Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Absolutely necessary—electric trains

This is the sort of idea that we especially like around here.  Trains burning diesel fuels must be replaced if we are ever to get a handle on fossil fuel consumption (both because of peak oil and carbon loading of the atmosphere). Of course, such trains will not be an improvement if the electricity they use is generated by burning coal but the basic idea is still sound.

The real obstacle to plans such as the steel interstate is that the nation claims it does not have the money for big projects.  Perhaps if we called it a war then the budget hawks wouldn't be so hawkish but seriously, I doubt it.  To make a serious dent in carbon emissions, we are going to need 100s of such projects which, in turn, means we simply must update the mechanisms by which such projects are funded.  Mostly, this means we must wrest the control of finance away from the crooks and charlatans who have such a death-like grip on the global money supply.

Steel Interstate Concept

The Steel Interstate System is a core national network of high capacity, grade separated, electrified railroad mainlines. It would realize for railroads what the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System achieved for roads, and would become the backbone for movement of both goods and people in the 21st Century.

The concept for the Steel Interstate System in the U.S. is for a grade separated 2 to 3 track, electrified system accommodating both freight and passenger rail as depicted in the design features of the illustration by Craig Thorpe.

Steel Interstate Design Features (Click to enlarge)

The concept of a Steel Interstate System in the U.S. is analogous to the Interstate Highway System that has been built out over the last 50 years. That has given us a core national network of high-capacity, grade-separated roads that made travel faster and safer than on the old system of U.S. Routes.

Today’s railroads are like the old U.S. Routes – built a long time ago and often seriously under-engineered and lacking in capacity to handle the demands of today’s shipping volumes. Therefore, a dollar of transportation investment made today can often have a bigger impact in increased freight-carrying capacity when invested in rail instead of in more highway lanes.

The railroads have been investing billions of dollars in improved infrastructure, but they are limited in what they can do with internally generated funds from earnings. To restore balance in our national transport network, we need a steel interstate program funded though government-private partnership to create a core network of high-capacity privately owned rail freight corridors for the 21st Century. This same system can be used for passenger rail for medium to short range distances and as a feeder to high speed passenger rail.

This approach would only be used where public benefits exceed public investment cost. But there is another vital consideration. Today in the U.S. our national transportation system is virtually 100% dependent on oil. We need to be planning now to cope with a world without cheap and abundant oil, or without oil at all!

Railroads can be readily electrified, so our Steel Interstate can be powered by whatever fuels (nuclear, coal, solar or renewables) are then being used for electrical generation.

With proper planning over ensuing decades, we can have a core national steel interstate system in place before oil (or natural gas) becomes prohibitively expensive or runs out. Featuring a network of high-capacity, electrified rail lines, it would be the backbone for movement of both goods and passengers in this country.

Long-distance trucks can also be carried on such trains. Though this has been done in Europe for some time, the knee-jerk approach to accommodating trucking growth in the U.S. has always been to build ever more lanes of highway.

The RAIL Solution Steel Interstate Concept Whitepaper was created in 2011.

More information on the Steel Interstate Concept and the North American Steel Interstate Coalition is available on the Steel Interstate Coalition website.  

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