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Modeling the railroads of the future

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Modeling the railroads of the future
Posted by taracay on Thursday, June 28, 2018 6:21 PM

Hi everyone... is anyone interested in discussing modeling the railroads of the future... that is, how to model today the railroads of 2030.  I am looking for resources or groups that want to use model railroading as a way of expressing a positive vision for the future of transportation based on near-term technologies-- that is 10 to 20 years down the line.  Anything to share?  Thoughts? Thanks! 

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Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Thursday, June 28, 2018 6:42 PM

12 years are not much of a time span, if you think about a dramatic change in railroading, both in operation and technology. I don´t think that it will differ much from what you see today. If I were to look into a crystal ball, I might see passenger services increase in areas with a high density of population, most of the increase coming from already known projects. Maybe the equipment will look more what we can see in these days in Europe - modern, lightweight engines and cars in both commuter and mid-range services. But that´s only a guess.

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Posted by davidmurray on Thursday, June 28, 2018 6:52 PM

I,m with Urlich on this: twelve years, even 22 years is not long to change a large infrastruture.  Mono rail for passenger service, BIG bucks, and where.

Freight operations will remain much the same, with perhaps less small volume customers, and more unit trains, unless coal consumption and oil consumption both go down drastically.

But one can dream, and perhaps in 20 years you will look on today as the bad or good old days, depending on what happens and your point of view.

Dave

 

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Posted by xboxtravis7992 on Thursday, June 28, 2018 7:43 PM

Well if you want to make a realistic guess at what the future looks like... I'd say model lots of new tech and some hypothetical tech which could become feasible in 12 years. So self driving trucks coming in out of terminals, drones monitoring all railyards, PTC on every major line, T4 and other low emissions locomotives (other than Gensets which will be lucky if they last even this decade) and further growth of commuter rail in urban areas. Expect some of the big names in railroading to look the same, I doubt that Union Pacific for example is going to bow out anytime soon...

But... if you don't want a boring predictible future, go crazy! How about post nuclear war, apocalyptic world of survivors using armor plated trains to scour the wastelands with pockets of deadly mutants raiding the trains? Massive ecologic destruction with flooded cities, drought riden plains, and pollution spewing out of every building? Disney-esque utopia, with clean buildings, green trees, white fountains, and monorails gliding on their slim beams? First contact with aliens giving us new technology which changes how our civilization lives, or perhaps humanity is locked in an interstellar war with the aliens? Or maybe go the Futurama route, were the tech is new; but human's are still just the same self centered creatures focusing on the same things they do now, and everything just looks like 50's camp sci-fi?

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Posted by NWP SWP on Thursday, June 28, 2018 8:23 PM

Perhaps passenger travel will Com back into vogue, seeing all the problems the airlines are having Amtrak would be wise to lower their rates and improve service, I think freight locomotives will be most likely LPG or some other "clean" fuel, or they might be like dual mode electric for when they're in the city.

I'd put your forecast farther out so it could be more "realistic" so to speak, the sooner you put it the less change you can apply.

Steven

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Posted by maxman on Thursday, June 28, 2018 8:31 PM

xboxtravis7992
First contact with aliens giving us new technology which changes how our civilization lives

If they give us a transporter we won't need any trains.

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Posted by NittanyLion on Thursday, June 28, 2018 8:55 PM

Tinplate Toddler

12 years are not much of a time span, 

 

Heck, the planning to replace CSX's Long Bridge here in DC is on year six of a replacement plan that was first laid out 19 years ago. If they stay on schedule, it'll be done in ten years.

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Posted by cedarwoodron on Thursday, June 28, 2018 9:25 PM

Driverless trucks are already on their way but I don't see federal regulations allowing for that with large freight trains. We already have automated rail systems for intra-airport travel between remote parking and terminals but in urban areas with light rail, the side by side high density of rail and auto has already run up scores of accidents-can't imagine A I driven systems there either. Aerodynamics has no purpose below 60mph and freight cars are designed for capacity not beauty. Advanced "styling" might be in the offing but wholesale change that would be "modelable" sees unlikely. 

Cedarwoodron

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Posted by mlehman on Thursday, June 28, 2018 9:30 PM

Yah, 12 years is the end of when folks working today on current projects will be looking for retirement while the systems being designed today are going into operation. Lots of the RR biz depends on very long term planning that is observant of economic cycles and other forcecasting and modeling factors.

Depends on where, too. In the US, more passenger, yes, but whether that still connects in a national network depends on whether...a lot of things we won't go there in this forum. But it's clear that planners and local authorities are turning back to rail where high volume demand requires its use. Old systems are seeing new investment as the public realizes rail is the only alternative to massive parking lot trraffic jams  stretching for miles. There is, in the densest urban environments, no place to accommodate all the cars if everyone drove. Has been that way for a hundred years or more. Somehow, this idea remains controversial, but the facts are there if you care to look.

In the rest of the world, rail is generally eagerly embraced and countries pride themselves in making comparisons between the features and speed of their respective high speed passenger trains. China is still building its network, but there are over 14,000 miles of high speed rail in it's network already.

Interestingly, the best and brightest from these rail-competive countries come here to study and teach at the University of Illinois, whose highly competetive railroad engineering program is building on a distinguished record more than a century old. My wife usually hangs out and chats with many of them on Fridays, so it's always gratifying to hear about new things and issues of current interest from their studied point of view. I've also had the pleasure of hanging out with some of the students, who I've been lucky enough to operate with at local layouts.

The bottom line is that US railraods are likely to grow more cloesly aligned with a globe that is investing in rail. GE exiting the business of building diesels seems odd, but they are probably looking down the road in marketing such assets now. Environmental and climate factors enhance the economics of electrification. Sure, diesels will stll be common enough, perhaps more so in the US, where we'll poissibly stll be lagging on the adoption of elecrification in 12 years after doing so most of preceeding 120 years.

I'd expect some new variantions on the container front, also, with speciality container offerings growing to provide new forms of transport for much smaller quantities of some hard to shupmitems.  Something like "mini contaiers" would  take dangerous loads offf the hghways while bolstering the case for RRs as safer alternative corridors that could require public investment for lines that might not otherwise hang on, driven in part by the need to carry particualr traffic safely.

Mike Lehman

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Posted by NWP SWP on Thursday, June 28, 2018 9:52 PM

I think the "mini container" idea is pretty good, it'd probably be some sort of mini containers that fit into a rack/frame the size of a standard container.

Steven

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Posted by PRR8259 on Thursday, June 28, 2018 10:52 PM

cedarwoodron

Driverless trucks are already on their way but I don't see federal regulations allowing for that with large freight trains. We already have automated rail systems for intra-airport travel between remote parking and terminals but in urban areas with light rail, the side by side high density of rail and auto has already run up scores of accidents-can't imagine A I driven systems there either. Aerodynamics has no purpose below 60mph and freight cars are designed for capacity not beauty. Advanced "styling" might be in the offing but wholesale change that would be "modelable" sees unlikely. 

Cedarwoodron

 I think we'll see the trains come before the trucks and cars.

Autonomous (driverless) trucks are "on the way" if one is talking to the high minded transportation people whose head is only in the clouds.  My livelihood is highway engineering, and I can tell you they've drunk way too much of their own Koolade.  Bluntly put, the necessary infrastructure to support autonomous trucks--and cars--is utterly lacking in the United States.  Sure, in a few test corridors in big cities they can show it works--BUT--there are massive safety issues due to "gaps" in the technology.  People have died from being hit by autonomous vehicles.  The truly massive investment in infrastructure to support autonomous vehicles simply does not exist.  The federal and state governments can't adequately support the highway network we have now.  We can't build our way out of congestion, and there is simply no tax money available for the massive infrastructure investment required to support autonomous cars and/or trucks.  For instance, most traffic signals would require updating, and that's only just the beginning, tip of the iceberg.

The average age of the American vehicle fleet is very high, I'm not sure if it's 17 years or 22 years--but that projects out to something like 2040 before half the vehicles on the road will be 2018 or newer model year vehicles, and today's "level 3" autonomous vehicles are not fully functional-where they need to be--designs.  Most vehicles sold today are not autonomous, so actual phase in, if the infrastructure even existed, which it does not and will not anytime soon, is a long, long way out.

The railroads might beat the other guys.

10, 12, 15 years from now, there will be more concrete ties, more areas of welded rail, more updated signal systems (for example, PRR position light signals are now down to the bitter end, what appears to be the final phase out of the last ones in service).  It's possible that the "end game" of mergers will create a true transcontinental U.S. railroad, or rather, two of them.  This could happen by then.

I bet whatever happens, UP will still be standing, just because they always seem to find a way.  They will swallow up one eastern railroad--the one that doesn't merge with BNSF.  BNSF will become something else with other initials to account for the railroad they swallow.  I don't expect the (GN legacy) orange to still be around if/when the merger end game happens.

There will be more completed realignment projects to smooth the worst horizontal and vertical mainline geometry currently remaining.  Projects like HDR's construction of the second mainline on independent alignment through Abo Canyon, New Mexico.  (Boy do I wish I'd been part of the alignment study team for that).

There will be more cool bridges of possibly greater individual span lengths than some of today's existing bridges.

There will be more areas of triple track mainline, as I think further emphasis on the core long distance freight routes in the west will make that necessary.

John Mock, P.E.

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Posted by G Paine on Thursday, June 28, 2018 10:55 PM

Model a Hyperloop. All you need is some PVC pipe and something to make a whooshing noise. Wink Wink Wink

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Friday, June 29, 2018 5:48 AM

An interesting topic considering so many model railroaders are in the hobby because they want to model or remember the past, the good ol days.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by richhotrain on Friday, June 29, 2018 5:58 AM

I am planning a layout that will feature Amtrak in 2030.

It will consist of a bare 4x8 plywood sheet.  Smile, Wink & Grin

Rich

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Friday, June 29, 2018 6:06 AM

Or a model RR of the future will have driverless trains that are 100% covered in graffiti.  Since there will be no engineers to look out the window, the graffiti covering them will just be left there.

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Posted by csxns on Friday, June 29, 2018 8:24 AM

taracay
the future of transportation

Its called 18 wheelers they will be the carrier of freight rail is for passengers.

Russell

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Posted by NittanyLion on Friday, June 29, 2018 11:48 AM

richhotrain

I am planning a layout that will feature Amtrak in 2030.

It will consist of a bare 4x8 plywood sheet.  Smile, Wink & Grin

Rich

 

Considering that they just put out an RFP for new locomotives, I'd gamble they plan on being around in 12 years. 

Plus the NEC and corridors aren't going anywhere any time soon. 

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Posted by davidmurray on Friday, June 29, 2018 12:44 PM

riogrande5761

Or a model RR of the future will have driverless trains that are 100% covered in graffiti.  Since there will be no engineers to look out the window, the graffiti covering them will just be left there.

 

  Mainline terminal to terminal would be possible.  Local switching will require people, until self mobile, all terrain, AI becomes very advanced.

Dave

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Friday, June 29, 2018 1:14 PM

davidmurray
Local switching will require people, until self mobile, all terrain, AI becomes very advanced. Dave

That won't make the companies happy!

Anyway, as we have been seeing with self driving cars, these technologies are rather comlex and slow in coming.  Many, maybe most of us will be gone by the time those become common place.

I was watching a movie recently, can't remember which, and the protagonist was dodging driverless semi-trucks on the highway in it.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by Lone Wolf and Santa Fe on Friday, June 29, 2018 1:18 PM

    Positive train control will be everywhere. Also yards will all have remotely controled switchers.
    There will be more commuter trains which travel farther distances. Commuter trains will all start using crash resistant control cabs which are shaped more like an aerodynamic locomotive instead of just having a coach with controls.
    Most rail crossings will be converted to over passes or underpasses. Junctions where two railroads cross will also be changed to overpasses. Double track mainlines will be more common.
    Instead of burning diesel locomotives might use bio-diesel or natural gas. They might also be hybrid and have batteries onboard. Instead of dynamic brakes just generating heat they might recharge the batteries. They might also have solar panels.
    Locomotives and FREDs might also have backup cameras and other means to uncouple cars or connect brake lines to eliminate the brakeman position.

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Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Friday, June 29, 2018 1:22 PM

Self-driving trucks and cars are nothing but a rechnological craze and do not make any sense in terms of economical and environmental feasibility. Imagine thousands and thousands of trucks moving in the same autonomously in the same direction at more or less the same time. Why not couple them together, get rid of the expensive self-driving equipment, put them on rails and call it a train?

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Posted by BNSF UP and others modeler on Friday, June 29, 2018 1:22 PM

Which would lead to unemployment...

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Friday, June 29, 2018 9:32 PM

riogrande5761
I was watching a movie recently, can't remember which, and the protagonist was dodging driverless semi-trucks on the highway in it.

.

Logan! The old-man Wolverine movie.

.

-Kevin

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Posted by NWP SWP on Friday, June 29, 2018 9:39 PM

I doubt autonomy will be totally humanless, very few factories operate without human supervision, so trains, planes, boats, cars, trucks, ect. Won't be just wandering around by themselves, there'll be at least one human to make corrections and clean up the mess when AI goes wrong. I doubt that even I will see complete autonomy in my lifetime, but who knows!

Steven

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Friday, June 29, 2018 10:33 PM

SeeYou190

 

 
riogrande5761
I was watching a movie recently, can't remember which, and the protagonist was dodging driverless semi-trucks on the highway in it.

 

.

Logan! The old-man Wolverine movie.

.

-Kevin

.

 

Yeah, that one.

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Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Friday, June 29, 2018 11:07 PM

BNSF UP and others modeler

Which would lead to unemployment...

 

History repeating itself - the railroads taking away the job of the teamsters taking away the jobs of the railroad takink away the jobs of the teamsters....

Happy times!

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Posted by taracay on Saturday, June 30, 2018 12:49 AM

Thanks to everyone who replied to this topic... one theme really stands out to me... I work in the software industry and 12 to 15 years is a long time, probably spanning 2 or 3 major shifts in technology.  But I can now see that in railroad technology, that is a very short timeframe... not long enough to see a generational change. 

Still, I can envision faster, smoother rail service with AI to help decide routes, schedules and train consists.  Plus I see some style changes like passenger cars that reinvent the luxury experience, just like what is happening with private label commuter buses.   

A modelling challenge could be in applying AI to the operations, an interesting challenge for some, perhaps.  I also think it will be interesting to envision the intersection with the other modes... walking, biking, Uber/lyft, trucks, ships, containers, etc. 

And, I think sleek, beautifully designed trains could add to the landscape the way a beautiful building does, except it adds the dimension of motion.  Even if that doesn't actually happen, it would be fun to model the vision using 3D printers to create the models of an idealized future.

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Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Saturday, June 30, 2018 2:06 AM

taracay
Plus I see some style changes like passenger cars that reinvent the luxury experience,

I totally agree.

Here in Europe, we have reached the feasibility limits of highspeed rail passenger services. Trains already run in excess of 150 mph and even 200mph. The next step in terms of speed would not really reduce traveling to a degree where the extra cost would be justifiable. So far, the increase in speed from the good old days of 80 mph services has been realized at the expense of comfort. No one would really call airplane seating arrangements as comfortable and relaxing. That will (hopefully) change!

Happy times!

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Posted by gregc on Saturday, June 30, 2018 6:17 AM

what would a driverless locomotive look like?  (no need for an engineer and less expensive to operate) 

no need for a cab or windows.   would it look like a slug, a streamlined B unit?

of course there would be Positive Train Control ... everything would be automated including maintaining proper and optimal speed.

would there be a need for signaling or blocks?   wouldn't trains know where each other are and be able follow one another at proper distances based on speed/weight?

would yard switching be automated and optimal, minizing the number of moves?   still need a brakeman to couple cars, set brakes, but the take orders from the system determining how to switch cars and commanding the locomotive.

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Posted by cedarwoodron on Saturday, June 30, 2018 9:29 AM

Let's consider things item by item:

Concrete ties- are they currently being made in HO? I can't see just painting existing track a concrete color, as what I have seen of concrete ties requires a different profile. So that would be a visual change to a layout.

AI- directed operations? We already use computers in model railroad operations so software changes that mimic AI would be feasible but without substantive effect on appearance.

More streamlining/advanced design? If you consider high speed train design as it is in Europe + Asia, it looks pretty advanced already. Passenger cars are integrated into the symmetry of the engine design and operate in a unified manner *like the old Aero train concept*.but again, containerized cargo has its limuts- the shipment of bulk product- raw ores, industrial process materials such as plastic pellets or taconite, grain, bulk liquids such as oil, manufacturing additives like corn syrup or ethanol- how would these benefit from smaller containerized formats? The infrastructure for handling bulk products already is well-developed and a change to it would replace an existing efficient system with a costly new one- I don't see capital spending by industries on that being made.

High speed rail- I said in a previous post that aerodynamics is fairly useless below 60mph. Here in Florida, a previous proposal for high speed passenger rail service between Tampa and Orlando would have required stops in Plant City, Lakeland, the Disney service area- all before getting into downtown Orlando. As soon as you accelerate out of one place, you are slowing down for the next stop- how high speed 8s that? More like a milk run! At such lower speeds, existing light rail engine design is sufficient- even the old RDC cars would do well. 

I think the "railroad of the Future" will closely resemble that of today, except for smaller details.

Like modern tractor trailers- the engine nose is more streamlined for freeway speeds and there are flow-over canopies and trailer side skirts to reduce drag, but the basic rectangular space of the trailer doesn't change because the same cargo space is still required. Any changes to   cargo containment remain hidden from view.

Cedarwoodron

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