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.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Burning Fires

Real Rail Access for Raleigh (Cap'n Transit Rides Again)
A new streetcar era? by Christof Spieler (Intermodality)
The 3 Rules of Urban Design (GatesofMemphis)
Groundbreaking Energy Ball Wind Turbine for Home Power by Moe Beitiks (Inhabitat)
China, Japan and U.S. Battle for EV Battery Supremacy by John Gartner (MateR Network)
Shanghai: Four rail transit lines to put into service in 2009 (h/t Overhead Wire)
Malls, the Future of Housing? By LISA SELIN DAVIS
(HousingWire magazine, h/t grunman at MLW)

Coalition building between DFH's and 'mainstream" farmers.

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Next American Revolution

Crossposted at ProgressiveBlue

We do not have a progressive populist movement in this country. We do not have an effective change coalition in this country. And the first implies the second, since successful progressive populism has been a component of all of our effective change coalitions for over a century.

To fend off the possible semantic quibble ... yes, by an effective change coalition, I do mean to say change going forward. We have, obviously, had effective reactionary coalitions without a progressive populist component!

In sketching out the potential membership for an effective change coalition, I have previously identified farmers. And so I take special interest when Stranded Wind at the Daily Kos adopts a provocative and potentially quite divisive framing for discussion of organic farming "versus" sustainable production of chemical fertilizer such as ammonia (NH3) derived fertilizers produced with the harvest of sustainable, renewable electric power:
On one side of the field we have the hemp clothes and Birkenstocks set flinging organic tomatoes. The other side has Monsanto's minions, flinging GMO hand grenades with one hand and trying to lasso producers with the other. The official federal referee of the USDA would like to help but their rules are the province of misguided ideologues and sociopathic transnational corporations.

Stuck in the middle is the puzzled farmer, who just wants a fair price for the work he does and some protection for when things go badly. They'd happily plow the earthly remains of all three of the above groups into the soil if it would increase yields and get unsolicited opinions out of their business.

The substantive policy position in the piece is quite sound ... as we pursue a more sustainable and Energy Independent farming economy, we should also be aiming for decentralized production of key feedstocks, since the centralization of the current system leaves us exposed to substantial risk.

However, there is mixed in the echoes of the "US agriculture feeding the world":
First, let's stick a wrench in the complaints of the organic foods crowd. Yes, it would be better if we were more careful with our soil and if we had less chemicals in our food, but we feed six and a half billion with the current system. We're going back to the solar maximum for this planet and that is going to be ugly enough without some Great Leap Forward approach, which would starve more than are already going to face that fate given our fossil fuel depletion and the tight coupling between this and our existing fertilizer sources.

This "US agriculture feeding the world", which features heavily in Monsanto and ADM advertising on Sunday morning political talk shows, has long been used as the cover story for the dumping of subsidized cereal grains that has devastated the local farming capacity of large numbers of low-income nations ... which means, of course, in driving subsistence farmers into mega-cities, ensure a market for the heavily subsidized cereal grains. Obviously, that income stream does not stick in the hands of the "mainstream" farmer ... it just passes through on its way to Monsanto and ADM.

So a bit more care is needed regarding who "we" are when talking about US farm policy. "We" don't feed 6b people with our system ... even if you extent "our" system to mean the EU/US/Oceania agro-industry mono-cropping, then it certainly feeds well over a billion, but nowhere near 6 billion ... not unless you include feedlot animals in the count.

And "our" system has two big redundancies built in.

The first redundancy is the insistence on growing perfectly good food and then feeding it to animals, rather than using animals to convert plant production that is not edible for humans into a supplement for the crops we raise directly for humans.

The second redundancy is the productive potential of low income nations that is held off the market by the practice of dumping US/EU staple grains in low income nations in order to ensure a broader market.

We could be on track for a famine ... but famines are not about food production, they are about food distribution. Recall that Ireland was a net food exporter in each year of the Irish Potato Famine ... beef and butter and grain production was not affected, but beef and butter and grain was headed for the more lucrative markets in England.

And it is a mistake in advocacy strategy to accept a framing of sustainable-produced chemical fertilizers versus organic farming techniques. In high income nations, we should be making soil husbandry payments for all farming methods that restore and rehabilitate soils, and if that means subsidizing a bunch of dirty fucking hippies, so be it. But that does not require imposing organic farming techniques, its simply a competitive advantage of organic farming techniques if we introduce a difference in income between soil establishment and soil mining.

And at the same time, certification for marketing of organic produce requires compliance with something that the market for organic produce recognizes as organic production ... but certification for soil husbandry payments would be in terms of objective measures of the health and retention of the soil, and while it may well include maintaining fertilizer practices that do not lead to excessive fertilizer run-off in the watersheds, the income system would not require production that can be certified as organic production.

And it should be obvious that fertilizer levels that maximize protein content in grains for use as animal feeds, where the majority of the protein will be dumped into the watershed, which results in collapse of riverine and coastal fish stocks, is not a net win in terms of total protein available for human consumption.

Shifting farm income support from subsidy for staple grains to fee for service in soil husbandry opens up organic farming operations to participation, but would include any farmer that adopts sound whole-system soil husbandry.

Since there is no necessary conflict between the needs of "mainstream" farmers, those sharing their watershed, consumers, and dirty fucking hippy organic farmers, the debating point on the extent to which organic farming can carry the load is a side track diversion from a reform of our farm policy.

Controversy and debates are good for getting hits and high comment counts online, but the focus needs to be on finding common ground to build a large enough change coalition large enough so that the controversy and debate is between the change coalition and the entrenched opposition to reform.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

On the Sprawl Disease

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Elaborating a comment at the Matthew Yglesias blog

How far should we push the effort to roll back sprawl development?

On the one hand, there is the standard reasoning of marginalist economics, as expressed by a commentator to a Gas Tax post by Yglesias:
Rob and Noah - at the point that the negative effects of carbon emissions are fully internalized, I don’t think we need to fight sprawl anymore. There is some optimal, non-zero level of sprawl, and as long as people are paying the price for their consumption decisions, there’s no justification for using super-optimal taxation to force them into dense residential areas. Another way to put this is, once you’ve removed the negative environmental effects, what’s the matter with sprawl?

This view is, however, full of "status quo bias", where all aspects of the status quo are taken for granted as the "normal way for things to be", excepting whatever specific problem is under discussion. And the result is, of course, the status quo normally fares better than it otherwise would, because each critique of the status quo is evaluated based on some but not all costs of the status quo.

However, the costs of sprawl development are far from exhausted if we just consider the CO2 emissions impacts. There are external costs in the vast acreage that must be devoted to parking ... the four to seven parking places that each car requires, even though it only every occupies one of them at a time. There is the time drained from people's lives by every increasing Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) ... and increasing VMT at the same time increases the contribution of each car to traffic congestion. There is the costs imposed on those who can not drive in designing not just our residential system but our work, shopping, education and leisure activities in a way that are biased in favor of cars and against access by common carriers.

And then there is the cost in blood, from victims of our callous tolerance for traffic fatalities to the thousands of American servicemen and women and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis kills in our vain effort to establish a police station state on top of the world's last great stockpiles of inexpensive to produce crude oil.

Now, where would we end up if we reflected all of those costs to the participants in sprawl development?

Once you’ve removed the negative environmental effects and have also reflected the rest of free rider costs from sprawl development back to participants in the sprawl development system … then there is nothing wrong with sprawl, as there would be very little left.

That is not to say that everyone would live in a densely populated large urban area … but that the “sprawl” option would drop out of the mix of settlement choices.

After all, bear in mind that sprawl development is not just “low population density”. It is a whole system of subsidies and regulatory restrictions to create segregated activity zones and the subsidized point to point mixed public/private transport system required to access those dis-integrated locations for distinct activities.

So people living at exurban population densities that have 80%+ of their local trips to a common suburban village center and 80%+ of their ex-local travel occurring via dedicated transport corridors accessed at a common suburban village center … would not be living in "sprawl". It would be something else, much more similar to living in the close hinterland to a small town before the rise of sprawl development.

In this city with no footpath theres a building with no people
There is crime and gun decisions
Theres a street of heat and hawkers, theres a house of hope drifters
Theres a gang that shoots then listens
Theres a place that knows no poverty, a town without pollution
Theres a soul with good intentions
There are canyons full of movie stars, churches made of metal
There are mountains made of muscle
We have leaders who are anxious, we have captains not courageous
Captains tumbling into madness
But theres a main who makes no enemies, a body never breathless
No ambition ever hopeless

Up on bedlam bridge somebody is waiting
Up on bedlam bridge Im shot to heaven
Oh, up on bedalm bridge, waiting

In these locked and shackled neighbourhoods, bridge and tunnel diplomats
See the golden ghettos creeper
Crazy flags from history, songs for the white house gangsters
Guns for hellgate railway sleepers
But theres a main who makes no enemies, a body never breathless
No ambition ever hopeless
So how stands the city on this winters night?
The city on the hill or so they said
The snow is falling down around the armoury
The citys closing in around my head

Up on bedlam bridge...

Drive, wont you drive the engines harder, drive
Drive, wont you turn the engines over, drive

HSR LA to Las Vegas

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Crossposted to Docudharma and ProgressiveBlue.

I've been following with interest the discussion of California to Las Vegas HSR at the California HSR blog.

To catch up with the state of play, before the passage of CA-Prop 1A, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Confusion), who hails from Nevada, supports a maglev line from Las Vegas to Anaheim, and there was an article in the Las Vegas Sun indicating that Gov. Schwarzenegger and Gov. Gibbons had talked up the maglev:
Near the bottom of a news release detailing Gov. Jim Gibbons’ meeting last month with President-elect Barack Obama was the announcement that Gibbons and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had agreed to move ahead with the high-speed train project.

“Arnold and I agreed to jointly work together on the project,” said Gibbons, who is planning to travel to Sacramento to talk with Schwarzenegger about it.

Also before the passage of CA-Prop 1A was the DesertXpress proposal to build a private Rapid Passenger Rail system to capture part of the stream of cars heading up the I-15 from LA to Las Vegas. The proposed system starts at Victorville.

Victorville? Why Victorville? From the DesertXpress site:
Of course it would be great if DesertXpress could be extended to downtown Los Angeles, Anaheim and Ontario, and someday it might. But for this initial project, it is critical for the station to serve the Southern California market and be financeable without public tax dollars.

Victorville makes a lot of sense because it is the first major population center northeast of the Cajon Pass through the San Bernardino mountain range separating the High Desert from the Los Angeles basin. Victorville is within only a 30- to 45-minute drive for roughly 5 million people who live in the Inland Empire, Antelope Valley, and the eastern portions of Los Angeles County, and only a one to two hour's drive for most of the rest of the Southland's 21 million residents—many of whom routinely drive at least an hour to and from work each weekday.

However, now that CA-Prop 1A has passed, the wise heads at the California HSR blog (CAHSR blog)) have pointed to an alternate solution that would provide downtown LA and Anaheim service, as well as downtown San Francisco, San Jose, Fresno, and Sacramento service. First, note the proximity of the propsed Victorville station to the closest station on the main trunk CAHSR route between LA and the Bay.

Now, as it turns out, there is an existing rail alignment between Mojave and Barstow, and Rafeal at the California HSR blog has already sketched out a map of a line from the proposed CAHSR system to Las Vegas (google maps), from which I have clipped:

In the post about this issue on the CAHSR blog, there was much discussion of the relative priority of this route. However, the DesertXpress proposal is set forward as a private venture ... they obviously need approval to construct the line in the I-15 alignment, but (unless the financial crisis has changed their view on this) what they require is permission, not funding.

Which points out one possible path ahead. Give the DesertXpress the go-ahead, dependent on electrified rail (but see The STRACNET electrification series for a proposal that reduces the commercial obstacles to electric rail infrastructure on private rail lines), maintaining compatibility with the CAHSR system, permitting a junction at Barlow for the CA-HSR, and guaranteeing fair access to their line by common carriers operating between Las Vegas and the CAHSR system. They can proceed on their planned basis, and when the main trunk of the CA-HSR has been completed, a connecting line between Mojave and Barstow is all that is required to open up the Victorville-Las Vegas line to Anaheim, Las Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno, San Jose, San Francisco, and when the extension is completed, Sacramento.

Of course, a maglev system is an expensive show-piece project with impressive top speed. However, for anyone living in a transit oriented urban or suburban village, who would have to catch local transit to the HSR station, then the HSR to the maglev transfer station, then the maglev to Vegas ... getting into the Las Vegas bound HSR service at the closest HSR station is a more appealing prospect.

And by the same token, for those who are taking a short hop flight to Vegas, pressing the capacity of the airport in Las Vegas, the ability to go to drive to a closer HSR station and catch a direct HSR service should be more appealing to many than an HSR service to a maglev transfer station. After all, once you have settled in with your laptop or the movie on your portable DVD player, an uninterrupted trip with no uncertainties about a transfer is a more pleasant way to travel ...

... lost in dreaming, while blazing through the desert ...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Can we afford to cut CO2 emissions during the Panic of 2008-2009?

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Next American Revolution

With respect to the questions of whether our economy can afford the society we want and the environmental footprint that we need, others have said it better, so I'll just keep it short and sweet:

Ask the question whether the environmental footprint we need and the society we want can afford our economy. If not, we need to get a new one.

Because the real world says:

... and that's not negotiable, no matter how many words are spilled to reverse it.

Midnight Oil Blue Sky Mine

Hey, hey-hey hey
There'll be food on the table tonight
Hey, hey, hey hey
There'll be pay in your pocket tonight

My gut is wrenched out it is crunched up and broken
A life that is led is no more than a token
Who'll strike the flint upon the stone and tell me why
If I yell out at night there's a reply of bruised silence
The screen is no comfort I can't speak my sentence
They blew the lights at heaven's gate and I don't know why

But if I work all day at the blue sky mine
(There'll be food on the table tonight)
Still I walk up and down on the blue sky mine
(There'll be pay in your pocket tonight)

The candy store paupers lie to the share holders
They're crossing their fingers they pay the truth makers
The balance sheet is breaking up the sky
So I'm caught at the junction still waiting for medicine
The sweat of my brow keeps on feeding the engine
Hope the crumbs in my pocket can keep me for another night
And if the blue sky mining company won't come to my rescue
If the sugar refining company won't save me
Who's gonna save me?

But if I work all day...

And some have sailed from a distant shore
And the company takes what the company wants
And nothing's as precious, as a hole in the ground

Who's gonna save me?
I pray that sense and reason brings us in
Who's gonna save me?
We've got nothing to fear

In the end the rain comes down
Washes clean, the streets of a blue sky town

Burning Fires

Valley Metro Grand Opening (Light Rail in Phoenix)
The Circle-Heights Bike Network: Creating a bicycle-friendly district (EcoCity Cleveland)
Introduction to Vehicular Cycling (Bicycling Life)
Chainguard | Probicycle (effective cycling advocacy)
Streetsmarts (The Effective Cycling Guide, available online)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Action: Green Transport for Christmas (2009, 2010, etc.)

I have had a number of "I'd Like For Christmas" essays over the past three weeks ... now its your turn.

To say you'd like Pedestrian/Cyclists transport infrastructure in the Infrastructure Stimulus Package, sign the Rails to Trails Infrastructure Petition and share it with your friends (as I'm doing here).

To say you'd like Rail and other Public Transport infrastructure investment, sign the Transportation for America Petition and pass it along.

To say you'd like a Green Stimulus Package, sign the Sierra Club Green Stimulus Package Petition and pass it along.

Dear Joe, I want an Electric Train for Christmas (Pt. I) Sets out one possible framework for achieving Alan Drake's proposed electrification of STRACNET for a 36,000 mile network of electric freight rail capacity, coast to coast, with particular focus on a national Rapid Freight Rail network.

Dear Joe, I want a High Speed Electric Train for Christmas (Pt. II). Samples the range of High Speed Rail and Rapid Passenger Rail plans already in progress across the country. This discusses how the Rapid Freight Rail system can be used directly to support Rapid Passenger Rail, and how the expansion of Rapid Passenger Rail provides a platform for expansion of true High Speed Rail beyond the "twin coasts" of the Northeast Corridor and California out here into flyover country.

Dear Joe, I want a Sustainable High Speed Electric Train for Christmas (Part 3) Focused on the Strategic dimension of the electrification of STRACNET, and in particular the opportunity to the vulnerability of our freight transport network to interruption of crude oil supplies while substantially reducing the energy cost of freight transport and, if the electrification of STRACNET is leveraged to add needed links to our Electricity Superhighway, provide substantial support for expanding Wind power to 20% of our nation's electricity supply ... while an electrified STRACNET that saved 10% of our crude oil imports would only consume 1% of our current electricity consumption.

Yglesias: Taking the Bus to a Public Transport Stimulus (MLW)
... extends the focus on a "quick spend" on the stimulus which is being used as an excuse by State Departments of Transport to focus on road widening ... to other "quick spend" projects, like funding expansion of public transport services, and upgrade/expansion of City Bus (and School Bus) fleets with more energy efficient, petroleum conserving or petroleum independent equipment.

Dear Barack, I want an Exurban Cycleway for Christmas ... shifts the focus to the most capital and energy efficient modes of transport ... cycling and walking ... with a local community accounts system that can get the funding out for a very large number of "micro-infrastructure" projects which can add up to a substantial encouragement to cycling and walking in large numbers of communities nationwide.

Including Twin Cities for Street's vision of The Future (result) of Freeway Expansion

I hope that you have long since signed one or more of those petitions, and that's all I really wanted for Christmas right now, so Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dear Barack, I want a Cycleway for Christmas

Xposted to My Left Wing, ProgressiveBlue, and Docudharma.

Twin Cities Streets for People present The Future (result) of Freeway Expansion:

A little bit optimistic and a little bit pessimistic at one and the same time, I'd say ... but, they really do have a very solid point.

Tales of Exurban Cycle Commuting

When I first started cycling to work at the warehouse, I took the long way around. This included taking the Hike and Bike recreational cycleway, then back roads, then getting across the Interstate with some shoulder riding by the State Route a short ways to the county highway overpass across the Interstate, then back roads to the Industrial Park.

It only took a couple of weeks to work out a more efficient route, and I only used the Bike and Hike trail a couple of times since then. As you can see, it mostly runs from one small town to a small park near to but not at a University town.

Now, the ride I took to work was quite insane in terms of a reasonable commute for anyone who actually has a life to live other than just trying to keep student loans from exploding ... but if the trail went all the way to Kent, I could definitely see using it sometimes during Spring, Summer and Fall ... for example, riding to the University library, or even past the college town to the sprawl big box retail zone just over the Summit County line.

But look at that "system". One solid green line, extended by a dotted line that means paint along the side of the road and some street signs warning cars to beware of bikes (kind of like the "beware of deer" signs, I guess), and two small dashes of green.

Now, when looking at the whole system, all those bits and pieces do tie together into a single system. Indeed, it was not this complete when I was using it ... the link up between the screened crushed limestone trail and the painted lines on the side of the road "trail" was opened up on the Saturday before election day.

The Fictitious Cycleways of Ohio

When we pull back and look at Northeast Ohio ... this is by no means unusual. A network has been laid out ... and slowly, more than a decade past the original completion dates in many cases, bits and pieces are being filled in.

And pull back still further, and the same is true statewide ...

Now, for the "planned extension", it may take some time to sort out transport easements ... but for many of the gaps, its a matter of chasing up finance between a drib from this township and a drab from that park system.

IOW, a lot of these bikeways are ready to break ground very quickly.

Is that Transport or Recreation?

Now, it should be kept in mind that most of these are "bike trails" rather than transport-oriented cycleways. And they do not clear them of snow ... instead, they suggest that the trails be used for cross country skying when snow is on the ground. Mind, that did not prevent me from taking the trail on by bike one winter evening as I took the long way home (Docudharma).

So, yes, its mostly recreation, or semi-recreational transport - taking the bike instead of a bus because its a nice day out. On the other hand, if someone can ride their bike to their recreation, ride on the trail for their recreation, and ride their bike home from their recreation ... that's still gasoline not burned. So the more complete these trail systems, the better.

"Fracking Bridge"s and Bike-Friendly Routes

The single worst stretch of the route to work I finally settled on was the fracking bridge

Not the bridge over the upper Cuyahoga river, which was no real trouble ... the bridge over the Interstate. The approach to the bridge from the south was too steep to accelerate, the morning traffic mostly consisting of people getting off the state route to take a short cut to work was dicy, and the shoulder was narrow with lots of road debris swept onto it by the traffic.

Of course, the bridge was there because the Interstate was put in, and the Interstate has to be completely grade separated ... but the grade separation only really catered to local car and truck traffic.

And while there were multiple routes to get from one place to another on county and township "highways" (and a warm thank you to city dwellers for subsidizing those country roads) ... if there is an Interstate Highway in the way, those routes are restricted to the overpasses and underpasses. Which, by their very nature, tend to channel car and truck traffic.

Every public street and road other than a limited access expressway is a potential bike route, at least in the state of Ohio. Cities and Villages can permit riding on the sidewalk, but they cannot restrict riding on the public right of way. And I relied heavily on that freedom in stitching together a route to work.

However, the Interstate Highway system violates that freedom when it breaks up public rights of way without providing bike and pedestrian friendly overpasses and underpasses.

So there's another entry for the New Energy Economy component of the stimulus package. Whether they are dedicated cycleways to the right of the shoulder, raised enough to prevent road debris from being swept onto the path, or separate cyclist overpasses ... and I'll note here that those fancy French single-arch "twisted cable" suspension designs sure do look purty ...

... and, indeed, its OK if the bridge connects two side roads that used to be a single road before the Interstate, somewhere in the vicinity of the road overpass. And, by the same token, where its easier to go under than to go over, a cycle subway with pedestrian sidewalks is also acceptable.

The Road Not Taken ... because of all those Fracking Trucks

Now, every once in a while, I had to stop by the bank after work. My ride was so insanely long for my limited cycling capabilities that I could not get to the bank in my home town after the end of the first shift (7:00am to 3:30pm ... 8 hours plus an unpaid half hour lunch break). So I'd have to take the State Route down to the closest bank branch, and then take the State Route that led from that town to the town where I'm living.

And I know that there are some even more insane bike riders who will just ride on the State Route and dare the trucks to run over them, but I just do not have the heart for that kind of conflict. Ride on a 35mph or 45mph country rode, and most drivers will react like you kinda belong there ... or at the very least like they are not 100% sure that you don't belong there. Ride on a busy one-lane-each-way State Route, and far more drivers are 100% sure that you do not have any right on that road (even if, by Ohio State Law, I do).

So for those rides, I declared caution the wisest form of valor, and rode on the shoulders.

Once I got into my home township, riding on the shoulders was not too bad. And between the warehouse and the town that hosted the branch of my bank, riding on the shoulders was good to excellent ... the road had recently been resurfaced, and the shoulders were a smoother ride with a more reasonable grade than many of the country roads I used.

But between the Bank and the boundary line of my home township, riding the shoulder was an exercise in imaginative trail riding.

So this is the third item I'll list here: ridable shoulders.

A quick Google of rideable shoulders is illuminating on this score ... cyclist rely on shoulder riding in a wide variety of contexts for precisely the situation I describe here.

So, well, its not just my imagination. A formal specification of what constitutes a rideable shoulder and money that can be used for establishing a rideable shoulder (including a pay-back provision if future road widening takes it away again) is something that would be of benefit to today's cyclists ... which means, of course, it will encourage more to ride.

How in the Hell can such tiny programs be included in the Bail-Out?

OK, so how to fund all this?

Getting Congress to vote on putting in that cycle and pedestrian bridge (or subway) over Interstate 80, quite possibly 5 to 10 years in advance of any local effort to stitch it into a laid-out on-road "share cycleway" system ... that's a bit unlikely.

On the other hand, if a local area had a choice of allowed spending projects, and decided to spend it on that ... well, then, the local area just may have a better idea of local conditions and where local development is likely to head than a Congressional committee.

So this is my idea: an accounts based system, with a "use it or lose it" provision to ensure that it works as effective stimulus spending.

Who gets an account? Every incorporated city, suburb and village and every unincorporated township or parish in the nation. The money goes out on an equal per capita basis, and a set of allowed projects are set up, the account holders submit their projects for verification that they meet the guidelines, and the money is disbursed.

This is supposed to be a two-year stimulus bill, so put two year's worth of money in each account, and establish a deadline for when account holders have to submit their projects during each year of the funding. Multiple projects can be submitted, and more than a single year's funding can be included in a submission. If any account holder does not have a submission in, their allocated funds are shifted to front-load the spending from account holders who have put in their projects, and their account for the second year is adjusted. If an account holder does not have have sufficient approved projects to use their allocation by the submission deadline for the second year, their funds are re-allocated to the areas that have projects in.

So, every locale has a chance to get funding for the first year, those who are quick off the mark get their projects funded first, and everyone really has a chance to get funding for the second year ... by that time its "you snooze, you lose".

Obviously we don't want blood on our hands here, so the projects would not include funding for painting "bike lanes" on the sides of city streets. If a street is wide enough to allow a bike lane, it is safer for the cyclist to allocate all of that width to the rightmost lane, and post "share the road", and "caution for bikes merging left" signs at appropriate intervals.

And full respect has to be given to walking as well ... if a local suburban area is establishing a walkable "town center", that should be supported as well.

So in terms of projects:
  • Sidewalk construction and repair
  • Construction and repair of dedicated cycleways
  • Construction and repair of recreational Bike and Hike trails
  • Construction and repair of cyclist and pedestrian bridges and underpasses across Interstate Highways
  • Construction and repair of rideable shoulders on US and State Routes, which permit a cyclist to ride safely four feet to the right of high speed automotive and truck traffic
  • Installation of cyclist request buttons at automatic traffic lights

How much money? I'd say $10/person/year, or $6b total for the personal transport allocation.

Note that this same account system can be used for Regional Transport and Transit projects as well ... once the account is set up, it can have sub-accounts for a variety of programs. If petroleum conserving and petroleum independent transit and transport is included in the system, that would be an additional allocation, which could soak up a substantially larger quantity.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dear Joe, I want a Sustainable High Speed Electric Train for Christmas (Part 3)

Follow a variety of discussion at ProgressiveBlue, My Left Wing, and Docudharma. Also at Agent Orange.

This series started with the following clip:

And I have asked for Electric Trains (Part 1) and High Speed Electric Trains (Part 2). But I am greedy, so I want it all. What I really want is SUSTAINABLE High Speed Electric Trains.

First, it appears that Electric Trains, and Electric High Speed Trains, offer an important step in that direction already, since they offer substantial energy efficiencies ... the most sustainable Watt is intelligent design that eliminates the need for that Watt.

Second, the foundation of the nationwide Electric Train system, the electrification of STRACNET, can be the "donkey that carries its own lunch" ... there is an opportunity to use the program to cost effectively accelerate harvesting of our nation's sustainable renewable energy resources.

So, yes, I want a coast to coast, 100mph, electric freight and passenger train system. Yes, I want the break through the bottlenecks for the Acela in the NEC, establishment of the Empire Corridor, Keystone Corridor, Ohio Hub, Midwest Hub, Southeast Corridor, Gulf Corridor, T-Bone Corridor, Front Range Corridor, Cascadia Corridor, and the CA-HSR.

And, being greedy, powered sustainably.

Energy Savings of Electric Trains

STRACNET is not an acronym many people are accustomed to rolling trippingly off their tongues, although I think its a really good acronym as far as aggressively brawny military acronyms go ... STrategic Rail Corridor NETwork. Its the Department of Defense designated network of railroads for "Preserving Strategic Rail Mobility".

And the STRACNET is an aggressively brawny thing, or at least when its written up for a DoD-ish audience:
Tell any mechanized maneuver commander he has to fight a battle without his Abrams tanks or Bradley fighting vehicles, and you probably will see a puzzled look on his face that could be interpreted as, "What planet are you from?" or, "What language are you speaking?" Since it is doubtful that a major conflict will occur just outside the gates of Fort Stewart, Georgia, or Fort Hood, Texas, a key element of a successful engagement will be getting combat power wherever it is needed on time.

Without a reliable commercial rail infrastructure, it is doubtful the tanks and Bradleys will make it to their place of business. To make sure they do, the Military Traffic Management Command developed the Railroads for National Defense (RND) Program in 1976. In 1991, the RND Program was assigned to the Military Traffic Management Command Transportation Engineering Agency (MTMCTEA), which now executes the program on behalf of the U.S. Transportation Command. This program ensures that the commercial rail infrastructure in the United States meets Department of Defense (DOD) requirements for deploying a force. The RND Program works to preserve our strategic rail mobility.

And National Defense is precisely what sustainable electrification of STRACNET provides ... the ability to move freight and passengers from coast to coast and north to south, with sustainable, domestically harvested power, is direct defense of our transportation system from resource depletion, supply interruptions, and currency crises.

And, yes, the ability to move Bradley Tanks even if those nasty furriners interrupt "our" supplies of crude oil (that happen to be formally located in somebody else's country) ... that is open to crass, blatantly self-interested appeals to the crude militarism that infests our body politic. In other words, if some self-styled "conservative" opposes this program, "to ensure that the rail transportation that our military depends upon can never be held hostage by foreign oil producers", why, they are obviously not supporters of the military and, indeed, are not supporting the troops. Indeed, that opposition ought to raise suspicion that they are agents of foreign governments in disguise.

OK, but how much energy savings are we talking about here?

Brace yourself. This is discussed in Alan Drake's proposal, previously linked to in Part 1:
The USA has 177,000 miles of railroads, with the Department of Defense classifying 32,421 miles as strategic (STRACNET). These selected rail lines correlate closely, but not exactly, with what are considered “main line” railroads. DoD only selected one rail line when two main lines parallel and a few main lines are not considered strategic. 36,000 miles should cover all of the main lines.

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

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

Just take the mid-line value ... transferring half of diesel truck freight to electric rail, plus the effect of electrifying diesel rail, would save roughly 7% of US oil consumption, or roughly 10% of US oil imports.

And it could be complete, under maximum commercial urgency, in eight years or less. Even taking one year of lobbying to get this into the consciousness of the general public and the political elites ... it could be finished within an eight year Presidential administration.

1.461m barrels of oil a day is 533m barrels annually ... $21b at $40/barrel, $75b at $140/barrel. At a cost of $250b, for the 79mph network, that is an 8.4% return in terms of import savings at $40/barrel, 30% return at $140/barrel. At a cost of $450b, for the 110mph network, in terms of import savings that is a 4.7% return at $40/barrel, 16.7% at $140/barrel.

Now, what about the energy cost ... electricity aint free, after all. Well, here the numbers are even more dramatic:
Transferring freight from truck to electrified rail trades 17 to 21 BTUs of diesel for one BTU of electricity. Simply electrifying existing rail freight would trade 2.6 to 3 BTUs of diesel for one BTU of electricity.

That is, electric rail freight requires between 33% to 38% of the energy of diesel rail freight, and electric rail freight requires between 5% to 6% of the energy as diesel road freight. So the additional electrical energy required is a small fraction of the liquid fuel energy saved. In other words:
Electrifying 80% of railroad ton-miles and transferring half of current truck freight to rail would take about 1% of US electricity.

Rapid Electric Rail

Our rail system at present is designed to carry the heavy bulk freight where the greater energy and labor efficiency of (diesel) rail allows rail to be cost competitive with road freight, even given the fact that the federal funding of freight rail infrastucture is largely YOYO ... You're On Your Own ... while long haul trucks get massive subsidy in the form of a cross subsidy scheme where by more than 90% of road damage is done by heavy axle load vehicles, which pay far less than 90% of the user fees in terms of fuel taxes, and in turn user fees in the form of gas taxes only pay roughly 80% of the cost of roadworks in the country ... which, of course, means that all road vehicles together get a complete free ride on all of the external costs that they impose.

To add insult to injury, as privately owned infrastructure, heavy freight rail is assessed local property taxes, while public roads are not.

This is, indeed, one of the reasons that private railroads have not invested in rail electrification, despite its substantial advantages. Rail electrification is a capital intensive process, and would add a substantial amount to the debt burden of a rail road, as well as to the annual overheads in the form of higher property tax assessments.

So the proposal here is to level the playing field: the rail electrification infrastructure will be owned by a public authority, receiving a perpetual lease from the private owner of the right of way of air rights and the footprint of electrical stanchions and masts. It will sell the power to the railroad for the cost of the power and a user fee.

Now, that's the electric ... where's the rapid?

As explained in part 1, we have been slowing down our rail for decades, now. Rather than invest in more capacity, freight railroads in the past half century have been investing in less capacity. Shippers of heavy bulk freight that is cost sensitive are, by the same token, not time sensitive. They are willing to trade off uncertain delivery schedules for lower costs per ton-mile. One way that railroads have responded has been to replace double track systems with single track systems, that have sidings to allow trains going in opposite directions to pass each other.

And while the "Positive Train Control" (PTC) systems that would allow safer operation at high speeds was first proposed in the US in the 1920's, freight railroad continue to fight it.

So this is the flip side of the deal being offered to the freight railroads. In order to be first in line to get electrification of their existing lines, they must provide a plan to offer new "Rapid Rail" paths in their right of way. This Rapid Rail path features:
  • Positive Train Control for all trains in the path
  • Speed limits of 110mph or more, or else as high as technically feasible within the physical limitations of the right of way
  • All trains in the path have sufficient crash avoidance capability to share the path with modern lightweight electric passenger trains

Now, there are many ways to offer these Rapid Rail paths. The cheapest is to "time slice" the track, setting up the track so that it is allocated to heavy freight for part of the day and Rapid Rail for part of the day, with portions of Rapid Rail specific track, especially around curves where Rapid Rail requires steeper banking than heavy freight. The most expensive is to place double track freight rail and double track Rapid Rail lines side by side.

Where there is a commercial case for it, and where the owner of the right of way agrees to provide a perpetual lease, the public electrification authority can itself construct Rapid Rail lines, charging an access fee to users of the line, and with the same commercial advantages in terms of lower cost public finance and freedom from property tax as enjoyed by the Interstate Highway system.

Clearly, we do not want to have the public authority building the electric infrastructure in 2012 and then rebuilding it in 2018 in response to the expansion of rail capacity and provision of rail paths. So part of this capacity bidding process involves the presentation of the detailed capacity expansion path, so that electrical infrastructure can be built with the requirements of expansion in mind.

It is clear what the minimum acceptable bid for provision of electrical infrastructure would be: maintenance of the existing heavy rail capacity, and provision of additional Rapid Rail capacity, in a way that allows for reliable, on-schedule deliveries of freight carried on the Rapid Rail system.

What About Passenger Trains

Now, what about passenger trains? First, the Rapid Freight Rail system addresses many of the problems of Amtrak. Rapid Freight Rail paths will be designed to support higher speed operations, and to support more reliable operations for freight that must be delivered on schedule. Second, electrification would allow Amtrak to operate lighter weight, more energy efficient, faster accelerating and higher speed Electric Motor Unit (EMU) trains, so the reduction in trip times and increase in reliability will come combined with lower operating costs. That means that the same subsidy to Amtrak regional train services can support a larger and more frequent route structure.

Second, there are the range of semi-HSR systems at various stages of planning, from earliest technical evaluation to "ready to start spending real money". The public rail electrification authority will already possess the technical capabilities to plan and build electric overhead and the civil engineering expertise on coping with difficult problems in vertical clearances. So all of the many Rapid Passenger Rail systems will also be permitted to apply to the rail electrification authority to electrify their routes. If they can provide appropriate guarantees on minimum annual access fees, this could also extend to the construction of Rapid Rail train paths for the use of passenger trains, outside of the STRACNET system.

And for true HSR systems, the availability of Rapid Rail paths means that true HSR trains can start running when a given HSR corridor is completed, and then continue on a Rapid Rail path to its destination. Then, each HSR corridor completed leads to a reduction in travel time, and the process of building the passenger base can begin well before the full HSR route network is completed.

What About Sustainable Power?

It could be claimed that the electrification of STRACNET is from "60% to 95% sustainable", based on energy saving over diesel rail freight and diesel road freight. However, we can go further than that.

The US DoE publication, 20% Wind Energy by 2030 discusses the requirements of generating 20% of the nation's electricity by harvesting wind power. Chapter 4 (pdf) of the report covers "Transmission and Integration into the
U.S. Electric System".

One common misconception about large scale roll-out of wind-power is the idea that somehow the variability of each wind turbine must be balanced, using some form of energy storage, to create a manageable system. However, at 20% energy penetration, this would be a massively wasteful approach:
Some suggest that hydropower capacity, or energy storage in the form of pumped hydro or compressed air, should be dedicated to supply backup or firming and shaping services to wind plants. Given an ideally integrated grid, this capacity would not be necessary because the pooling of resources across an electric system eliminates the need to provide costly backup capacity for individual resources. Again, it is the net system load that needs to be balanced, not an individual load or generation source in isolation. Attempting to balance an individual load or generation source is a suboptimal solution to the power system operations problem because it introduces unnecessary extra capacity and an associated increase in cost. Hydro capacity and energy storage are valuable resources that should be used to balance the system, not just the wind capacity. (pp. 80-1)

The greater the number of wind turbines operating in a given area, the less their aggregate production variability. (p. 89)

Similarly, as more wind turbines are installed across larger geographic areas, the aggregated wind generation becomes more predictable and less variable. The benefits of geographical diversity can be seen in Figure 4-8, which shows the change in wind plant hourly capacity factor over one year for four different levels of wind plant aggregation. This figure shows the operational capacity factor of wind turbines aggregated over successively larger areas—first over southwest Minnesota, then across southwest and southeast Minnesota, then across the entire state, and finally across both Minnesota and central North Dakota. There is a decrease in the number of occurrences of very high and very low hourly capacity factors in the tails of the distribution as the degree of aggregation increases. A considerable benefit is also realized across a broad mid-range of capacity factors from 20% to 80% (EnerNex 2006). (p. 90)

There are, therefore, two distinct transmission requirements for Wind Power. The first is the problem of "Stranded Wind", where a major wind resource area has far more wind resource than local electricity demand. The second is the problem of interconnecting consuming grids to permit load balancing across a wider area.

One of the problems, of course, is:
Local opposition to proposed transmission lines is often a major challenge to transmission expansion. An AC transmission line typically benefits all users along its path by increasing reliability, allowing for new generation and associated economic development, and providing access to lower-cost resources. Local owners, however, do not always value such benefits and frequently have other concerns that must be addressed. (p. 99)

Which points to the third piece of the plan. Rail lines tend to go to places where people live. And, being ground transportation, transcontinental rail lines have to pass through areas where no so many people live.

And if we are electrifying STRACNET, that means that there will be capital works proceeding all along those rail corridors, bringing project management and work crews all along the rail lines being constructed.

And unlike many property owners, the owner of the right of way would have a direct stake in the provision of transmission corridors, since the railway will be an electricity consumer, once the railway line has been electrified.

Now, railways rights of way do not not always provide the straight as an arrow alignment that would be preferred for a transmission line. However, they do provide one owner to negotiate with, rather than hundreds or thousands, which owner will also be an electricity consumer, and substantial opportunities to share construction and project management costs.

So the third piece of this puzzle is the public rail electrification authority offering the air space over rail right of way for use in providing the Electricity Superhighways that are part of the expansion of wind generation capacity in the US.

Well, so, that's what I want for Christmas

I know that this has been quite a long letter, Joe, but as I noted up top, I'm feeling greedy. Now, its a patient sort of greedy ... I'm fine with the sustainable electric High Speed train being given Christmas 2012, or Christmas 2016, or even Christmas 2020. But that is quite definitely what I want for Christmas.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dear Joe, I want a High Speed Electric Train for Christmas (Pt. II).

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

For the last eight years, development of Energy Independent transport has been faced with a dog-in-the-manger administration fighting furiously to move forward into Cartopian vision of endless crude oil fueling endless road works so people can drive endless hours to actually get wherever they need to go to do whatever it is they need to do.

However, there is hope. The first signs are appearing of tentative steps into the 21st century. This year, the Amtrak funding bill included substantial funding for restoring the North East Corridor to an adequate state of repair (a more impressive achievement than it may sound like, given the obstructionism of the Bush administration). On November 4, California passed Proposition 1A, providing $9b in bonds for the California High Speed Rail (HSR) project, and $950m in bonds to support expansion of transport infrastructure to connect with the HSR project. And then, on November 19, John Kerry and Arlan Spectre introduced the a bill for funding High Speed Rail projects:
Titled the High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008, the bill would provide money for tax-exempt bonds to finance long-stalled high-speed rail projects. “A first-rate rail system,” Kerry said in a statement, “would protect our environment, save families time and money, reduce our dependency on foreign oil, and help get our economy moving again.”

So let's look at the projects that are on the drawing boards.

Bush Administration obstructionism has prevented breaking ground on a number of projects. Still, the case for progress toward a 21st century transportation system is compelling, and so all across the country, planning and other preliminary work has proceeded.

In Part I, I looked at a nationwide electric rail grid, supporting two classes of rail ... regular bulk freight rail, and "Rapid Rail". However, the most impressive recent progress has been toward funding the next step up from Rapid Rail.

This is true High Speed Rail ... Proposition 1A started the funding for one in California (first clip), following a broad range of experience with successful High Speed Rail projects around the world (second clip) (NB. Yes, that's a sales pitch in those clips):

In a sense, California's geography and population distribution conspired to push it into a true HSR system. The two biggest population centers in the state, the LA basin and the Bay area, are 340 miles apart, line of sight, between four and five hundred miles along a transport corridor. The Central Valley to the Bay would have a hard time drawing enough passengers to pay for an effective passenger alignment between the two, and the same for the Central Valley to the LA Basin. Now, step up to true High Speed Rail, and include trips between LA and the Bay in under 2 hours, 40 minutes ... running with a top speed of around 220mph to achieve an Effective Line of Sight speed of 125mph ... and that is going to attract a noticeable share of a far larger transport market.

It seems that the other recipient for funding for the "very" High Speed Rail funding under Kerry-Spectre is the Northeast Corridor. The Acela tilt-train, a trainset that has a top speed of 200mph, already provides services between Washington DC and Boston.

However, when you look more closely at the Acela, that translates into the 225 mile journey from DC to New York in about 2:50 48 an average speed of 80mph ... while the New York to Boston journey is about 3:40.

Effective HSR service is far less a matter of the top speed a train can achieve, and far more a matter of maintaining a higher overall rate of speed. After all, consider a route with two 100 miles sections, one traveled at 200mph and the other traveled at 50mph. The first section is completed in half an hour, the second in two hours, and the average speed is 80 mph. Double the speed of the high speed leg, and the trip is two and a quarter hours for an average speed of 89mph. Double the speed of the low speed leg, and the trip finished in 1 and a half hour, for an average speed of 133mph.

While the top speed of the trainset is 200mph, the top speed of the Acela in service is 150mph. Further, south of New York, the old overhead electric infrastructure limits the top speed of the service to 135mph. And in Connecticut north of New Haven, the limited separation between tracks prevents the Acela from using its tilting mechanism, which limits its top speed going around curves. So realignment that straightens out some of the Connecticut curves and upgrade of the overhead electric infrastructure south of New York will cut into trip times.

And even so ... the Northeast Regional does DC to New York in 3:15 to 3:40. Cutting 25 to 50 minutes off the trip may not seem like a lot, but its worth a substantial increase in potential market share. NYC to Boston in 3:40 is not going to attract the same market share, but it is still a substantial transport market, and the benefit in cutting off the forty to sixty minutes from the Northeast Regional times of 4:20 to 4:40 is also substantial.

Extensive experience shows that a train trip of under 3 hours can hope to capture 40% of an existing air transport market, and one of two hours can hope to capture a dominant 70%. So investments into the Northeast Corridor to shave minutes at a time off of the Acela routes are an attractive proposition.

And, of Course, America Is Made for High Speed Rail

However, the Northeast Corridor and California are special cases. The Northeast Corridor is a special case because of the high average population density, so that it experiences very congested rail lines. This makes each ten minutes shaved off a rail route a cause for celebration. California is a special case because it is such an enormous state that it almost completely contains two distinct Megalopolitan complexes in Northern and Southern California, with their highest population centers separated by more than three hundred miles.

For most of America, there is a much easier path ahead for High Speed Rail. We can put in place a network of Rapid Rail passenger systems, to provide a platform to build on. From there, we can follow the French strategy of building true High Speed Rail Corridors in stages, with HSR trainsets operating on a true HSR alignment as they are completed, then finishing the journey on the Rapid Rail network.

The map above shows the already-designated "High Speed Rail" corridors. However, in US Legislative terminology, "High Speed Rail" is anything that can run above 90mph ... so many of these corridors are in reality Rapid Rail corridors.

And the actual plans that are in progress, at various stages from the earliest planning stages to already proceeding with infrastructure improvements on existing lines while planning for system expansion, are far more extensive than the corridor designations in the US DoT map:

Some of these projects have been progressing slowly through planning and environmental impact studies, some have had a modicum of funding for modest infrastructure improvements, some were started up, reported, and then put into mothballs ... but all represent a starting point for building up our Rapid Rail capabilities.

Linking Rapid Rail Together: Inter-urban Rail Coast to Coast

Now, the first thing that jumps out from the High Speed Rail Corridor Map is the lack of a national network.

Of course, that is standing on its own. Overlay the existing Amtrak route nastional structure on top of the High Speed and Rapid Rail Corridors, and the routes knit together into a single national grid.

And remember our platform from Part I. A program of electrifying the STRACNET for freight rail rolls out naturally into transcontinental electric passenger trains, with the exact same improvements that allow reliable high speed freight also providing a massive improvement in service level for Amtrak transcontinental trains.

So that is interconnection level one: the existing Amtrak system, including the route expansions and service improvements made possible as a side effect of the STRACNET electrification and High Speed Freight program.

Linking Rapid Rail Together: True High Speed Rail

Consider the Empire Corridor (New York) and Keystone Corridor (Pennsylvania), as they links together with the Ohio Hub, connecting on to the Midwest Hub centered on Chicago.

Now, add a true High Speed Rail alignment, from New York through Northeast Ohio and Northern Indiana to Chicago. At present, that High Speed Rail corridor would connect New York and Chicago, as well as drawing from points in between along the rail corridor itself.

However, if the Midwest Hub and Ohio Hubs are in place, that true HSR route would cast a much wider net. Running from Chicago on a HSR into northeast Ohio and then switching onto the Ohio Hub provides rapid Chicago / Pittsburgh and Chicago / Buffalo routes. Running from New York through to northeast Ohio and then switching onto the Ohio Hub brings New York / Columbus / Cincinnati and New York / Toledo / Detroit into the network.

The key, then, is to get viable regional Rapid Rail systems going as quickly as possible, and then use them as platforms to start the process of constructing the true HSR corridors that will turbocharge the trip possibilities.

Fast-Tracking Regional Rapid Rail

And Part I already laid out a process for fast-tracking Regional Rapid Rail. The electrification of STRACNET and investment in high speed freight capabilities is an urgent program in its own right. A major part of our nation's structural addiction to oil is the fact that we cannot get important freight from coast to coast without relying on crude oil.

The electrification of STRACNET would mean, first, that existing rail traffic would not be threatened by an interruption of crude oil supplies.

Even more important, electrification of STRACNET by a public authority, funded by user fees, would substantially level the financial playing field between rail and the massively subsidized trucking industry. Under anything approaching a level playing field, some 50% to 80% of current ton-miles carried by trucks will shift to rail. That would mean a massive reduction in energy consumption per ton-mile, and a direct reduction in crude oil consumption.

That is the meat and potatoes of the electrification of STRACNET: a major step forward in national Energy Independence.

But at the same time, the program can easily contain a majority of the upgrades required to support passenger Rapid Rail - so the up-front capital cost of a passenger system would be cut substantially. Passenger trains would have to be acquired, stations built or rebuilt in appropriate locations, and rail routes built or upgraded through large urban areas to get to the central urban stations.

However, once the train is out into the Rapid Rail network, the same improvements that allow freight to pass through at 100mph with reliable delivery schedules allow 110mph passenger tilt-trains to pass through with reliable trip schedules.

So the electrification of STRACNET and establishment of Rapid Freight Rail is the foundation, and that foundation already supports substantially improvements to the existing passenger rail service. Then regional Rapid Passenger Rail is the ground floor, offering a large number of trips in the two and three hour range that is strongly competitive with air travel, and substantially shifting the margin of competition between rail travel and car travel. And then true HSR corridors leverage the Rapid Regional Rail systems and provide an even wider range of effective travel.

The Power and the Passion

There is an objection that is sure to be raised ... since it was raised already in various quarters in response to the electrification of STRACNET itself. Where is the energy going to come from to power these trains? Are they, in fact, coal-burning trains, that rely on power lines to hide the coal out of sight and out of mind?

Ah, no, they are not. But that is the third piece of the puzzle, which is going to be picked up in Part 3.

You Take All the Trouble that You Can Afford
At Least You Won't Have Time to Be Bored

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dear Joe, I want an Electric Train for Christmas (Pt. I)

xposted to: ProgressiveBlue; My Left Wing; Docudharma; Agent Orange

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Joe talks about trains to the National Governors Association:

(h/t Ryan Avent, Matthew Yglesias)

Three special Federal tasks are the provision of a coast to coast system of electric trains, support for a nationwide "Rapid Rail" network, and support for inter-regional corridors providing true High Speed Rail.

If we pursue the opportunities available to use now, using existing, well tested technology, we can have a big chunk of this job finished within eight years, and can have set things in motion to see an absolute Energy Revolution in inter-regional transport in this nations by 2024.

So it may not be this Christmas, but if we hit hard on this issue, its possible for use to say, "New York, you get an electric train. Boise, you get an electric train. Detroit, you get an electric train. Atlanta, you get an electric train. Amarillo, you get an electric train. ..."

The Platform: Electric Rail, Coast to Coast

The platform for this is Alan Drake's rail electrification proposal: electrify STRACNET, the Dept. of Defense designated STrategic RAil Corridor NETwork, and strategic connecting corridors. Alan Drake presented this plan in detail at The Oil Drum (and yes, to help promote this, if you have a Digg account, do click through and Digg that post), among other places.

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

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

Now, the original plan as set out was under the constraints of the fiscal policy environment of 2006/2007, and involved packages of tax incentives and various measures to support private railroads doing as much of the investment as possible. However, with a consensus developing for a very major fiscal stimulus, its possible to move in a much more direct fashion.

  • Build the electrical rail infrastructure, financed by Federal bonds, operated by a public authority, and funded by user fees paid by the carriers that use the electricity to run their trains.

This is very much, after all, like the approach to financing the Interstate Highway system that is currently relied on for the bulk of our oil-dependent freight transport. And while the Interstate Highway system had a Strategic Defense rationale in the beginning, it now contributes to National Insecurity than to National Security.

Alan Drake was able to commission professional modeling of this program, and determined that if pursued with full commercial urgency, the build out could be completed in six years. The cost that Alan Drake gives for this is $250b for a network supporting 79mph rail traffic, and $450b if the network is extended to support 110mph rail traffic (which I will discuss in more detail in the next section).

Any effort to move a substantial portion of current road freight by rail will overwhelm the current capacity of the system. However, given the current state of our rail network (and more about that in the next section as well), rail in most of the country is a decreasing cost investment ... we can add capacity at a lower cost than the original capacity. A big part of this is adding track to existing corridors ... double tracking rail that is single track, lengthening passing lines so that slow bulk trains can stand and wait for shorter higher speed trains to pass, increasing the power of locomotives so that freight can pass through a bottleneck more rapidly.

The flip side of having government invest in providing a lower cost energy supply that allows freight trains to run through the system more rapidly, economizing on both running costs and capital costs of rolling stock ... is that the railroads receiving the rail electrification in their rail corridor must increase the freight capacity of the system, increase the capacity of the system to support 79mph through trains (both passenger and container freight), and allow available rail corridor to be used for the Rapid Rail system (next section).

Now, consider the National Association of Rail Passengers proposal for improved Amtrak service. Compare it to the STRACNET system, and squint closely at the fuzzy little picture of STRACNET above (NB. anyone with a better picture of STRACNET, drop a link in the comments) and you will see that both existing and proposed routes would be included in the electrification of STRACNET.

In other words, when I said, "Boise, YOU get an electric train, Amarillo, YOU get an electric train ...", I wasn't joking.

As electric lines are finished, Amtrak can commission new electric trains, with new passenger cars, and start new runs. And of course, when those runs are replacing an existing run, that means that existing diesel Amtrak trains can then be used to increase frequency on parts of the network that have not yet been electrified, and new routes added to places to start filling in the expanded Amtrak route network in the NARP plan.

A Three Tier System

This is the foundation, but its not the entire house. I am going to pick up the Rapid Rail system in Part II, but first, I want to fill in some blanks about why a three tier system is needed.

At the California High Speed Rail Blog, Rafael explains this well:
In the specific case of the US, there are two major stumbling blocks. First, rail is now used primarily for slow, cheap but profitable heavy freight at interstate distances. The infrastructure is owned by competing freight companies, with some trade in trackage rights. Only a few sections of the US rail grid are publicly owned, e.g. the North East Corridor, the Caltrain SF peninsula corridor and, the Alameda freight corridor in LA. Passenger rail volume is very modest by international standards and, taxpayers have long resisted investing in something that only works well if it is perceived as a public service, rather than a commercial enterprise.

Second, the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) has defined rules that minimize overheads for heavy freight operators. Rather than spend a lot on maintenance, they just keep running a little more slowly every year. They stick with very old, winding alignments with little or no track superelevation to avoid the massive investments needed to support higher speeds. They avoid upgrades to signaling, preferring instead to rely on passive crash safety at low speeds. They do not voluntarily invest in grade separations, diesel exhaust gas aftertreatment or electrification. They even convert dual back to single track alignments and abandon underutilized rights of way altogether, because this reduces their property tax bill. They don't stick to a timetable. The reason for all this is simple: bulk freight customers won't pay a premium for higher speed. All of this works against the provision of effective passenger rail services, as well as regional rail freight of high value goods

Now, the STRACNET rail electrification is a substantial benefit to heavy freight, AFAIU largely because electric traction has better torque moving from a standing start than internal combustion traction. Indeed, some "diesel locomotives" in this country are diesel-electrics, where the diesel engines generate electricity which is used to drive electric motors ... precisely to take advantage of that torque in getting long, heavy trains moving from a dead stop.

Its not the top speed that makes electric rail faster ... its the ability to put on more power for less cost, because the electrical generating plant is not being hauled around with the train.

That is why we can expect that we can swing a deal and have private railroads competing to be the first to get the public rail electrification authority established on their existing right of way. Cutting their operating costs per ton-mile is the core of their current business model. Swapping some capital investment in capacity that they themselves can then use for trains that can complete their routes faster and cheaper, and so be turned around to do another run ... there's a deal to be found there.

However, for an effective high speed freight network, as well as a more effective passenger rail network, we cannot be bound by this operating model. We need heavy bulk freight, that is most sensitive to pure cost per ton-mile. But we also need to be able move time and schedule sensitive freight without relying on crude oil.

That is where a second tier of rail comes in ... what Rafael calls (and which I shall now be calling) "Rapid Rail". This corresponds closely to the expectations in Europe for how a normal rail line operates. Rather than relying on passive crash resistance as the front line of safety, the "UIC" standards relied on in Europe focus train control systems, signaling systems, and other measures focused on crash prevention while maintaining effective operating speeds.

When Rapid Rail is installed side by side with normal heavy freight rail, there will be three classes of trains in the system:
  • Heavy freight trains, restricted to the heavy freight network. These are compliant with FRA standards, but lack the train control and other support to allow it to operated on Rapid Rail lines.
  • Dedicated Rapid trains, with the train control and other support to operate safely in the Rapid Rail lines, but not compliant with FRA guidelines for operating on the heavy rail network. These will often be passenger trains, but can also include express freight carriers.
  • Compliant Rapid trains, that both meet train control and other requirements for operation on the Rapid Rail lines, and comply with FRA guidelines for operation on the heavy rail network. These would include both "regular" Amtrak services, and single stacked express rail, ranging from high speed transcontinental "superfreighters" to trains like the "Cargo Sprinters" (see picture, below), specialized for shorter distances and smaller numbers of containers.

Now, the Rapid Rail system probably does require beating on some heads at the entrenched FRA (Federal Railroad Authority) ... but it has the substantial benefit that it is not trying to get them to change what they are doing for the bulk of current rail operations, but rather to add a new way of doing things for a new network.

Construction of the Rapid Rail system would follow the same lines as the construction of the electrification infrastructure: in cooperation with the owners of the right of way, a public authority would finance the construction of Rapid Rail infrastructure, which would be accessed by carriers ... either freight or passenger rail trains ... paying user fees.

The construction of one or more Rapid Rail tracks in a right of way would be supplemented by some dedicated Rapid Rail alignments, where a new right of way can be acquired that offers electric express trains a substantial reduction in total trip time.

But, I Want High Speed Rail for Christmas! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Patience, patience, its only early in December.

I described this as a "platform" at the top of this essay. And while it directly provides support for substantially improved Amtrak passenger rail services ... I have not yet described any High Speed Rail systems.

That's what lies in store for Part II: Joe, I want a High Speed Electric Train for Christmas.

There's a road train going nowhere
Roads are cut, lines are down
We'll be staying at the Roma Bar
Till that monsoon passes on
Blue collar work it don't get you nowhere
You just go round and round in debt
Somebody's got you on that treadmill, mate
And I hope you're not beaten yet