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Freight Railroad Electrification?

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Freight Railroad Electrification?
Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, July 16, 2021 7:42 AM
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Posted by tree68 on Friday, July 16, 2021 8:33 AM

As was pointed out in the article, some lines are better suited for electrification than others.  

My favorite spot - Deshler - sees upwards of sixty trains daily.  The east-west double track would be a decent candidate.  The Toledo line (N-S) headed south would probably do well, too.  North, not so much.

Lines like the St Lawrence Sub in NY, which normally see just two trains each day, plus a few locals, would be a harder sell.

Batteries would work for many shortlines (and possibly lines like the St Lawrence Sub).  It would depend on the effective range of said locos.

Trains are already one of the most efficient ways to move cargo - and with Tier 4 locomotives, the exhaust is almost cleaner than the air coming in (I'm only being a little facetious).

And we must remember - that electricity has to come from somewhere.  There is no electricity fairy, waving a magic wand.

 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, July 16, 2021 9:04 AM

The UP mainline which goes through Rochelle (possibly that BNSF line there too)  and BNSF transcontinental line are very busy. 

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Friday, July 16, 2021 10:01 AM

tree68
And we must remember - that electricity has to come from somewhere.  There is no electricity fairy, waving a magic wand.

And Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla, Charle Proteus Steinmetz and George Westinghouse can't send it down from Heaven either.

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Posted by zugmann on Friday, July 16, 2021 10:16 AM

But to maintian an overhead catenary system? It takes people and equipment.  Shareholders won't like that. 

   The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by Gramp on Friday, July 16, 2021 1:38 PM

Remember when UP constructed catenary in Nebraska to test feasibility?  How many dollars in stored diesel locomotives does UP have now?

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Posted by greyhounds on Friday, July 16, 2021 2:11 PM
Electrification in the US has been studied and analyzed several times.  It’s always come up short.  Things can certainly change, but…

 

1)       The costs are upfront, and the payback is maybe 20 years out.  Nobody can see 20 years into the future.  It’s a big risk with an uncertain payback.

 

2)      The US freight rail network is far more extensive than in other countries.  You would have to put the mileage of India, China, and Russia together to exceed the US mileage.  Their traffic is more concentrated.  We have more lower density lines that won’t justify electrification.

 

3)      Because of these lower density lines electrification will necessarily degrade locomotive utilization.  I’ll use service to Phoenix as an example.  IF the BNSF Transcon could justify electrification, how do they serve Phoenix?  They’d have to change locomotives at the junction.  They’d have all these expensive locomotives sitting still waiting for a train to arrive.  Now, the locos just go on through.  They’d lose that and have idled, expensive, investments.  There are many other such examples.

 

4)      Diesels have become much more efficient in fuel utilization.  This decreases any advantage electrification may have.

"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.
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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, July 16, 2021 3:11 PM

If a outside party were to assume the costs of building and maintaining the catenary and power supplies - I am certain the UP or some other carriers would spring for the costs of locomotives necessary to utilize that power source.  The carriers will not accept the costs of the costs of building and maintaining the catenary system AND the costs associated with the locomotives.

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Posted by CMStPnP on Saturday, July 17, 2021 5:33 PM

Personally, I suspect the issue is constantly changing traffic patterns in the United States.    How many times have we shifted from primarily East-West to more of North-South orientation.   If we could keep traffic consistent on specific mainlines for 20+ years perhaps the payback would be there.     However, the traffic patterns shift with the prevailing trade winds in this country.

Also the price of Diesel is another factor.   Very cheap in the United States compared to Europe which shifts the cost vs benefit equation of electrical power quite a bit.    Import European Diesel prices and watch that change along with much heavier use of Intermodal trains for long distance.

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Posted by BEAUSABRE on Sunday, July 18, 2021 12:57 AM

BaltACD
If a outside party were to assume the costs of building and maintaining the catenary and power supplies - I am certain the UP or some other carriers would spring for the costs of locomotives necessary to utilize that power source.  The carriers will not accept the costs of the costs of building and maintaining the catenary system AND the costs associated with the locomotives.

The question is why would a third party want to invest in the power distribution system when there are plenty of investments that promise a greater return? Another way to look at it is, why is it such a great deal for me to pony up the cash and not the railroad? If they can't afford to build the system themself, why should I be assured that they can pay me for building it for them? 

 This has been discussed many times in the past (at least since the early Sixties). The only deal that seemed to make sense was for the power companies to use the railroads' rights of way for their distribution systems and build the railroad's power system on the side (the electrification being 60hz "toaster" current to do away with expensive conversion facilities). But the power companies don't seem to have any problems locating their transmission lines on their own rights of way, so no one has ever bitten

Second, why would UP or anyone else "jump" at the opportunity to buy straight electric emgines AND pay someone for the overhead and juice? What advantage do straight electrics have over AC diesel electrics? (I won't even mention the fleets of stored locomotives - many never to roll under their own power ever again)

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Sunday, July 18, 2021 2:12 AM

High voltage lines tend to make very straight lines for long distancs before making a very quick turn.  RRs with all their curves would cause much  more in the way of transmission towers.  Of course maybe PG&E should have done that.

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Posted by beaulieu on Sunday, July 18, 2021 2:16 AM

blue streak 1

High voltage lines tend to make very straight lines for long distancs before making a very quick turn.  RRs with all their curves would cause much  more in the way of transmission towers.  Of course maybe PG&E should have done that. 

Do you think European mainlines are that straight?

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Posted by BEAUSABRE on Sunday, July 18, 2021 6:05 AM

For those with access to Trains Magazine archives these articles may prove interesting

 

April 1962 "Why We Should Have Electrified 15 Years Ago"

December 1962 "Why We Didn't Electrify"

July 1970 "The When and If of Electrification"

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Sunday, July 18, 2021 8:25 AM

BEAUSABRE

 

 
BaltACD
If a outside party were to assume the costs of building and maintaining the catenary and power supplies - I am certain the UP or some other carriers would spring for the costs of locomotives necessary to utilize that power source.  The carriers will not accept the costs of the costs of building and maintaining the catenary system AND the costs associated with the locomotives.

 

The question is why would a third party want to invest in the power distribution system when there are plenty of investments that promise a greater return? Another way to look at it is, why is it such a great deal for me to pony up the cash and not the railroad? If they can't afford to build the system themself, why should I be assured that they can pay me for building it for them? 

 This has been discussed many times in the past (at least since the early Sixties). The only deal that seemed to make sense was for the power companies to use the railroads' rights of way for their distribution systems and build the railroad's power system on the side (the electrification being 60hz "toaster" current to do away with expensive conversion facilities). But the power companies don't seem to have any problems locating their transmission lines on their own rights of way, so no one has ever bitten

Second, why would UP or anyone else "jump" at the opportunity to buy straight electric emgines AND pay someone for the overhead and juice? What advantage do straight electrics have over AC diesel electrics? (I won't even mention the fleets of stored locomotives - many never to roll under their own power ever again)

 

If you have to ask,  it means you are a climate change ostrich. 

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Posted by JoeBlow on Sunday, July 18, 2021 8:57 AM

North American railroads will electrify when someone develops a battery that is more user friendly than diesel engines and the current battery tech available.

The same reasons (faster/easier refueling, longer distances between stops, less maintenance, high energy density than diesel fuel, etc) that caused diesel to replace steam. 

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Sunday, July 18, 2021 10:47 AM

BEAUSABRE
But the power companies don't seem to have any problems locating their transmission lines on their own rights of way, so no one has ever bitten

The only power company transmission lines located along railroad rights-of-way that I know of came after abandonment of those railroads. 

One is PSE&G's power lines along the old North Jersey Rapid Transit interurban right-of-way (abandoned in 1929) and power lines located along the abandoned New York, West Shore & Buffalo in upstate New York, erected after the railroad was gone.  Made sense, the railroad didn't need it anymore.  Those are shown in a well-done drone video tracing the old right-of-way.  I don't know what power company owns the lines. 

There may be others but those are two that spring to mind.

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Posted by BEAUSABRE on Sunday, July 18, 2021 11:49 AM

charlie hebdo
  If you have to ask,  it means you are a climate change ostrich.  Add Quote to your Post

Ad hominum attacks means you've lost the argument and know it

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Posted by Euclid on Sunday, July 18, 2021 11:53 AM

The article says that return on investment is not sufficient to justify electrification, yet it soldiers on with the notion that we must electrify simply because it is the way of the future.  

Once again, the assumption is offered that we have a manufacturing technology infrastructure that can give us anything we want if only we ask for it.  So if we ask for electrification that will justify the cost and thus give a return on investment, the technology sector will give the solution to make it happen. 

This fairytale thinking ignores the fact that there are real barriers to advancing technology, and they are technical barriers. While breakthroughs are always possible, you can’t just conquer them because you decide to.  Research has a cost, and successful results are not guaranteed just because research goes looking for them.  

The article says that since return on investment is not sufficient to justify electrification, the solution is to have Government step in and pay for it.  That means that the people should pay for it even though it will not return the investment to the people.  Why would the people want to pay for something that offers no payback?   It makes no sense until you add the one premise that is missing from the article. 

With that premise, the objective of electrification is not cheaper rail transportation.  Instead, the objective is de-carbonization.  With that goal, rail electrification is a gold mine of payback.  In the cost/benefit analysis of electrification for de-carbonation, the benefit is saving mankind from annihilation. For that benefit, no price can be too high. So, the only thing holding it back is a lack of universal agreement by the stakeholders that the world will end without de-carbonization. 

If you read the old Trains articles on rail electrification, I doubt you will find any mention of the objective being de-carbonization.  In those articles, I suspect the only reason offered for electrification is a reduction of operating cost, and thus a return on investment.

So after considering the limitations of cost/benefit, there is one final solution that will work.  That is to not only have the Government pay for it, but also to have the Government require it.  Under this premise, society will pay for it despite there being any doubt that de-carbonization is necessary-- because of the assumption that the risk of waiting is too high to take the chance. 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Sunday, July 18, 2021 12:56 PM

BEAUSABRE

 

 
charlie hebdo
  If you have to ask,  it means you are a climate change ostrich.  Add Quote to your Post

 

Ad hominum attacks means you've lost the argument and know it

 

Corrections: 1.  Simply stating nicely what is your position is not a personal attack. Are you are ashamed of being a climate warming denier.  2. It's spelled ad hominem.

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Posted by CMStPnP on Monday, July 19, 2021 4:03 AM

Check out the Milwaukee Road Pacific Coast Extension thread discussion link concerning the Milwaukee's Electrification and why it would never be advantageous.    Interesting side note to this discussion.    Mentions very short length and inability to detour on other parallel railroads or participate in run through power unless a diesel power was maintained or connecting railroads were electrified.

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, July 19, 2021 5:32 AM

Run-through?   Diversion?

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, July 19, 2021 6:28 AM

In my opinion, almost any 'electrification' that does not involve hybrid or dual-mode-lite power is DOA for freight use in this country unless and until full catenary infrastructure has been provided.  Even then there are compelling advantages to keeping 'autonomous power' in locomotive consists for a variety of reasons.

There are obvious advantages to electrification for dense passenger operations and for true HSR.  Either of those will be a niche market at best in this country until major and sustained Government buy-in is secured, or guaranteed incentives (and possibly more) to private consortia are assured.  Almost any practical construction of traction electrical supply makes far better sense in essentially any respect for use 'augmenting' dual-mode-lite than as a modal replacement for self-contained power.

Once all the infrastructure is in place, the bridges have been raised, the access issues have been finalized, etc. we can have the discussion about "replacing" locomotive consists with straight electric.  But I'd surely be well into discussion of implementing ECP many years before that -- and I'd make the ECP transition a priority over full electrification coverage.

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, July 19, 2021 6:48 AM

Overmod
...

Once all the infrastructure is in place, the bridges have been raised, the access issues have been finalized, etc. we can have the discussion about "replacing" locomotive consists with straight electric.  But I'd surely be well into discussion of implementing ECP many years before that -- and I'd make the ECP transition a priority over full electrification coverage.

My understanding is that current standards for bridges over railroads require a minimum height above the top of rail of 25 feet.

With domestic double stacks being 20 feet 2 inches high - is 25 feet high enough to allow catenary to be strung under the bridge and not have issues with the 20'2" double stacks.? 

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Posted by Euclid on Monday, July 19, 2021 7:54 AM

charlie hebdo
 
BEAUSABRE

 

 
charlie hebdo
  If you have to ask,  it means you are a climate change ostrich.  Add Quote to your Post

 

Ad hominum attacks means you've lost the argument and know it

 

 

 

Corrections: 1.  Simply stating nicely what is your position is not a personal attack. Are you are ashamed of being a climate warming denier.  2. It's spelled ad hominem.

 

Your comment suggests that member, BEAUSABRE does not understand that the reason to electrify goes beyond simple private business cost/benefit analysis, and extends to a presumed collective obligation to prevent manmade climate change. And to convey this point, you used the ostrich analogy which is a mocking charge of naive ignorance.  Actually, BEAUSABRE never indicated a lack of understanding of the connection to the climate change issue. 

Yet, the article you link to your first post also, just like BEAUSABRE, takes the case for electrification right up to the same point of electrification failing to meet the cost/benefit qualification.  Then it jumps to the conclusion that the way to overcome the failing economic case is for the Government to step in and “PUSH” for national freight electrification.  The author does not explain what he means by “push,” but I assume it means publically finance and mandate. 

The article says:

“However, I don’t think you’ll see a big return on investment because the capital costs for electrification of the infrastructure are big. And if you run the math, it doesn’t really make much sense.”

 “Since the capital costs are high, I think the second partner would be the government. I think there should be some incentive for electrification. There should be some policy objective that could try to push the market towards some percentage of electrification.”

 

So, clearly, just like BEAUSABRE, the author says there is no private business economic incentive for electrification.  Then the author just stops there, short of the obvious reason why he and others in his camp believe that electrification is absolutely necessary to address climate change.  All he says about this real reason why he advocates electrification is this:   

“…at the end of the day, the world is moving to electric power. And the grid is decarbonizing,…”

I doubt that tepid premise will convince U.S. freight railroads to electrify. 

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, July 19, 2021 9:07 AM

Euclid
I doubt that tepid premise will convince U.S. freight railroads to electrify.

The premise is "by the end of the day".  By the time we have a true decarbonized grid -- or a full decarbonized-energy economy -- very different economic conditions and perhaps constraints will likely prevail.  As we will likely have been through at least one singularity by that point it is a bit pointless to predict what freight carriers will do, but we can look at options and their anticipated costs, including opportunity costs, to be ready.

A somewhat more gainful discussion is 'if railroad electrification becomes a national priority, what carrots and sticks might be used to start bringing it about, and how should the stages of transition be managed once we see initiation of the (likely government) program(s)?'

Technical answers do exist, and they now include interesting Chinese developments in rapid TLM with electrification infrastructure.  Anyone familiar with the competing 'systems' used to erect the New York elevated railroads in the 1870s... or who watched the expansion of fiber network trunks in the 1990s... knows the art of the possible, even under stringent ecological restrictions, when the funding is assured.

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Posted by Euclid on Monday, July 19, 2021 9:34 AM

Overmod,

The premise I referred to starts today as the conclusion that one day everything will be electrified, and thus railroads too will be electrified.  That may be true, but I am referring to what will motivate the railroads to begin electrification in the present moment as is the author of the article.  So my point is that I doubt railroads will decide today to electrify simply because of the assumption that everything will be electrified by some time in the future. 

What is really needed to convince the railroads to electrify is to convince them that electrification is necessary to prevent climate change.  Apparently it is the railroads who are the "ostrich."

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Posted by diningcar on Monday, July 19, 2021 10:01 AM

Perhaps we should determine what measures were taken to eliminate the glacier ice which once covered much of the USA. 

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Posted by Gramp on Monday, July 19, 2021 10:44 AM

What is the appropriate measure to use when using electricity as a "fuel"?  When its supply becomes tight, how is electricity to be allocated?  How much does it cost to "fill up" an electric vehicle be it a locomotive, truck, or car?

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Posted by tree68 on Monday, July 19, 2021 10:59 AM

But, there's plenty of electricity!

Unless there isn't.

One word - Texas.

LarryWhistling
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Posted by cx500 on Monday, July 19, 2021 2:55 PM

I expect there will be more incentive for the railroads to electrify once the long haul trucking industry has gone electric.  At that theoretical future time the fuel efficiency of steel wheels on steel rail will be forcing the railroads to accept the business they don't currently wish to be bothered with.  The extra volume might then make the economic case for electrifying more persuasive.

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