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Fuel Efficiency: Barges over Trains

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Fuel Efficiency: Barges over Trains
Posted by Maglev on Monday, June 01, 2009 1:05 PM

The July Trains has a comparison of river, rail, and highway freight by Don Phillips (page 31).  Just one quick question: does some of the higher efficency of river travel stem from the fact that more freight moves downstream, and empties move upstream?

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Posted by desertdog on Monday, June 01, 2009 1:15 PM

After reading the article I thought the whole premise was pretty lame.  Granted, barges are important in some areas of the U.S. and for shipping certain bulk commodities, but they only go where rivers / improved waterways go, so fuel efficiency vs. railroads (or trucks) is a non-issue if you are shipping, say, furniture from North Carolina to Denver.


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Posted by Bruce Kelly on Monday, June 01, 2009 2:15 PM
On the Snake and Columbia rivers, the vast majority of loaded barges move downstream. Grain from the Palouse region of eastern WA/northern ID, Camas Prairie of north central ID, Columbia Basin of eastern WA, and even parts of Montana (trucked over the Mountains to Snake River terminals) makes up most of the bulk barge traffic, but there's also woodchips, containers moving both directions, and fertilizers and fuels moving upstream. Upstream travel is eased by the slackwater conditions from numerous dams. Lewiston, ID, ranks as the "most inland of western seaports" and the majority of its barge traffic is indeed outbound grain or wood products (including containerized grain) which is destined for Pacific Rim customers. Comparing trains to barges along the Snake and Columbia is like watching the race between the tortoise and the hare, especially if you watch how long it takes a barge/tow to navigate each of the dam locks. But in the end, the barge comes out the winner from a price, fuel efficiency, and emissions standpoint according to published data. Tidewater, a major player in Snake/Columbia barge service, says they can float goods at an average 514 ton-miles per gallon of fuel, compared with trains at 202-ton miles per gallon, and trucks at 59-ton miles per gallon. I don't know if Tidewater derived these figures from actual local barge, rail, and truck operations or just pulled them from a generic nationwide source. When I have time, I'll plow through my files of Northwest transportation studies and see if there are locally-generated statistics which differ widely from the above.
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Posted by jrbernier on Monday, June 01, 2009 3:59 PM

  Most grain moves 'down stream' on the Mississippi.  Coal/Salt/Chemicals do get moved 'up stream'.  Barge operation can be very fuel efficient, and I suspect that even going against the current, it is cheaper to use a barge operation.  I see a lot of grain loaded at Winona, MN and barged south for export.

  However, barge operation has some severe limitations:

  • Weather - The Upper Missisppi does freeze over between late November and March/April
  • Low Water - a good head of water is needed in the pools above the lock & dams so that barges can be locked through.  Droughts do not help.
  • The river does not go everywhere.  Railroads tracks can be built to areas where there is not a navigation channel.  Building canals is very expensive.

Jim

 

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Posted by Maglev on Monday, June 01, 2009 4:28 PM

I appreciate your thorough replies and additional insight.  I gather that it is correct that most river freight travels downstream, but the responses above are not definitive on whether this has much impact on fuel efficiency. 

I don't mean to re-kindle the 150-year-old war between trains and barges, but I have some problems with the title proclaiming that trains are not the champion of fuel efficiency; mostly because (as is stated above) barges are extremely limited in their geographical flexibility.  Yet as Don Phillips mentions in his concluding paragraph, fuel efficiency is not an overwhelming concern of the barge operators; they could re-engine and improve.  Likewise for trains, there are many efficiency innovations (such as Electronically Controlled Pneumatic Brakes) which are not economical now due to the relatively low cost of fuel.

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Posted by desertdog on Monday, June 01, 2009 5:23 PM

It has to have at least some impact on fuel efficiency, not unlike flying with or against the jet stream.  Since it is not a major concern for barge operators, they probably have never bothered to measure it.

 

John Timm

 

 

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Posted by john_edwards on Monday, June 01, 2009 5:37 PM

 They should have specified that trains are the most fuel efficient on land.  If you want water sailing ships beat barges.  Not to speedy though.

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Posted by Railway Man on Monday, June 01, 2009 6:03 PM

The Trains MPG table is as far as I can tell not correct.   The first problem is that it uses miles per gallon, which is about as useful for vehicles as diverse as a train, a truck, and a barge as trying to say say  "blue is better than orange which is better than yellow."

"Gallons" are not equivalent because water, truck, and rail transportation are not burning exactly the same fuel.  "Miles" is meaningless because the carrying capacity of a train, truck, or barge can vary by several orders of magnitude not only within their classes but between them.  A more meaningful measure is BTUs per ton/mile, which cancels out variations between fuel grades, and by using the ton-mile gets at a definition of transportation work output.  Miles per gallon is not a viable definition of work output unless the vehicles are all essentially doing the same amount of work.

The best source data is the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Transportation Energy Data Book.  It's most recent data is for 2005, when it found that BTUs per ton-mile, net weight of cargo:

  1. 898 - heavy truck loaded to 80,000 lbs
  2. 514 - waterborne domestic commerce
  3. 337 - rail

A little bit different than the Trains pie chart!

In some selected tug-barge operations, BTU per ton/mile is significantly lower than 514.  That's very helpful if one wants to narrow the comparison to just that particular transportation corridor, but for a national policy that type of analysis is the kind of cherrypicking that will make people mad enough to sue you, particularly if the very good local number for one mode is compared to the not-so-good national number for another mode.

EIA itself notes, "Great care should be taken when comparing modal energy intensity data among modes.  Because of the inherent differences between the transportation modes in the nature of services, routes available, and many additional factors, it is not possible to obtain truly comparable national energy intensities among modes." 

(Like that will make the liars stop lying.)

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Posted by squeeze on Monday, June 01, 2009 8:59 PM

I don't have facts and figures like Railway Man, but I did work in the local steel mills in the Pittsburgh region. The main reason that the area was the steel capital of the world in it's heyday, was the diversity of the modes of shipping. The absolute cheapest way to  ship coal was by barge. The cheapest way to get iron ore was by laker (Great Lakes). The cheapest way to ship steel products was by rail and over the highway if not served by the rail. There was a rhyme and reason for all the steel mills being located on a river. If you can get the info (official guide) you will note that USS owned a lot of rail that accessed the Great Lakes and the major rivers. In the Pittsburgh area they had the big U (Union RR), B&LE,  McKeesport Connecting, and others in other important areas like Chicago and Indiana, C&EI, EJ&E (I think). The majority of the barges carried coal or coke. I'm going by memory on some of this, overall, the rivers were very important to that industry. Due to the affluent that the mills put out, very few of the rivers froze over, hence there was 24/7 365 days of river traffic. I remember the Mon River freezing over for the first time in my life in late 1960's. Now that the mills are gone, it happens to freeze every year now. Hope this helps.

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Posted by greyhounds on Monday, June 01, 2009 11:35 PM

The fact that the barge routes are often more circuitous than the rail routes needs to be brought in to this.  As an example, the Mississippi River mileage from Minneapolis to Memphis is 1,084.

http://www2.mvr.usace.army.mil/NIC2/Documents/MissRiver/App-B-01.pdf

The directly competitive BNSF miles are only 915.  A barge MAY get better per mile fuel economy but it often has to go more miles.  In the cited example, 18.5% more miles.

As to barges being cheaper, their competitive position vis a vis rail has erroded in recent years.  Adances in rail operations, such as DPU, have not been matched on the rivers.  Barges have also lost at least some of their taxpayer supported free ride.  They now have to pay at least some user fees for the Federal maintenance of the river channels.  Barges also lost the regulatory protection under which the Federal government held rail rates high in order to put the freight on the rivers.  These factors have resulted in a decline in river tonnage.

 

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Posted by spokyone on Tuesday, June 02, 2009 12:30 AM

Railway Man

"Gallons" are not equivalent because water, truck, and rail transportation are not burning exactly the same fuel.  RWM

You lost me. All towboats, at least the ones on the Upper Mississippi, locomotives and heavy trucks use diesel fuel. By "Not Exactly" do you mean a small difference?
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Posted by Railway Man on Tuesday, June 02, 2009 8:22 AM

spokyone

Railway Man

"Gallons" are not equivalent because water, truck, and rail transportation are not burning exactly the same fuel.  RWM

You lost me. All towboats, at least the ones on the Upper Mississippi, locomotives and heavy trucks use diesel fuel. By "Not Exactly" do you mean a small difference?

If by "small" you would accept a 20% difference, then yes, 20% is small.  Diesel fuel is a mixture of molecules and there is no hard and fast definition of which molecules are present in which quantity.  BTU/gallon can range from as low as 125,000 BTU/gallon to more than 150,000 BTU/gallon.  #1 is lower in BTU, #2 higher, #4 highest.  Railroads because they're buying in large quantities and purchasing by pipeline or tankcar can and do specify a very different value than what the truck obtains at the gas station, to obtain better economy in the purchase and in the results.  Tugs can often fuel directly from bulk fuel terminals and similarly can burn significantly different grades than what the truck burns.

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Posted by edbenton on Tuesday, June 02, 2009 1:22 PM

Barges and the RR's for YEARS have been able to burn HIGH SULPHUR #2-4 Diesel Fuel.  However the OTR trucking Industry has had to put up with the EPA going sorry you have to comply with emmisions standards that removed 90% of the sulphur and made their fuel cost more and also led to more breakdowns from the motors.  Now in 2009 the EPA made the RR's and Barges burn the same lower Sulphur fuel the truckers have for YEARS and EMD and E fuel systems are going WTF is this crap and they are not happy with this and breaking down more.  That is why your seeing more engines fail on the road. 

 

Low sulphur fuel causes the engines to fail since the enigines lose the thin film of OIL that lubricates the top of the clyinder when the piston rings are at.  Lose that and look out. 

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Posted by cx500 on Tuesday, June 02, 2009 2:41 PM

 We must also admit that rail routes can often be more circuitous than highway routes, since highway transport can take advantage of a road network available to them without regard for economics.  Rail routes are dependent on lines with enough traffic to sustain operation which is why so many secondary lines and links have disappeared.

Are the figures for rail only for over-the-road movements, or do they also include yard operations?  A hopper in a dedicated unit train will not require the extra terminal handling that a loose car will need through the various legs of a trip.  The commodities handled by barges are mostly comparable to unit train operation so that would be the closest comparison.

Another factor affecting energy efficiency is velocity, and in general trains travel faster than barges.  This may not have any significant effect though.

Just a few of my thoughts.

 John

 

greyhounds

The fact that the barge routes are often more circuitous than the rail routes needs to be brought in to this.  As an example, the Mississippi River mileage from Minneapolis to Memphis is 1,084.

http://www2.mvr.usace.army.mil/NIC2/Documents/MissRiver/App-B-01.pdf

The directly competitive BNSF miles are only 915.  A barge MAY get better per mile fuel economy but it often has to go more miles.  In the cited example, 18.5% more miles.

As to barges being cheaper, their competitive position vis a vis rail has erroded in recent years.  Adances in rail operations, such as DPU, have not been matched on the rivers.  Barges have also lost at least some of their taxpayer supported free ride.  They now have to pay at least some user fees for the Federal maintenance of the river channels.  Barges also lost the regulatory protection under which the Federal government held rail rates high in order to put the freight on the rivers.  These factors have resulted in a decline in river tonnage.

 

 
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Posted by Railway Man on Tuesday, June 02, 2009 6:06 PM

cx500

 We must also admit that rail routes can often be more circuitous than highway routes, since highway transport can take advantage of a road network available to them without regard for economics.  Rail routes are dependent on lines with enough traffic to sustain operation which is why so many secondary lines and links have disappeared.

Are the figures for rail only for over-the-road movements, or do they also include yard operations?  A hopper in a dedicated unit train will not require the extra terminal handling that a loose car will need through the various legs of a trip.  The commodities handled by barges are mostly comparable to unit train operation so that would be the closest comparison.

Another factor affecting energy efficiency is velocity, and in general trains travel faster than barges.  This may not have any significant effect though.

Just a few of my thoughts.

 John


The EIA numbers are an average for the entire mode.  In other words, rail includes all the trains, revenue moves, deadhead moves, nonrevenue moves, yard goats, switch engines to spot the cars, helpers, work train locomotives, etc.  Water includes all the ships and all the tugboats necessary to dock the ship.  Truck includes all the city trucks to pick up the LTL load, the yard goats to hostle the trailers around the terminal, and the line-haul moves, plus all the deadhead moves. 

While averages might not tell you much about a specific head-to-head corridor or a specific portion of a move, I'd much rather use a modal average than some cherrypicked best-case example, because we know it will be broadly applicable over most of the cases most of the places most of the time.  Who cares if the barge can get an instantaneous result better than a train?  Maybe only in one specific market for one specific commodity on one specific movement.  What matters is the total system efficiency.  That's what the pricing and environmental law and the public policy is going to be based on.  So when you see water with a 52% disadvantage over rail, and truck with a 6,900% disadvantage, you can be assured that it's going to be extremely difficult for those modes to dig out of that fuel efficiency deficit.

Let me add that Greyhounds cited a very important point that is lost on almost everyone:  rail has been achieving a 1.1% average fuel efficiency improvement every year since 1996.  In the same period, truck efficiency decreased by an average 0.5% per year and water decreased by 2.1% per year!  Those are horrible trends if you are a trucker or a water operator. And as fuel prices climb, that is deep deep trouble.

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Posted by edbenton on Tuesday, June 02, 2009 7:06 PM

RWM the reason WHY the MILEAGE dropped so badly in the OTR industry is DUE to ONE REASON the EPA saying that a motor that goes into a fuel saving mode and gets 140% better fuel ECONOMY pollutes more than one the new stuff.  I find that hard to believe when a early 90's CAT would get 7.2 MPG in a 379 PETE across Wyoming at 75 MPH and now a 2009 cat in a 387 Pete the most Areo truck Pete makes can not even break 5 MPG  across IL at 55 mph PLEASE give me a break.

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Posted by Andrew Falconer on Tuesday, June 02, 2009 9:07 PM

Will the water traffic companies have to comply with the new EPA emission standards and improve fuel efficiency?

Andrew

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Posted by edbenton on Tuesday, June 02, 2009 9:48 PM

Anything that runs in the USA within the 200 mile limit as of 2012 will be running ULSD EXCLUSIVE in their motors per the EPA.  All I have to say to the Barge lines is HAVE FUN ask the trucking companies what fun that crap is to the injecter o-rings and head gaskets, Bolts, piston ring, Liners and every other part that needed that fuel LUBRICATION that came from the High Sulpher diesel.  That is why the Railroads are having porblems with the GEVO's blowing heads CARB mandated that the RR start running it in any locomotive THIS year and thier not ready for it.

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Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, June 03, 2009 8:06 AM

At this point, we've written more copy than appeared in the original article.

I think that the point of the article was that at its simplest, movement of cargo by barge is cheaper than by train.  We can see from the information presented here that there are a number of variables.  Trying to factor all of them in introduces a confusion factor in which you can begin to justify just about any claim.

The true measure is the actual use of the various modes.  The shipper wants to get his product from A to B as economically as possible.  With that in mind, we can only compare any two modes of transportation where they exist side-by-side.  It does no good to compare coal from the Appalachins with wheat from the upper midwest.

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Posted by Bruce Kelly on Wednesday, June 03, 2009 11:38 AM
Tree, your last paragraph is one of the best points anyone has made in this discussion. Thanks!
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Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, June 03, 2009 12:20 PM

I just skimmed the article at the newsstand, so I need to ask, what does the article conclude beyond the winner of the fuel efficiency contest?  I am sure that all three forms of transport are as fuel-efficient as they can be in economic terms.  Is there an onus to go beyond the economic limits of fuel efficiency? 

In pure economic terms, including fuel cost, it seems to me that each of the three forms, where they are being applied, is better than the other two.  So I am not sure I understand the point of comparing their fuel efficiency.

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Posted by Railway Man on Wednesday, June 03, 2009 1:08 PM

Bucyrus

I just skimmed the article at the newsstand, so I need to ask, what does the article conclude beyond the winner of the fuel efficiency contest?  I am sure that all three forms of transport are as fuel-efficient as they can be in economic terms.  Is there an onus to go beyond the economic limits of fuel efficiency? 

In pure economic terms, including fuel cost, it seems to me that each of the three forms, where they are being applied, is better than the other two.  So I am not sure I understand the point of comparing their fuel efficiency.

 

  1. Helps to guide shipper investment decisions.  When you build a factory, you have a transportation mode wrapped around it.  You want to know what the trend lines are for your transportation mode so you know if you'll still be able to make a profit if the cost of oil doubles.
  2. Helps to know the trends so one can create good long-term business strategy and public policy decisions, no matter who you are.
  3. Oil has political implications -- some of it comes from unstable countries -- which also helps guide public and private investment decisions because you want to do a "sensitivity analysis" before you invest a dollar, i.e., you want to gauge your risk that the future costs you estimate are going to turn out wrong.  You also want to know it because you want to know how beholden we're going to be to adversaries in the future, and the magnitude of effects on our economic health and national security.
  4. Helps to project health costs.  NOX, SOX, and PM (particulate matter) emissions have quanitifiable public health costs associated with them.  The higher the emissions, the higher the Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance bills.  Higher fuel consumption = higher emissions = higher health-care costs.
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Posted by overall on Wednesday, June 03, 2009 1:21 PM

Lets not forget that barges pay a huge time penalty because of the number of dams they must lock through. The barge tows must be broken down, locked through and put back together again on the other side of the dam. This process can take two hours or more. Millions of dollars were spent on the Tenn-Tom waterway but it has never had near the traffic predicted for it.Most dams were built for flood control and Hydro power. Barge traffic was a sideline. CSX recently won a bid to transport coal to the TVA's Gallatin steam plant away from a barge company. The mayor of Gallatin stopped it because he felt like the added train traffic would interfere with highway traffic in the area. I don't know what the status of this is right now.

 George

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Posted by Kootenay Central on Wednesday, June 03, 2009 7:20 PM

                            .

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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, June 04, 2009 8:51 AM

Railway Man

Bucyrus

I just skimmed the article at the newsstand, so I need to ask, what does the article conclude beyond the winner of the fuel efficiency contest?  I am sure that all three forms of transport are as fuel-efficient as they can be in economic terms.  Is there an onus to go beyond the economic limits of fuel efficiency? 

In pure economic terms, including fuel cost, it seems to me that each of the three forms, where they are being applied, is better than the other two.  So I am not sure I understand the point of comparing their fuel efficiency.

 
  1. Helps to guide shipper investment decisions.  When you build a factory, you have a transportation mode wrapped around it.  You want to know what the trend lines are for your transportation mode so you know if you'll still be able to make a profit if the cost of oil doubles.
  2. Helps to know the trends so one can create good long-term business strategy and public policy decisions, no matter who you are.
  3. Oil has political implications -- some of it comes from unstable countries -- which also helps guide public and private investment decisions because you want to do a "sensitivity analysis" before you invest a dollar, i.e., you want to gauge your risk that the future costs you estimate are going to turn out wrong.  You also want to know it because you want to know how beholden we're going to be to adversaries in the future, and the magnitude of effects on our economic health and national security.
  4. Helps to project health costs.  NOX, SOX, and PM (particulate matter) emissions have quanitifiable public health costs associated with them.  The higher the emissions, the higher the Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance bills.  Higher fuel consumption = higher emissions = higher health-care costs.

RWM

 

Well that all certainly makes sense, but I was just wondering if the article was only posing a kind of trivia question, or what else the author may have wanted the reader to take away from the article.  It makes sense to compare the fuel efficiency of cars, for instance, when there are only a few variables such as the cost of the car, what the owner needs to haul, miles driven, etc.  But as you mentioned in an earlier post, comparing fuel efficiency between transportation modes, each with completely different physical plants, seems fraught with problems in making the comparison fair or meaningful.  Particularly, I wonder how one would gauge the financial benefit of an increase in fuel efficiency that is accomplished by a greater increase in the cost of operations or plant.     

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Posted by Railway Man on Thursday, June 04, 2009 9:13 AM

 An illustration helps.  Suppose you are building a power plant that could receive coal by truck, train, or water.  Power plants are long-term investments with operating lifetimes of 50 to 75 years.  Whether you're a deregulated merchant utility or a regulated utility, you have to show either your lenders or the state regulators a pro forma that projects operating costs into the future.  Both are looking for the same thing, that the coal plant will be the lowest-cost power producer not just the year it is built but 30 years from now, the one to protect the interests of the stockholders of the bank, the other to protect the interests of the ratepayers of the state.  If the coal plant 20 years from now is no longer the low-cost power producer, then someone will build another plant to sell at a lower cost and idle your plant (causing you to default on your note), or the ratepayers will be stuck with higher utility costs than they should.  Either way, a fiduciary irresponsibility has occurred.

The overwhelming operating cost of a coal-fired utility is the coal delivered to the plant, and the coal transportation is often much more costly than the coal itself.  So when you're creating your future costs, one method is to phone up the truckers, railroads, and barge lines and ask them to project their costs 30 years into the future.  You could take that to the bank or the regulators, and after they pick themselves up off the floor, they'll send you home to try again.  The better method is project your own costs.  To know that, you have to know their fuel cost, and their fuel use trends, and the fuel price sensitivity. You also want to know all this to be able to project what sort of regulatory trends are going to affect you. For example, you know that Congress is talking about cap-and-trade restrictions on CO2, so you had better project what kind of affect such a thing might have on your transportation costs.  Because your lender or regulator will ask you about the possible effects this might have on you, and "I have no idea" is not a very good answer.

In short, if you are making a $6 billion bet with someone else's money, be prepared to spend a few million dollars becoming an expert on fuel efficiency of transportation modes, or hiring experts, or both.  A coal-fired generating station is admittedly an extreme case as it is expensive and long-lasting.  But even a distribution center location for a big-box store will look very hard at future fuel prices and the regulatory environment, in order to make the internal and external (bank and stockholder) case to build the DC here versus there.

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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, June 04, 2009 9:38 AM

Railway Man

 An illustration helps.  Suppose you are building a power plant that could receive coal by truck, train, or water.  Power plants are long-term investments with operating lifetimes of 50 to 75 years.  Whether you're a deregulated merchant utility or a regulated utility, you have to show either your lenders or the state regulators a pro forma that projects operating costs into the future.  Both are looking for the same thing, that the coal plant will be the lowest-cost power producer not just the year it is built but 30 years from now, the one to protect the interests of the stockholders of the bank, the other to protect the interests of the ratepayers of the state.  If the coal plant 20 years from now is no longer the low-cost power producer, then someone will build another plant to sell at a lower cost and idle your plant (causing you to default on your note), or the ratepayers will be stuck with higher utility costs than they should.  Either way, a fiduciary irresponsibility has occurred.

The overwhelming operating cost of a coal-fired utility is the coal delivered to the plant, and the coal transportation is often much more costly than the coal itself.  So when you're creating your future costs, one method is to phone up the truckers, railroads, and barge lines and ask them to project their costs 30 years into the future.  You could take that to the bank or the regulators, and after they pick themselves up off the floor, they'll send you home to try again.  The better method is project your own costs.  To know that, you have to know their fuel cost, and their fuel use trends, and the fuel price sensitivity. You also want to know all this to be able to project what sort of regulatory trends are going to affect you. For example, you know that Congress is talking about cap-and-trade restrictions on CO2, so you had better project what kind of affect such a thing might have on your transportation costs.  Because your lender or regulator will ask you about the possible effects this might have on you, and "I have no idea" is not a very good answer.

In short, if you are making a $6 billion bet with someone else's money, be prepared to spend a few million dollars becoming an expert on fuel efficiency of transportation modes, or hiring experts, or both.  A coal-fired generating station is admittedly an extreme case as it is expensive and long-lasting.  But even a distribution center location for a big-box store will look very hard at future fuel prices and the regulatory environment, in order to make the internal and external (bank and stockholder) case to build the DC here versus there.

RWM

Thanks RWM.  I can understand the need to consider fuel efficiency as a component of the comprehensive study you are referring to.

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Thursday, June 04, 2009 9:48 AM

edbenton
Anything that runs in the USA within the 200 mile limit as of 2012 will be running ULSD EXCLUSIVE in their motors per the EPA.  All I have to say to the Barge lines is HAVE FUN ask the trucking companies what fun that crap is to the injecter o-rings and head gaskets, Bolts, piston ring, Liners and every other part that needed that fuel LUBRICATION that came from the High Sulpher diesel.  That is why the Railroads are having porblems with the GEVO's blowing heads CARB mandated that the RR start running it in any locomotive THIS year and thier not ready for it.

Just curious here on the above, 'cause I'm not terribly nuts 'n' bolts mechanically oriented:

What are the relative RPMs of each type of engine ?  I'm pretty sure most railroad diesels idle in the 150 RPM range, and at Run 8 are somewhere between 900 and 1050 RPM (per Al Krug's Railroad Facts and Figures, "Dash 9 - 44CW" at: http://www.alkrug.vcn.com/rrfacts/dash9.htm ).  Aren't truck diesels in the 3000 - 4000 RPM range ?

Would the RPM affect the lubrication by the sulphur ?

Just wondering.  Thanks.

- PDN.

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
  • Member since
    October, 2006
  • From: Allentown, PA
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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Thursday, June 04, 2009 10:19 AM

Thumbs Up to RWM's monograph just above.  Now we're getting the benefit of a business school approach as well.  For those of us who have to look out for our own businesses or investments (IRAs and 401k's, for example), that is a worthwhile read - and re-read, and source of questions.  Too bad that lots of real-world people aren't quite so sanguine or sophisticated as to take that long-term of a view - be wary of them, too.  No guarantees that something unforseen won't skew it greatly or turn it all upside down, but such an analysis sure beats the proverbial ostrich approach of sticking their head in the sand and pretending that nothing important will ever change. 

To respond to some other comments:  This is indeed an "apples vs. oranges" comparison.  Do the barge move computations include the energy to unload the thing ?  Most railcars can do that by gravity (both can easily be loaded by gravity).  Depending on the load, the barge will have to be unloaded by suction (grain) which is fairly efficient, or by bucket (coal or ore), which is not.

Also, I think circuitry of the barge move itself has already been mentioned, which presumably includes getting the load to the barge - which might be by truck, a less fuel-efficient method ?

Many iron ore moves from the Mesabi range to Pittsburgh back in the day were rail - water -rail, which says to me that at least  back then, energy considerations are not the "be-all and end-all" of transportation decisions.  More generally and for today and the future, I think the decision and the importance of fuel efficiency depends on the context - what is being shipped, and how sensitive is it to time, rehandling, other costs, etc.

And now, a little story, somewhat still on-topic:  Back in my high school days, now about 40 years ago (cripes !), I had to write a book report for history class.  The one I chose was a university-level treatise about how the canals had been unfairly displaced by the railroads.  Digging into it disclosed that the author's thesis was that the canals should have been competitive, because their average speed was supposedly 14 MPH.  Fortunately, my history teacher - Art Driedger, who's still around - was mechanically inclined and did a lot of recreational hiking, and there are still a few canals left around here as tourist attractions to view the actual operations of barges in canals.  So I thoroughly discredited the 14 MPH central premises of that book in my book review.  We both had a good laugh at that, because if you think about it for a couple minutes - 3 to 4 MPH is a good walking speed on a sidewalk, Olympic walk racers do maybe 7 or 8 MPH, and marathoners are only in the 11 to 12 MPH range.  Plus, the mules that actually tow the barges - with their human mule-skinner handlers walking alongside to guide, lead and "motivate" them - generally aren't much interested or capable of going faster than about 2 MPH, as any of you who may have seen them in "action" can well appreciate !  I'm pretty sure I still have that report someplace.  Moral for here:  Know your subject well, and be a intelligent skeptic. 

Keep going, gang, you're doing just fine with this.

- Paul North.

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
  • Member since
    October, 2006
  • From: Allentown, PA
  • 7,732 posts
Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Thursday, June 04, 2009 12:13 PM

Kootenay Central -  

I enjoyed your "An Expensive Barge Job" story (above).  Being as I just came back from the U.S.'s Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park areas earlier this week where bear warnings and precautions are justifiably all over the place (we saw 3 up close, and "scat" from another on the YNP's Canyon South Rim hiking trail), the "punch line" ending was funny, too.

I'm wondering if you're familiar with the following extensive article on that operation which appeared in Trains lo those many years ago:

The Iris G, et al.
Trains, March 1977 page 43
an entire train traveling on a lake barge
( BRITISH, CANADA, COLUMBIA, CPR, FERRY, "PATTERSON, STEVE", TRN )

I've re-read it several times, and I'm sure it was the "Best job in the world".  Steve described some of the passenger steamers as "being able to float on a heavy dew", with captains whose idea of dining service came from their experiences in what we would today call the "ocean cruise" vacation trade.  He also mentioned various equipment that had gone over the side one way or another into the very deep waters of Slocan Lake.

- Paul North.

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)

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