Populist movements don't build themselves ...

... It doesn't matter what the "horse race" outcome of the campaign is, if we fight the campaign. Fighting it, we learn how to fight. Learning how to fight political battles, we become citizens again. Becoming citizens again, we reclaim the Republic that lies dormant beneath the bread and circuses of modern American society.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Train: Trains and Not Destroying Civilization

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

When one first thinks about it, one would think the politics of not destroying civilization should be simple. It seems that "Not destroy civilization, Yes/No" would get a very high "Yes" vote.

In the immediate future in US political, however, its far more complicated than that, given that one party's position is "No", and the other party's position is "Maybe, a little bit of not destroying civilization, if its not too inconvenient".

So, how would we go about not destroying civilization, why is the politics of not destroying civilization so messy, and what in the hell can we do about it?


Posted at: Voices on the Square

Crossposted at: The Stars Hollow Gazette

Crossposted at: HillbillyReport.org

Crossposted at: Agent Orange

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Train: zOMG these aint REAL HSR trains!

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

This is more or less the three year anniversary of the first Sunday Train ~ a bit less than more, since this is the 12th of August 2012 and I think that the first Sunday Train was 16th of August, 2009. It emerged from a variety of blogging I had been doing over the previous couple of years, with a notion that if I set down a target of blogging on Sunday, it would make it easier for people to track the Sunday Train down. It was originally posted at my midnight-populist blogspot, Burning the Midnight Oil, crossposted to Agent Orange, My Left Wing, Progressive Blue and Docudharma, but I was never really enthusiastic about building up my own blog, and nor about the constraints of blogspot, so over time I settled on writing the Sunday Train at a community blog, cross-posting it to other community blogs, and posting the summary to Burning the Midnight Oil, with cross-links to the blogs containing that week's full post.

The crosspost list also varied from time to time: of those original community blogs, I rarely visit My Left Wing or Docudharma much anymore, and the best of Progressive Blue has been folded into the broader coalition at Voices on the Square, which since its launch last month has been the new home base for Sunday Train. The Sunday Train still rolls into Agent Orange (aka "daily kos"), and has for some time also stopped at Hillbilly Report and the Stars Hollow Gazette, and occasionally at the European Tribune.

In celebration of the three year anniversary, more or less, I am reprinting the diary from the 16th August, 2009, "zOMG, these aint REAL HSR trains!"


posted at Voices on the Square

crossposted at Stars Hollow Gazette

crossposted at HillbillyReport.org

crossposted at Agent Orange

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sunday Train: Cycle & Pedestrian Islands and Tiny Trains

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

"Oh, sure, more than 1/5 of journeys to work in Eindhoven, The Hague, Amsterdam and Utrecht in the Netherlands are by bike, but they are flat. It would never work here, its hilly." Given that Copenhagen has one of the highest European cycling mode shares in trips to work, winter is obviously not the obstacle that it is sometimes made out to be ~ ah, but hills. They are an insuperable obstacle.

Back in April, 2010, comparing Portland and Seattle, Jarret Walker asked, Should we plan transit for "bikeability"? This was following a project by Adam Parast comparing the cycling potential of Portland and Seattle, including potential bikeability with improved infrastructure. And the geography of Portland, with most development and activity on the flat or gently sloping floor of a valley, is substantially different from the geography of Seattle, built on "seven hills", with water obstacles tossed in for good measure.

Today's Sunday Train looks at what role public transport can serve in helping to increase cycling mode share.


Posted At: Voices on the Square

Crossposted to: The Stars Hollow Gazette

Crossposted to: HillbillyReport.org

Crossposted to: European Tribune

Crossposted to: Agent Orange

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Train: Rescuing the Exurb from its Design

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

Back in April, Hope Yen was on the Huffington Post with Sprawling Suburbs Growth Falls To Historic Low Amid High Gas Prices

All across the U.S., residential exurbs that sprouted on the edge of metropolitan areas are seeing their growth fizzle, according to new 2011 census estimates released Thursday.
"The heyday of exurbs may well be behind us," Yale University economist Robert J. Shiller said. Shiller, co-creator of a Standard & Poor's housing index, is perhaps best known for identifying the risks of a U.S. housing bubble before it actually burst in 2006-2007. Examining the current market, he believes America is now at a turning point, shifting away from faraway suburbs to cities amid persistently high gasoline prices.
"Suburban housing prices may not recover in our lifetime," Shiller said, calling the development of suburbs since 1950 "unusual," enabled only by the rise of the automobile and the nation's highway system.

As it was originally designed, Outer Suburbia and Exurbia was designed to fail in an era where increasing energy efficiency will be a fundamental platform for ongoing growth. However, its possible to retrofit Outer Suburbia and Exurbia to a more sustainable design.


Voices on the Square

The Stars Hollow Gazette


Agent Orange

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Train: Trains, Buses, Bikes and Plan C

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

So, you've got Plan A. And in case something goes awry with Plan A, you've got your fallback plan, Plan B.

But what if the fit really hits the shan? What if all the assumptions that lie behind your planning turn out to be false. Things are far worse than ever contemplated in Plan A and Plan B? That's when you turn to your Plan C, your Plan in case of Complete Catastrophe. In the event of a complete catastrophe, all of the polite fictions of the normal planning process go out the window. Which also means that Plan C is quite often the answer to, "Oh, now what do we do?, and the answer is, "Come up with something that will work "

So, we have a crisis. A serious crisis, affecting our current transport system, which means a crisis that at the very least interferes with our supply of gasoline. But we have the Petroleum Reserve, so ... assume its not a temporary emergency, but a crisis that threatens to last for years. Whether the Crisis hits next year or next decade, well, I don't know that, do I? But suppose that its coming sometime in the next decade.

What would we face in coming up with something that will work?

Voices on the Square (home blog)

Stars Hollow Gazette


Agent Orange

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Train: California Senate Approves High Speed Rail Construction

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Crossposted from its home station at Voices on the Square


Firedog Lake: California Legislature Passes High Speed Rail Bond Issue, Moving Project Forward ~ David Dayen


In a closely watched vote of the California state Senate, a bill to issue the first $5.8 billion in bonds for the construction of high speed rail lines passed 21-16. It needed all 21 votes to pass. Four Democrats voted no – including Allen Lowenthal, the Democratic candidate for Congress in CA-47, and Fran Pavley, the author of the state’s historic global warming law – but ultimately, just enough Democrats voted in favor of the bonds for them to pass. Joe Simitian and Mark DeSaulnier were the other Democrats who opposed the bill.


This does not end the battle for high speed rail. Between the bond issue and the federal money, that covers only about 1/5 of the total funding needed for the full project, which would connect Sacramento and San Diego and all points in between by high speed rail. But if this died today, you can be certain that nothing would ever get built. The federal government was prepared to take away the $3.2 billion in stimulus dollars earmarked for this stage of the project. And faith in the future of high speed rail in California – and indeed the nation – would have been sapped.

So ... what now? Join me at the home station or one of the stops along the way for a look to both the politics and transport policy ahead.


Crossposted from Voices on the Square to:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunday Train: Is State Sen. Simitian aiming to kill High Speed Rail in California?

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

This coming week is supposed to contain an important symbolic Independence Day: the day when the California State Senate votes whether or not to proceed with one strategic element of Energy Independent Transport for the State of California, or whether to gamble the state's future on petroleum.

It is, of course, a very sure thing as a gamble ~ on the losing side. They aren't making more, and the butane from natural gas liquids and energy inefficient production of ethanol from corn starch that has been used to juke the states on US "liquid fuel production" doesn't change the fact that we still depend on petroleum imports for over half of our petroleum consumption. We deplete more and more low production cost petroleum every year, shifting our consumption to higher cost petroleum.

And even if we had the petroleum that Pollyannas would like to wish into existence, we can't afford to burn it all at an accelerating rate, due to the CO2 emissions that will result.

State Senator Simitian does not seem to see it that way, as he appears set to vote kill the effort to allow the California High Speed Rail project to break ground next year.

Now, in an wonderful display of political pretzel logic, State Senator Simitian threatens to kill the HSR project will declaring his strong support of it: it will all be someone else's fault if he votes to refuse to break ground next year.


Read the Sunday Train and join the conversation at:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Train: The Steel Interstate and the Great Highway Lie

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The last two weeks on the Sunday Train, I've been writing about the Steel Interstate. Steel Interstates & An America That Can Do Big Things (3 June) revisited the basic concept, and Putting Steel into the Amtrak Long Distance Backbone primarily discussed the first third of the Congressionally mandated reports on improving Amtrak's long distance rail network, but also discussed a bit about the role of long distance trains in the context of the Steel Interstate proposal.

This week, the attention shifts from the Steel Interstate infrastructure to the substantial benefit to our existing legacy Asphalt Interstates if the United States elects to retain a viable national economy by implementing some form of Steel Interstate electric rapid freight rail system for long-haul freight.

Along the way, I spend a bit of time talking about misconceptions about the cost of our legacy system. Myth and misconception that are sufficiently widely help may be sufficient platform for gathering majority support for a system ... but its not a sufficient platform for putting together a sustainable system, in either physical, ecological, economic, or financial senses of "sustainable".


Join the Conversation at:

The Stars Hollow Gazette


Progressive Blue

Daily Kos

Sunday Train: Putting Steel into the Amtrak Long Distance Backbone

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Express HSR is sexy. Indeed, its sexy enough that when Big Oil propagandizes against it, they have to paint it as too expensive or something that America is too incompetent to handle, since the idea of sitting in an actually comfortable rail seat, watching a movie on a laptop or snacking on a sandwich while flying along at two to three times highway speeds, "just like in France or Japan or Spain", that's too appealing to convince a big majority of people that it would be anything but nice to have. So they have to con people into thinking of it as an unrealistic pipe dream that the US can do what Spain has been doing for a decade, France for three decades, and Japan for half a century.

Rapid Rail is not as sexy as Express HSR, but at least it is as fast as driving for most drivers on most corridors, and appreciably faster than driving on the corridor with the "best bones", like either Cleveland / Columbus or Davenport / Des Moines / Iowa wold be at 110mph top passenger speed. And it is much cheaper than Express HSR, with lots of potential corridors that local residents will start lobbying for once the first of the Rapid Passenger Rail services come into service.

But conventional long haul rail? Surely plodding along at 50mph to as slow as 30mph on heavy freight rail corridors is an obsolete holdover from an earlier time?

Well, no. Conventional long haul rail has a 21st century role to play, if the United States should declare Economic Independence and start working to regain the economic freedom that we surrendered to the Big Oil and the oil exporting regions in the 70's and 80's.

And so, in this evening's Sunday Train, we look at the "PRIIA Section 210" plans that Amtrak has developed for the five weakest of its fifteen long distance corridors: the California Zephyr, the Capitol Limited, the Cardinal, the Sunset Limited, and the Texas Eagle.


Join the discussion at:

The Stars Hollow Gazette


Progressive Blue

Daily Kos

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday Train: Steel Interstates & An America That Can Do Big Things

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Steel Interstate (noun): A Network of Electrified Heavy and Rapid Rail corridors that will allow the United States to remain a sovereign national economy.

Integrated into the Steel Interstates are Electricity Superhighways to connect Renewable Energy Resource areas to each other, to substantially increase the stability of the available Renewable Energy Supply, and to Energy Consumers, to ensure that no rich Renewable Electricity Resource goes untapped for lack of access to a electricity markets.

This is something that the United States should do. Depending on the twists and turns of international energy markets in the coming decades, it may be something the United States must do, to remain a coherent national economy.

If the efforts of Big Oil and Big Coal are successful, it is the kind of thing that America will not be able to do.

Yet, I believe it is something that the United States actually can do.


To ride the Sunday Train and join the conversation, check in at:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Train: Sustainable Steam Train? / SF Muni - HSR Disconnect? / A Geary Aerobus?

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

This week's Sunday Train is a trio of shorter topics. The first is a research development project to develop a modern steam train to run on biocoal. The target is a sustainable steam train that, as a headline grabber, will attempt to run at 130mph and break the world steam train speed record. There's much to like about this research development project ... but I am going to argue that biocoal to operate trains is not it.

Second, SF's MUNI transport agency is one of the ten agencies slated to split $760m in Prop1a(2008) bond funds improvements to systems interconnecting with the planned High Speed Rail system. The balance of the $950m goes to the three existing Amtrak California intercity rail services, the Capitol Corridor, the San Joaquin, and the Surfliner.

Odd thing is, the proposal that SF MUNI is setting forward doesn't actually connect to the proposed HSR system? What's up with that, after the break.

And third, a speculative look at an alternative technology that SF MUNI might deploy that money on, that actually would connect with the HSR system at the Transbay Terminal, as well as connecting to BART, the MUNI light rail network, the existing (and proposed alternative) Caltrain terminus at 4th and King, and provide express transit service along Geary Blvd.

So instead of the traditional long trip, Sunday Train for Memorial Day Weekend has three short exursions. Join us for one, two, or all three, after the break.


Read one or more and join the discussion:

The Stars Hollow Gazette


Progressive Blue

Daily Kos

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Train: Driving Ohio on Lake Erie

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Note: a reprint of a Daily Kos diary from Jan, 2007

There is a common trend in my part of the Great Lakes States (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan) for discussion of sustainable energy to focus on commercial exploitation of the Wind Resource of the Great Lakes.

And why the Great Lakes? Because that's where the wind blows, as shown on the trimmed down version of the 2004 50m wind speed map for Ohio to the right. The pink, purple and red are the highest quality wind resources. (jpg) And this is just 50 metres ... at 100 metres it gets better still.

So what does this have to do with driving? Well, sometimes the wind blows harder, and sometimes the wind blows softer ... and on this point wind power and driving snuggle right together with a whole bunch of Energy Independence posts I have already made. How things link together ... is after the fold.

Join the discussion at:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Preliminary Analysis of the LAO Analysis of cap-and-trade funding of High Speed Rail

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

This blog  has been used over the past year primarily as a central cross link point to access Midnight Oil blog posts at various community blog sites, with the Sunday Train series outnumbering all other series over the past year by a substantial margin.

The Sunday Train will run tomorrow as scheduled. This post is to publish a more formal analysis of the California Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) risk assessment of investment in the California High Speed Rail project. Regular readers of the Sunday Train will know that I see the project as moving in the right direction with the most recent revision of the CHSRA Business Plan. However, the California LAO has taken a different view, and so starting a few weeks back I took a careful look at their analysis of the use of cap and trade funding in particular. This analysis is the result of that look at their work.
Look for online commentary at:
European Tribune (forthcoming)
The Stars Hollow Gazette (forthcoming)
Progressive Blue (forthcoming)
Daily Kos (forthcoming)


A Preliminary Analysis of the LAO Analysis of cap-and-trade funding of High Speed Rail

The LAO has made much of the risk that the HSR might not attract further Federal funding in previous reports. The purpose of this section on cap-and-trade funding appears to be to defend that earlier conclusion against the proposal to partially fund the HSR from cap-and-trade revenues. The LAO raises three points (p. 8) with respect to use of AB32 Cap and Trade funding for the High Speed Rail project. These are:
  • ·        Would Not Help Achieve AB 32’s Primary Goal.
  • ·        High-Speed Rail Would Initially Increase GHG Emissions for Many Years
  • ·        Other GHG Reduction Strategies Likely to Be More Cost Effective.
These points shall be considered in reverse order.

The third claim is:
Other GHG Reduction Strategies Likely to Be More Cost Effective. As we discussed in our recent brief on cap-and-trade, in allocating auction revenues we recommend that the Legislature prioritize GHG mitigation programs that have the greatest potential return on investment in terms of emission reductions per dollar invested. Considering the cost of a high-speed rail system relative to other GHG reduction strategies (such as green building codes and energy efficiency standards), a thorough cost-benefit analysis of all possible strategies is likely to reveal that the state has a number of other more cost-effective options. In other words, rather than allocate billions of dollars in cap-and-trade auctions revenues for the construction of a new transportation system that would not reduce GHG emissions for many years, the state could make targeted investments in programs that are actually designed to reduce GHG emissions and would do so at a much faster rate and at a significantly lower cost.

In comparing projects that are designed to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions to projects that have reduction in GHG as one of several program benefits, GHG reduction funds must cover the entire cost of projects aimed soly at GHG reduction, but may share the cost of projects that meet multiple goals.

The sole means that the LAO supports to allow cap and trade funding to share the cost of an investment is by purchasing CO2 emissions reductions credits at market determined rates. The return on emissions credits is both variable and uncertain, so this implies that long term infrastructure investment that results in reduced CO2 emissions must treat CO2 emissions reductions credits as an uncertain source of funding. If sufficient funding is obtained from other sources to complete sufficient infrastructure to begin operations, then at that time CO2 emissions reduction earnings may be treated as a windfall gain.

The LAO argues that there is substantial funding uncertainty regarding completion of the entire San Francisco to Los Angeles / Anaheim High Speed Rail corridor, and that because of that uncertainty, construction should not begin. And then they propose restricting the use of cap and trade funds in a way that maximizes the uncertainty of long term infrastructure investments that include CO2 emissions reductions as one of multiple benefits.

Evidently, a system of funding that prevents cap and trade funding from being used to complete a system that will result in reduced CO2 reductions is interfering with the development of systems that are carbon neutral and low emissions, while favoring a policy of continued development of existing high emissions systems, which implies hoping that carbon offset programs will both fully offset the additional emissions of the status quo systems and additionally offset our current emissions while using those systems.

The fundamental flaw in the analysis is that the LAO is performing a risk analysis of a system that represents a substantial departure from the status quo, yet neglecting to consider the status quo risks of reliance on combustion of petroleum products in our current intercity passenger transport system. These risks include the risk of crude oil price shocks, interruption of access to imported crude oil, and the CO2 emissions impacts of reliance on the current system.

It should be noted that this set of risks apply across a wide range of scenarios of potential future economic growth. That is, if crude oil prices remain low, and access to imported crude oil is uninterrupted, one likely consequence is strong economic growth. Continued dependence on petroleum combustion for intercity transport then implies that CO2 emissions impacts are higher. If there is a relatively fixed available portfolio of inexpensive CO2 offset projects, this implies that CO2 must be offset at an increasing cost.

On the other hand, a coming decade of repeated severe oil price shocks and oil supply interruptions directly implies forced reduction in petroleum consumption due to household and business travel budget constraints, and so implies substantially less risk of rapid growth in CO2 emissions from the intercity passenger transport system. However, it also likely implies a substantially lower economic growth rate, and under this scenario, the economic benefit of having an oil-independent common carrier intercity transport corridor is substantially greater than is represented by California HSR Authority Cost/Benefit modeling.

If these status quo risks are taken seriously, then there is a substantial risk in not proceeding with an available petroleum-independent common carrier intercity transport corridor. Given this status quo risk, the policy that the LAO is arguing for, of only funding CO2 emissions reductions from long term infrastructure after the fact, is amplifying those risks.

Addressing these neglected status quo risks brings attention to the neglected alternative policy. Under this policy, a reasonable cost is established for up-front investment in infrastructure in support of CO2 neutral and low emissions systems to replace existing high emissions systems. The CO2 emissions reductions associated with the new system is estimated, and that determines the maximum amount of capital support that may be provided by either grants or revenue bonding from the cap and trade fund.

The risks associated with this approach are that the cost will be at times higher than a cost than the current cost of emissions reductions over the coming decades, and that the project will not achieve the expected levels of CO2 emissions. However, the risks of not proceeding with this approach is that the projects in question are not able to go ahead for lack of funding, so California remains more dependent on petroleum combustion for intercity transport than is necessary and as a result suffers, under one set of scenarios, substantially greater reductions in economic activity than if the infrastructure had been made available or, under another set of scenarios, substantially higher CO2 emissions due to a failure of CO2 reductions policy to cope with the consequences of strong economic growth.

In line with its neglect of status quo risks, the LAO also restricts its consideration to direct GHG emissions benefits of the HSR line and ignores opportunity benefits associated with the availability of the HSR corridor. First, unlike the auto and air intercity transport systems, the HSR intercity transport system does not require explicit or hidden operating subsidies, so diversion of travel to HSR will free up resources for providing operating subsidies for low emissions and carbon neutral local transport. Second, an intercity train station offers an effective anchor for dense, multi-use development, even in areas that are presently car-dependent. Third, because rail pays a much smaller time penalty than airplanes for adding a stop, intercity rail is a superior intercity transport complement to sustainable local transport technologies that are competitive with gasoline fueled automobiles for local transport in smaller urban centers, but cannot compete with gasoline fueled automobiles for intercity trips.


The second claim is:
High-Speed Rail Would Initially Increase GHG Emissions for Many Years. As mentioned above, in order to be a valid use of cap-and-trade revenues, programs will need to reduce GHG emissions. While the HSRA has not conducted an analysis to determine the impact that the high-speed rail system will have on GHG emissions in the state, an independent study found that—if the high-speed rail system met its ridership targets and renewable electricity commitments—construction and operation of the system would emit more GHG emissions than it would reduce for approximately the first 30 years. While high-speed rail could reduce GHG emissions in the very long run, given the previously mentioned legal constraints, the fact that it would initially be a net emitter of GHG emissions could raise legal risks.

The LAO does not cite their source, but it appears to be the Chester and Horvath (2010) study which appeared to reach this conclusion, while including infrastructure construction, maintenance and operation emission costs and vehicle manufacture emission costs on both sides. However, this was based on a miscalculated figure of 170 kilowatt hours per vehicle kilometer traveled (kWh/VKT) from the California HSR Authority program EIR. A cross check with a source such as the CCAP & CNT (2006, pp. A1-A3) study of High Speed Rail and CO2 emissions in the US, would have shown power consumption in the range of 20-30 kWh/VKT. While the actual figure for the California system is expected to be an average of 46kWh/VKT for the double-length trains and operations at 220mph rather than 180mph, a figure of 170kWh/VKT should have been recognized as implausible.

The source of the miscalculation here is the California HSR Authority EIR itself. The German peer review of the California HSR Corridor Evaluation performed a detailed analysis of specific energy consumption based on a 240mph version of the German “ICE” HSR equipment, arriving at 74.2kWh/VMT, or 46 kWh/VKT. In the preparation of the EIR, the contractor for the CHSR Authority performed an incorrect conversion, which resulted in the value that Chester and Horvath (2010) used.

The LAO must clarify whether they are basing a substantial point in their analysis of the suitability of using cap and trade funds for a portion of High Speed Rail capital funding on the original Chester and Horvath figures, which were based on overestimating vehicle energy consumption nearly fourfold. Examination of the results of other studies point to the miscalculation embedded in Chester and Horvath (2010) as the source of their conclusion.

Further, the California HSR Authority has committed to sourcing renewable power for its operations. While there are unlikely to be contracting terms that guarantee that 100% of the power comes from incremental new capacity, the availability of a single guaranteed institutional buyer for carbon neutral power will encourage the more rapid development of carbon neutral power sources, so that the effective GHG emissions per kilowatt-hour for the California HSR system will be lower than the current grid norm assumed by Chester and Horvath (2010), so that their figures will still overstate the GHG emissions of the California HSR system, even corrected to take into account the miscalculation of HSR Vehicle power consumption.

Chester and Horvath (2010) also make the extraordinary assumption that a realistic low occupancy rate for HSR services is 10% occupancy of a sixteen car train with a 1,200 seat capacity. However, this train is comprised of two eight-car consists coupled together, and if there was an average 10% occupancy on such a service, operating costs could be cut nearly in half by only running an eight car train at 20% occupancy.

Indeed, even operating at an average 20% occupancy seems infeasible, given a requirement to operate without subsidy. Since a three hour corridor service is far more capable of tailoring its frequency to available transport demand than a six to twelve hour corridor service, 40% would be a quite conservative lower bound on occupancy.

In Chester and Horvath (2010b: fig S1), GHG emissions per Vehicle Kilometer travelled (VKT) appear to be about 55kg CO2e emissions per VKT, with about 45kg for operations, and so about 10kg for infrastructure. If their assumption of a low 10% occupancy of sixteen car trains is taken to be a 40% actual occupancy of eight car trains operating half the projected Vehicle Kilometers, the 10kg infrastructure emissions per 120 passengers remains the same, for 80-90g per passenger mile on the low assumption. However, at 46kWh/VKT rather than 170kWh/VKT, and at an actual 40% vehicle occupancy, that is more realistically 3kg CO2e/VKT than 45kg, so a further approximate 25g per passenger mile on the low assumption, for 105g to 115g CO2e/PKT.

Supporting 40% to 80% as a more reasonable range for HSR occupancy is Network Rail (2009):
In comparison, the following Table 2.12 summarises typical load factors for European high-speed rail services, which range from 42% to as high as 88%. The lower load factors of the German ICE services are notable compared to the French TGV and Spannish AVE. The primary reason for this is considered to be a degree of over-capacity provided by the ICE services (ATOC, 2009a) in order to compete more effectively with services from new low-cost airlines. On ICE lines, services are run closer to the capacity of the network than comparable TGV and Eurostar services. Load factors above 60% are achieved by TGV and Eurostar in most cases, which is achieved by running trains under the capacity of the infrastructure and pulling passengers to the train times (Network Rail, 2009). It is also notable that the medium-long distance high-speed rail services seem to achieve higher average load factors than the shorter distance services. This is presumably due to the increased competition with road at lower distances, where road transport can more effectively compete in terms of journey time.

If Chester and Horvath (2010) were to perform their analysis again and take into account that the energy consumption value is overstated nearly fourfold, with the knowledge that a sixteen car train is simply two eight car trains coupled together which can be operated individually if there is no demand for the additional seats, and taking into account the constraint on the train to operate at an occupancy that permits operating cost break-even or better, they would find that the “low” occupancy GHG emissions on a full life-cycle analysis are below their midpoint values for car, conventional rail, and air travel, and the GDG emissions at a mid-point occupancy value are below the emissions of car, conventional rail and air travel at 100% occupancy.

References for this section:
Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) and Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT). (2006). “High Speed Rail and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the US”. http://www.cnt.org/repository/HighSpeedRailEmissions.pdf

Chester, Mikhail, and Arpad Horvath. (2010) “Life-cycle assessment of high-speed rail: the case of California.” Environmental Research Letters Vol.5 Issue 1. January 2010.

Chester, Mikhail, and Arpad Horvath. (2010b) “Supplementary Data for Life-cycle assessment of high-speed rail: the case of California.” Environmental Research Letters Vol.5 Issue 1. January 2010.

Network Rail (New Lines Programme). (2009) “Comparing environmental impact of conventional and high speed rail.” http://www.mendeley.com/research/comparing-environmental-impact-conventional-high-speed-rail/


The first claim made is:
Would Not Help Achieve AB 32’s Primary Goal. The primary goal of AB 32 is to reduce California’s GHG emissions statewide to 1990 levels by 2020. Under the revised draft business plan, the IOS would not be completed until 2021 and Phase 1 Blended would not be completed until 2028. Thus, while the high-speed rail project could eventually help reduce GHG emissions somewhat in the very long run, given the project’s timeline, it would not help achieve AB 32’s primary goal of reducing GHG emissions by 2020. As a result, there could be serious legal concerns regarding this potential use of cap-and-trade revenues. It would be important for the Legislature to seek the advice of Legislative Counsel and consider any potential legal risks.

As part of the overall carbon cycle, carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for about a century. The goal of AB32 is therefore to reduce California’s ongoing contribution to climate change going forward by reducing CO2 emissions in 2020 to 1990 levels. While a lawyer may analyze the legal position, from the perspective of ecological economics, California’s transport system and its dependence on petroleum combustion is one of the principle sources of the problem. In terms of the primary objective of AB32, it is a far better outcome to arrive at 2020 in a position to make further substantial progress on this important GHG source than to arrive in 2020 at 1990 emissions level, but with little immediate prospect of further improvement.

In the analysis here, the LAO also ignores the fact that the current funding request is required to begin construction of the Initial Construction Segment (ICS), and that the initial construction segment will be put to use once track and signaling is completed by the San Joaquin service connecting the Bay Area to the San Joaquin Valley and connecting through to the LA Basin via a connecting intercity bus service between LA Union Station and Bakersfield. The capacity to support this service was a federal requirement for funding the ICS, and neglecting this independent utility has been a feature of previous LAO analyses as well.

The substantial reduction in San Joaquin service trip times will increase the ridership on the service, and additional passengers at existing stops on an existing train has a negligible impact on energy consumption of the train. Operation on the HSR corridor will also be more energy efficient than operation on the mainline freight corridor presently used. So the transfer of the San Joaquin to the HSR ICS corridor will have its own modest carbon emissions impact, before any cap-and-trade funds are required. Chester and Horvath (2010) confirm that will conventional rail has lower life cycle carbon costs than cars at equivalent occupancy, whether cars at 5 passengers and rail at 100% occupancy or cars at 1 passenger and rail at 20% occupancy.

While the gain in GHG reductions from increasing the average occupancy of conventional Amtrak California services is modest, there is no need to fund this work from cap and trade funds. The LAO advice to repeatedly delay start of the ICS and hope that the Stimulus ARRA funds awarded to California on the basis of constructing the ICS in the Central Valley were Express HSR speeds are possibly risks not only losing these ARRA funds, but also losing the GHG emissions reductions from operations of the San Joaquin on the ICS.

The California HSR Authority has been directed to plan to build an Express HSR system, and much of the LAO report has focused upon the fact that a project of this magnitude is built in stages, and that the completion of the entire project is uncertain so long as the Federal Government has not committed to a funding mechanism for HSR that seems likely to fund the bulk of the California HSR system.

However, the LAO ignores the benefits of completion of portions of the proposed California HSR corridor even if completion of the entire Phase 1 is delayed. This is in line with the LAO neglect of the risks to the California economy of being dependent upon petroleum combustion for its intercity transport.

When considering alternative established, mature technologies, electric passenger trains are the most energy efficient mode of intercity transport per seat mile, and under current economic conditions, it is Express HSR that consistently generates operating surpluses when operated in transport markets at similar distances and size (though typically smaller than) the LA to SF transport market. Electric automobile transport is complementary with electric Express HSR transport, but unlike Express HSR, technology for all-electric operation on trips of 200 miles to 500 miles trips is not mature, proven technology. So the strategy of pursuing both potentially carbon-neutral intercity transport options is preferable to strategies of pursuing either one alone.

The focus of the use of CO2 cap-and-trade funds for the Express HSR system should be on providing insurance against dependency on petroleum fueled transport.  The proposed staging of the HSR construction is:
  • The Initial Construction Segment (ICS) from Merced to Bakersfield;
  • A construction segment from Bakersfield to Lancaster/Palmdale;
  • A construction segment from Lancaster/Palmdale to the San Fernando Valley;
  • A construction segment to connect from the San Joaquin Valley to San Jose;
  • And completion of the “bookends” to the San Francisco Transbay Terminal and LA Union Station.
Under the business plan, the ICS is first used by the San Joaquin service, while Express HSR service will commence after construction is finished to the San Fernando Valley, to be extended further with each following phase.

It is feasible to provide a one-seat ride from the LA Basin to the Bay Area once the Bakersfield to Lancaster segment is complete, by electrifying the Lancaster to Merced segment and using one of several options to operate by a combination of electric and diesel power. This is not assured of operating at a surplus under current economic conditions, but is a useful contingency in the event of an urgent need to reduce petroleum consumption, whether because of oil supply shocks or because of increased urgency in addressing the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, or both, and under severe oil price shocks and supply interruptions, its financial viability would be assured.

Therefore, the most effective strategic use of CO2 cap-and-trade funds for the financing of the California HSR system, to guarantee the opportunity for an effective carbon-neutral intercity transport system, is to approve their use up to a total level appropriate for the projected CO2 emissions reductions, and to focus the spending on assuring the completion of the corridor from Merced through to Lancaster.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Train: Faster Trains Yields More Services Per Day

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence Back in the 29 Nov 2009 Sunday Train, Frequency and Waiting on a Train, I reacted to a point made in John McCommon's book, Waiting on a Train:
"Once those intermodal trains can go through Stampede Pass, it will take some traffic off the main line and free up more room for additional passenger trains," said Uznanski. By bringing the number of trains up to eight a day between Vancouver and Portland, ridership and ticket revenue will increase significantly. Currently ticket sales - what is known as farebox - cover 43% of the Amtrak Cascades' operating expenses; the state subsidizes the remainder. Run eight trains daily, however, the farebox recovery goes up to 70%. It's all about frequency. When trains are frequency and convenient, ridership - particularly business travel - grows dramatically, said Uznanski. It was a mantra I was to hear from experts all across the country - frequency builds ridership and only frequency significantly builds farebox recovery. Sure its great to have trains running more than 100mph in a corridor, but if there are only a couple of trains a day, they just aren't convenient enough to move people off the highway or away from the airport. - John McCommons, Waiting on a Train, Chelsea Green Publishing: Vermont, p. 51
This came back to mind when I was thinking last week about the "Cornhusker Rocket" proposal to reintroduce regular corridor service between Omaha and Chicago via Des Moines, Iowa City and the Quad Cities. Often times, a substantial benefit in getting train speeds up is that ability to operate more services per day with the same number of trains.
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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Train: The Rock Island Line is a Mighty Fine Iowa Rapid-Rail Road

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The Iowa Department of Transport has just completed the Chicago to Omaha Regional Passenger Rail System Planning Study, to select its preferred alignment for a detailed Environmental Impact Report.

There were five alignments in the study, based on the five historical passenger rail services between Chicago and Omaha. From north to south, these are: the Illinois Central; the Chicago & Northwestern; the Milwaukee Road; the Rock Island Line; and the Burlington Line. The study also included one combined alignment, based on where the Burlington Line and the Rock Island Line cross in Wyanet in western Illinois.

The combined alignment is the one selected, taking the Burlington alignment out of Chicago, and then taking the Rock Island line to Moline in the Quad Cities on the Illinois / Iowa border and through Iowa City and Des Moines to Omaha (probably via Council Bluffs, but that has yet to be determined).

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Train: Leveraging HSR for a Fresno Regional Rail Corridor

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence
Kings County officials have been opposed all proposed routes:
Board members said no high-speed rail route through Kings County would be acceptable while denouncing the Authority and its Fresno-to-Bakersfield environmental impact report. “I think we should come out and oppose high-speed rail in Kings County, no matter what alignment they have,” said Supervisor Tony Barba during a discussion of the county’s official response to the EIR, which is due Thursday. He was applauded by a large crowd that nearly filled the Board of Supervisors’ chambers at the Kings County Government Center.
And then they opposed getting started on California HSR:
HANFORD — Kings County supervisors on Tuesday will likely ask three key legislators to delay high-speed rail funding until the project resolves local conflicts. ... The Legislature is expected to vote in June whether to spend $2.7 billion in state bond money on the project, which has created major controversy in the San Joaquin Valley and stoked opposition from several cities and counties who believe it should be scrapped. Denying the funding would stop the Authority from starting construction in Fresno later this year or in early 2013.
And now, County officials seek to preserve Amtrak :
... But Authority officials have recently entered into discussions with Kings County to see if Amtrak service through Hanford and Corcoran can be preserved, said Larry Spikes, Kings County administrative officer. Downtown stations are considered critical to cities’ local economy. Authority Board Chairman Dan Richard couldn’t be reached for comment. “Taking Amtrak right out of the heart of Hanford and Corcoran is just not a good idea,” Spikes said.
So, don't want the HSR Station in town, don't want the HSR to go outside of town, and wants Amtrak to be continued to Hanford and Corcoran at slow speed when the San Joaquin after the high speed route between Merced and Bakersfield becomes available. What I am looking in this week's Sunday Train is a different way to go about this that provides a mix of local and intercity transport benefits to the major county centers: the Fresno Regional Rail Corridor.

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