U.S. and we have a very low population.

Reciprocating stem engines have so many mechanical and practical disadvantages that there is zero likelihood of ever using them again. Many double expansion locomotives were converted back to single expansion because of mechanical problems. A steam turbine is only about one tenth the size of a reciprocating engine and would be preferable, but still not a good choice. A high pressure boiler is not something you want to subject to the stresses of bouncing along on rails. You’d have to inspect it constantly and repair all the stress cracks. Then there is the problem of loosing the condensate. The make up water has to be de-mineralized to keep it from fouling the boiler and from causing cracks in tubes and drums.

It would be more efficient and practical to use coal for synfuel diesel. Electricity is still the most efficient way to use coal for locomotive power.

It's much more efficient to burn coal in a power plant than in a locomotive and you can also afford to put on much more sophisticated pollution control equipment. If greenhouse gases are a problem, you can capture the CO2 from a coal-burning plant and inject it into deep underground formations. You can't do that with a coal-burning locomotive.

Steam engine locos are HORRIBLY inefficient. It is MUCH (at least x2, x3) more efficient to burn it in a good coal fired plant (you Aussies need to buy a couple of efficient ones from the Chinese) and run it in an electric loco.


Alan, the risk of Australia buying Chinese power stations is the same risk that buying any cheap Chinese cr@p incurs. We (Australia) have been buying Chinese locos, bulk wagons and passenger carriages and it has been a case of breakdowns, failed welds, delayed delivery from China and almost certainly a short life for the rail cars (years instead of decades). DON'T go for the cheap option.

Yair...I thought we were discussing here as to how to continue with life after oil becomes unavailable or too expensive to use for transportation?

Traditional style steam locos MAY be HORRIBLY inefficient...but a bloody sight MORE EFFICIENT than stringing thousands of miles of copper overheads to run a dozen trains a day.

I don't think you blokes grasp the implications of a huge country with a tiny population and an existing rail network that used to work well with steam.

We still have a couple of mainline steamers here and they let them loose occasionaly. It occurred to me while we were topping up the water with the local contractors water truck that the only oil the loco was using was in the drivers oiling can.

So, here we have an ancient technology that can move five hundred tons of freight into any part of the country using a few litres of vegetable oil or melted whales and you dismiss it out of hand.

My original post was a polite enquiry as to whether anything could be done to IMPROVE on old and proven technology that works.

Electric trains don't normally use copper wired overhead. Aluminum is cheaper.

At any given point on a two-track line you will normally see several dozen trains going each direction per day, and each will be carrying up to 10,000 tons of freight (the equivalent of 200-250 highway trucks per train, or several thousand trucks per track). At high levels of freight they are very efficient.

Some years ago, I read of a enthusiast's proposal for a modern steam locomotive. I did not pay much attention to it. It seemed a modest improvement.

I Googled and found this.


There are little used spur lines, but they are on the order of a dozen miles long. A battery loco would seem more appropriate, or a bio-diesel loco, for such.

Your googling may find more.



Traditional style steam locos MAY be HORRIBLY inefficient...but a bloody sight MORE EFFICIENT than stringing thousands of miles of copper overheads to run a dozen trains a day.

Aside from the copper vs. aluminum misconception...

You might want to do some math on the embodied energy of catenary before making assumptions. I'll hazard a guess that in energy terms catenary saves well more than enough coal (or other sources of energy) in operations to justify itself.

re:Aside from the copper vs. aluminum misconception...


He's right. About 99% copper

Scrub Puller: Steam engines are inefficient, so I am told, and I can agree, but I do take your point about not having any oil at all to burn. I would think you may have some wind down under there in the Southern roaring 40's and 50's, which can be converted to Compressed Air. Using a dual water and compressed air pipe line, laid down near your rails, possibly as a mono-rail track, or rail bed, your new modern steam locomotive may be more feasible. Moving large amounts of water, from wind power, into arid areas may work, especially using greenhouses and other water conservation techniques. I wonder how the Compressed air and coal combination would work. I know it's being used with Natural Gas and CAES (compressed air energy storage). I don't discount steam engines as never ever being a possibility, which of course is how the future of Compressed Air Hybrids may start. If you have coal and only coal, and you have plenty of wind .... use both. The synergy my work.

Modern cars may use a frame of tube tanks for CA. This CA may be able to be loaded on the fly, and from a track side pipe, or conveyance of some sort. Just brainstorming here.

Wishing you all down under greasy luck. Steve www.environmentalfisherman.com

If you think the losses in electric distribution are bad, don't even try calculating the pressure drops in a compressed-air pipeline system.  You'll be mourning your illusions and wondering how you could slay them so brutally.

Ditto if you think that compressed-air tanks have anything on batteries, even lead-acid batteries.

I don't think that's true. With line drop the electricity is lost, period: ... GONE. With compressed air systems there are defined lag times for pressures to equalize. Pressure drops are not pressure losses, right? You are comparing apples to oranges. And, yes I do think the losses in electric distribution are bad. I of course have to grant the possibility of leaks, and friction, but friction is a factor of time to distance, and volume, and this will not be an issue that will be insurmountable. Fundamentally the pressure you put into a pipe, (or hundreds of charged incoming pipes), is the pressure you get out on the other end, just like a water system, an equilibrium is achieved, even over thousands of miles. The key is the size of the line, and multiple lines, and the very high pressures. These are the factors that will allow an interconnected compressed air system( and so much more ) to be reliable, and to provide much very needed and usable horse power. A scuba tank uses 2-3000 psi. Track pipes should be able to carry up to 8000 psi.

My systems designs for offshore air compression entail dragging air to depth, using non piston systems, which may be your hang up on the past compressed air generation inefficiency problems. My systems do not use up any FF to compress the air, of course if you don't count the construction factor. Try going to the SustainX web page for some interesting reading regarding you illusions and ignorance about compressed air systems. Please go to that site, and other sites before any more un-needed embarrassment. Google up CAES. I too, probably like you, have used lots of compressed air in construction work, or to start a diesel, but these are not where my head is at, these are different applications, with different parameters.

Compressed air vehicles are silly looking now, and I don't like that. But they are working, and being manufactured and sold. That technology is on the move, and we need it. But I think if "air" were everywhere taken from a connected matrix of rail, and mono-rail based utility lines, the feasibility of running autos on wind, wave, solar, geothermal generated CA ... the possibilities seem good to me, good enough not to be discouraged. The important thing is to have a system that is able to create a commodity market for the green fuels of CA, ORCA (oxygen rich compressed air), and Hydrogen. The need now is for these green fuels, and the technology, which we have never yet needed, because we had oil. The main problem with sustainable energy sources is not in the creation of power, but in it's transmission and storage. Are you aware of this problem? If you become more aware of the problems inherent in sustainable energy storage and shipment, you may be more open to ideas in the future. Currently we are making the mistake of framing the questions wrong, and looking in the wrong places. IE: Problem: storage and shipment v Problem: energy mfg.

Do you understand that the analogy of pumped hydro power is very similar to compressed air, in that this is reserve power, and not like electricity at all? The use of CA is in the conversions. Any FF or nuke plant that produces steam can be boosted by Compressed Air, and you want to discard these possibilities, this technology? We can produce massive massive massive quantities of CA offshore, and we can ship that power. So the analogy to pumped hydro ends there. The Compressed air wins hands down, because it is easily transported in pipelines, just like natural gas. Please go ahead and take off your gloves, Engineer-Poet, and teach me what you know, I'm a fisherman, so not too sensitive.

The key is to produce CA and the green fuels with the brute force of offshore wind and wave, and other sources. If there is another way to ship offshore power inshore and to use it locally, nation wide, I haven't heard of it. I'm not saying our grid is a dinosaur, but what I am saying is that it can be greatly augmented with sustainable energy, BUT, ONLY, only if there is a transmission and storage network, that is practical, to do so. The track pipes are storage and delivery systems for power. It's just a machine design that needs to be developed beyond rough concept to model. If it is feasible and sensible, we're on our way to getting off of the CO2 problems and peak oil problems. What have you got for CO2 and peak oil? I have a system proposal to develop, please give it a shot, one way or the other. Crank BS the hell out of it if you like, but what's it worth? Thanks Steve

Sorry to tell you, but the two are very comparable. Zero flow electricity (like a socket with nothing in it) has good voltage (like pressure). Start flowing electricity to the limits of the conductor (pipe) and you get some voltage drop.

Supersize the conductor (pipe) and losses drop to close to zero.

Water (incompressible) flow in pipes is a near exact analog to electricity and is used in freshman classes to help students understand. Compressible air adds some complexity, but same general result.

Zero flow, no pressure loss. The larger the flow, the greater the loss. Solution, super sized pipe. But that costs $$.

I know you are invested in this, and I appreciate your willingness to "fight the good fight", but from an engineering POV, there is a reason no one else is pushing this.

Best Hopes for Other Good Ideas,


Thanks for the good teaching Alan. The problem with the assertion you make is that there is no practical way to supersize the conductor with electricity, so we are realistically plagued with line drop. So, while I recognize the theory, in practice the comparison between CA and electricity, where losses are concerned, especially over mega long distance, such as with track pipe: The CA stands out as a winner there. But of course I love electricity. I still maintain the factors with CA being volume, time, pressure, so we are able to overcome "the drag" factors, due to many many multiples of large diameter pipes. Like water systems, which are generally short range, the needed water is usually there due to this equilibrium, of course a good fire will tax the system. But just an analogy. As far as costs go with large diameter pipes, I think they are over blown, only because of the multi cash flows of things like broad band, natural gas, transportation infrastructure, other utilities such as waste water, bring costs down to very reasonable, if we amortize over decades.

I am only invested to the extent that I think it's practical, trying to be cold and analytical. Offering thanks for the learning.

If it's more a cost objection, and less engineering, then fine, I like that. Today I spent more time learning on the Energycentral.com web site, and I look forward to reading about 10,000 psi hydrogen. "If wishes were horses Beggars would ride" (Mother Goose) I'm with you on that one, and don't expect a pass. But the draw is strong for me to find a way to ship my offshore energy, via CA, Hydrogen, . Thanks.

With line drop the electricity is lost, period: ... GONE. With compressed air systems there are defined lag times for pressures to equalize.

Technically they don't ever equalize, the difference just becomes asymptotically close to zero.

Pressure drops are not pressure losses, right?

Wrong.  Drops ARE losses.  You have viscous drag of the fluid against the pipe, converting work to heat.  That work is GONE, you cannot get it back.

The key is the size of the line, and multiple lines, and the very high pressures.

The people who've been near the recent gas-pipeline ruptures, and the family of those who were too close to survive, may have something worthwhile to say about high-pressure gas distribution systems.

Try going to the SustainX web page for some interesting reading regarding you illusions and ignorance about compressed air systems.

If you admit you're weak on the science, you are not in a position to call others on their illusions and ignorance.  You are in an especially poor position if you have not even bothered to search for the compressed-air pressure drop calculator and see what its results indicate for the practicality of your ideas.

Please go to that site, and other sites before any more un-needed embarrassment. Google up CAES.

Maybe you should Google what I've written about CAES.

We can produce massive massive massive quantities of CA offshore, and we can ship that power. So the analogy to pumped hydro ends there. The Compressed air wins hands down, because it is easily transported in pipelines, just like natural gas.

The compressed air is like shipping coal in trains pulled by coal-fired steam locomotives, only with much greater per-mile losses.  The losses in HVDC lines are on the order of 3% per 1000 km.  The vast superiority of electric transmission is why Google wants to build an offshore HVDC network, not a compressed-air pipeline network.  They have done their homework.

I'm not against compressed air, but I've taken the thermodynamics course used to introduce mechanical engineers to things like steam powerplants and refrigeration systems and I can show you with numbers just how much energy is lost in compression (if you have to cool to ambient) and the energy density of your tank volume.  I get the distinct feeling that you haven't, and probably can't.  I'd be happy to educate you at some reasonable rate for tutor's services.

OK I have my home work in front of me. Thanks. Reasonable rate? I thought I was frustrating you free of charge. Thanks Steve

It seems to me that you have mentioned compressed air and offshore production together before. Why would it be cheaper off shore?

The offshore equipment to compress air is different, and it's cheaper than inshore standard methods by orders of magnitude. With conveyors, air can be drug down to deep depths. Compressed air pipeline networks will range in all oceans, coming up from the South Seas.

As in the SustainX technology, there is no heat loss due to the slow nature of the compression. Hydraulics or straight mechanical force can do this, from windmills and wave mills. There is no better place to tap waves than our own gulf stream, South and East of Nantucket, because during a Nor'Easter the phenomenon of wind against water, over a long fetch, the waves chop, or steepen, meaning their peaks and troughs are closer. This is money. Waves are a tremendous force, driven by the sun to the wind to the water. These tremendous waves which if tapped using flywheels and hydraulics, offer stunning potential to produce usable power. The machines to drag the air to depth are simple, I think, but we've never needed such. We think we need electricity, but it's a red herring.

I have three generations of wind mills. The first I call the Georges Bank Mega Mill, which I've been working on for about 6 years. These are tied together, for strength, like a forest, and the sticks raise and lower in a female receptacle that I call a base. These GB mills have wave generators, which use the flywheels. The files I have, I believe, represent the new state of the art, as I have seen what the U-Mass offers, and it's not too good. I know with these machines we can produce compressed air in tremendous quantities. The land side experts think of compressed air in terms of its inefficient production, of normal turbines, or compressors, all driven by fossil fuels. So I don't expect others to believe that the sea can produce compressed air, just because I say so.

My second generation of mills are Venturi mills, which are cowling related. The third generation mills are square rig mills which are the future, following a low pressure area, sending air to the bottom. Also the creme' de la creme' of systems I have is a square rig mill with an under sea ring of pipes around the Antarctic. Of these systems for air compression and for the generation of hydrogen, and oxygen rich compressed air I have thousands of detail drawings. The track pipe came later, and I've been working hard on that, but I'm on a learning curve with rail systems and with fundamentals of standard compressed air thinking. Steve the idiot.

So what are these "conveyors"? What compresses the air? Is the conveyor in a pipe?

tdmidget: Thank you for the interest. Think of the simple water wheel. Or, think of the Archimedes Screw. These work. But air compresses, so the volume needs to be added to as the container goes down. For this I prefer a simple sand style conveyor belt, that you could rent. It has a motor, in this case hydraulic, powered by wind and wave flywheels, or powered by the Gulf Stream currents, or some combination of all three. Some days the wind blows hard, and so this would be a "wind mill day" as I call it, and the systems will be very pressed and productive. Calm days not so much, but the compressed air and other "fuels" have the ability to sit in the bottle and wait till we use them or transport them. Pushed air, or compressed air, can produce electricity, with or without natural gas, but better with. For higher compressions of air, the conveyor style systems can work in reverse, letting air up to the surface, in return for higher compression, but lower volume. Or you can just use the hydraulics as you see fit, either to use conventional compression or to pipe the air to remote deeper locations, then using that air to move more air down to depth. As I have admitted, my science is weak, and my physics is non-existant. This frustrates the educated, I'm sure here at the oil drum, and I have no good excuse. The seawater depth compresses the air, as it's transported, and this apparatus could be put in a pipe, or variously configured. I may have forty or fifty different conveyors, I forget, because my designs are pencil and paper, and bounce around enormously in concept base.

Ah, you are proposing effectively isothermal air compression by thermally coupling the air to seawater.

It might surprise you to learn that this has been done, using flowing water to carry air bubbles to depth (e.g. in a mine) and compress them along the way.  Expansion could similarly propel a column of water upwards by buoyancy of the air.  But if you want cheap storage of that air, you need high pressures to get reasonably small volumes; this means great depths, which you don't get until you are beyond the continental shelves.

You also need reasonably small bubbles, or the thermal conductivity between air and water gets too low.  You'll have some losses due to dissolving gas in the water.

I like to work out ideas like this too.  Every time I tackle something new, I wind up with a new area of study.  Often I have to shelve an idea because I can't find a way to analyze it properly given what I know and the methods I can find in my searches.  Good luck to you.  The odds are against you (and me; I keep finding that my "great new idea" was published somewhere between my teens and the 19th century), but you just might hit the jackpot.  Also, study, study, study; serendipity favors the prepared mind.

Thanks for hanging on Engineer-Poet. I think you may be right from what I read in the SustainX site, where they use slow hydraulics to compress air. Think of the tidal possibilities to all the weight of two tides a day bearing down on some hydraulic to compressed air machines! Wow! I never heard of the bubbles pumped down, but that makes sense. Most any home aquarium does use bubbles and a tube to get flows going, and we used this in our shellfish hatchery on Nantucket to flow water. If the air is being dissolved it will need to be isolated in bags, or bottles.

I have a vow of poverty, formally, after a vehicular homicide, in 1975. So money isn't my goal. As far as success goes I find it equally rewarding to smash one of my many ideas, upon discovering it isn't so great. I can remember thinking I had invented the horizontal axis wind mill, and I had paid some money for a patent search, I think I was about 20.

thanks. Steve

I can remember thinking I had invented the horizontal axis wind mill, and I had paid some money for a patent search

There's a saying about things like that:  "With a few months in the laboratory, you can save yourself a few hours in the library."

You can substitute "some money to patent attorneys" for the part about the lab.

My thanks to you all. Alan, you are a gift. Your work is excellent, and I hope the idea gets a full consideration. Steve

Traditional style steam locos MAY be HORRIBLY inefficient...but a bloody sight MORE EFFICIENT than stringing thousands of miles of copper overheads to run a dozen trains a day.

I don't think you appreciate the efficiency gains from electrification.  Coal-steam locos are perhaps 5% efficient, PCC steam turbines about 33-35%, IGCC about 40% (and immensely cleaner).

Current US railroads achieve about 400+ ton-miles of freight per gallon of fuel.  A gallon of diesel is about 38 kWH (call it 11 ton-miles per kWH); at the 3:1 efficiency the electric loco will get 33 ton-miles per kWh.

The steam loco would get about 1/20 of that, or 1.6 ton-miles per kWh of coal.  At 25 million BTU per short ton, a kWh of coal is about 0.27 pounds.  Moving a ton of freight 1000 miles using coal-steam takes about 170 pounds of coal; using coal-fired electric takes about 24 pounds.  Seen another way, every 14,000 miles the electric system saves the cargo's weight in coal.

A modern steam loco could likely do a bit better - maybe 12% or so open cycle or 15% with condensing, I can't see why you would bother though as simply using a coal to oil plant would be better for where traffic density doesn't justify electrification and distances/loads are too great for batteries and just use the diesel locos already available. There might be a continuing niche for biomass fired steam (still just holding on in the sugar industry) but not much else.

Your last comment is a reason for abandoning steam often forgotten - moving the locomotive coal (and sometimes water too) was a massive overhead eating into the useful capacity of many rail systems where the coalfields were a long way from the point of use.

Steam engine locos are HORRIBLY inefficient. It is MUCH (at least x2, x3) more efficient to burn it in a good coal fired plant

I think this statement makes more sense if you write it as "steam engine locos from the 1930's are horribly inefficient" But then, so were diesel engines from the 1930's.

They used steam because they worked on cheap solid fuel, they were more cost efficient than anything else, then.
And, those same locos would still be more cost efficient than diesel ones today, if running on PRB coal.

That said, if we used modern steam engines, it is a different story.
Like this sort of engine;

A modern steam engine, with oiless steam for simple condensing and recirculating. You would need a large condenser area, but that can be arranged using the sides and top of the engine + tender.

It would be particularly good for passeneger rail - where the engine is always couple to the same cars (or types of cars), and where the steam can be used for cabin heating/and/or cooling. Passenger rail typically has much lower HP per train than freight (except high speed rail)

It comes down to the frequency of service for the line length, and Australia has plenty of long lines with infrequent service - you would never recover the cost of the electrification - unless it becomes a conduit for input and transmission of solar power or the like.

They used steam because they worked on cheap solid fuel, they were more cost efficient than anything else, then.

Also, diesel technology was still being developed. Practically speaking, the steam engine was centuries old and the ICE decades old at that point.

I have always stalled on Alan's proposal and it just became clear as to why. It the jobs/ and economic activity that is auto centered and auto dependent. From filling stations to auto parts, car stereo to tires. McDonalds. Highway departments to accident attorneys and insurance.
Wrap your head around the enormous change that will be needed. This is huge.
Massive job changes and unemployment. Manufacturing would have to move back, as well as agriculture and food processing.

I do see some evidence of this 'retrenchment'. I'm noticing how many chain stores that have smaller sq. footage stores are starting to look "homogenized". Wall Greens, Bi-Mart, High School Pharmacy, etc. etc. all are starting to carry food items, and other common items. Like the old mom and pop without the mom and pop.
The local Fred Meyer's can contain the following smaller shops -jeweler, pharmacy, optician, hair salon, banking. A small 'town' in one building.

Take away the employment revolving around the automobile center then the only work option has to be manufacturing of needed items like clothes, shoes, etc. producing and processing food.

This is a hug shift with a lot of needed re-investment and rebuilding of factories and canneries. There is a huge wasted capital investment in the auto centered society -- but we already know that...

We are not just talking electrified rail this is much, much bigger than that. we are talking about a restructuring of our current society. In a lot of ways going backward with the possibility of higher technology being incorporated.

The USA today consumes much and invests little (see Aesop's Grasshopper at the end of the Foreword).

A shift in economic activity is needed from consumption to investing in long lived energy efficient and energy producing infrastructure.

A corollary is that Americans can see increased wealth coupled with reduced income.


On a personal level, let me try to explain. Income is what you make for any given year. Wealth is the net of assets - liabilities.

Let us suppose that Mr. U. Sam saw his hours cut and his hourly wage cut as well in 2010.

In 2008, Mr. Sam lived well. Made a lot, spent a lot and saved almost nothing. All he has to show for the good times of 2008 in 2010 are some photos from Las Vegas.

In 2010, he has paid down a good percentage of his credit card debt (see LV) and decided to add R-30 insulation to his attic, paid for with reduced consumption. The on-line calculator suggests a two year payback ($400 invested, $200/yr savings on utilities. When he needs a new a/c he can buy a 3.5 ton unit instead of a 4 ton unit (a few hundred saved there as well some time in the future). Next year, replacement windows and an insulated door perhaps in 2011.

At the end of 2010, Mr. Sam will have had a bad year for income, but he will owe less and his house will be significantly more valuable (NPV of annuity of $200/year, larger if utilities go up). He will be wealthier.

I see this strategy, en masse, as the best policy option for the USA post-Peak Oil. Reduce consumption and invest wisely in long lived productive assets. We may make less, but still enjoy a good quality of life and be wealthier.


You might want to think in terms of "net income", or disposable income.

If you reduce your expenses faster than your income, then disposable income rises.

Investment is also a form of consumption as far as measures like GDP is concerned. The investment dollars also func employment. But, it is hard to be earning less and simultaneously saving/investing more, that implies a big drop in consumption of non investment stuff.

The problem with trying to use something like net present value for a project such as additional insulation is that the market price of the house probably won't reflect the (invisable) efficiency gains. So if the residence is going to be sold withing a few years, the owner may not be able to recoup the cost of his investment. [That happened to me twice with energy star refrigerators, had to move, and just got a generic refrigerator price upon sale of the residence. Even owners have agency problems realizing conservation savings.

Just because we had Railways before we had an interstate road system, doesn't really mean we'd be 'heading backwards' in an absolute sense. It's more like we're 'Backing Out of a Dead End' and continuing on a path that we ought to have stayed on in the first place.

As far as 'This is huge' .. Yes, you're right. Hence, 'The Oil Drum', etc..

Meantime, there is a LOT of work to do, no? Install residential Insulation and Solar Water heaters, Set up Train Car Factories and lay a lot of track, move people closer to their jobs, start farming on appropriate scales again, build bikes, train a new generation of architects and vehicle engineers..

The transition is huge, but there's hardly a shortage of work to do, even for laid-off truckers.. it's a matter of managing this horizontal leap, on all these fronts.. but there ARE at least places to jump TO.


Backing out of a dead end sounds more accurate. I agree.

I agree with what Allen has to say and understand it is the best of the "makes sense" options we have going forward.

This is more than that. Fiscally unsustainable consumerism provides a lot of the jobs in the US. Selling stuff we don't make to each other will have to reduce and manufacturing will have to increase.

"Wrap your head around the enormous change that will be needed. This is huge."

True dat.

Thus the need for transition (a notion of the average of baby steps + giant steps).

We can't, can't, can't (did I mention can't) go from night to day forthwith.

We must think in terms of twilight ... the transition ... the time between night and day.

Thus the discussion of transitional consumption, transitional fuels of various sorts, and transitional thinking.

One (average of giant + baby) good step forward at a time, remembering that the giants must take the giant steps, because the babies can only take the baby steps.

I agree!

Now that I'm living in small Midwestern city within walking distance of the biggest employer in the area, my concern is to make sure that the employer needs my services more than my neighbor's services (literally). To this end, I've signed up for classes that should lead to advanced degree and doing my best to pay down debt. Hopefully I'll be able to pay off my mortgage before the real squeeze starts, but that remains t be seen.

If I can get rid of debt, if I have no real transportation expenses, and if I'm unusually employable, then I ought to be able to afford super-expensive food and energy in order to keep my family fed and warm.

EDIT: I sure like my neighbors, though, so I really hope we can all stay employed...

To the mechanically inclined I think there will always be the need for a plant maintenance kind of person. Be it in railroads, canneries, or out on the farm. Someone on site who can fix everything and keep it running, baring the more heavy industrial types of repairs- lathe, milling machine kind of work.

I look back to the horse powered days and I cannot see us returning completely to that. It will be a local or individual decision based on local resources and personal finances. I think machines will be in our future, to some degree.

Taking the position of trying to be as energy self reliant as possible. Feeding and caring for a horse for those times you need it is expensive it terms of space, time, and possibly resources. You feed a machine only when you use it. Is it better to gasify hay for use in a tractor?

You feed a machine only when you use it. Is it better to gasify hay for use in a tractor?

In a word, yes, though you're probably better off using straw or wood chips (less fixed nitrogen lost in the gas).

Anything that improves productivity puts people out of work. Productivity is why we make $22/hour on average compared to less than $0.50 in 1800, measured in today's dollars. Periods of economic depression coincided with the fastest growth in productivity, as is in the 1870s-1880s and 1930s. , the exception being the late 1940s-1960s when we entered the age of consumerism, or at lest there were other thing to spend money on beside food, clothing and shelter.

What we did in the past was lower the work week, form 70 hours in the early 19th century, to 50 hours by 1900 and to 40 hours in 1933(National Industrial Recovery Act).

We would be lucky to be able to reduce truck ransport by half. The savings would be nothing like that of going from wagon to rail in the 1800s. Wagon freight cost 24.5 cents per ton-mile versus .875 cents by rail.

It the jobs/ and economic activity that is auto centered and auto dependent. From filling stations to auto parts, car stereo to tires. McDonalds. Highway departments to accident attorneys and insurance.
Wrap your head around the enormous change that will be needed. This is huge.

The same can be said for things like shutting down the Military Industrial Congressional Complex or the Flat Tax-shut down the IRS movements.

Change is going to come. You'll know the car/roads are almost a dead issue when you hear "think of the police/safety" as an answer to why we can not stop funding the roads.

Maine had a number of interurban and trolley rail companies running in the first third of the century, which made sense before cheap oil undercut the market.

Southern California once had the largest interurban electric rail system in the world, and Los Angeles once had subways. All the interurbans were abandoned, and the subways converted into sewers. The process is alluded to in the movie, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". I admired the clever ways it circumvented the libel laws and avoided the producers being sued.

General Motors, Standard oil of California, Mack Trucks, and Firestone Tires were not mentioned by name in the movie. However they were convicted in court of conspiracy, so I feel free to mention them as indicted and convicted co-conspirators in the plot to eliminate American streetcars.

You can look up General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy on Wikipedia or Google if you want to know the details. I don't want to get into it because it will turn into one of those, "When did you stop beating your wife?" sort of arguments.

The fact is, however, that many parts of the US once had very extensive electric rail transit systems, and almost all of them were abandoned. The same is not true of many other parts of the world.

Ed Tennyson, who I have mentioned before, is the last living member of the team that prosecuted GM. He was technical support, not a lawyer.

They won. GM was fined $5,000.

Best Hopes for Justice,


Ed also told me after WW II, when the transition from steam was starting, GM let it be known that any railroad that added electrification rather than going to diesel would be blackballed from GM shipments.

AlanfromBigEasy & RockyMtnGuy,

So many people do not understand the reality of the conspiracy, like you pointed out, even though in many ways it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

That was then, but now is now.

It is a criminal conspiracy now, not a benign conspiracy.

The consequences back then may not have been foreseeable, but they are entirely foreseeable now (to all but those who suffer the dementia of denial).

Thus, we are discussing the issue in The Age of Criminal Insanity, not your normal mom & pop competitive enterprise context.

That was then, now is now.

GM did kill off what remained of the street railway system, but it had been in long term decline, beginning around 1914 with Ford's mass production of the Model T. Jitneys (5 cent taxi's) followed by motor busses and personal cars took away ridership.

This is covered in General Motors and the Decline of Streetcars: http://www.lava.net/cslater/TQOrigin.pdf

GM did kill off what remained of the street railway system, but it had been in long term decline, beginning around 1914 with Ford's mass production of the Model T.

Actually, the decline of the US railway system did not begin until after WWII. The numbers of people US streetcars and railroads carried during WWII were just astronomical. The people who say, "you can't carry that many people on on rail systems" should look at the numbers. They're mind-boggling.

In the US the decline of rail systems began after WWII with the construction of the Interstate Highway system and the urban freeway construction frenzy. In Europe, they continued using rail systems because they couldn't afford to build the freeways and highways for many years after the war.

Today, the Europeans have all kinds of sophisticated high-speed long-distance trains and urban light rail systems that the Americans can only dream of. It's really because after the war they couldn't afford to build freeways and interstate highways. They just took the existing systems and put some modern technology into them. Nowadays they can afford to build freeways and expensive highways, but they don't think it's a good idea.

The data in the report whose link I posted shows a peak of 14 billion ridership in 1920, falling to a little over 6 billion at the start of WW2, rising to almost 10 billion during the war. Bus ridership during the war was 20 billion.

This data is in consistent with other data on electric interurbans in The Electric Interurban Railways in Amreica that shows the track abandoned druing the period.

I personally like railways and used the system in Atlanta (heavy rail) whenever I could; however, the Atlanta route was too limited for everyday use. In the days of streetcars cities were much more compact and some streetcar systems had good area coverage.

Southern California once had the largest interurban electric rail system in the world, and Los Angeles once had subways. All the interurbans were abandoned, and the subways converted into sewers....General Motors, Standard oil of California, Mack Trucks, and Firestone Tires were not mentioned by name in the movie. However they were convicted in court of conspiracy

Conspiracy? Naw, it can't be true. Sounds more like a theory....

The Washington Monthly has a good article that explains that the housing market has already started to turn away from low density suburban patterns. The points illustrated in the below article mesh well with Alan's proposal.


Even more so with Chapters 2A - Urban Rail, 2B - Transit Orientated Development and 3 - Bicycling.

*IF* I can find the time and energy to do this well, this is the book I want to write.

Chapter 1 - Electrified Railroads
Chapter 2A - Urban Rail
Chapter 2B - Transit Orientated Development
Chapter 3 - Bicycling
Chapter 4 - Electric Cars and Trucks
Chapter 5 - Home Heating
Chapter 6 - Using Oil More Efficiently (Aviation, Hybrids, Recycling)
Chapter 7 - Secondary Technologies - Electric Trolley Buses, Segways, Monorails, PRT
Chapter 8 - Bioplastics and Chemicals
Chapter 9 - New Technologies
Bonus Chapter - An 88% to 90% Carbon Free Electrical Grid in 35 years

Any suggestions are welcome.

Best Hopes for no writer's block,


A desire named streetcars:


A Desire Named Streetcars: Alan Drake to be Interviewed on “Think” at KERA.org at Noon Central Time

Alan Drake, an expert on past, present and future electrified rail transportation solutions, and Jay Kline, a Vice President with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), will be interviewed at noon central time on Monday, October 27th, on the “Think” program, hosted by Krys Boyd on KERA 90.1 FM. One can listen online by going to www.kera.org, and clicking on “listen live.”

Mr. Drake and Mr. Kline and several other panelists participated in a symposium on Electrification of Transportation on Friday organized by Bonnie Jacobs with the SMU Environmental Science Department.

As Jim Kunstler noted some time ago, “Suburbia represents the biggest misallocation of resources in the history of the world,” and we have a front row seat to the ongoing auto, housing and finance meltdown that Jim has long warned us was coming.

Unfortunately, because of what Jim has referred to as the “Psychology of Prior Investment,” massive amounts of capital are being spent trying, in effect, bail out the dying auto-centric suburban way of life.—based on the assumption that we can maintain an infinite rate of increase in our consumption of a finite fossil resource base, which is the implicit assumption behind the “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less (for transportation)” mantra.

Many panelists at the Dallas symposium argued for a different solution—“Rail Now, Rail Here, Pay Less.” Alan asks a very simple, but powerful question, "How did we arrange for transportation in years past, with little or no oil input, and why can’t we do it again?"

As noted above, two years ago, Alan Drake gave a presentation at SMU in Dallas on electrification of transportation. Alan and an engineer from DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) did a joint interview on the local NPR station. It may be a coincidence, but both Dallas and Fort Worth now have ongoing serious plans to try to rebuild at least part of their old streetcar systems, using improved technology.

On some level, I think that all of us, including yours truly, suffer from some level of denial regarding the energy situation, but at least Alan has a credible plan, using proven existing technology that we know works, to make things "Not as bad as they would otherwise have been."

I helped get Alan over to Dallas to speak a couple of years ago, and I have a win/win suggestion. Why don't all of you try to do the same in your own areas?

It would help bring more exposure to Alan's ideas and hopefully earn him some income to help speed his writing efforts along. I think that a key to a successful event is teaming up with a local college or university, which gives you instant credibility, facilities and exposure.

I suppose this all may be analogous to Rhett Butler's decision to join the losing Confederate forces at the end of the Civil War in "Gone with the wind," but at least we can try to take some constructive action.

You might want to check out this book - covers much of this ground.



Promising looking TOC here.

I would be interested in buying your book when it is ready for sale, based on your well-thought-out ideas I have seen so far on TOD.

Can you offer a few more tidbits for Chapter 9?

You are right, it's a good article.

But it's too optimistic. The tone is decidedly 1990's.

I get tired of being negative all the time, but in case anybody noticed, we are living in a bankrupt nation that is corrupt from top to bottom.

I find it hard to believe that, in such a nation, we will all be living in shining, dynamic, urban places with excellent rail, and enjoy an upper middle class lifestyle.

I find it more likely that we will cram into the cities and become ghetto/slum dwellers, desperately going from odd job to odd job, staying underground so as to avoid the abusive police structure, and finding ourselves lucky if there are any transportation options whatsoever, let alone rickshaws or horse drawn carriages.

The only train we are on is a one way express to poverty.

Try not to limit your own future with your despair or hopelessness.

Alan's got some great ideas, but he's not trying to paint a Glowing Utopia here. He knows as well as anyone at this site just how much hardship we are likely to be struggling with.. with that in mind, it's worth identifying good and solid tools to have in the kit for those times.

Like they say in Maine.. 'There's no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing..'

Like they say in Maine.. 'There's no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing..'

Did they steal that from the Siberian's. There saying was: "There's no such thing as horrible weather. Only there is such a thing as being horribly dressed for the weather."

Just to add an update on what the upper/elite class is doing in Honolulu, they are actively building high-rise condominiums in the formerly light industrial areas near downtown. The plan appears to get them into walkable/bikable distance to the financial and high-tech business center, also not too far from the commercial shipping docks. I do not see any means for lower class citizens to be accommodated in this area. They will have to commute as best as they can to any jobs in that area. Since the elites are living in 30-story high rises, I deduce that electricity to run (at least) those elevators will remain in force. They are also preparing to run the AC systems on piped cold ocean water into that area. A new federally-subsidized light rail system and probably the buses (on biodiesel?) will shuttle the lower/working class to this area in the near future.

As for the rest, located out in the sub/exurbs, well, let the devil take the hindmost, huh?

Unlike most here, I'm not ready to bury the suburbs yet. I think small manufacturing, as it moves home from overseas may move in into the suburbs instead of the inner cities. Where is the skilled labor? Not the inner city, it's in the burbs. Why not set up shop there where the labor is? I see manufacturing being distributed into the communities just like the farming being set up in cooperatives. Possible?

I'm mostly commenting here to gripe about your login name, but I guess you were here first so I can't complain.

But as for "Where is the skilled labor?" As far as manufacturing goes, the answer is "retiring". The U.S. hasn't been training new manufacturing workers for the last 30 years: this is a country where everyone knows how to use an espresso machine and nobody knows how to use a lathe.

Well, if you wouldn't have taken it, I would have your login name... lol..(actually my wife and I work at the same company and she took goodmanj at work before me and I ended up with goodmaj for my login - so I used it around so I don't get confused - old age setting in). I guess you have a point, you have to be my age to know how to use a lathe and other shop machines... :-( forgot about that.

I think the electrification is a hard sell for right now. I think after the next couple oil spikes it will become much easier. For now we need to approach the lower hanging fruit. Lets get on with the doubling up all the main lines. Making the modifications so more rail miles can take the stacked containers. These upgrades can be argued with current economic conditions without adding in oil supply restriction and will keep people busy for several years out. I figure within 3-4 years we will have sufficient oil prices to start arguing in earnest for electrification.

Even where the tracks are already electrified in the Northeast Corridor, I couldn't locate any reference to electric engines currently being used for freight. All the freight operations that were electric appear to have been discontinued.

Nor do there appear to be any US manufacturers of electric freight engines.

Nor do there appear to be any US manufacturers of electric freight engines.

This is a basic concept, so I'll reiterate it: A diesel-electric locomotive is just an electric locomotive with its own portable diesel generator.

If you want a US electric locomotive, just go out for bids for enough locomotives (say, 1000) at a sufficiently high price (say, $10 million each) and I'm sure all the US locomotive manufacturers will show up. Bring lots of money because you are asking for $10 billion worth of locomotives.

Bombardier makes them in Canada in much smaller lots. Siemens is setting up a US factory for this order. Hopefully, never closed.

The FRA standards mean EU & Japanese locos cannot come over here, but importing proven designs for the running gear is a good idea IMO. US design chassis and drive train, EU or Japanese design electrical would work for me.


Bombardier abandoned all of its North American locomotive designs and builds only European designs, but builds them in North American.

The FRA standards (I was just looking at them) make it almost impossible to build a passenger train to operate on freight train rights of way in the US. They have to be designed to survive collisions with freight trains. In the rest of the world they just design the train systems so passenger trains don't collide with freight trains.

Bombardier built the Acela train for Amtrak to meet the FRA specs. The trains are so heavy that they have had lots of problems with cracks in steel components.
Freight trains are built to carry high loads at low speed, passenger trains are built to carry low loads at high speed. The Acela had to carry a high load at high speed, and the result - problems - is unsurprising.
Much better indeed to redesign the system to avoid collisions.

I get the feeling that the existing railroad companies are not that supportive of passenger rail - Amtrak is just a nuisance for them.

If there is going to be widespread adoption of passenger rail it wither needs to be a separate network, or else, somehow, be worth the while of the railroad co's. I'm sure if the passenger railroad groups offered to pay for all the electrical, track upgrades etc, then they would likely be interested.

The argument that the US lacks the population density of Europe, China or Japan and
thus cannot support rail, light rail or trolley transit is not valid.
In fact according to the Federal Highway Administration 79% of the US lives in an urban
or suburban area. In New Jersey we have the premier example of what should be accessible
transit but is not - as the most densely populated state in the USA, NJ is more densely
populated than China! 50% of NJ residents live within a few miles of an operating
train station and we are blessed in North Central NJ with 9 operating rail lines.
And yet the NJ DOT cripples train service as an option by not running off-peak trains,
weekend trains, shuttles to workplaces or stores, and strangling parking options.
Many parking lots at train stations face 5-7 year waiting lists for a parking permit!
Which might be OK if people could walk or ride bikes the few miles to an operating
train station except that there is very seldom any safe place to do so.
If NJ just ran trains along North-South I287 they could connect all 9 of those train lines
and take thousands of cars off the densely populated I287 corridor.

At one time with less than half the current population and much of that living on farms,
the US had a trolley and rail system which connected the whole country.
There are 233,000 miles of rail wihch could be used just sitting idle.
At one time even in Vermont the rail line which still runs along the Northeast Kingdom to
Canada and runs freight 6 days per week, had 16 passenger trains daily to towns along its route with much lower population.

The key issue with US population density is not that we don't live in cities, but that our cities are relatively far apart. However, this is only important for long-haul passenger travel, that is for the question of replacing passenger aircraft with rails. In this thread we're mostly worried about long-haul cargo, in which getting to your destination in 12 hours or less is not so important.

In my opinion, we need to start thinking seriously about a triage operation, about how we are going to start abandoning (or in some cases continue abandoning) outlying suburban areas

That dog is already out hunting - Agenda 21 and one can already find people decrying that hunt.


A serious potential problem with double-stacked trains which is not mentioned in this summary: higher vertical clearances above the railbed are required.

The clearance around a rail line is described by the "loading gauge": a series of "plates" describe the cross-section of the volume through which the train passes. (Supposedly in the old days, they would mount a cutout metal plate to a rail car and drive it down the track, chopping away any trees or branches which touched the plate.)

Most rail systems in the US are "Plate B" or "Plate C", which is 15-15.5 feet high. Double-stacked trains need "Plate H", which is 20 feet high.

Think about the rail lines near where you live. How many places does the rail line run under a road bridge? Every one of those road bridges needs to be rebuilt 5 feet higher. Now multiply that by the entire country. We're talking *serious* cash here.

Not so serious cash.

From memory, double stack clearance Chicago to Norfolk VA - $300 million
New Orleans to Washington DC - $600 million

Adding two highway lanes over the Mississippi River on the Huey Long Bridge - $1.2 billion.

BTW, often the solution is to lower the rail track.


From memory, double stack clearance Chicago to Norfolk VA - $300 million

These figures sound incredibly optimistic. Do you have a reference for them?

From what I've seen, you can't dig so much as a latrine at an active transit right-of-way for less than $10 million per squat-hole, and we're talking dozens and dozens of individual projects spread out across the country.

You point out a bridge-widening project in Louisiana as being hideously expensive at $1.2 billion. That just proves my point. I did a little reading about this project: its budget was $60 million when originally conceived in 1989, and $220 million in 1998. This is not unique to highways: the Amtrak Northeast Corridor rail improvements for Acela service also inflated ridiculously in cost, and downscaled massively in expectations as the project went on.

Do you really think a freight rail improvement project will be any different?

My memory slipped $20 million.

September 9, 2010 ... Today marks the official opening of the Heartland Corridor, a three-year, $320 million public-private partnership that officials expect to boost rail freight and benefit the Port of Virginia.

The corridor could be a major gain for the port, as the route will allow shippers to more quickly move a higher volume of goods to the interior of the nation, making Hampton more competitive as a port location. It may also increase the use of freight rail, taking more trucks off the highways and helping the environment.

The project included increasing clearances at 28 tunnels and 24 overhead obstructions in Virginia, Ohio and West Virginia. It also resulted in the construction of the Rickenbacker Intermodal Facility, a truck-to-train facility in Columbus, Ohio, and the relocation of the Commonwealth Railway Line to serve APM Terminals in Portsmouth...


Best Hopes for Two Significant Digit Memory :-)


This article puts the NS project at $191 million.


Seems like it mostly involved running a notching machine through the tunnels. That doesn't strike me as too expensive.

You point out a bridge-widening project in Louisiana as being hideously expensive at $1.2 billion. That just proves my point.

What point? You could build a double-track railroad bridge and electrify it for considerably less money than that.

Canadian Pacific Railway's Mount MacDonald Tunnel, at 14.7 km the longest railroad tunnel in the Western Hemisphere, cost $500 million to build, including 6 bridges and a second 2 km tunnel. However, it eliminated the need to put 5 "pusher" locomotives on every train to get them through old Connaught Tunnel under the pass (which itself was the longest railroad tunnel in the world when it was built in 1913). This was the busiest single-track railroad in the world, so double-tracking it was well worthwhile.

Canadian Pacific is also talking about replacing their tunnel under the Detroit River with a new one to handle double-stacked 9'6" Hi-Cube containers. Their existing tunnel can only handle double-stacked regular 8' high containers but all the shippers want to run Hi-Cube ones. Cost of a new tunnel: $400 million. And it would leave a couple of unused railroad tunnels that could be used for passenger trains.

In most of the Western US the railroad system has already been modified to handle double-stacked containers. In the Eastern US, most of the modifications involve chipping square corners in the tops of railroad tunnels and/or lowering the roadbed. In rare cases the tops of the tunnels have to be raised.

If you're going under a bridge, you lower the roadbed rather than raising the bridge.

Given the interest in double stack clearance projects, here is the Union Pacific PR release @ Donner Pass issued 11 months ago.


I was told that Moffat Tunnel was very difficult to improve clearances because it was lined with rebar concrete. Any news to the contrary ?


I don't think that rebar was a constraint in notching the roof of the Moffat Tunnel, although the tunnel as a whole was something of an engineering nightmare due to the fractured nature of the rock above it. I'm sure they were very careful in chipping away at the roof, although the photos don't look as if they spent a lot of time worrying about aesthetics.

By comparison, Canadian Pacific's Connaught Tunnel, the longest railroad tunnel in the world when it was built in the 1910's, was originally designed to be double-tracked. However, double-stacked containers completely screwed up that concept because they couldn't both double track and double stack the trains, hence they had to build the Mt. MacDonald Tunnel to achieve both goals.

However, the big advantage of the Mt. MacDonald Tunnel was that it was much longer and therefore at a much lower grade, and that allowed them to eliminate the five "pusher" locomotives that they had to put on every train that went through it (they needed up to 13 locomotives to get a fully loaded train through Roger's Pass). They hated to spend the $500 million it took to build a second tunnel, but in the long run it paid off. It was the most heavily-used single track line in the world, after all, and they were out of capacity).

Electrifying the Vancouver-Calgary route would also pay off, and they know that, but they just hate spending that much money up front when most of the benefits accrue over the next century.

(I used to listen to their executives talking shop when we were all riding the wind-powered electric trains to work in Calgary, but I only mention that because the phrase "wind-powered electric trains" annoys some people here.)


What is a wind-powered electric train? Its name has four really good words in it (electric, power, train and wind). How could name that is all good words annoy?

Calgary Transit runs its LRT system (the highest usage system in North America) exclusively on wind power, which is generated less than 200miles south of the city, in the same province.
One of those wonderfully simple things where you wonder why you didn't think of it yourself!


Other urban train systems could easily do the same, (e.g the BART in San Francisco), but I'm not aware of any that do.

BART used to have something on its website about how much of its power it gets from wind. It was a significant percentage (my fuzzy memory wants to say it was either 36% or 56%). It was in their blurb about how much carbon emissions are saved by a BART trip. They have since replaced that info with some more conservative info about greenhouse gas emissions per rider-mile.

The anti-rail-transit groups hate the Calgary LRT system because it breaks all the stereotypes that they have of rail transit systems - that they cost too much, don't have any passengers, and are always over-budget. The Calgary C-Train is a low-cost, high-volume, semi-rapid transit system that was built on-time and on-budget.

The pro-rail-transit groups also can get upset at the Calgary LRT because it breaks some of their stereotypes, too - mainly that you have to spend a lot of money and put in a lot of gee-whiz technology to get people to ride trains. The Calgary system is pretty basic, was built with standard light rail technology, and uses off-the-shelf German-designed light rail vehicles (built in Sacramento, California, by the way).

It serves a basic need and solves a basic problem for the city - putting in transportation where they could not afford to build freeways or widen roads. It is fast, cheap, and efficient compared to the Calgary road system, which is pretty awful. Naturally, commuters prefer to take a fast train rather than be stuck in traffic jams, and suburban communities will allow fast, quiet trains where they will block noisy, expensive freeways.

Calgary community associations are unusually powerful and aggressive, and some of them have over $1 million in their "stop-the-freeway" defense funds.

Now that LRT has been in service for nearly 30 years, the taxpayers consider train service an entitlement rather than a burden, and since the expensive parts of the system were built long ago, extending it out into the suburbs is cheap - a matter of dropping a couple of extra tracks into a railway ROW or freeway median, and adding a new station at the end of the line. It's cheap and every time they add a new station they get another large bunch of new riders.

The wind-power is a bonus feature that the city added because they could do it. Like the rail vehicles, they just went out for bids to the power companies, who already had the wind turbines up and running.

Sounds perfect. The bridges are collapsing already. They need to be replaced anyway.

I guess America could just become a wasteland of roads without any cars on them since gas prices will never come down.

I guess America could just become a wasteland of roads without any cars on them since gas prices will never come down.

Yes, there is that possibility. Things are already trending in that direction. See The Recession, Poverty and the Suburbs

Since 2000, suburbs have seen the number of poor residents increase by 37 percent--well above the national growth rate and more than double the pace of growth seen in the city poor population.

People are being trapped in the suburbs with no jobs, no prospects, and no way out. They can't even walk anywhere when their car stops working. See the Economist article: Poverty in the Suburbs

... some suburb-dwellers in Louisiana have to drive for an hour to get to agencies based in New Orleans. Scott Allard, of Brookings, once saw a family pushing a shopping trolley along a motorway after leaving a food pantry sited in a suburban industrial estate.

Welcome to the 21st century. What are YOU going to do when YOUR car stops working?

There is another benefit of upgrading rail lines to support a plate H loading gauge - you can run double deck passenger cars, which are less expensive to operate and require less land for stations. Fortunately, tiny loading gauges are really only a problem east of the Mississippi. Out west, nearly everything is larger than plate H.

Double deck passenger should be OK anywhere in the US - it's only the UK where it just won't quite fit (on a lot of the network even single containers at full height won't fit). This is another argument for new lines as these are to the larger mainland European gauge - it looks like through passenger trains from Germany might happen now that ICEs can get to London.

The UK is the only place I have been where they have double-deck buses but you can't run double-deck trains.

In North America it's generally quite the reverse. The height clearance on most of the rail lines is more than adequate for double-deck trains, but the low clearance on the road overpasses make it marginal to run double-deck buses. It can be dangerous, a driver got lost and smashed a double-deck bus into a low railroad bridge in New York a few weeks ago.

The French are running double-deck high-speed passenger trains now. It is a lot easier to handle twice as many passengers by making the train twice as high as it is to make the platforms twice as long. Similarly, it is much more efficient to put twice as many containers on a train of the same length.

Yes TGV duplex are a brilliant idea, I wonder if the Eurostars may get replaced with double deckers - they are getting very full these days. We are in a bit of a bind in the UK - gauge enhancement for double decking was costed a few years ago and new lines came out cheaper, ironically especially when existing lines are overhead electric when very little of the original is left once rebuilt. I've always found it odd that double deck busses are unusual outside the UK - we have bridge strikes too although they are quite rare.

The French have always had an advantage in that they have never allowed anyone to stand in the way of a brilliant idea. Hence, when they needed to march their armies 10-abreast across Paris to quell the riots, they built the grand boulevards, and then they subsided the construction of houses for the rich along them to assure that nobody threw rocks at the troops. Anybody who objected was trampled into the mud with the rest of the common rabble. Brilliant in concept, brilliant in execution, not particularly democratic but it works very well. Their TGV system is similar.

UK railways are disadvantaged because the UK basically invented the concept of railways, and nobody at the time realized how big they might become and they didn't allow enough clearance. At some point it will be more cost-effective to tear up the existing infrastructure and rebuild it to allow double-deck trains to run under 25 kV electric wires.

In the rest of the world, railways were constructed under when they knew how big they could become, so they often allowed at least 7 m (23ft) of vertical clearance. This allows lots of room for double-height cars.

When electricity was introduced, other countries strung lots of electrical wires in their cities. Most of these are not high enough to allow double-deck buses to pass underneath. They also built a lot of underpasses for roads to pass under railroads or other roads, and they allowed too little clearance for double-deck buses. I don't think this happened in the UK.

Most countries run double length (articulated) buses rather than double deck buses, which achieves the same result. In theory you could run double-length, double-deck buses, but I don't think anybody has ever made this work in practice.

Widening of streets: a tool for an authoritarian regime

Note also that the US Interstates were also sold as a means to quickly shift military resources from one part of the country to the other. However, it is unlikely that any serious military planner in the 1950s envisioned Soviet troops landing on the coasts.

a driver got lost and smashed a double-deck bus into a low railroad bridge in New York a few weeks ago.

If there was ever an application for GPS nav systems, this is it.

West of Denver there is the Moffat Tunnel. It was not dug to plate H dimensions, but I have heard that it is being upgraded to handle taller trains. This is being done by digging out the road bed and lowering the track, not by knocking rock off the ceiling, which would be incredibly hazardous work.

I should think overpasses in the East could be handled much more cheaply by excavating under the existing overpass than by replacing it. It might even make sense to dig deeply enough to replace the overpass with a simple short bridge at grade level, e.g.:

Reno has recently dug a slot for passenger trains to pass thru the center of town and stop at the station in the center of town. It is deep enough to have many overpasses for street traffic, all at the pre-existing street level. It is a great safety barrier preventing J-walking in city auto traffic.

IMHO, there are already a lot of good ideas on how to do railroads cheaply.

Reno has recently dug a slot for passenger trains

Small correction: "The Slot" in Reno is for all trains, including double-stack trains. It's the UP mainline.

Please excuse my jumping in, however with the decline of road traffic due to the higher price or lack of availability of fuel, would not the demand for roads decline as the demand for railroads rise? Perhaps a road crossing might require a smaller profile, instead of 2 or 4 lanes, it might be only one lane.

Perhaps a road crossing might require a smaller profile, instead of 2 or 4 lanes, it might be only one lane.

You don't often see one-lane roads, or one-lane underpasses in the US, but they do occur in other countries.

Driving on them is an interesting experience and often a lot of fun. You need to have fast reflexes, good brakes, and be willing to communicate with your fellow drivers - and of course a lot of patience. But they do work.

Unless, of course, you have no patience and honk at the other drivers, in which case you are going nowhere because nobody will get out of your way.

While the U.S. debates, the Chinese build. Implementing Alan's plan would be the mother of all stimulus packages which would have a clear positive impact for the nation and the planet. However, all stimulus plans of any stripe will be on indefinite hold as the nation's first priority will be tax cuts and the end of Obama's political career. Apparently, there are those who have no problem with America being a second or third rate nation as long as they are in power.

Sorry for the political message, but politics are the most important factor driving the possibility that plans like Alan's will be implemented. Welcome to America's dark ages.

Best hopes for national interest over partisan advantage.


Just follow money, and power. And when you do, you can connect the dots. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, just somebody who is trying to make sense of things in an America gone mad.

There isn't going to be mass rail because the people in power, and the people with money, don't need or want it.

So Americans can't get to work? Big deal. Pay them off with unemployment insurance and food stamps, generously provided by the Asians and Arabs, with a backstop by the Fed.

Again - the Federal Reserve is literally creating money out of thin air, and is handing this money to the government, which in turns hands it out to Americans so they can eat without working.

If anyone has a problem with this arrangement, you can take your grievances to the local military base. See if the most powerful military ever created by man gives a care. And if you're unemployed, well I'm sure they're looking for a few good men.

Unemployment solved. No need for rail.

That's all she wrote.

Improved Intermodal Centers – a very rough estimate to supplant 85% of existing truck traffic would be $50 billion or so.

Given the strength of the trucking lobby, this has to be under the radar.

A "friend", after reading a draft, listed a number of interest groups that would want to "permanently silence" me. He came up with:

People's Republic of China
American Petroleum Institute
BP (also in above)
Koch Brothers
Tea Party (for emotional, not logical reasons)
Highway Construction Firms
Trucking Firms
Truck manufacturers
Truck Stop owners

Best Hopes for My Survival !


I'm all for electrifying the railroads. It is going to happen because it will be the logical and economical thing to do.

I don't think the truckers there have to worry too much. The trains only go where the tracks go, trucks will still always be required. They'll just slowly change to natural gas, biodiesel, and electric powered.

As noted in my article, over time factories and warehouses will move to rail spurs, or rail spurs will be built to them.

And then there is trolley freight.


From exploring Boulder County, CO, (by car and by Google Earth) I conclude that there once were rail spurs to almost every farm. The spurs tended to follow the paths of feeder irrigation ditches that brought water to the farm. Of course, every gold, silver, or other metals mine had a spur line to it, but most of those were narrow gauge. I have no idea of the current legal status of the rights of way, but there is plenty of archeological evidence of a recent prior culture.

Up in the Northwest, there were logging spurs that went all over. Almost all the small towns had rail spurs that remained up into the later half of the twentieth century until they discovered the rails were worth a lot to recycle. Then they ripped them out. The spur into my home town was turned into a 30 mile long state park called 'Linear Park'. Bicyclist and hikers love it.

Back to the point. Hopefully, as rail returns as a preferred mode of travel, these spurs will return also.

The book 'Silent towns on the Prairie' offers a good description of how and why rail lines were laid out in North Dakota, and describes how the change from 50T grain cars to 100T grain cars led to the proliferation of ghost towns (defined by the authors of this book as towns with 50 or fewer residents which have been declining in population).

It would be nice to have a frequent passenger service between Minot and Bismarck ND...also between Bismarck and Fargo, and between Fargo and Grand Forks. The soccer and football high school tams and parents and fans could take the train. Avoid the black ice and high wind hazard in the winter, and the danger of hitting deer especially at night.

Regarding the Tea Party- inclined..

As work commences in Portland this week putting Passenger Quality track from this current terminus of the Amtrak Downeaster up through to Brunswick, there are some inevitable cracks and comments from working class Mainers challenging this 'Elitist Project'.. and I've tried to help make the case that they've gotten some misinformation on that score.

Hope I'm getting it somewhat right..


(After another poster said "Private Vehicles Aren't going anywhere.." )

..."Maybe this is your point, Mark, but refined petroleum might be dragging the personal auto into a very expensive pit. We've had completely FLAT oil production for five full years now.

As G** said to Noah (sounding a lot like Bill Cosby) "How long can you tread water?.."

Maine and the US had better get an alternative way to move around besides Gas and Diesel on Asphalt, or we might find we (like these private automobiles we're sitting in) .. aren't going anywhere.

FreightTrain access can protect our roadways from truck damage as well, and open up industrial options for the north and east of the the state, which could become increasinly isolated as road repair becomes more unaffordable for poorer counties/communities.

Rail is not the enemy of working Mainers!


See my "Rhett Butler" (A desire named streetcars) suggestion up the thread.

I think China would be delighted with your plans: anything that reduces demand for oil will help them get through the PO transition in better shape. They really don't want to hurt the US - they're just monomaniacally focused on their own development. In fact, the better we do, the more of their products we can buy...

Read the last appendix of the full article >:-)


We shouldnt do anything cause it might help China. LOL.

China is electrifying and kicking our butts.

Do you think more oil will magically appear? that God will bring oil barrels to the US via the religious right? LMAO

How in the world does a rational person even think the opposite could be true?

why? please tell us!

Do you think more oil will magically appear?

Are you referring to the phrase "PO transition"? If so, see http://energyfaq.blogspot.com/2008/09/can-everything-be-electrified.html


Wow, maybe we should wait to start singing "I Will Survive" ... ;-)

Those heavies, who are out to get you, are part of what I will call The Twinkie System, but they are slated for extinction.

The question for all of us is the question you contemplate as well: "will they take us with them?" or will we take them with us?

As some say in Whitewater Canoeing, "Keep your eye on the water-route, not the rocks. Look at the rocks and you'll veer right into them."

Amen, sir!

People who want you alive - Railroad industry (both local and international), city center businesses in cites with walkable downtowns, Steel industry, Las Vegas, coal industry (in the short term), train fans.

No doubt there a lot of special interest groups loking out for themselves.

When the crisis finally hits the US will again nationalize the railroads and make the necesary changes, at lightning speed, just as it was during WW1.


Now is the time to have all the studies done, identify the critical equipment and materials and come up with a Gantt chart for implementation.

"We" may take baby steps in the right direction in 2011, but implementation at the speed I suggest will take a panic response.

I am laying the groundwork for that panic response when it does come.

I am generally not in favor of gov't management, although some RR management needs to be replaced (some management is very good, Warren Buffet & Bill Gates bought them). Gov't control is another uncertainty and waste of time in an emergency.

If you read all 21 pages, you will see that I advocate socialism, but corporate socialism. 40% and 50% investment tax credits (the industry wants 30% today), multi-decade property tax exceptions for improvements and gov't backed loans (with the ROW as collateral). All good Republican socialism.

Still not as socialized as our highways, but it would even the playing field.

Every other major rail system in the world is at least partially electrified (just a little in Brazil). Here only Amtrak is, DC to Boston.

The biggest reason why not here is, I think, property taxes with the cost & availability of capital a secondary reason.

US railroads fought a losing battle for half a century against gov't competition. No money for major capital investments.

Best Hopes for Planning,


The costs (in money, energy and capital) of maintaining a given amount of electrified railroad track are much higher than the cost of maintaining non-electrified track. This is important to understand because vast segments of the American railroad network carry fairly few trains and you would never get back the cost of electrifying them. The places where electrification makes sense are places where you have more than 1 train per hour, otherwise the cost of electrifying is greater than the benefit of being able to run electric trains.

I think a better strategy would be to use the money that would be needed for electrification to encourage more freight to shift from truck to rail which gives you a 90% reduction in energy use. This would not only save energy in itself, but it would increase traffic densities on some rail lines to the point where they can be electrified. Also, intermodal freight is the least energy efficient form of rail freight transport. It is necessary when you can't do your last mile delivery by rail, but it isn't always the optimal solution.

My article calls for electrifying the main lines ASAP and then seriously looking at the busy branch lines next.

In some cases, the economics of a single fuel (electricity) railroad may make 100% conversion attractive even if every individual line is not justified (see Switzerland and now France).

The break even point depends on a large number of factors, including the price of oil.

Electrification expands track capacity, another value added, with no time lost refueling.

From a strategic POV, an Oil Free means of transporting food and critical materials, rather than just an oil efficient means, is quite attractive during an oil supply emergency.


Oil efficiency is easier to achieve and is really all you need. Remember, the US produces a lot of oil and will continue to do so for a long time. What we need is to get our consumption down to where we can supply our own needs. Really, our biggest problem here is urban passenger transport, which consumes 47% of the oil we use and home heating which consumes 15%. Freight is only 18% of U.S. oil usage and could be cut in half by a big shift to trains. If I were made energy czar I would immediately pay people with oil heat to superinsulate their homes and switch to gas and/or heat pumps, since there's really no reason to heat with oil. I would also start seriously taxing gasoline to reduce oil use in passenger movement. We need to get people to retire all those cars that get under 25 mpg - you just don't need to burn that much fuel getting to work.

However, back to freight, the main goal there has to be getting intercity trucks off the road. Helping the railroads to remove bottlenecks and add track would be a good first step, as would be increasing the price of diesel fuel.

home heating which consumes 15%.

Are you sure about that? I think by 2008 residential heating oil consumption had dropped to an average 309,000 bpd (about 1.5% of total consumption), according to Energy Administration Information data, cut by conversions to natural gas, technological equipment advances, and homeowners winterizing their homes with insulation and new windows. It's probably less, now.

"..and will continue to do so for a long time.."

First, domestic oil is only about 40% of our overall domestic demand, it is in decline, and the everpresent "Oil is Fungible" .. which means 'it's ours, but it ain't ours, is it?' It will go to the high bidders, like the rest of the oil on the world market. I don't forsee the US nationalizing our remaining oil supplies any time soon, and wouldn't rest easier even if we did.

The main problem is that we don't have a robust alternative to liquid fuels for transportation. Aside from the efficiency advantages of Electric, is the critical issue of how much can be bottlenecked by overreliance on Gas and Diesel.

So no, it's not 'all you really need'..

domestic oil is only about 40% of our overall domestic demand

It's about 50%, right now: 9.7M ( http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/pet_cons_psup_dc_nus_mbblpd_m.htm
) vs
19M ( http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/ipsr/t14.xls )

it is in decline

It's rising now.

05 8,322
06 8,331
07 8,457
08 8,514
09 9,056
10 9,769

the everpresent "Oil is Fungible" .

Sure, but the big problem is the trade deficit. If we only consumed our current production, then a rise in prices wouldn't be a very big problem.

we don't have a robust alternative to liquid fuels for transportation.

We really do: HEV/EREV/EVs will do just fine, along with Alan's rail plan.

the critical issue of how much can be bottlenecked by overreliance on Gas and Diesel.

Industrial/commercial users will out bid personal transportation. I/C users will be just fine.

RE: 'rising oil' - you're pointing to 'all liquids', I believe. I think we're way below 9mbd of crude now, aren't we?

RE: 'robust alternatives' - the key word there was 'HAVE', as in we don't have them in hand and available to use yet, and that we do need to create them.

This was in response to WinstonK saying "Oil efficiency is easier to achieve and is really all you need."

Industrial /Commercial users might be very far from fine, since in outbidding for rising fuel costs, they would depend on charging more for their products, by and large. A rising tide won't raise all your boats if they all have the same holes in them. (But if you have cut costs by having evolved some alternate sources or far more efficient energy sources, your biz might have the 'fitness' to survive.

You seem really intent on saying 'It will be fine'.. Well, it might be, but it's really far from guaranteed at this point. You and I seem to believe in the same variables that can be nudged and affected to help in this, but there are some very long odds and long implementation times in all of it.

you're pointing to 'all liquids'

The EIA calls it "Total Crude Oil and Petroleum Products", and it's what's usually discussed in the context of overall oil production. It doesn't include ethanol, for instance.

the key word there was 'HAVE', as in we don't have them in hand and available to use yet, and that we do need to create them.

We do have them. We have hybrids, EREVs, and EVs, as well as wind, solar and nuclear. We just need to ramp them up. No new tech is necessary.

Industrial /Commercial users might be very far from fine, since in outbidding for rising fuel costs, they would depend on charging more for their products, by and large.

A little. Energy costs are a pretty small % of their costs. They'd find ways to reduce their consumption first, then they'd reduce other costs, and then they'd pass on a minority of the cost by raising their prices a small %.

A rising tide won't raise all your boats if they all have the same holes in them.

Actually, if all of their competitors have the same problem, then it's not a big problem for them.

You seem really intent on saying 'It will be fine'..

Not at all. It depends on your point of view. From a BAU POV, I think things will likely be somewhat rough. I've always said that. OTOH, from a TOD POV, the energy transition is likely to be no big deal at all.

there are some very long odds and long implementation times in all of it.

I agree that implementation times are longer than would be ideal. OTOH, the odds are very good that we'll successfully get through a somewhat painful transition. Life isn't going to be a walk in the park. We'll have AGW, species extinctions, and a mess of other problems. Who knows what will happen with them - no one really does. But, we will kick the FF habit.

Those numbers are "all liquids".

Below is a graph giving my interpretation of the makeup of US all liquids. I got the "Expansion" piece by subtraction, so if I accidentally left something out, the Expansion could be overstated a bit.

Crude and condensate is the blue part at the bottom, and is what has traditionally been called oil.

MTBE (made primarily from natural gas, I believe) was added to Gasoline as an "oxygenate", and later ethanol was substituted and expanded in quantity. There is a trivial amount of other biofuels (purple), but it is too small to see.

Natural gas plant liquids come from natural gas, and are mainly ethane, propane, and butane. The amount has recently increased, with the rise in natural gas production. All of these are gases at room temperature, and have less energy content than oil.

"Expansion" refers to the refinery expansion that occurs when long chain hydrocarbons are cracked (and natural gas is added). This happens to imported oil as much (or more) than to US produced oil. But since it is our process, and our natural gas, we take credit for the gain in volume.

When people talk about one third of US oil production coming from the Gulf of Mexico, they are talking about the Crude and Condensate portion at the bottom in blue.

The EIA calls it "Total Crude Oil and Petroleum Products", and it's what's usually discussed in the context of overall oil production. I believe that doesn't include ethanol.

If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?

Here's the dope:

  1. Total US crude + NGPL production is up slightly, but is still less than 40% of total consumption.
  2. The NGPLs are not remotely barrel-for-barrel equivalent to crude.  Roughly 40% is ethane, and another 30% is propane; n-butane is the lightest component usable in motor gasoline (winter gas only), and it's about 7% of the total.  The energy equivalent is a lot lower than crude.

Going Alan's route, we can burn excess butane and ethane for electricity (keeping the propane and isobutane for use as LPG).


All right - the average for US liquids in 2010 is 9.515 M bpd. That does include ethanol, etc., as well as natural gas plant liquids, which are similarly low in BTU content. We probably need to deduct about 300k for ethanol (from about 800k), and about 750k for the NGPL (from about 1.9M), which gives us about 8.45M bpd.

On the other hand, we need to make the same adjustments for overall consumption, which averaged 19,182 for the first 8 months of 2010: deduct about 300k for ethanol (from about 800k??), and about 800k for the NGPL (from about 2.1M), which gives us about 18.1M bpd.

So, 8.45 divided by 18.1 gives us: 47%.

I just took some of my extended family out to the Grand Canyon over a weekend. Every time I take this trip I am impressed at the high density of double-stacked trains using the tracks which parallel Interstate 40 for quite a ways. I stayed in Flagstaff overnight once and was woke up by train horns (as they went through street grade crossings) all night long at frequent intervals...reminded me of the running gag in the movie 'My Cousin Vinnie'. If you look at adds for motels in Flagstaff you can see ads which say 'No Trains'...motels are far enough from the tracks that you can get a decent night's sleep!

Alan, I would guess that that line might connect the LA basin with Dallas, Shreveport, and point further East, and based on the train density I have seen, may be a candidate for electrification. It may be double tracked I think...

The former Penn Central (then CONRAIL) (now CSX?) tracks between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh which run through Altoona, PA seem to have enough rail traffic to potentially be a worthwhile electrification project.

I used to live in Altoona...went up to the Horseshoe Curve many times (including several time on a ten-speed) to watch the trains go around the curve...pretty cool!

The Keystone Corridor between Philadelphia and Harrisburg is owned by Amtrak and is electrified. The section between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh is owned by Norfolk Southern and is not electrified.

As far as I've been able to determine, even though the eastern end of the Keystone Corridor and all of the Northeast Corridor are electrified, there is no electrified freight operation. Most likely this is due to the fact that the sidings, freight yards, spur lines, and terminals are not electrified, and the need to change engines renders electrified freight uneconomic. For example, the extensive sidings between the Northeast Corridor and the various refineries, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical plants in NJ have no overhead infrastructure.

Good explanation.

Periodically during my youth some folks would get all fired up about the idea of 'high-speed rail' passenger service between Philly and Pittsburgh, passing though Altoona. At times people with stars in their eyes even talked up ~300 mph maglev passenger trains.

Never happened though.

But after only 30 some years we did get US 220 turned into I-99 from Bedford to State College! Might even have made it to I-80 by now, I haven't been back in years.

I-99 really ruined the beautiful mountainsides and ate up some good farmland though. So did the Wal-Mo distribution centers and the new shopping mall complexes.

One of the reasons I don't want to visit anymore...seeing all the forests and farmland eaten up by sprawl makes me ill.

went up to the Horseshoe Curve many times (including several time on a ten-speed) to watch the trains go around the curve...pretty cool!

The Spiral Tunnels on the line close to the TransCan highway in BC are cool too.

I stayed in Flagstaff overnight once and was woke up by train horns (as they went through street grade crossings) all night long at frequent intervals.

Locally, we just prohibited the railroads from blowing their horns as they went through town. I mean, it is one of the busiest rail lines in the world, so you should look both ways before crossing. If the trains honked their horns it would be more or less continuous.

This requires a certain amount of defiance of the legal community, as the lawyers for the next-of-kin for the fool who got splattered while staggering across the railroad tracks while drunk in the middle of the night would argue that it is the town's fault for not allowing the train to honk its horn.

In France it would be completely different because they believe that everyone has the right to die due to their own stupidity. This was a though that occurred to me as I walked over a level crossing at a French railway line, which had a 750-volt third rail with a sign that said, "Danger de mort". That's true, there was a real chance of being electrocuted if you touched it. But it was near Mount Blanc, on which 200 people a year die trying to climb it. They're French so that's their choice. Smart or dead. They feel no great urge to save people from their own stupidity.

My overnight in Flagstaff was possibly as long as 9 years ago. Perhaps the trains do not blow their horns any more there.

Interesting fact: there is a tourist train line which runs to the Grand Canyon rim from Williams, AZ. I talked to a guy on the rim who took the train from LA, and I assume he got off at Williams and took the tourist train to the rim. The same concept would work from Albuquerque. It would be nice to leave the driving to the engineer.

A fantasy idea of mine would be to construct tourist passenger rails to allow someone to travel the 'Grand Circle': Albuquerque to Grand Canyon (Painted Desert stop along the way, maybe Barringer Carter also), Zion, Bryce, Canyon lands, Grand Staircase Escalante, Arches, Mesa Verde, and back to Albuquerque.

I drove that route with my family about 9 years ago...we took 9 days and it was great. Again, leaving the driving to the conductor sounds pretty relaxing to me.

"Electrification expands track capacity, another value added, with no time lost refueling."

Another grab at the straw. You seem to think that a train just stops on the main line anywhere, perhaps out of fuel and blocks it.
That train MUST stop with much greater frequency than the need for fuel due to crew changes and mandated inspections. UP here in Tucson can be fueling on four tracks at once without blocking traffic. So there is no time saved, no additional utilization.

Locomotives, like your car, must be diverted and spend time and labor refueling. Railroads try to minimize the impact, but it is there after every long run. Easier and faster to just put a new crew on-board and go back into revenue service.

Electrification typically allows faster acceleration and deceleration, with a couple of caveats. This allows closer spacing between trains. In addition, diesel severely restricts tunnel capacity in longer tunnels (fumes).

The Swedes and Danes run 400 trains/day between them on two tracks. The Swiss will be running 300 trains/day through twin tunnels, at speeds varying from 100 to 240 kph.

Such feats would not be possible without electrification.


intermodal freight is the least energy efficient form of rail freight transport.

Is that solely because of the truck leg of the trip, or are there other reasons?

Intermodal trains have a bit more air drag because there are fairly large gaps between the containers and because they're just bulkier overall than high cube boxcars carrying the same amount of freight. Of course where rail really does well is in transporting bulk commodities like grain or coal, which are ideally suited to rail transport.

Has anyone done any work on fairing trains to reduce drag?

Do we have any stats as to the %contributions of aero loss vs drivetrain vs wheel/suspension losses?

Intermodal trains have a bit more air drag because there are fairly large gaps between the containers

The gaps between containers carried by semi-trailers are significantly larger.

Yes, containers may be the least aerodynamically efficient for the trains, but they are still way more efficient than containers by truck. If you have to manually unload a container into boxcars, then you lose the many advantages of containers, and the handling becomes a headache.

Another point to keep in mind is that intermodal trains can carry containers on the way there, and back. A coal train has to go back with empty coal cars, and empty coal cars are like little parachutes, they are even greater drag than containers. Factor in all the costs associated with the empty return, and containerised freight, assuming it is travelling both ways, starts to look pretty efficient.

Some comments from a UK perspective:

Passenger miles have almost doubled on British railways in the last decade but we are now close to capacity without spending masses on new lines, there is a little scope for train lengthening and increased use of some routes but not much as so many of the major city stations are already at capacity (and quite a few of the 60s closures have been part reversed and others are bitterly regretted).

The use of rail for freight in the UK is very limited but growing from a low base - here use of diesel power over mainly electrifed routes testifies that the cost of fuel still isn't the dominant factor.

There has been a lot of agitation for electrification recently, the brief flirtation with biofuels ('bionic duckweed' as one commentator put it) seems to have gone, but cost is a major factor even though the benefit is widely accepted.

The capacity problem can only really be addressed in the long-medium term by new (or reopened) lines, there is considerable progress on this (new route Edinburgh - Glasgow, Crossrail in London as major examples) but the costs and NIMBYs are a major problem.

The main question now is will high speed two (London - Birmingham - Manchester, possibly Leeds and Scotland) get anywhere - those affected by its construction are already pulling no punches trying to stop it.

Even if all this does get done the resulting network will still not come near moving everything that currently goes by road.

In the US you seem to have largely done the opposite to the UK since WWII - we eliminated most goods traffic and made the passenger trains run faster and much more frequently in the freed-up capacity, you made the freight trains longer and slower but got rid of most of the fast passengers to make room for them. If either network is to serve both purposes then masses of investment will be necessary.

Main thing to avoid is daft ideas like maglev that just tries to superimpose another incompatible system into the mix.

Employment in the industry fell from 532,000 in 1980 to 256,000 in 1996. Similarly, rail mileage fell from 179,000 miles of road in 1980 to 147,210 in 1996. Over the same time period, the number of freight cars fell from 1.7 million to 1.2 million and the number of locomotives dropped from 28,094 to 19,269 units.

1996 is getting to be a long time ago. Putting up numbers from that time period is probably misleading regarding the present situation. The railroads have been growing a lot in the last ten years, and I wouldn't be surprised if the current numbers (except for employment) are closer to the 1980 numbers than the 1996 numbers.

The first is the transition itself, from diesel locomotives to electrically powered engines. It is a change that has already occurred in many parts of the world.

It's probably more accurate to say that many parts of the world mostly skipped diesel and went straight from steam to electric.

An excellent investment example is BNSF double tracked and improved 2,217 miles (Los Angeles to Chicago) for slightly over $2 billion recently.

Hmm, this is potentially misleading. Almost all of the BNSF transcon had already been double-tracked for many decades. I believe the $2billion applied mainly to a section in New Mexico (Abo Canyon) that was the one remaining major single-track bottleneck on the LA to Chicago route. I don't know if this is an "excellent example" of double-tracking costs.

That said, the BNSF Transcon is probably an something of an exception in terms of already being used at full capacity. Other major routes can probably be used at higher capacity, or have their capacity increased with strategic upgrades that don't involve wholesale double-tracking. Traffic and capacity issues involve strategic choices that cannot be looked at purely on a miles-of-track basis. For example, if a route is congested with intermodal traffic, a tunnel enlargement project (to allow double-stacked container trains) on a parallel route separated by perhaps hundreds of miles can serve to ease that congestion. There are also a few places (e.g. Tennessee Pass in CO) where currently unused lines could be put back into service at much lower cost than building new track.

Only the BNSF quote was directly from me.

Fairly large sections of had not been double tracked (373 miles in 1996), and those that had been got more and higher speed switches according to my sources.

Overall capacity increased from 55 trains/day in 1996 to 100 trains/day in 2007 (and higher now).

Double tracking was only part of a program that significantly enlarged capacity at very reasonable cos, but it was the "signature" upgrade, like UP's double tracking from LA to El Paso.

the BNSF Transcon is probably an something of an exception in terms of already being used at full capacity.

Before the recent recession, a number of lines were showing delays and getting close to absolute capacity. And capacity is defined at levels where delays are endemic. in order to attract truck freight, a higher level of service (reliability & speed) is generally required. A level that requires demand to be significantly below capacity (say 15%-20%).


Thanks for the clarifications Alan.

I'd be interested in more info about the capacity of various routes.

All of the northern routes, west of Lake Superior to the West Coast, US & Canada, are "tight" from what I understand.


All of the northern routes, west of Lake Superior to the West Coast, US & Canada, are "tight" from what I understand.

That's true. Canadian railways are making a great deal of money moving cargo from China via Canadian ports to the mid-western and eastern US because US railways are overloaded and don't want to spend money on expansion.

CN's line to the northern BC port of Prince Rupert is the single major exception. It is only 20% utilized, and Prince Rupert is one of the deepest ports in North America, with considerable room for expansion. The line is a tremendous piece of engineering, with only a 0.7% grade through the mountains. You kind of wonder if the people who built it 100 years ago were completely nuts to spend so much money in an area with hardly any people.

In addition, CN rail is the only North American railway whose lines go from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast, and south to the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe that's why Bill Gates has 30% of his non-Microsoft investments in it. Or maybe it's just because his buddy Warren Buffet bought BNSF. Big boys, big toys.

Actually, it was the other way around.

Care to guess who was with Warren Buffett when he toured BNSF HQ in Ft. Worth a week before announcing his buy out offer ?


An aerial view of the double tracking required through Cajon Pass (east of LA). Just 16 miles, but with the steep grades (3% & 2.2% ruling grade), absolutely essential. About $90 million for those 16 miles.




Yes, but that wasn't a double-tracking project, it was the third track for BNSF, and fourth track through the pass. ;-)

Interesting to know the cost of that project. It included removing two tunnels.

I am thinking two parts,

Americans have a profound faith in the Just-in-Time Technology Fairy, I think new technology will develop, but not JIT and not where we expect it to. I will go through the process from initial discovery to widespread implementation, step by step. Also mention energy efficiencies.

I will also point out that almost every significant discovery only took 30 or so years from discovery to significant application. Discover DNA to first GMO for sale. E=mc2 to Hiroshima and first civilian reactor a decade later. First Benz car to Model T, transistor to first IC chip, etc.

IMHO, if fuel cells were ever going to work economically for the masses, it would have happened by now.

Then I will list what the implications are if some inventions do work out. Ultra capacitors, fusion, PRT, energy efficient & affordable mag lev and a list that I will add to. Any suggestions ?

Best Hopes for the JIT Technology Fairy,


Einstein came up with the mass-energy equivalence in 1905, so that's roughly 40 years.

A level that requires demand to be significantly below capacity (say 15%-20%).

Queuing theory will tell you that delays rise exponentially as utilization gets close to 100%. As you get very close to 100%, they become infinite (in theory - in practice, customers leave).

Alan – the Table of Contents outlines a truly daunting task ahead.

The present chapter deals with multiple related topics:
- electrification of main line railroads,
- increasing the capacity of rail through added trackes, grade separation, etc.,
- shifting freight from trucks to rail to use the added capacity,
- a strategic rail car reserve, and (in the text, but not as an expenditure)
- intercity passenger rail.
Although these topics are interrelated, it may be better to separate them.

First, is it possible to justify electrification of the main lines on its own merits? With the current industry structure, it would be easier to make progress on the first $100 billion if the five major railroads could justify a start on electrification by making their own business cases for electrification. These cases would be based on an analysis of the tradeoff between a high initial capital expenditure and lower operating costs for electrification versus low capital expenditures and higher maintenance and operating costs due to projected increases in the cost of oil. It may be that the current cost of money raised from corporate bonds makes these business cases a lot better now than in the past when debt was more expensive.

If a business case can’t be made by each railroad, then what changes in the economics need to be made to support electrification? For example, the high initial investment might cause heavy property tax levies which impair the business cases. Property taxes might be abated by national legislation for these interstate routes. The railroads might be uncertain whether the increased oil prices would also increase the price of electricity, and this uncertainty might be reduced by ensuring that the railroads can buy electricity at favorable long term rates.

If public funding or policy measures are needed to make electrification economic, then the railroads should be prepared build the catenary structures to support:
- a planned 2 to 4 tracks on the roadbed, and
- a planned operation at high-speed on designated routes.

If the only way to prove in electrification on any significant scale is to shift a lot of freight from truck to rail, then that needs to be clearly stated, since it complicates the transition greatly.

A program to shift freight from truck to rail lands you in a competitive fight between the railroads and the trucking industry. The latter has allies in the large number of major retailers, logistics companies, wholesale warehouse operators, etc., while the railroads have fewer friends.

Actually, the railroads have been increasing both carloadings and containers carried at a fairly rapid rate. It is doubtful whether a good case can be made for rail transport of perishable foods in refrigerator cars. More likely, it is more economical to use refrigerated containers to move food from, e.g., a processing plant in California to Hunts Point in the Bronx. The best opportunities for moving more freight by rail would seem to be between ports and businesses, business to business, or from ports and businesses to warehouses. The latter is impeded by the fact that recently more warehouses have been built with road access only. A good example is the distribution center cluster south of Chambersburg, PA between I-81 and the railroad. Some distribution centers, including a 1.6 million square foot distribution center of a major retailer, have no apparent rail access on Google maps. Another problem is whether some of the major retailers, who now control their transportation networks from port or manufacturer to big box store, will accept rail transportation without some long term gaurantee for tarrifs.

Intercity passenger service is another, separate hotbed of political controversy. You should probably separate that out and put it in a different chapter. It is not treated in depth in this chapter, and the less said here, the better. Only a fraction of the main lines are really candidates for >100 mph passenger service.

Finally, the strategic railcar reserve is not well motivated. Who owns the railcars? Why would the owners scrap a railcar with servicable life (is this due to tax, accounting and regulatory factors or the actual costs of storage)? Is there actually a need for new rolling stock to be placed in a reserve to ship ethanol or other freight?

Part of the motivation for the strategic railcar reserve is to stockpile old passenger cars which might be returned to service in an emergency. However, this should be part of other chapters which consider intercity and commuter rail. They would only be useful for intercity passenger service in pretty dire straights. Finally, wouldn’t most old passenger cars be owned by Amtrak already?

Best wishes for success.

If I had free access to the VPs and President of just one Class I RR (preferred BNSF), I could answer many of these questions. But I do not. And I chose to limit my speculation.

I was told that my TOD piece, Multiple Birds - One Silver BB, closely paralleled an internal, high level study by a major railroad.


You are right, this is a daunting task !


Alan, congratulations on an excellent job. I concur that this first chapter could itself be expanded into a number of chapters. At the risk of adding more to your plate, let me offer some perspective from the field of transportation engineering:

1) The U.S. DOT is moving (finally) toward a true multi-modal perspective, from the "complete streets" movement to actually including rail and water transportation in planning. At the same time the operators of each mode are beginning to realize that intermodal transfers actually benefit all mode operators.

2) While much discussion focuses on double tracking mainlines, such talk assumes right of way widths are 100 feet or greater. East of the Mississippi, that is not always the case. For instance, the right of way of the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis railroad was only 50 feet; that includes the critical link from Nashville to Atlanta now operated by CSX. That segment and many other routes south of the Ohio River were built for economy and not speed; thus, even the old streamliners averaged less than 45 mph on these routes. (This impacted efforts to grow the Chicago-Florida passenger market after World War II.) What CSX has done is to add high speed turnouts several miles in length to permit trains to pass at reasonable speeds while maintaining the single line in areas where double tracking would require more right of way.

3) Higher speed, not high-speed, passenger and freight service may be the most energy-efficient and often the only affordable option in many corridors. As air flights of 500 miles and under become impractical for passenger and freight service, the value of rail service for passengers and express freight (including mail and express package service) in the 150 to 500 mile length will grow. A 400 mile trip at 80 mph average with stops is five hours, not an unreasonable length of time in the absence of convenient flights or cheap gas.

4) Expanding Amtrak is not a political option. The Bush policy of leaving regional rail to the states has been maintained in the Obama administration. While adjacent states seem to be cooperating in applying for federal funds for "day trip" routes under 500 mph using Amtrak equipment and staff, the effort will become more complex with longer trips and more states involved in the future. At that point, the federal government may well choose to contract with the "Big Four" Class I's (CSX, NS, BNSF, and UP) plus a few regionals such as Florida East Coast to operate their own trains, stations, and staffs. Amtrak could continue to operate the Northeast Corridor and the long distance trains (which would become the equivalent of national parks on wheels.)

5) As Alan mentions, the critical bottlenecks (Fort Worth, Chicago, etc.) must be removed, and that will require capitalization that is beyond the railroads' financial means. This is the price we are paying for years of regulation by the Interstate Commerce Commission and the abandonment of railroads by government after World War II. Given that railroads are 100-year investments, we may see the issuance of 100-year railroad bonds at competitive interest.

6) The role for trucks and buses will be around even in an era of peak oil. Asphalt pavement can and usually is recycled, and we will have a basic network of quality intercity arterial highways and collectors for many decades, long after the suburbs have been emptied. Truck drivers will be able to get home at night, or at worse have one night on the road. Bus service will need to expand to serve the many smaller communities without main line rail service and link to both rail and the remaining air service.

7) Finally, no one mentions the "ma and pa" players in the rail market, the short-line railroads. These railroads have had quite a comeback since deregulation in the Carter Administration. They provide the critical link to the manufacturing in many smaller communities. Sadly, too many tracks on too many lines in such communities have been removed and right of way sometimes even sold off. We have so many capital needs on the existing short-lines that little hope remains for restoring service on lines that are gone. Nonetheless, we will need to bring the short-line operators to the table and keep their critical services going if we are serious about reestablishing local economies.

My biggest oversight is not mentioning the short-line RRs. Part of that is ignorance, I just do NOT know enough about them. I am for anything that will expand their access to capital, and lower their costs.

I generally agree with your points. Although 100' RR ROW is common east of the Mississippi River as well. 60' wide is the next most common width in my experience, and double track can be built on a 60' ROW and still keep the maintenance crews on RR property.

A VERY vague memory of someone telling me that over 60% of the RR ROWs are 100' wide east of the MS River.

Any one have any details ?


Although 100' RR ROW is common east of the Mississippi River as well. 60' wide is the next most common width in my experience, and double track can be built on a 60' ROW and still keep the maintenance crews on RR property.

Such is true. A 100' ROW is more than enough to quadruple track a railroad. 60' is more than enough to double-track it.

A 100' ROW is the length of three surveyor's chains, which is probably why it is the most common width in North America. Two surveyor's chains are 66', which is probably why it was often used where there were more constraints on land availability. One surveyor's chain is only 33', which is probably why most English RR ROWs are too narrow for most practical purposes.

Alan - After reading much of the discussion at the link you provided above, it seems likely that:
- electrification of freight lines is uneconomic due to the high infrastructure costs, high maintenance costs of the electrical infrastructure, and uncertainty about the benefits of future savings in electricity versus fuel costs,
- electrification for freight has its own getting started problems, since there is no existing electric freight service, even where the tracks are electrified,
- most of the oil savings are due to the shift of freight from truck to train and not from the electrification of train services,
- diesel electric engine's efficiency could possibly be improved by techniques discussed for cars and trucks, such as methanol diesel engines running at constant speed with batteries to buffer energy,
- heavy freight trains are incompatible with high-speed passenger service on the same tracks,
- medium speed freight (<79 mph) may be compatible with passenger service at the same speed, but the latter service is unlikely to be saleable so long as fuel prices keep intercity air travel economically feasible for most travelers.

Since there is no self-sufficient business case for electrification, and since passenger service requires either much higher oil prices to make either medium speed palatable or high speed economic on a separate infrastructure, the only option for reducing intercity transportation oil consumption is to move freight from truck to rail.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a silver bullet for this, since it requires a series of on-the-ground detailed improvements to many parts of the system. All the while, there are competitive forces both for and against these improvements. Shippers and logistics companies are also likely unwilling to go back to an arrangement where they depend on only a few railroads who can charge anything that the traffic will bear.

An alternative would be to nationalize the roadbeds, improve them for the higher capacity, speed and reliability, and then charge usage fees to the railroads who would be permitted to operate anywhere in the system. Although politically infeasible now, the railroads were nationalized during World War I.

"silver bullet"

"Hi-Yo Silver away" Kemo Sabe ... ???

Saving civilization from peak oil and climate change is cost effective no matter what brand of calculator one uses.

The costs of not adapting will be exacted, and they are orders of magnitude more costly than play pretend economics from BubbleOn or SlaveDixia.

We must man up or bury the dead civilization Kemo Therapy.

When the railroads were nationalized during WW1 many were in poor financial condition, partly because of over building, partly due to government regulation and partly due to lack of willingness to invest with the coming of internal combustion. Railroads did not have a financial revival until the 1793 oil embargo. Today railroads are enjoying an economic revival and may well be able to finance all the needed improvements. However, the government could help the process by granting favorable tax treatment for critical improvements and clear the way with the necessary buractatic paperwork like environmental impact statements and eminent domain.

Paul, I just had to reply to this so I could lock in your '1793 Oil Embargo' .. if the whisper campaign works, I'll finally be able to unload my original Leutze Oil of Washington and Decatur crossing the Suez.

Nothing personal, it's only business. (See, and "Oil" touches EVERYTHING!)

(RE: Washington/Delaware painting..)
wow, what an interesting history this painting had, a German Painter made it for German Political reasons, and the 1850 original was destroyed by British 1942 bombing of Bremen in WW2. So the 'original' at the Met is Leutze's first copy of it (also 1850), and the one in the white house is a dupe of that one.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware

In apartheit South Africa all logistics were rail.
If I wanted to move horses or flowers or football teams from one place to another, I phoned the railways and they organised everything.
Only freight that needed to go on the roads went on the roads.

Truckers had to get both their licence to operate and their freight from the railways.
It worked well.

During WW II, with shortages of gasoline & rubber, the US ordered that everything that CAN go by train WILL go by train. Over 90% did.

The scheduling priority for trains was

1. War production
2. Troop trains
3. Other freight
4. Civilian passenger service


I remember that some time ago I read that there are not enough recoverable minerals on the earth to build steel tracks, in the case of a run to build railways to substitute cars and trucks. I don't remember the specific minerals that might be missing -- maybe molybdenum or cobalt.

This fact is not very relevant to electrification, but it might be relevant to limit the increase of railways. Can somebody be more specific about this? Or is this simply not true?

Ordinary track is just carbon steel (Fe & C). Switches use alloys, and frogs sometimes do. But it hardly seems likely that we would run out of all the suitable alloying metals (there are at least a half dozen and they can be mixed & matched) just for switches & frogs !

Curves sometimes use alloy steel rail, but it varies according to my uncertain knowledge.


Railroad rails are typically mild steel, which contains iron, carbon and a bit of manganese (as well as phosphorous and sulfur which are undesirable but unavoidable). All of these are very common, so I don't see that claim as very likely to be true.

I remember that some time ago I read that there are not enough recoverable minerals on the earth to build steel tracks

The world's oceans get much of their iron supply from deserts.
Ferrum (Iron) Fe 55.847 0.0034

(given the need of Iron for the live in the ocean - stripping the ocean for its Iron is prob. not the best plan of the week.)

Iron is the fourth-most common element in Earth's crust, and the second-most common metal after aluminum Its abundance is estimated to be about 5%

(and yet AL cans are .60 a lbs and scrap steel was 135 for 1 ton last time I recycled. I'm rather sure we understand the why.)

Odds are the correct interpretation is 'economically recoverable iron' and humans have piles of it in landfills.

"Odds are the correct interpretation is 'economically recoverable iron' and humans have piles of it in landfills."

Not to mention all of the F-350s and Hummers we can melt down, at a couple of tons per. We just need to stop sending it to China.

This.  I have had a post in the back of my head about converting all our soon-to-be-useless SUVs into rail to go down the medians of our freeways (for running electrified dual-mode trucks and buses), and the BOTE numbers I was getting for the metal requirements didn't look bad IIRC.

There should be enough iron for new rails and old steel rails can be recycled. Fortunately the alloy used in common steel rails does not contain molybdenum or vanadium.

Steel rails were a major improvement over the wrought iron rails used before Bessemer steel became widely available in the 1870s. Wrought iron rails had a 10 year life. The common rail steel is a basic type developed in the 1857.:


I agree, largely:
While I see Alan's solution as the right endpoint, I think the emphasis and focus is wrong strategically. If we save about 89% of the petroleum used in truck transport by switching to rail with existing diesel-electric locos, but only reduce the remaining energy from ~11% to about 4% by electrifying, the focus needs to be on shifting freight from road to rail first, rather than electrification (which may proceed in parallel but need not be the prime focus. Also, if the game is oil shortage, using LNG-diesel blend in existing diesel-electric locos has the potential to reduce diesel consumption by 85% (from 11% to 2%, albeit at the expense of natural gas), this is not a long term solution, but as a strategic fallback it would reduces the need for electrification in the short term.

Barriers: What are the major barriers to moving road freight to rail? How can we make it happen?

Convenience: Railroads operate to fixed points, requiring multimodal transport for most goods now carried by trucks, increased handling, etc. Rail schedules tend to be governed by the railroads' necessities rather than the shippers to a greater extent than trucks.

Capacity: We could not immediately move most road freight to rail because the existing rail sytem does not have the capacity.

I believe the #1 biggest thing which would improve both of the above items is to completely upgrade rail signalization to allow more trains to operate faster over the same tracks. Double tracking, grade separation, curve and switching improvements, etc. are also important. Improving the location, efficiency , and capacity of intermodal hubs is also critical.

Incentives: I believe the national rail grid should be restructured as a government utility funded by taxpayers (as highways and airports and waterways). At a minimum infrastructure improvements should be funded by taxpayers. There are national interests far beyond the profit margin of a few small corporations (the railroads) at stake. We should have control. Rail operators would pay maintenance assessments but not pay for capital improvement, as the national savings in highway investment exceeds the cost of rail.

I believe road diesel should be taxed more heavily (say another $1/gal) to fund intermodal improvements and that international maritime freight should be charged a highway access fee (say $20 per TEU) if it arrives or leaves a port by road.

Majorian has a couple good points:
1)Trucks will get better
2)Freight isn't where most oil goes (passenger transportation is).

On item 1: The capital cost of making trucks better (by replacement)* is more than the capital cost of making rail better than trucks can ever be (from a fuel efficiency standpoint). If you go road to rail you don't have to replace most of the OTR truck fleet. Beyond fuel energy, rail freight has the potential to save a significant amount of labor, increasing productivity.

On item 2) Intercity rail has the potential to replace substantial plane and auto traffic between cities. Urban transit has the potential to replace even more auto traffic.

*There are sensible retrofits (primarily aerodynamic) that should be mandated immediately to significantly improve the efficiency of existing trucks (less than one year payback, but I think the government should just buy them for truckers as stimulus).

There are half a dozen main line railroads in North America which are giant companies. It would be interesting to know what they are thinking.

Everything is relative. Even the main lines are small as a share of the economy.

The market value for all seven Class I RRs combined (share price x # of shares and $44 billion for BNSF when Warren Buffett bought it all) is about half the market value of Exxon Mobil alone.

The Class Is are BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe), Union Pacific, Norfolk-Southern, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National.


Excellent effort and result, Alan.

A few points:

1. A strategic railcar reserve essentially exists already. You can find parked freight railcars all over the country, many owned by leasing companies betting on future demand. My business picked up some old (35-40 year old) covered hoppers and open top hoppers (we actually use them for hauling stuff) at very reasonable (ie, close to scrap) prices.

A strategic reserve of passenger cars though, is problematic. At $1-2 mill a pop, that's pretty pricey to just let them sit. Amtrak has a lot of cars that will be reaching the end of their FRA permitted lives - the original Amfleet order was built in what, 1975? Those cars will die by law 50 years later. After that, they would have to run as "historical" equipment.

Although technological obsolesence is not that big a factor in the railroad industry, it is more prevalent on the passenger side.

2. Double stack trains. I feel Roadrailer equipment is much more efficient than double stacks. You are not hauling around the weight of the carbody, in exchange for hauling around one set of trailer wheels and rail wheelset per trailer for Roadrailer vs. 1/2 wheelset per container for doublestack.

At the same time, Roadrailers give vastly improved aerodynamic efficiency, and the terminal cost is significantly less and can be built for smaller volumes. Smaller terminals means more of them, a greater network of terminals means more truck miles are converted to rail miles because you can bring the trailers closer to the actual origin or destination, instead of to the nearest major metropolitan area.

The least that could be done to improve the efficiency of double stack trains is to standardize on a container length - we have 20', 40' 45', 48', and 53' containers. As an end result, you see terrible platform utilization - ie, empty slots, empty space on the double stack cars.

3. Express freight trains - how much of the small package overnight business could be put on HSR? How much of that presently moves by air?

4. Electrifying double stack routes would be very, very expensive, because you would have to go back and create even higher clearances for the catenary.

BTW, you'll be pleased to hear that Kenosha Transit has most of the money for expansion of our small streetcar system. Still have enough PCC's for this first stage. Now it'll start to be an actual transportation system.

Interesting points about Roadrailers. I feel you must be wrong about them for some reason, or we'd see more of them. Perhaps it's the fact that half or more containers on stack trains actually come on and off ships, thus couldn't be trailers. So you've got the wellcar equipment, and you might as well use it for everything. Also the Roadrailers don't reduce train length.

The least that could be done to improve the efficiency of double stack trains is to standardize on a container length - we have 20', 40' 45', 48', and 53' containers.

Not so good a point, in my opinion. Shipping customers lease a certain sized container based on what they need to ship. In effect you are just advocating that the empty space be inside containers instead of outside of it. Also, when you see single containers in double-stack platforms, it's often because the load in the single container is heavy. And I'm really not sure why you think platform utilization is 'terrible' or how that would be attributable to various container sizes. (Also, the 48 footers are nearly gone, replaced by 53s.)

Roadrailers are generally used on just one line that I know of, Atlanta-Columbus.

One problem is non-standard couplers. A problem along the way with one Roadrailer and the line is shut down till a crane can get out there (told to me by others).

Another is that they cannot be easily mixed with other car types and they cannot be switched in yards. One needs a lot of roadrailers going one direction.

Perhaps they will catch on with higher oil prices. My feeling is let the market and private management decide. Roadrailers, containers, trailer on flat car, etc.


I hadn't heard of Roadrailers before. My question is, how do they pass FRA requirements? I thought the FRA had some ridiculous requirements about chassis weight and strength, making it basically impossible to build a railcar lightweight enough to pull behind a road tractor.

Roadrailers are generally used on just one line that I know of, Atlanta-Columbus.

Triple Crown Services, affiliated with Norfolk Southern, operates a network in the eastern (population density high) portion of the country. The terminals are pretty much the endpoints of the NS rail lines, except they use Union Pacific between Chicago and Twin Cities (I see that one go by my office every day - usually 80-100 trailers each way) and KCS from Meridian, MS to DFW. Not sure which railroad they use to get to Toronto.

There are designs for container chassis Roadrailers. tank railers, flatbed, etc. I don't think any of them have been implemented.

Gentlemen, this is the stupidest pie-in-the-sky socialism I have encountered during two decades of surfing the internet. None of you are in a position to influence public policy, thank God, because electrification of America's long haul diesel rail service is not going to happen unless you seize shareholder-owned companies and impose "benevolent dictator" central planning, spewing an endless stream of worthless IOUs like the Channel Tunnel did.

Quoting urban legends and wartime edicts is so specious as to be laughable. And if anyone claims he had a pleasant on-time journey on British Rail, it's a lie or happened 50 years ago.

No one in Europe or New York or Chicago or the Bay Area is paying more than a fraction of his "full fare" as a rail or bus passenger.

What you want is a place at the taxpayer-funded pig trough at NREL or a state university. Rotsa ruck getting a government job, because you certainly won't cut it in the private sector where a dollar invested today has to be paid back in three years, with at least 10% profit each and every year thereafter, net of running costs, taxes, insurance, benefits, G&A, interest expense, and 100% maintenance of track, rolling stock, workshops and tools.

What you steadfastly ignore is the simplest thing in the world - the market. If and when peak oil becomes a problem, the market will determine where to bet scarce capital and how to price new technology. It won't be electric trains, unless government takes all the risk and pays a premium backed by IOUs that private investors won't have to eat, but your children and grandchildren will.

Alan's basic analysis can be perceived just as easily as advice to private companies instead of a proposal for a government project.

As for specific reasons why the market won't get railroads interested in electrification, you've offered none.

avonaltendork said:

"Gentlemen, this is the stupidest pie-in-the-sky socialism I have encountered during two decades of surfing the internet."

Firstly, we are not all "gentlemen".

"No one in Europe or New York or Chicago or the Bay Area is paying more than a fraction of his "full fare" as a rail or bus passenger.

Since I drive much less than the average citizen of the US, don't fly, grow much of my own food and buy locally, live off-grid and use a minimum amount of fossil fuels and grid power, it's safe to assume that I'm already paying a portion of your fare. Contact my email, I'll tell you where to send the check.

BTW, I've managed to do this with NONE of your tax dollars. I'll expect a little bonus for that.

"What you steadfastly ignore is the simplest thing in the world - the market."

Your banking system (which I do my best to not support) "steadfastly ignored the market", though they don't mind socializing those costs.

It won't be electric trains, unless government takes all the risk and pays a premium backed by IOUs that private investors won't have to eat, but your children and grandchildren will."

I don't know what vision of the future you have for your grandchildren, but I prefer that, when mine are trying to hitch a ride on the stagecoach while suffering deadly heat, at least they'll know that their grandpappy tried to do something. I'm just wondering how your's will remember you.

"Rotsa ruck getting a government job, because..."

Also, a thoroughly gratuitous ethnic slur of Japanese. Why?

Actually, I think it's Astro from the Jetsons who should be insulted.. but none of that does much to justify Avon's post.

He probably shouts 'socialist!' when his town suggests doing a 'park cleanup day' together.

What you steadfastly ignore is the simplest thing in the world - the market.

Is this the same "market" where 70% of all shares are held for an average of 11 seconds?

Is this the same "market" where Bear Sterns resold the same real estate multiple times to investors?

Alan ignores reality period. He ignores the fact that Norfolk Southern is building facilities to take traffic off of highways right now. He ignores the fact that a major fraction of the marine originated containers are bound for ports in land bridge service and may never sit on a chassis in this country.
He uses ridiculous numbers for construction of catenary and track. He ignores the marketplace and has pipe dreams of forcing people to live like sardines in a can to suit his fantastic claims. He picks on the most efficient mode of transport as though it were the least efficient.

He's not even entertaining.

He picks on the most efficient mode of transport as though it were the least efficient.

Oh well.

Can't fool all the people all the time.


....and you, tdmidget, ignore site guidelines by not substantiating a thing that you wrote.

....and you, tdmidget, ignore site guidelines by not substantiating a thing that you wrote.

Does Alan? See his post above for terms like "SWAG" and "a hand wave" for US numbers.
He states without equivocation that electric locomotives last longer and I didn't see you ask for substantiation of that statement. I offer this: Amtrak has ordered 70 ACS64 locomotives from Siemens to replace ALL current electrics including HHP-8s which are currently 8 years old. The life of a locomotive, as with many other capital investments, in determined as much by tax law as by useful life. However this an extraordinarily short life. What more do you want there, the PO number?

The link at the top of this post is to the forward and first chapter of the book we are discussing. If you bother to read it you'll see references and links to his sources. If you post a link to your sources I'll check them out, same as I did Alan's. I'm sure Alan would appreciate any contributions to the accuracy of his work.

"The life of a locomotive, as with many other capital investments, in determined as much by tax law as by useful life. However this an extraordinarily short life. What more do you want there, the PO number?"

Some evidence that these locomotives are at the end of their working life would improve your credibility. It seems that you expect others here to prove your points for you.

He states without equivocation that electric locomotives last longer and I didn't see you ask for substantiation of that statement.

It's something that anybody who knows anything about transportation equipment would consider obvious.

A diesel-electric locomotive is just an electric locomotive with a diesel generator on board. It has everything an electric locomotive has, plus a diesel engine and electric generator. Electric motors last a long, long time, so the first thing that wears out is the diesel engine.

The solid-state electronics don't wear out, and the steel frame lasts a long time, too. Basically, if you replace the wheel bearings every so often and put in a new electric motor once in a blue moon, an electric locomotive goes on forever.

Diesel locomotives don't wear out that fast, either, and some built in the 60's and 70's are still in service, although they are getting too old and weak for mainline hauling. But, tax law notwithstanding, railroads don't like to buy new equipment until they absolutely have to, or even later.

It's something that anybody who knows anything about transportation equipment would consider obvious

There's some good anecdotal evidence too.
(That's not a tourist railroad.)

I did some searching on the net, and it appears that most railroads consider a 15-year lifespan to be typical for a diesel locomotive. The higher the horsepower, the shorter the life appears to be.

There's not a lot of information on the lifespan of electric locomotives, but some manufacturers seem to think 50 years would be typical.

They used to get 40-50 years out of the old steam locomotives, so it appears diesels were a step backwards in terms of equipment life.

A Class-I might be done with the loco at this point, but it seems like they aren't scrapped - they get sold to shortlines and other railroads where they are good for a good while longer. A rebuild can be done to help extend the lifetime.

There are still plenty of 30 year old SD40-2s wandering the rails out there, although hundreds were put in storage after the financial crash in '08. I think that Class I replacement times for diesel locos in the last couple decades have probably been determined primarily by operational and regulatory (emissions) factors, rather than the mechanical lifetime of the locos themselves. Newer diesels are more powerful and efficient; if you can pull a train with two newer diesels instead of three older ones, that saves you maintenance and fuel costs that justify buying newer diesels even if the old ones are still working. Also the fed wants you to cut smog.

I think I mentioned several messages back that there are still diesel locomotives from the 60's in 70's in service, but these have been moved out of mainline service since they are too unreliable. By contrast electric locomotives from that era are still in mainline service.

Electric locomotives can have double the horsepower of a comparable diesel locomotive, so you can replace two diesels with one electric. And while the new diesels are more powerful, the new electrics are still far more powerful than the diesels.

There have been some diesel locomotives built that produce in excess of 6,000 hp, but most have been discontinued due to reliability problems with the engines. You can't simply increase the weight of the engine without damaging the rails, and if you try to produce more horsepower without increasing engine size, you compromise the reliability.

The Chinese are buying large numbers of the most powerful electric locomotives in the world, producing over 13,000 hp, but they are running some awfully heavy trains compared to the Europeans. They also run the most powerful diesels as well, but those are only half the power of the electrics.

GE has plans to produce a hybrid locomotive using sodium metal halide batteries that will store power from regenerative braking and will provide up to an extra 2000 horsepower for starting or hill climbing.
Hybrid Locomotive
New York powers up with new GE battery plant
GE's new battery plant coming to Schenectady
They have also announced a version of the battery for uninterruptible power supplies in data centers, hospitals, etc.

No one in Europe or New York or Chicago or the Bay Area is paying more than a fraction of his "full fare" as a rail or bus passenger.

The Fung Wah bus from NYC Chinatown to South Station in Boston is $15 one way.

The Amtrak Regional from Penn Station to South Station is $67 one way.

Both take just over 4 hours, although the bus travel time is more dependent on traffic delays.

Which gets the bigger subsidy?

The Fung Wah bus from NYC Chinatown to South Station in Boston is $15 one way. The Amtrak Regional from Penn Station to South Station is $67 one way.

Let's hear it for private enterprise, where ya gets what ya pays for!





Gentlemen, this is the stupidest pie-in-the-sky socialism I have encountered during two decades of surfing the internet. None of you are in a position to influence public policy, thank God, because electrification of America's long haul diesel rail service is not going to happen unless you seize shareholder-owned companies and impose "benevolent dictator" central planning, spewing an endless stream of worthless IOUs like the Channel Tunnel did.

Speak for yourself. None of this has anything to do with socialism. If you want to influence public policy, just go up to your elected representative, shake his hand, wish him good success in his election campaign, hand him a glass of scotch, and then talk about public policy. I mean, most politicians just want to be reelected, and they're always looking for good ideas on how to make that happen.

As for the costs of electrification, most railways know that it is cost-effective in the long term. They just don't want to make the capital investments because it impacts the quarterly financial statement. This is a lesser concern for the state railways of China, India and Europe because they don't need to report short-term profits to shareholders. However, even private corporations can be influenced by changes in tax laws. If they could write the costs off against taxes over a short term rather than capitalizing them over a long term, it might make it look a lot more attractive.

Governments are planning for the long term (or should be), so it is worthwhile for them to provide some short-term tax incentives to encourage companies to make long-term investments.

state railways of China, India and Europe

Exactly my point. You want to seize power, comrade? Tax diesel fuel, put truckers out of business, tear up the rail network because you are much more enlightened than private investors and you can't get a job in transportation unless you have a gun in your hand. Go right ahead. Close the markets. Fix prices. Demand your fair share of the pie.

The only thing governments plan for is more government.

The Market is our savior? LOL. The most active market right now in the US is involved with buying the mid-term elections. There's no market economy in the US, at least none concerned with rational solutions to our problems - just a bunch of entrenched interests, high up in our hierarchical system, who find it personally profitable to invest in propagandising, suppressing votes, and otherwise gaming our electoral system to control the government so as to further enrich themselves.

No one who drives a car in the US is paying more than a fraction of his "full fare" as a car driver, except those who have lost a son or a daughter in Iraq.

Unionized government workers uber alles.

See the religious right and the rightwing are one with their false religious ideology of the 'free market' which is neither free nor a market.

I read your rant and decided you mustn't be paying attention to the world in which you live. Are food prices high? fuel prices high? Houses foreclosing in your neighborhood?

Well maybe these facts point to energy depletion in the form of oil. Maybe you shouldnt blame other races or classes but blame nearsighted Captains of industry that led us here.

Maybe you should work together with your fellow human friends to fix this mess.

I am here to help you.

Is this door-to-door? How much energy would the first and last 35 miles roughly to get the goods from place to place and the embedded energy in idle transfer equipment and warehousing at the truck-to-rail/rail-to-truck pointa. And the truck return trips at the first and last 35 miles.

(I am guessing that the average trip distance between end point and rail link is 35 miles.)

Warehouses are fairly cheap structures. Economics will force a move to rail spurs, or rail spurs will be built to them. Also true for factories and processing plants.


Better get a bike/electric bike/moped or move close to a rail hub!

It's interesting that you mention Austria, because as an Austrian I have always wondered why there is so much talk about electric rail in the peak oil community. In Austria the first railway was electrified in 1883, and most of the transition from coal to electricity took place between 1923 and 1935. In 1981, 51.3% of the network was electrified, accounting for 91% of the transport volume. Today, 71,8% is electrified (source: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronik_der_Elektrifizierung_von_Eisenbahnstrecken_in_Österreich). The non-electrified parts are usually either abandoned tracks or rarely-used lines (tourist lines in summer, for instance, or single track lines in very sparsely populated rural areas).

So because I grew up and live in a country where rail is synonymic with electric rail, it took some time until I realized that other countries, especially outside Europe, still use oil or even coal to propel their trains! On the other hand, given Austria's history of hydroelectricity, it makes sense that the transition to electric rail took place several decades earlier here than elsewhere (the Austrian Federal Railways even run their own hydropower plants).

I fear however that in countries where electricity is still mainly generated by coal or nuclear, switching to electric rail would effectively replace oil with coal or uranium.

The energy efficiency gains are significant.

Electrified RRs will use less than 2% of US electrical demand. Conservation can easily supply that.

But less CO2 if coal is used than oil due to efficiency gains.

And uranium is a very low carbon source of electricity. Too bad Austria never turned on the reactor that you built.


Nuclear power might produce less CO2 emissions than coal, but hydroelectricity produces almost none, even with the construction factored in. Also, it is much cheaper and less dangerous. The reactor at Zwentendorf was mainly an expensive prestige project by the Austrian government at that time. It was absurd to build an expensive and potentially hazardous nuclear reactor in a country where hydropower is abundant, and people knew that. This was certainly one of the reasons for the outcome of the 1978 referendum, which eventually led to a constitutional ban of nuclear power in Austria.

If you want to learn more about the reasons for the nuclear ban in Austria, I can recommend this article (in English):

Austria does *NOT* have "plenty of hydro". In 2004, only 71% of your electricity was from renewables. The rest was oil and gas.

With some nuclear, you could have been like the Swiss. Hydro and nuke, almost no carbon for electricity and far less dependent on the Russians.

What a waste, to build a good nuke and then not run it.


Austria has plenty of renewable electricity generation potential, but only a part of that potential is currently used. No new large-scale hydro plants have been built since the 1980s because of strong public opposition (starting with Hainburg), which, combined with increasing electricity consumption, led to a gap in electricity generation capability.

This gap is now increasingly being filled with small-scale hydro plants, which are generally much better accepted by the people living next to them. In fact, many are being built by local initiatives and are publicly owned. Wind power is also on the rise and currently supplies 3% of electricity (up from 0,58% in 2003), with more windwills being built every year. Thanks to many existing pumped-storage hydro plants, the energy from the windmills can be stored very effectively.

By the way, personally I would always prefer a gas or even coal power plant over a nuclear one, given the choice. According to polls, the vast majority of the electorate (95%, if I remember correctly) is strictly opposed to nuclear power, so the chances of a nuclear power plant ever being built and run in Austria are very slim. People have learned from Chernobyl, it seems.

Also, it is much cheaper and less dangerous.

You couldn't prove it.  Except for one accident involving a Soviet RMBK (a design that would never have been accepted in the west), nuclear power has zero off-site fatalities in commercial powerplants, but 85 THOUSAND people died in one set of dam failures in China in 1975 alone.

Cancellation of suburban trains is a weekly occurrence here because of theft of valuable copper signal cables.

As the economy goes downhill, I worry that the steel rails themselves will become targets, and the cost of guarding and replacing the rail infrastructure will become insupportable.

Indian Railways keeps on operating. 29% electrified.

Hire a couple of retired staff for advice over here.


"Indian Railways keeps on operating. 29% electrified."

India is the model you want to follow? We could increase our load factor by people clinging to the sides and sitting on top,oops would that be sizzling on top?

With over a half billion very poor people, Indian Railways keeps operating.

I do know that when they string new trolley wire, they keep it electrified and they have sensors that detect any sudden loss of continuity.

Basically, theft of infrastructure is kept at manageable levels in India, under very challenging circumstances. We could learn from them.

And the energy efficiency of passenger service in India is superb ! :-P


"....because of theft of valuable copper signal cables."

Bury them deep in conduit or replace with fiber. As for steel, there's plenty of lower hanging fruit for scroungers to go after.

Unfortunately the thieves still steal the cable. It must be disappointing when they get to the scrap yard and they can't sell it. There needs to be better regulation of the scrap buying market.


I've been on record before, supporting the electrification of rail and increasing passenger rail dramatically. It'll be nice to free up all of that fuel so that kids can keep riding their fourwheelers through our national forests and their parents can fuel up their motor yachts, bass boats, four wheel drive toys, jet skis, motorhomes for the big race this weekend, etc.

We should be TAXING THE CRAP out of these wasteful/discretionary uses of fossil fuels, to help pay for things that make sense.

Americans still want their cake ...........

Anyway, many thanks Alan! It's a great thing you're doing.

Right on Ghung!

Now for a couple of my standard comments on the same points:

1) Market could fix all this stuff you people are talking about IF it costed ff's at their real cost. That real cost is very high, unbearably high- see DOD reports.

2) Any time anybody talks about "high" cost of "alternative energy" (bs- not alternative- essential!) They should be forced to make cost comparisons, or ratios of costs of other things. My favorite ratio is (Cost of what we want)/(cost of something obviously entirely frivolous--soft drinks, fancy cars, battery powered junk from china, etc etc). In particular I am annoyed when Gail (sorry) talks about how much oil X ( one of my favorite sustainable sources) costs. Hell, how much oil does that mercedes hot rod I just got slung around SF in cost? And what is its EROEI? I'd a dam sight rather spend that oil on a wind kite.

3) Life goes on. My (our) job is to keep the world as full of options as possible for the next generation, which is of course just us phase shifted a little. Right now we are shutting off those options at a furious rate. Not nice. Sinful.

4) To do this we gotta construct a compelling VISION OF WHAT WE WANT THE WORLD TO BE and stick to it. Surely, efficient transport is part of it.

Thanks again, Alan. I admire your persistence and method.

I second that.. and reiterate,

"Without a Vision, the people perish."

To make any of this work we first have to have an honest discussion on the cost of oil (excluding its environmental cost which is so contentious that any discussion will immediately break down). The obvious question to ask is what will the US military need to look like if our survival was not dependent on imported oil? If that meant spending 200BN less that works out to about $60/barrel for imported oil. That is just the direct cost- it ignores the cost of corrosive results of foreign intervention. It seems to me when that is factored back in a lot of substitutes start to make sense. Alan's price tag of $600-700 billion hardly seems that much money.

Alan: here is a study you might like to read regarding the building of a new intermodal freight railroad in the median of Interstate 81 in Virginia, which is currently a heavily used truck route. Estimates (swags) are that the new RR would save 1.6 million truck trips per year by 2035.


Uber the optimist.

The Steel Interstate people are Virginia focused, and started out advocating for better rail between Tennessee & Virginia instead of destructive interstate expansion.

They are one of the 3 sites with my article up. And a long term discussion forum once this one shuts down in a few days.


Best Hopes for local action !



Amtrak plans to add 70 new electric locomotives to its fleet in an effort to improve and expand service along the Northeast Corridor and through Pennsylvania, officials said Friday.

The electric locomotives will be more reliable and efficient, replacing the current fleet of 64, which is between 20 and 30 years old, Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said. The company ordered six additional locomotives for future expansion, he said.

Kulm said the locomotives will arrive in February 2013 for use on the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Richmond and the Keystone Corridor, which extends from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, Pa. The Northeast stretch is Amtrak's busiest corridor, serving about 7 million passengers in fiscal 2010.

A step in the right direction?


Is there a plan to extend electrification from Washington to Richmond by 2013? Or are the 6 additional engines simply added capacity on the Northeast Corridor for Regional trains that start or end at Richmond with an engine change at Washington?

There is a strong desire for electrification to point just south of Richmond. Amtrak must change locos @ DC Union Station, and this swap takes up space & tracks. Changing locos for north bound trains would add a few minutes (5 to 10) but free up space in DC Union station for more commuter trains. And VRE would like to add service as far south as Richmond.

BTW, Tom Whipple's wife is Chairwoman of VRE (among other things).

Hopefully, Amtrak sells off some of the old electric locos to MARC, SEPTA, NJT and MTBA and keeps some for a strategic reserve.

Reading between the lines, the new locos have the following power electronics. Single phase AC from overhead wires > DC > variable Hz 3 phase AC for the motor. Sounds Rube Goldbergish, but that is what the Europeans and Japanese buy today.

Can 100,000 locomotives be wrong ?


According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, rail had the following percentages of US passenger miles traveled in 2008 -

0.04%		Light rail
0.31%		Heavy rail
0.20%		Commuter rail
0.11%		Intercity/Amtrak

0.66% of the passenger miles is a very small share for all rail.

By comparison, rail carries more ton-miles of freight than do intercity trucks, although I couldn't find exact figures. http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/...

This, of course has to be kept in perspective against the ungodly amount of superfluous driving miles done with single-occupant autos all over the country.

Yes, rail would have a long ways to come up, but the other extreme also has a good ways to come down as well, the corrections (as with PV/Wind and such electrical generation) need to come from both directions.

Perspective is so Important, jokuhl, and it is one major problem in thinking that we are hamstrung by. We in the USA may be in for a rude awakening if we don't plan well. Yes, we do rely on the gasoline, each having our own car, mostly, and this is going to be changing soon, due to market costs for gasoline. I had a 2006 VW diesel Jetta, which got 45-50 mpg. That's fine, but electric cars may be big, or hybrid compressed air and gasoline may work for us too. Before cars, what did we use? rail, and sea, and stage. Before railroads were here, we used sea, and stage coaches. What's in the future for your average joe? People like the mono-rails, and I heard some of these systems are incorporating utilities into those lines. In the future possibly we will have pods that can be transported on mono-rails, and have detachable frames for road driving too. Imagine your car on the mono-rail system, then seamlessly transferred to a railroad pod carrier: read the paper, take a nap, look out the window.

If we could have some perspective of the nature of an electrification process for the existing rail systems, what would be the planned time frame for the ultimate usefulness of the system change? This is an important issue to me. I like Alan's plans very much, but how far down the line are we talking about? It sounds to me the efficiencies are instant, and proven: but is the design advanced enough? And what systems interface into electrified rails? What I'm envisioning is a system that allows for intermodal transfer of cargo and passengers from rail, to mono-rail. Such a system design should be thinking 200 years ahead. Our rail systems started in 1830 +-. If we do electrification of our rail systems now, will we be happy with the results in 35 years? (after the ten years it takes us to make the "repair") Are we repairing a system, or are we building a new system? What China is doing and what other countries have done are all good lessons, but, are we truly thinking in holistic terms, and far enough out?

The track pipe design is intermodal, carries utilities, natural gas, water, waste (fertilizer) water, broadband, and of course energy (not Alice in Wonderland, and not proven yet) in the form of Compressed air, Hydrogen, and oxygen rich compressed air. These new fuels have a potential, and are worth the planning time, because they have a future. They have a future, because they are tied to sustainable energy (wind, wave, solar, geothermal) are storable, and workable as augmentors of our existing steam based electrical systems. Any system proposal with multi system cash flows should theoretically be more easily financed and paid for.

I think Alan's planning is second to none of any system on the table, of which the track pipe system isn't. Congratulations Alan. This fisherman will be using your smarts. Thanks. Steve

Steve, What you talk about is fine- I like people-pods, vacuum tube trains and a lot of other great stuff as visions for people who like to kick around that kind of stuff to kick around. Tremendous fun and almost zero cost.

What is great about Alan's proposals is that they are obvious and NOW. No magic req'd.

PS- I am still recovering from the frightful battering I and wife got on our Amtrak trip to SF. Bloody awful, as they say. My Indian train trips were way better. And, not too many decades ago, I could go from my little backwater town to DC overnight in a quite comfortable sleeper. Downhill from there.

Did you feel that they were simply not maintaining the track up to Pass. Standards, failure to invest in keeping up this infrastructure?

I don't pretend to be any kind of train expert. I got off at one stop to look at the suspension with the thought that there might be something obviously wrong. Nothing I could see. So simplest theory is the track. A really bad one could do all that slambang stuff I was feeling. We were going about 80mph, judging by the cars running alongside.

At creep slow speeds thru the mountains, all was smooth.

As I say in my little civic club lectures, engineers are sorta like call girls- they do what you pay for. You pay for cruise missiles, you get cruise missiles. You don't pay for passenger trains, you don't get passenger trains.

Sad to say, there's lotsa more money asking for missiles than any kind of rail. In my own game of thermal machines, we are overloaded with demand for space stuff, nothing else. Other people are gonna clobber us with apps of our own ideas. If I were younger and could afford it, I'd be angry.

engineers are sorta like call girls- they do what you pay for.

Hey, I resemble that remark!

Speaking as an engineer, there are lots of things I would have liked to have done that nobody would pay me to do.  There are things I was paid to do in ways which yielded substantially inferior results than what experience told me was the best option, but the people with the money dictated otherwise.  There are still other things that you probably can't do with mere engineering, because the science isn't there yet or it's too complex (one of the biggest causes of project failures).

Electric rail systems are none of those things.  If they fail, it's because of the people dictating the requirements and methods or cutting things that should not be cut.

Thank's Wimbi, Yes it is fun to tinker, as I call it. The track pipes could be easily used for vacuum tube transportation systems, if it were needed and designed in. Yesterday I drew up a six pipe mono-rail system, three @ 4' dia. pipes on top, two pipes, one pipe, and up-side-down triangle of pipes. The three pipes would carry three lanes of mono-rail traffic, up high, nice view, with built in walk and bike ways. Structures holding up this pretty mess would be single posts and cross highway posts with a 4 lane divided highway below. I do an average of probably 6-8 pages a day of detail work, on set project categories, of which there are about 70-80, so I'm going on about three feet deep of files, the track pipe system being a couple years old, and new to me still.

I totally agree with you that my stuff and Alan's stuff are different animals, at least for now, with only me working on my stuff. But I will be smart and add Alan's stuff to my stuff.

Frightfully sorry to hear of your bad trip, but sleep well knowing I'm working on that. I have little experience in any rail travel, a couple of trips to D.C. from Boston, and one trip up from Miami, which was slow and pleasant with wretched warped wicked scary tracks. When I was a shipyard welder I loved my Boston sub way rides. Some of us proposed a subway for Nantucket, as a joke, the Island used to have a train, and I worked on the bus line and doing taxi and truck driving, which I enjoy. So I'm not a railroad man. I'm a fisherman, with thousands of offshore concept and detail designs of wind and wave systems. I'm betting all my chips on Compressed Air, Hydrogen, and what I call orca, or oxygen rich compressed air, to move the mechanical force from out there at sea to the future need in here on land, so to speak, because intermittence issues squash any hopes of offshore energy. I believe it's pretty close to impossible to do the wind to electric deal, and I'm not too sure of the wind to H, CA, ORCA deal, but I think it stands a better chance, conceptually, and I'm always looking for proof against my gut feelings, but not finding any, so far. One thing for sure, electrification of all of our rail systems, mono-rails, mono-rail car lines, and electric cars too seems to be a winner, IF interfaced properly. But I would also like a comparison of cost benefit with pneumatic systems, and hybrid pneumatic, as a cost comparison to electrification, based on offshore or geothermal CA of 2-8,000 psi. I believe electric may win, as we have need of faster system changes rather than waiting for pneumatics to come up to snuff, and CA isn't being targeted for research, except with sustainX corp and a few others, me and my pencil, and some few CA vehicles. Also CA does a good job helping to produce electricity. I like wind to elec. to train, and I like wind to CA to train, and there probably are many ways to skin this energy cat. But we need systems compatibility, and electric is proven, period, right? End of discussion? If we weren't going with diesel, and we weren't going with electric, then what else would there be? It would seem to me as an idea man that since multiples of ideas often provide some synergy to existing projects, modeling would be a good investment, of the top 4 or 5 top contenders. The trouble with that is that people want to jump right to the final solution, and skip the modeling.

I do want to learn more about funding and subsidy and ownership and control issues, which I think Alan has not a good handle on, yet, but who does? This libertarian does not want to be called a communist, and I just think all ideas should be on the table there, from consortium base, which I prefer, to straight private to straight nationalization. I hope we can form up a rough cardboard model of each political economic system, coupled to various mechanical systems.

I'm all for out-of-the-box thinking. Clearly the Box America has been thinking in is getting painfully tight now, and there's almost no other place TO think anymore, except outside of it.

For all that, I think Alan's suggestion is also refreshingly outside the box, and has the enjoyable contradiction of going 'back' and forwards at the same time, and neither of them in ways that I have any trouble with. (As I said above.. kind of like going 'BACK' to eating Butter, Raw Sauerkraut and Fresh Foods again, after this hideous detour into the TV Dinner Decades..)

I do wonder if 4'8" is the 'right' gauge for an ideal train system to operate from, but since it does have a strong foothold, it clearly functions well, and the hour is late.. then I see that as a distinct advantage. His plan also carries a very strong 'Proof of Concept', with the slight downside that many of the best examples are outside the US, and in what Cheney might call 'Old Earth', and so for a portion of the American Populace it then becomes 'not worth considering for American consumption'.

Your plan has some interesting pieces to it, but as I've said before, while I like compounding benefits of having systems that perform multiple, complementary functions, your design seems to clearly put the Carotid Artery, the Windpipe and the Central Nervous Systems all into a single tube, and so even if they are paralleled into a 'cell structure', the interruption of any given section of this system would seem to 'choke the whole neck' for that stretch.

I'm sure you've considered much of this, but it seems at this point that you'd really have to present your own proof-of-concept on the ground. I'm sure this is why you are getting the word out in places like here.. to enlist some support to get the idea proofed, but I have to say that so far, your design seems to have these crucial vulnerabilities to the degree that were I in a position to invest in new approaches to transportation, I would not yet have much confidence in what you've described. Is there a way you can create small-scale models, animations or tests which would not only answer such particular concerns, but also present this idea as a clearer vision that can inspire people to join in?

For me, I would like to see how these conjoined systems can be sufficiently independent of one-another within these common tubes, so as not to interrupt each others' flows over given sections of this system.. and how such a multiplex structure would be set up to remain resilient in 'extraordinary' conditions. For example, the setup of Rail was felt to be a very fragile and constraining infrastructure, but was proven (I believe) otherwise during the Bombings of Germany during WW2, as new track was relaid fairly quickly over and over again, keeping goods and troops moving, after sections were bombed out. While it is an extreme example, what could your system do to keep up with 'outages', be they from Geological Stresses, Accidents, Decay or just the regular work of upgrades, adding a 'switch' or offramp,, etc.. It seems like yours would be far more involved to work with than even Highway Interchanges, which are already extremely difficult (read, Expensive) to redesign and restructure, when changes or retrofits are needed.


if 4'8.5" is the 'right' gauge for an ideal train system

It is fairly clear to me that Indian gauge (5'6") is better for most applications. They are talking of triple stacking there (wider base > greater stability). Shorter, wider trains (coal, passenger, lumber, etc.)

Indian Railways can put double stack containers on a standard flatcar, with the wheels underneath. US railroads must use special "well" cars that drop the center of gravity and put the wheels on the ends. This creates larger gaps (and longer trains) with more aerodynamic resistance.

However, the cost of a changeover DWARFS the benefits.

The British knew what they were doing the second time around.


Yea, verily I say unto all ... out of the box is where it's at. Bob, thanks for not being off-put by my style of thinking.

And I agree with the Forward thinking being: old becomes new, new to us, who went astray with the TV dinner. I grew up with a large organic garden, and fishing. The Cape Codders were expert fishermen and farmers, and now sadly, so much of the produce and seafood comes from off-Island, or off Cape. But we are re-learning the old here, and everywhere folks are rethinking, so these are indeed stimulating times, and not desperate to me just sort of fun, except for the overbearing special interests in the way. Fishing and farming gone corporate, needs a fix. I would say we have a real gift in Alan, as few it seems to me can approach his openness, practicality and good will, while at the same time showing a mastery for the details. He is a leader. He seemingly does not have any other interest that I can see other than to do great systems work, for us all. I think Alan is refreshingly out side the box, only in good ways. He's not some kind of a crack-pot like I am, as he refers to his annoyance with any dependance on the "unthunkthru" (my new word for the day) technologies.

The gauge thing is daunting. I feel ashamed that I don't have the answer. I think a wider gauge is probably going to serve a new 200 year rail design better, but ripping up all sorts of rolling stock and or trying to refit new wheels and axels to old trains? I wonder if there are any people seriously proposing, and not being crucified, for ideas to increase the gauge? India is out front? Cool. I did a redesign of the steel rails, which I call retro rails, which you could see at www.environmentalfisherman.com , and they are very very heavy duty. They are probably eight or ten times heavier per foot, and contain two conduits, so four holes with two tracks, which could carry CA, H, orca, and a copper wire with insulation, which would serve where the large pipes would not be justified. Under the retro rails, of the same gauge or larger if we were adventurous (or stupid I don't know which), we see a linear wood (impervious to water) composite ribbon "tie". This could hold the catenary in a sheath, which could be splayed out when the train pushed through. This would save on overhead structures, and be kid safe. I do believe in new, safe, wheels and rails, which can be retro. As to the proof of concept, I agree, and I would say that any running system is such an advantage to us. I think it's good and brings the world more together: And if I dare say possibly making big shot Americans a tad bit humbler. We can ask: If you had it to do over what would you have done differently? And can you please assist us in our new infrastructure design?

My system can't yet be called any thing more than brainstorming yet, even though it is packaged as a plan. I wish I had Alan's electrification teachings before, but these may help the ultimate evolution of the track pipe system design. The analogy you mention about the neck is great. The track pipe is much simpler. In areas of complexity of any sort, there may be dummy sections, with the working conduits buried, so the system is not vulnerable to any damage. Being that the track pipe is double, this provides for redundancy. The junction boxes are safety systems with meters for sales, and check valves and blow out preventers. All the carried products will come under the heading of commodity items, with dynamic market values, such as natural gas, with the exception of the broadband I suppose. So with two track pipes, the total number of conduits could be as many as (steel retro 4; center 24" conduits 2; 3" imbedded @ 12 each 24; half pipe under carriage pipes of low pressure utility 7;) a grand total of only 37, much fewer than our necks, which have bone, muscle, nerve, air, food, blood, all of which are far more wonderfully complex and thought thru, as it were. There is a saying: "A ship in a harbor is safe: But this is not what ships are built for." And I think this is applicable. Moving energy is dangerous.

Actually, I am intensely intimidated by this project of mine. Yes, exactly why I am bothering people on the oil drum. I could never hope to cost out, model, or explain coherently this complex system. It is too complex for my education. I struggle with basic science. I need mentors who would be willing and able to work on parts of this puzzle, just in order that it could be credibly presented. It is beyond my ken. I am inadequate to the needs of the multiple disciplines, and levels of thinking of my own very basic systems design. I do not have a college degree, only 78 credits at a community college. Help Mister Wizard! The track pipe system is not transportation alone, there are so many cash flows, and considerations. I think from a conceptual point of view, it is a worthy starting point for a 200 year systems re-design for our major areas of spending and life: Transportation, Energy, Utilities. The major consideration with the system is the common denominator aspect of taking sustainable energy sources and then meshing that into our existing systems, for the ideal endeavor of stemming the tide of peak oil, and climate change. Having said all that mush, I have fun doing these brain teasers, which are real life, rather than something bought at the news stand. I do love to model ideas, but I don't have a shop or money, being that I am just a thinker, on welfare, who attends a mental illness program every day. I work with ideas, concepts. I stumbled onto the track pipe idea because I design offshore wind and wave systems. These need modeling too. I have models in my apartment of some of my industrial scale aquaculture systems, which I am told are pretty good. Most of my life I have been fishing, building boats, fixing boats, many jobs really, one year twenty different jobs.

You are right. The possible Achilles heel is that an attack would be hard to defend, and repairs of composite complex pipe would be much more difficult and costly than the WWII simple tracks. The conduits are indeed very protected, and separated. Like water systems the pipe offers the advantage of equilibrium, and of storage capacity. So if one section fails, other sections carry flows, while junction boxes shut down damage sections. The Steve design for the track pipe is for a twenty or twenty four inch center conduit, probably for Compressed Air, and water, this then means that the pipe wall is some 12-14 inches thick. In this thick wall the small three inch conduits are safely imbedded. These imbedded conduits add strength. These pipes would have to take one hell of a hit to fracture, the way I have them designed. But smart bombs could hurt this system, as many of our eggs would be in one basket, albeit a good basket. The need for a strong pipe is threefold, one is longevity: the less flex the less stress, the longer the life. Fiberglass boats fare well over many decades. Pressure requires strength. Rail system augmentation, as the pipe is an out-rigger in the main, requires strength. Loads are carried by steel on tie on earth. I want these track pipes to have as few joints as possible. Since I have worked with many of the basic technologies I am designing with boats, I trust, and have trusted my life to them many times.

Today, I have been tinkering with the electrified aspect. Thanks again to Alan, and Bob. Steve

Actually, I am intensely intimidated by this project of mine. Yes, exactly why I am bothering people on the oil drum. I could never hope to cost out, model, or explain coherently this complex system. It is too complex for my education.

If you think compressed air is a good medium for energy transmission over distance, I would advise you to run some sample numbers through the compressed-air pressure drop calculator to see just how your concept would work in the real world.

This isn't criticism, this is education.  Everyone hits on impossible ideas before they learn enough to align their intuition with physics, and Nature always has the final say.

A truism is that urban rail saves more indirectly, by reduced VMT (vehicle miles traveled) than directly. As Ed Tennyson is fond on saying "people that take transit to work do not drive to lunch".

Below is an eMail I got from him

It is generally agreed that electric rail transit saves well on foreign oil importation, improving both air quality and the economy, but HOW MUCH ?

The national average motor fuel consumption is 580 gallons per year per capita. In Detroit and Houston, Denver and Los Angeles before they got rail transit, it averaged 574 gallons per annum per capita.

In New York and the National Capital area with the two busiest electric rail transit installations, annual motor fuel consumption averaged only 350 gallons per capita. Remarkably, in Alexandriaand Arlington County, Virginia near Washington. with fairly high
personal incomes, it was even lower, below 300 gallons per capita. Arlington County has more rapid transit stations per capita than anywhere in USA except New York City.

Metropolitan areas with good busy electric rail transit systems are saving an average of 224 gallons of motor fuel per capita per year. (574 - 350) That is about $ 634 saving per capita per year. There are 3,600,000 people the WMATA MetroRail service area so MetroRail is obviously saving its area $2.3 BILLION
per year.

Think about it. People who use transit to work do not drive to lunch. The may also live closer to work. Whatever, the motorfuel saving is double total cost of operating MetroRail and MARC's Penn commuter rail line which also uses electric power.

We should never lack for investment money to expand electric rail transit into any reasonable market.

How might this apply to a new Light Rail Line like Seattle or Charlotte ? There are 1,750,000,000 annual electric railway passenger-miles in The National Capital local service area, so electric rail transit is saving 0.47 gallons per electric railway passenger-mile, worth maybe $ 1.33. The cost of Electric rail transit operation is only 48 cents per passenger-mile. What are we waiting for ? Free money ? There isn't any.

What about Charlotte or Seattle ?

Charlotte moves about 27,750,000 annual electric railway passenger-miles so is probably saving 13 million gallons of motor fuel a year worth $ 37 million. Progressive Railroading
last month says it cost only $ 10 million a year to operate but a more likely accurate number might be $ 14 million, still a huge and worthwhile saving.

In Seattle, there are roughly 60 million annual Sound Transit electric railway passenger-miles so they are probably saving 28 million gallons of motor fuel each year worth $ 78.5 million per year. Progressive Railroading says it costs only $ 48 million a year to operate Sound Transit Light Rail. It is a high cost operator, so far.

Light Rail savings can be enormous if properly applied. We can add property value appreciation to get even more cash benefits.
E d T e n n y s o n

At the moment the focus seems to be on getting a 3rd track added - they are doing this in roughly 11-mile sections as funding becomes available (the most recent grants had another 11 mile section). I haven't heard of any efforts to obtain funding to electrify down to Richmond - maybe once the 3rd track is in place that would become a priority.

Note that there are trains which head south in a slightly different direction - towards Charlottesville and Lynchburg, and these do not go through Richmond. Engine changes would still be needed somewhere or another.

Engine changes would still be needed somewhere or another.

Not if it is electrified end to end.


Best Hopes,


"Reading between the lines, the new locos have the following power electronics. Single phase AC from overhead wires > DC > variable Hz 3 phase AC for the motor. Sounds Rube Goldbergish, but that is what the Europeans and Japanese buy today."

It sounds that way at first. But DC catenary would have tremendous voltage drop and high fire potential. 3 phase would require 3 wire catenary, 4 with a neutral, and would cost a great deal more and have the potential for phase to phase shorts. So the real key to success here is the electronics which allow the conversion.

25 kVDC would have no more voltage drop than 25 kVAC.  It's just a question of where you put the conversion electronics, and I suspect that it's cheaper to have 1 set per locomotive than 1 set per substation's-worth of catenary.

Double Track Map

Downloadable link at bottom of the page. I think the data was over a year old when the map was made in January 2010.



I hadn't realized that things were in such a sorry state.

BNSF is within a couple of months of completing all but 30 miles in double tracking from LA to Chicago. The last 51 miles are tough !


After Abo Canyon (above) is completed, remaining will be:

Sibley bridge over the Missouri River on the Chicago-Kansas City "Airline," and the Pecos River bridge at Ft. Sumner and the Vaughn, NM overpass over the old SP (Now UP) Golden State route. In all, about 30 miles of single track were estimated to remain as of early next year.

And 3 weeks ago UP said that they were going to double track another 18 miles between LA and El Paso by the end of this year. 292 miles done out of 760 miles.


Best Hopes for Much, Much More,


Alan: The article was talking about the railroads sometimes having to wait about three years for permitting. I think the federal should help here, for the sake of ready rail systems, in case of who knows what. With all the expensive construction I'm wondering if any contingencies are being looked into for the future, in regard to a possible electrification. Is there any thought at all given to a retro fit for the electrification now? Should there be? Bridge work especially. If there were a long term oil crunch, according to your numbers, we as a nation should at least be making some studies of contingencies. What is the national official outlook on electrification, officially. And unofficially, how does industry look at the change. I would think the wise way for the rail industries to look at things would be from the standpoint of increased business, and loan guarantees. I should think we as a nation would want to see the railroads match a five million dollar rough estimate plan, and feasibility study. Would this make sense?

Best Hopes for talking about getting the job done. (planning) Steve

BNSF is serious about electrification, Norfolk Southern - not even on the radar.

$5 million is loose change, in one respect, in this business. But even $500,000 expenditures have to be justified.

Best Hopes,


Alan: It would seem to me, politically, that an offer, from you, to take your work to a higher level, would be in order. The USA should not wait to plan. A ten million dollar study, five million from the US treasury, and five million from a mock up of an electrification consortium of sorts, others may want to contribute, for this scale of a project, six months would seem in line. The assumption of the study, its basis, should be that a decision has been made to electrify. It should not be designed, as a study to debate the issue, that's too generic, as other countries are well on their way with electrification. The ten million dollar electrification study should be pushed, hard, because to ignore the value of being ready, and having enough lead time, when and if.

As a life long political activist, I advise you to take your very good work to another level, which would mean that you would challenge, politely, to this study, an open challenge, to carry not only your work, but the work of others on to an indefinite conclusion. The result of the study should be a rough out of a working model, railroads in partnership with government, and using other countries assets of knowledge of these systems, as a paramount objective.

Start by asking others for assistance in the design of such a study, set the parameters, using five different study models, ranging in political and economic philosophy, mix and match.

Encourage an examination of the pro's and con's of owning the results of such a study, and that potential value, and open up all that to the public. Steve

I ended up with an edition of Trains from a few months back that had an invaluable summary of coal consumption in the US. I think I need to pay closer attention to what they publish.

Here in Belgium the rail network is 99% electrified (3002 out of 3022km). Can't imagine us double stacking here: the topmost containers would hit the catenary.

Trans European Freight Rail Network

All Betuweroute tunnels can accommodate double-stack trains, expanded and upgraded to cope with the extra traffic. For example, the four tracks at Barendrecht are converted to nine (four passenger, two high-speed for the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerpen HSL Zuid and three freight) and have a special 1,500m landscaped cover to protect the surrounding environment.




Near you in 2011

The question is if the efficiencies of double stacking justify the capital costs to raise the wire.


Montreal Commuter Train Electrification

250 km for Can$300+ million


And I now found a website for the review.


Best Hopes for Small Steps,