Electric Freight Transport

This is a guest post by Jeroen Haringman introducing a novel concept under development by Siemens for electric freight transport. Jeroen runs a Dutch and English energy blog and is a system administrator at ENECO Energy in the Netherlands. This post originally appeared on Jeroen's blog here.

Electric bicycles, scooters and cars are becoming a normal sight in traffic. The developments happen very fast, and more and more people use some form of electric transport. One area that remains behind in that respect is electric freight transport. Experiments are carried out with freight trams in city centres here and there, but so far the system hasn’t grown to be an operational system anywhere. That’s a shame, because in heavy inner city start-stop traffic, fossil fuel-powered lorries burn an unnecessary amount of fuel and cause local air pollution. For inner city use, the relatively short range is usually not a big problem, but the high purchase price is. It’s likely to just be a question of time before ever stricter emission restrictions in inner cities, together with increasing fuel prices, will stimulate electric freight transport in whatever form.

For medium and long distance freight transport, it’s different. The current generation of batteries cannot store enough energy to make this practical. Hydrogen and biofuels may play a role in that arena, but both have their own problems with regards to infrastructure, the possibility to scale up, and sustainability.

Siemens Trolleytruck

To circumvent the limitations of batteries, Siemens is experimenting with a possible solution - a cross breed between a freight tram and an electric lorry. They developed a hybrid lorry under the name ‘eHighway’ which can be powered by both its diesel engine and electricity. In this case, the electricity isn’t stored in on-board batteries but comes from an overhead wire, using a modern form of the system used by a trolleybus – which makes this a trolleytruck.

Constructing the infrastructure for this won’t be cheap, but probably cheaper than constructing a rail network or batteries for a whole fleet of lorries. This system also offers flexibility; if a lorry has to leave the electrified route for whatever reason - an obstacle on the road, a sudden change in destination of the freight - it can be done on diesel. Once the infrastructure is there, it’s a small step to construct a number of modern trolleybuses using the same system.

The video below shows how the lorry can switch between electricity and diesel at the press of a button by the driver, without stopping:

This animation shows more or less the same.

I think this an intriguing concept. I also think it will be a while before this is turned into an operational system somewhere because it suffers from a typical catch-22 problem: it only becomes beneficial to purchase these trucks when there is a sufficiently developed infrastructure for them – but without a sufficient number of these trucks on the road developing such an infrastructure is going to be very expensive. Here lies a pioneering task for the government. Possibly a large harbour area could be an attractive test area, as that represents a relatively compact area with high transport needs.

"Electric bicycles, scooters and cars are getting to be a normal sight in traffic."

Not in Oz.

I did write this little article from a Dutch perspective, true. Our small country is so compact that even the current generation of electric cars are a viable proposition (although not every one sees it that way). And while sales of normal bicycles are down in our country, the sales of electric bicycles are up.

Now, I have no knowledge of how electric vehicles are doing in Australia but surely a good number of them must be in use in the larger cities?

I've had long walks through the capital recently, and have seen 20-30 EVs in total. I think there are in excess of 1000 licensed EVs in the country at large. They're by no means proliferate, and they're not inexpensive to manufacture or maintain, but it's a start.

A one seat DIY kit - the PIUS

Only looks like something that'll work when you have well paved roads.

That's a piece of crap. Less range and top speed than me riding a cargo bike, never mind that the bike can go off road and is cheaper and easier to repair, and provides life-extending exercise.

SW - An amazing comparison. There are some towns in the US where you drive your vehicle to the mall and, once inside, rent an electric cart to go from store to store. And some also have courtesy gasoline powered buses that take you from remote parking areas to the stores.

You. Have. To. Be. Kidding. Me.
Who's the audience for these parking-lot-to-entrance-rides?

The handicapped, the elderly, the morbidly obese. Doesn't always work like you'd expect, my elderly Dad attempted to commandeer one of those electric shopping carts once, took out three display stands in short order...;) He'd retired from driving cars per se before.

ROCK lives in a poster child of suburban sprawl, the Houston metro; I wouldn't be surprised that they'd have malls laid out like airports by now. Sounds kind of futuristic, actually; maybe the original designers figured you'd just zip into the mall with your personal jet pack.

DAL - As KLR points out Houston may be the worst but I suspect L.A. isn't too far behind. If that blows you mind imagine this: You've no doubt seen those moving sidewalks in airports. A big mall on the far west side of Houston floated the idea. They didn't really think about long enough. At first it sounded feasible. Then some stores saw that potential customers would be trapped and carried beyond their entrances. The idea was quickly dropped.

And if that makes you smile think about this: big business at local sports stadiums and concert halls: bicycle cabs. For a few $'s they run you a few blocks to your parking spot. I also understand someone is trying to start a business where they'll push you in a wheel chair from your seat to the curb where you can then hop onto a bicycle cab.

OK...I made that last part up about the wheel chairs. But I had you believing for a second, admit it. LOL.

Heh, I get this vision of restaurants where the valets remove people from their cars with a crane like they use for removing engines. They are then deposited in a gas powered wheel chair, like a giant comfy chair, that automagically takes them to the table. They are then fed by a miniature conveyor lift that takes the food the waiter pours in straight to their mouth.

Sick, but every time I see a land whale around here it springs to mind :(


NAOM - Hey...that's not funny to a guy with bad knees and MS. Actually it is. LOL. Since I've gotten my handicap parking tag I notice my fellow handicap parkers more. The majority doesn't appear to have leg problems but are just big folks...very big folks. In fact, probable not 1 out of 10 even use a cane or crutches. And the majority isn't elderly.

But there is a silver lining to my condition: weight loss. It such a hassle to get to the refrigerator I don't get nearly as many late night snacks as I once did. LOL.

Joke from the famous Texas comic Ron White: "I saw a guy park in a handicap spot and when he got out there was nothing wrong with him...so I ran him over. I figured I did him a favor: this way he wasn't a liar. But I did end up with a dent from where his momma hit me with her cane after she got out of the car."

Yeah, MS sucks, I've known a few people with it. Helped a fund-raising for the running of a hyperbaric chamber used for treatment. Really spooky being shut in there for a demonstration run. They had one woman who needed the small, high pressure chamber but she had claustrophobia and couldn't handle being shut in, they reckoned it would really help her and even volunteered to go in there with her, though it would have been somewhat cramped, but they just couldn't get her past the block. Know what you mean about the H/C spaces, also we get he electric store chairs used by people whose only problem is excess blubber - I didn't even use one when limping around with a torn muscle then seeing someone use one because of their weight.... ugh.


NAOM - Actually my MS is more of a minor inconvenienceso far. My bad knees are a much bigger problem. Two minor operations that didn't work so I think I'll go with whole knee replacement next.

I use the elcrtic cart in the stores mostly for the sake of saving time...I move so dang slow. My grocery usually has 6 of them and it's not uncommon for all the be running at once. And typically mostly heavy weight folks. I do have some sympathy for them but like you I wonder how much better off they would be walking. I try to waddle around as much as possible until my arms give out. Other than pressing the control button on my electric recliner that's the only exercise I get. LOL.

Good luck for the knee replacement, I hope it does make the difference. Trouble is, you won't have an excuse for lounging around in an A/C trailer instead of running around hassling the guys on the rig ;)


Rock. I've lurked here for years, your comments have always made sense to me, but until now I've not been aware of your physical limitations.
My real home site is the WhitneyZone. We have had knee replacements, cancer survivors, weight losers and others summit Mount Whitney. Some of our regulars have gone on to Everest & Kili. So, if you want to set a decent (but attainable) goal for yourself, consider checking in. We even have a Bulldog in your general area. WhitneyZone.com. At the very least enjoy the webcam.

A number of UK towns and cities have park-and-ride schemes. There are out of town centre car parks with a bus service that takes you into the centre, often a pedestrianised area. God help you if you actually need to drive in on business to drop off or pick up stuff. I once travelled 7 miles trying to get through the Nottingham one-way, deliberately driver unfriendly system trying to get to a client where I needed to pick up a load of gear where the walking distance was less than 1/2 a mile:(


Last time I went to Disney-world I was disgusted by the number of obese people riding those mobility scooters around. If anyone should be walking IT IS THOSE PEOPLE. I know, it is tough on their joints. Well how are they going to lose weight to reduce the stress on their joints if they can't even start by walking!

I then went on a photo safari to snap pics of obese people. Pretty much every race & nationality represented. It's a small world? No . . . its a fat world.

I was at a shopping mall just inside the Swedish border yesterday. We Norwegians (the ones close enough to the border) go there to buy cheap tobacco, alcohol, meat and dairy (everything is generally cheaper, but those are the major items to save on). I think the Danes go to Germany for the same reasons. This is in spite of the fact that we're the generation that spends the least amount of money on groceries in modern history (correct me if I'm wrong). The candy outlets inside these malls are larger than most grocery stores I know of, and those responsible for the bulk of the purchases range from overweight to morbidly obese. Ie. the ones that least should eat candy, eat the most. One shouldn't be too judgemental I guess, but that was my observation. I bought two tubes of Smarties and a bag of M&M peanuts!

The general advice in Norway is that one should walk for at least 15 minutes (the advice doesn't even say brisk walking) 3 times a week to be healthful. A news paper article a year back or so stated that 8/10 adults in the country don't walk 10 consecutive minutes a week. Couple this with the fact that the average citizen eats more than in generations past, and overweight people is what you'll get. And there's no HCFS in Norway. While that may have adverse metabolic effects and contriube toward the overall caloric load, I've witnessed in my quest toward a body fat percent of 10 that it's all about calories. A deficit of 500 calories from the total daily expenditure through eating and a 500 deficit through walking or strength training will have you lose about 2 pounds of fat mass a week. I went from 65kg (20% fat approx) to 10% at around 59kg at 5'11. It all hinges on will to accomplish that deficit (which as a determinist I allege is not something you can easily control).

I hope your remedial measure reduces your depression. (It is reputed to.) You will certainly have done your future health a great deal of good, so keep cheering yourself up.
I had no idea the Norwegians had been captured by this side-effect of modern marketing technology. Norway begins to sound as if you are in a race with Quatar in the fat bottom contest to become diabetes (T2DM) global capital Starting way behind, mind you.

Norway is on par with the US with regard to levels of obesity in the population. I think the figure is 375.000 "afflicted" by the malady which is diabetes in Norway, of which some 20.000 have type 1. Most of the type 2 cases have not yet knowledge through a doctor's visit that their blood glucose levels are out of whack. Anyway, I feel less deflated after my weight loss and daily 1-2 hour walks. I have self-diagnosed dysthymia since I was 14-15 so I don't know what one is supposed to feel like. Peak oil and surrounding themes aren't exactly conducive to "clearing" that up though.

What's truly remarkable is how much information that's available to us regarding how to improve our healths. Most is not distilled into knowledge the public can make appropriate use of it seems, and there are too many conflicting opinions and disparities. I can be sympathetic to people's healths and tell them what they're doing is healthful, or I can be dead honest and offend them.

Apparently the saying in Qatar is that "if you haven't got diabetes, you're not a Qatari". How sad is that?

If you want to be honest, don't forget to be brutally honest to the Right People.

We are discovering more and more about Diabetes and Morbid Obesity and, for example, it's correlative relationship with groups who are exposed to high amounts of Phthalates and other Endocrine Disruptors..

The researchers found that women with the highest concentrations of two types of phthalates - mono-benzyl phthalate and mono-isobutyl phthalate - were nearly two times more likely to have diabetes compared to women with the least amounts of these chemicals. Women with moderately high levels of the phthalates mono-n-butyl phthalate and di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate were 70 percent more likely to have diabetes compared to their counterparts.

(I've linked to other recent stories linking Elderly Onset Diabetes and Youth Obesity to these chemicals and to Plasticizers, BisPhenyl A (BPA) and PVC plastics..)

It seems somehow easier to be harshly blunt to some fat, sickly, addicted slob, and not the fit, well-dressed success-story that the slob essentially sends subscription fees to, who's in an engagingly perfect suit. I mean, what if they need a Chauffeur or something? It would be foolish to blow that chance..

I'm REALLY not dismissing the need for personal responsibility.. but there are others who are out there with teams of lawyers ACTIVELY protecting them from taking proper responsibility, within a system that is predicated on making and keeping people addicted to buying and consuming things they just don't need.. - Just Sayin.


Definitely a lot of markers of post-modern life that may be contributory toward developing the disease, yes. I haven't been condescending or derogatory toward people despite my "honest or sympathetic" remark, since it's never come up. A lot of people have asked me what I did to reach my target metric (body fat %) though (because my face changed somewhat), and I told them exactly how. I kept a record of my fat bank account(where one kilogram (or 2.2lbs) of fat equates to 7000 kilo calories). With my 1000kcal deficit I lose about one kilogram a week (a loss of 7000kcal from my imaginary bank account) where MOST of it is fat mass (some lean mass and water will also be lost). Of course it's not perfect because what's on food labels isn't 100% accurate and I can't really know for sure I've burnt 500kcal through walking 2 hours. Sometimes perfect isn't necessary though. For people who live 50% healthy lives, a lot is gained through kicking it up to 60-70% rather than aiming singlemindedly for what's perfect and optimal.

Keep your proteins up and watch your BMI doesn't get too low or you'll start to run into a bunch of problems going too far and too fast. 1kg a week sounds very harsh on your body and should only be tried for a short while or you body starts kicking in defence mechanisms against starvation. Good luck with a healthier life.


Yes, about 0.5Kg is much better once the easier stuff is off. No need to obsess on protein if a 50-60g per day minimum is what you get from all sources. But stay nutritious. The best book for safe low weight that I know backed up by experience and proper studies is The Longevity Diet by Delaney and Walford (2nd Edition).

I'm at my target weight. BMI is irrelevant to me, body fat percentage and other fitness markers like blood glucose levels are the important ones. Might do a +500kcal surplus a day and try to build lean mass.

We Norwegians (the ones close enough to the border) go there to buy cheap tobacco, alcohol, meat and dairy (everything is generally cheaper, but those are the major items to save on). I think the Danes go to Germany for the same reasons. We Norwegians (the ones close enough to the border) go there to buy cheap tobacco, alcohol, meat and dairy (everything is generally cheaper, but those are the major items to save on). I think the Danes go to Germany for the same reasons.

When I lived in Copenhagen nearly forty years ago a group of us from the office put together a carpool once a month to drive to Lubeck to go shopping. The general rule of thumb was that everything was 50% cheaper in Germany, so you didn't have to buy a whole lot to pay for the cost of driving nearly 500km. One item I can remember buying was a bicycle, for which I paid almost exactly half the advertised price for an identical one in Copenhagen. That alone saved me enough to pay for everyone's trip, though the costs were split three ways. I'm interested to hear that the same situation still holds.

The big problem with obesity is that if you are obese your knees wear out by the time you are about sixty. That makes walking almost impossible. Hence the "mobility scooters".

I greatly fear there is only one real cure for the obesity epidemic: the one described in Nevil Shute's "A town like Alice". A group of British women were captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in 1942, and were marched from place to place by their captors. As the war started to turn against the Japanese, food supplies became smaller and smaller. The ones who could not keep up were shot. The one who was diabetic died. The survivors lost a lot of weight and became very fit.

When fuel runs short and food becomes scarcer, the morbidly obese will die. Those who are merely obese will be forced to exercise and to eat less, and so will cease to be obese.

Without any consideration of Marketability, I'm trying to put together a Bike-based mobility scooter for my dad, which would have the sort of constrained electrification that requires the rider to input some portion of the energy in order that the motor will run as well.

This is the Law for some forms of ebikes in Europe, I understand.

Maybe a recumbent tricycle? For sufficient $$$, there's things like the Terracycle Cargo Monster, which can also handle an e-assist.

Not quite. The tadpole for myself perhaps.

No, what I'm pointing towards is something on the form and scale of a conventional Mobility Scooter or Wheelchair, very easy to get in and out of, but which incorporates Pedals and or Handles so that mobility becomes part of an excessively obese person's exercise/PT regime, where there is a degree of electrical assist, but the proportion of work to electric is probably 'prescribed' by the doctor or the family members, and in any case is electrically prevented from providing ALL the power for motion.

By the way, this is not new. On a cultural-exchange trip to Japan 20 years ago, I met an Australian woman at the venue, who had stopped off on her way back to Australia from the States, and who was armed with a fresh set of similar pictures, already neatly mounted in a scrapbook. She was fascinated by the phenomenon, so she said. Our group was flummoxed by her fascination, which at the time seemed more than a little eccentric.

Some people become fat because they're disabled, not the other way around...

Umm, but they must still be eating more calories than they need to get fat. Getting fat is always casued by eating more calories than you use is it not? There's disabled people who aren't fat after all. This is just patronising disabled people.

they must still be eating more calories than they need to get fat.

Sure, but it's much, much harder to exercise (or even walk) with a disability.

This is just patronising disabled people.

No, this is recognizing the enormous challenges they face. Being disabled greatly reduces calorie consumption - reducing calorie consumption sufficiently to maintain a stable weight would be torture to most people (even under much less stressful circumstances). Blaming people for becoming fat in those circumstances is blaming the victim.

Back to reality:

12 million Australian motorists have to compete with 14 additional Chinese cars EVERY YEAR. The following article also contains a graph with 24 million EVs by 2020 - negligible compared to the total number

1 billion vehicles in year #7 of peak oil

The competition for petrol and diesel will become more intensive when the Clyde refinery in Sydney closes.

Shell speeds up refinery closure

In the meantime:

THE latest mass sacking of Ford workers in Victoria has embarrassed the Gillard government and revived questions about the use of more than $1 billion a year of taxpayers' money to prop up the ailing car industry.


Matt - enjoy your work a great deal and would especially recommend to other TOD readers the 1 Billion Cars piece, a solid look at the demand juggernaut.

14 additional Chinese cars EVERY YEAR

Perhaps I'm missing something, but 14 additional cars doesn't seem like very much ;-).

The inherent disadvantage to E Lorries is that the rubber tires are an insulator. Electrified rail only needs one overhead wire, street cars need both poles. If you also consider the different friction forces between steel and steel and rubber and tarmac, I guess that the future will be to transcrane the freight boxes from street to rail for longer distances.

I would think this isn't that great a disadvantage, as Electric Trolley Buses have been used in a good number of places already as well.

But also, it brings to mind the options of using a trolley system that can have freight trolley trains (on rail) as well as an existing commuter trolley setup. Clever Management, 'Sharing and Prioritization' would be a hurdle that should be largely conceived and devised PRIOR to the system being started up, however.

There have been ongoing calls for the NYC subway to use it's offpeak hours to support a freight system between the less-frequent Pass Trains.. but of course that would be a very heavy investment to start up.. yet the city could discover some very real pieces of Infrastructure Payback from it, once the number of Trucks plying, packing and shredding the streets of Manhattan was to significantly reduce.. There would surely be a number of puzzles to solve, such as the 'Last block' issue, for Stores and Companies that aren't adjacent to the trains, and of course means the continuation of some sort of Truck to handle this need, tho' they may well be much like the ones up top.

Cargo trams in cities with established tram infrastructure:


In Sydney years ago there were parcel depots at every suburban railway station.
The suburban passenger network was electrified.
The parcel service was serviced by a fleet of single car electric electric parcel trains.
These trains delivered parcels all over the network and to Central station for delivery to country stations
over the whole country.

If expanded this could replace motor vehicle couriers and local deliveries could be made with shorter range electric vans from each station's parcel office. Expanded further and foodstuffs like vegetables could also be distributed.
The techniques of the first half of the 20th century have a lot to offer.

Dayton, Ohio's transit agency (Greater Dayton RTA) still uses overhead wires for some of the trolley bus transit routes. This could be a potential partnership between transit companies and local couriers and freight haulers.

I was a tad disappointed that the backup was diesel, rather than small to moderate capacity battery. This one would to be the obvious -and possibly most cost effective hybrid, as you avoid the cost of fuel handling and burning, but can get by with minimal electric range. Also with such a hybrid system, the trolley grid could contain substantial coverage gaps, as the trolley trucks can recharge while they transit the electrified sections.

In a way, I think that having the ICE in there is almost how you get the Camel's nose into the tent. The Diesel is kind of like the promise of 'Don't worry, you'll have good, dependable FF onboard, so what could go wrong?'

Ultimately, I think what you say is the way to go. You can be 'sipping' at your recharge/refill at stops, during slowdown and regen.breaking, etc.. the weight of batts needed could be customized and modified to fit the tasks and routes involved.

A small to moderate battery capacity is probably only going to transport a full truck a block or two. San Francisco's trolley buses have this. It's used to get around a traffic obstacle, or to get out of traffic before reconnecting trolleys that have fallen off. It doesn't work for more than a block or two, depending on how full the bus is and how steep the grade.

I think the idea here is that it's a transition technology that can reduce fossil fuel use bit by bit as it is built out. Eventually some or all of the diesel hybrid trucks give way to ones that work more like you suggest. I think the author is correct that a pilot program should be done at a harbor or similar location where there are local mules treading the same short routes over and over between, say, the docks and an intermodal rail yard.

One way to think about designing a system might be something like the Paris Metro, which is designed to have a station within .5km of every point within the city. If you can give the trucks an off-wire range slightly greater than 1km, they can get anywhere while only using the diesel or battery for the last bit.

San Francisco is a unique place, all right. They have trolly buses, street cars, and the BART, all using electricity. Plus, of course, cable cars where the cables are pulled by electric motors. Of course there are also ICE buses on some routes.

At one time, most cities in the US had electric streetcars (there were tracks in front of my home when I was a kid). GM sold them on diesel buses as the wave of the future. Well, the future is here, so how are those diesel buses working out for y'all?

We, of course, needed to be changing back many years ago; instead we listened to St. Ronnie the Wrong and doubled down on diesel and ICEs! Hah!

One way to think about designing a system might be something like the Paris Metro, which is designed to have a station within .5km of every point within the city.

I, personally, would be elated to see a bus within one km of my home! Half a mile would be heaven! It is probably too late for me; for the kids, though, if the cornucopians are anyway near half right, there could be time and energy sufficient to make the transition. Not that I would be the farm on anything happening along those lines.

We wait for crises, and by the time we recognize this crisis I fear we will find ourselves up the proverbial creek with no motivational resources.

Sorry kids!


Well, the future is here, so how are those diesel buses working out for y'all?

If you're on a city council, they're probably working just fine, thank you - at the moment, anyway. Plus you don't have to explain to your constituents why you are disrupting everything, ripping up perfectly good, and expensive, pavement, and spending great gouts of tax money in order to put in tracks. Nor do you have to explain to the NIMBYs why you're blighting the neighborhoods with unsightly trolley wires (tracks or no tracks.) So for the moment the diesel buses would seem like a win-win.

And if, as some of the evidence discussed around here indicates, people don't much like to ride on diesel buses as against rail vehicles, well, that's a winner too because increased ridership would require increased subsidies and you'd have to explain about the taxes yet again. So that adds another winner, possibly making it win-win-win.

Maybe these issues are less salient in San Francisco since one has to be made of money anyhow, just to afford to live there in any sort of reasonable safely.

Without commenting on city council members' rationalizations,

...unsightly trolley wires (tracks or no tracks.)

I took a walk downtown in Dallas the other day, by the DART tracks (without riding, though I have a monthly pass). There are wires overhead, yet they are not ugly. Nor are they even unsightly. You are thinking of wooden poles and sagging wires, I guess, though where you would see them I don't know. While in Germany, I walked extensively in Munich, Nurenburg, Koln, Mahlem, and Frankfort. Most have street cars, including the wires, and yet their downtowns are quite pleasant.

Availability of public transit, in fact, made living in the Bay Area (commuted in from Concord) nice, and affordable. I did not NEED a car! I could get anywhere on public transit. Savings: at the time about $600 for ownership/maintenance/licensing of a vehicle, and maybe $100 + per week for parking. Much more than that today, I am sure.

Public transit is a civic treasure! Those short sighted councilmen need to wake up and smell the cable cars!


For trolley buses, trams and light rail systems, it is possible to hang the wires from buildings on both sides of the streets, or from light poles, so they they blend into the streetscape, which is generally pretty cluttered in an urban core, anyway. Add some hanging flower baskets, flags, banners, and decorative artwork and few people will notice they are there.

The days of forests of wooden poles and masses of wires hanging from them are pretty much gone from most urban cores, and stringing a few trolley wires will not bring them back.

If the aesthetic value of a city was actually a highly prioritized concern and not just another typical bullsh*t excuse, this would've happened to most major cities long ago: http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/73/Sao_Paulo_A_City_Without_Ads.html

Instead of wires, microwaves?

Successful prototype of 10kW high efficiency rectenna for wireless power for electric trucks


10KW at 4 meters

it is also possible to transmit electrixity by induction using a rail embedded in the road. this was tested pretty well in the 90's, for exemple at Uc San barbara, before credit were.
Here is a link to a 1992 summary: http://www.path.berkeley.edu/path/publications/pdf/PRR/92/PRR-92-17.pdf

The third-generation system has demonstrated the capability to transfer up to 60 kw from the
roadway to the electric bus while the bus was traveling along the powered roadway. The
maximum power transfer rate is reduced when the power pickup is not centered over the
roadway inductor or if the pickup rides at a larger than nominal air gap height above the
The larger air gap height does not normally arise in practice (except if the vehicle
body bounces on its suspension when it hits a bump, or if there is an accumulated layer of snow
on which the vehicle is driving).
Because drivers cannot normally follow the lane center with
high precision, the test bus is equipped with meters to tell the driver how close he is to the lane

If the vehicle is displaced from the lane center by four inches, the power coupling is
reduced by half, and if it is as far as 7 inches from lane center, effective power coupling is lost.
This indicates the desirability of coupling the roadway electrification technology with lateral
guidance or steering assistance systems to help the driver remain as close as possible to lane

There were some follow up in the late 90's and the claim efficiency was over 80% and up to 98% if the gap between antenna and rail was less than 1". Also the max limit of transmitted power was not fully tested but is certainly well over 60 kw. The cost was estimated at that time to be 1 million $ per mile (per lane) for the rail and 2000 $ for the receiver antenna to be mounted under the vehicule. Sadly there was no real follow through I'm aware of.
Also there already exist battery powered truck for up to 30 tons of freight. It is used in LA port.
Max speed is 45 mph and range is 150 miles... they don't say the price.

If one is using the "hot" style of fuel cells, one can get more energy->motion out of the fuel than by exploding it and translating linear motion into rotational motion.

The biggest problem with this is breathtakingly obvious: THEFT.

The economics of building the supply is favourable only when demand is high. When lots of people are using it, how are you going to discover free riders?

Surveillance? State-ownership and operation, or licensed monopoly?

I doubt that is that big of an issue. To do theft with this you'd require a very expensive custom truck. And you'd eventually get caught. The risk/benefit calculation doesn't work.

If we had used the past 20 or so years to complete a structured ramp up to EV transit and transport, it could have been done using meters on the vehicles, and probably by private enterprise. Of course, that would have meant new entitiess competing with established paradigms, and we know how successful that would be in implementation.

Even today, the infrastructure of double-overhead power and trolly is hardly prohibitive, unless you want to lower taxes some more. There are many things we could be doing if we were only willing to pay for them. The real problem is that the populace wants it all for free... Business want their workers transported to them for free; they want their waste processed for free, and to have license to pollute. Owners want lower taxes, of course. Workers want that free transportation to work and to the store, where shop keepers also want their customers brought to them, for free.

/Cognitive dissonance


If the trend in the UK is anything to go by, there is an even more obvious theft problem. Theft of the wires themselves. Short the wires to cut the current, then cut them down and sell to unscrupulous scrap dealers. The electric train lines past my office suffer from this multiple times a year. The cost of disruption and repair exceeds the profit to the thieves a thousand fold, and the thieves risk sudden death, but there are men reckless enough to risk it today, in the UK. When conditions decline to post peak standards, national infrastructure will be shredded in weeks.

If the trend in the UK is anything to go by, there is an even more obvious theft problem. Theft of the wires themselves. […] the thieves risk sudden death, but there are men reckless enough to risk it today, in the UK. When conditions decline to post peak standards, national infrastructure will be shredded in weeks.

I doubt it. The industrial boom in China, India and other emerging industrial countries has driven up metal prices to a record high. In a post-peak economy, these prices will crash along with industrial production. Not much point then to risk one's life stealing something for which there's no market any more.

Not sure about that.
I saw a modern building in Albania, a Border Post actually, with ALL metal wood & glass and movable tiling, not just electrics, completely removed after their 'crash'. Zilch traffic through the BP at the time (1997) except a few farm animals in local movement. Nice and quiet though with nice local people chatting across the border.

A hybrid system of trucks with batteries and overhead wires sounds awesome to me . . . why do they need the diesel? You just need to have enough batteries to make it to the highway with overhead wires . . . drive to the next town with the wires (and charge the batteries while doing so) then pull off the highway and go back on batteries to go to your destination. That really is a great way to electrify road transport without needed massive batteries and it is able to handle massive trucks with ease.

And in Germany, this will be a great sink for all the PV solar power they can generate.

spec - A good idea IMHO. Just like it was in New Orleans over 50 years ago. Many of our bus routes ran just like our electric street cars still do: overhead e-lines. No more now but still a good idea. Granted there's still the wear and tear on the road way but so much cheaper than light rail. Just my WAG but I bet we could have had at least 20X as much electric passenger miles with the e-buses as the light rail. On top of that the light rail didn't make the trip any faster: just replaced buses and were still running through the same traffic. And when a light rail train breaks down/has an accident, all the trains behind it stop. Not with the e-buses: just pushed out of the way. One of the pitches for the first light rail line in Houston: it could haul folks from the sports stadium those few miles back to downtown Houston. After the first event folks gave up on the idea: some waited 2 to 3 hours because the massive crowd all at once was too much for the limited number of very expensive rail cars.

I really do miss the smell when the overhead lines spark. I'll ride the St Charles Street car when I'm in town for that reason alone.

I bet you in this computer driven age a commercial delivery truck could run on such electric transit lines and have its consumption metered.

Yes, we travelled on trolley buses in the London area when I was a kid post WWII and when Britain's economy relied almost entirely on coal. The trolley could reach the newer suburbs outside the tram-served older areas. Capital cost could not have been that high. The roads were there in any case. We could afford it back then when the economy was a fraction of what it became later and in those days comparatively few of us had cars. London could not function still without rail and buses and the tube. My dad went to work by bike or bus when work was local, and by rail when it was in central London.

Trolley buses are coming back to the UK:


also £9 billion of rail investment announced this week!

Back to the future or should that be forward to the past. My old stomping ground:-


Hmm . . . cities with these systems should open them up and sell the rights to access them to private delivery services. Those services could then track their usage with GPS or something and then pay the city for usage. It would be a win-win-win. The city more efficiently uses an asset it paid for and collects more revenue on it; the delivery/trucking services gain access to a very cheap 'fuel' source; and the public gets cleaner air and a quieter city.

The overhead lines were mainly used for trolley buses because, when they replaced streetcars with buses, they had all those overhead traction lines, and they figured they should use them for something.

However, in the era of cheap diesel fuel, it seemed too expensive to maintain the power lines, and the trolley buses were replaced with diesel buses. The exceptions seem to be West Coast cities with access to cheap hydroelectric power like Vancouver, Seattle, and San Francisco.

Unlike Houston, Calgary didn't mix its light rail system with private automobiles so there is no issue of them being held up in traffic. They do mix LRT with buses in the downtown core in a dedicated transit mall, but the bus drivers are trained to stay out of the way of the trains.

Once out of the downtown core, the LRT drivers push the little lever all the way forward between stations, and the train proceeds at its maximum speed, which is 80 km/h (50 mph). Nowadays they could buy faster LRT vehicles but there's not a lot of need to.

Another big difference between Calgary and Houston is Calgary's lack of freeways. There are no freeways leading downtown from the suburbs, and once you have driven 160 blocks with a stop light every 6 blocks, taking the train begins to seem really desirable. On the South line the train runs in the Canadian Pacific Railway ROW adjacent to the main non-freeway, so you get to watch the trains zoom past as you go through your six-light wait at one of the cross-roads.

And there is an extra (third) platform and a third (storage) track at the Calgary stadium. They line up trains on the storage track, and then run them past the platforms and load them up and send them off on three lines as fast as possible as the people come out of the stadium. Calgary has over 150 LRV's, and they can hold 150-200 people each under "crush" conditions (which is what you get at stadiums), which is 20-30,000 people, and then after half an hour the first vehicles out are back at the station for another load of sports fans.

Most of the fans are from the suburbs, obviously, and since they might have been drinking a little, they don't want to face that 160 block drive home with a stoplight every 6 blocks.

Most of the fans are from the suburbs, obviously, and since they might have been drinking a little, they don't want to face that 160 block drive home with a stoplight every 6 blocks.

And if they don't happen to live along one of the three lines, how do they cover the last miles?

I'm pretty sure Canadians have legs. And they often also have cars that they park at the train parking lot.

Correct. The light rail system is particularly effective at getting sports fans out of the congested inner city area with little fuss or bother. Once they are in the 'burbs, they can get in their cars and drive home, or walk if they live close enough to the station. The feeder bus system is also better than PaulS seems to think possible, although the frequency in the suburbs is a bit low off-peak.

Correct. Plus, Buses at the Train Stops, Community Vans and Taxis, Bikes locked up at the train stop Bike Racks, the possibilities are incredible.

In Melbourne (perhaps Sydney) there were two great events side by side annually. One was the State Fair and the other a sporting contest. In the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s, they could run 1,000 streetcars/hour into (or out of) these two events.

Wish I could remember the details - but a massive logistical effort.


It's an interesting concept, but I don't think it has much of a future in the post-peak-oil era. It's too expensive. In addition, the trucks are still running on rubber tires and asphalt roads made from petroleum.

The additional wiring needed to supply the power is going to cost a fortune to install along the roads, and it cannot be shared with the cars on the road. At the present time the car divers basically pay for the roads, and the trucks use it at a fraction of the cost of the damage they do to it. Car drivers are not going to want to pay for additional infrastructure they cannot use.

In North America, the railways are going to take the long and medium-distance freight business away from the trucking companies anyway, because of their much lower fuel costs per ton-mile. If governments are going to subsidize something, they should subsidize converting the railways to electricity since it would be much cheaper and simpler than converting the highways and freeways to overhead electric wires. You only need one power wire per track because the return/ground connection is made through the steel rails, and positioning the pantograph is simpler because the trains can't swerve back and forth.

Short-distance freight in North America will have to remain with trucks because the railways don't run everywhere, but if natural gas remains cheap and diesel fuel becomes more expensive they will likely convert from diesel to natural gas rather than electric, since most of the new electricity will be generated by burning natural gas anyway. Diesel engines can run on 90% natural gas with a few modifications, or 100% NG if you add spark plugs.

Europeans would be better off to spend the money to upgrade their railways, and shift as much freight from the roads to the rails as possible. North America is far ahead of Europe in moving freight by rail, just as Europe is far ahead of North America in moving passengers by high-speed rail. Far more freight is moved by rail in North America than Europe, but the Europeans could catch up if the right environment was provided for rail freight.

The overhead wires are the problem.

As a child in Cape Town in the 1950s I went everywhere by electric trolleybus, which had replaced the old electric trams. But the council decided to go to diesel buses because:

1. The city was expanding rapidly, and the capital cost of installing wires on new routes would take a long time to be recouped because new areas take time to fill up and supply passengers, and car ownership was becoming more ubiquitous.

2. Maintaining the wires was a problem because of falling trees etc in our winter storms.

3. The wires were unsightly, particularly at intersections and where routes merged, and inappropriate for a city that considered itself a holiday and recreation destination.

Incidentally, we lived at the end point of a line. The double-decker buses had to make a very tight U-turn for the return journey, and the electric poles would invariably fall off the wires during the manoeuvre. I'd often see the conductor with the long hooked pole each bus carried for the purpose trying to get the electric poles back on the wires. A tough job in the howling South-Easter our city is notorious for.

But I can still remember the jerk as it set off (they had enormous torque) and the whine it made, much nicer than the rackety old diesels which replaced them. (The modern diesel buses are almost as quiet as the electric ones.)

Years ago TOD member totoneila came up with the idea of SpiderWebRiding, which I still think is an excellent notion, by far the cheapest of any rail implementation, and a great way to deal with ever-increasing oil prices; so of course, it'll remain on the drawing board forever.

SpiderWebRiding is my term for light, cheap, but smooth and sturdy narrow gauge track that is spread radially out from an urban cluster, to help move goods & people with pedal-power and/or electrical assist.

Think of the standard gauge RR & TOD as the 'spine & limbs' of a future postPeak organized geography with SpiderWebRiding as the 'ribcage'. For example: you're an egg farmer 15 miles from town, but also a long way to a RR depot. You could get your eggs to the depot on a smooth, narrow gauge double track with a steel-wheeled cargo bike, then on to the town market on the standard gauge RR track. Much better than using bicycle or wheelbarrow over non-existent rural roads.

Not clear why you need a steel-wheeled cargo bike on tracks -- sounds like a recipe for taking a cheap flexible vehicle (cargo bike) and making it more expensive and less flexible, also requiring more expensive infrastructure, for little savings; at reasonable speeds (e.g., those I obtain on a cargo bike under human power) most of the drag comes from the wind, not the tires.

Build a road for bicycles only, keep the tree roots for tearing it up, and it will last almost forever. Failing that, bicycles cope pretty well with unpaved paths.

If you're hauling enough cargo, rolling resistance predominates, which is why water transport was so favored in the days of muscle powered freight. I once hauled a few hundred pounds of beer 3 miles on a cargo trike which had low-pressure tires. I was pretty slow, though I did deliver the goods.

As Bikerdude says, there's no need for one to preclude the other.

Toto had all sorts of inventive ramifications of the spiderweb idea.. I would say his thinking on all this was a new level of freedom, not more constraints.. that those of us overconditioned to think TOO much of current kinds of wheels and rides could benefit from exploring.

He did have a scheme whereby your bike could jump onto the rails and deploy an outrigger, use them for a long mindless stretch, hands off the bars and reading perhaps.. and jump off again when you're 'in the neighborhood'. As with Bikerdude, the harder wheels on rail were better for big loads, and rigs could be envisioned with multiple pedallers, and also 'Bike Busses' for commuting groups.. and finally, Bike Trains, where you could link into a string of others and all enjoy the improved momentum and aerodynamics perhaps, along with the reduced driving attention needed. (It seems, as with canoeing that you'd know who is pulling their share or not, while the demand per rider is going to be less anyhow..)

I miss Bob's post. I think I'll go out and hug my NPK, before I drink a beer in Bob's honor and proudly declare "Peak Oil!" when I reach the halfway point!

cheers to that.. may you be halfway up to heaven before the devil knows you're dead!

I'm still looking for a place to get rid of all of these wheelbarrows that I've accumulated... ;-)

Yes; second that.
Here is another thought linking muscle power with rail use.
There were plenty of horse-towed loads on canals and tram lines in 19thC.
I wonder though if a suitably scaled, tooled and geared version of this hand-driven rail maintenance car
might employ teams of heavy horses?
Wonderful beasts; if they could pull stage-coaches on bad wet roads I guess their load pulling could shift heavy goods where the electric could not reach? Economic justification for rail maintenance is proven historically for economies not much above subsistence level, if there are bulk supplies to trade, that is.

In honour of Bob and his NPK refrain.


There are a couple of more radical solutions suggested for freight transport.

Instead of overhead pantographs, some researchers are looking at buried induction charging, at first for cars, but obviously at least a part of the power for freight could be provided in this way if the technology is successful and cost effective.

Here is Oak Ridge:

They now put the cost at around $800,000 per mile per carriageway, which is very do-able for major highways.
This low cost is achieved by clustering the charging pads, with one controller for around 30 of them and only relatively small areas of the road needing to be dug up.

Objections usually made are about cost and efficiency.
The above covers the cost issue, and efficiency is apparently surprisingly high, which is somewhat counter intuitive but not being a physicist those who are perhaps should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Another issue with road freight transport is road wear, which increases as the forth power of axle weight, which means that frost damage aside one heavy truck does more damage than thousands of cars.

One solution to that is rail, with advantages and disadvantages which are well known, and which incorporates other radical ideas such as dual road-rail trucks.

More comprehensive for some categories of freight is the idea of food pipes, which at surprisingly low capital cost could link stores to central warehouses and the goods could be robotically send in capsules to their destination, at around 1/50th of the energy cost of road transport and saving vast sums in road repairs: