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US railroad electrification

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US railroad electrification
Posted by blue streak 1 on Monday, November 27, 2023 10:29 PM

Forbes article on electrification especially in North America.  Article says major cost is getting sufficient clearance for CAT. Maintains batteries solution for meeting tunnel and bridge clearances.  However IMO most dead areas that have insuffient clearances are rather short rail distances.  IMO operating trains with a top and tail of electric DPUs would solve most of these problems except for tunnels longer than most trains. Those trains yes would need battery carrying locos.  Horse shoe route and maybe just a few others in the east.  Out west some tunnels already have enough clearance,

IMHO the major cost of electrification are the many delays trying to do potholing for the verticle poles. That work is hidden below ground and not sexy. Just look at Caltrain's delays (just recently finished all poles) and the earlier delays in the New Haven - BOS installation of CAT mostly due to delays in erecting verticle poles.  

For potholing there is the obvious rock in the ground, but also various utilities next to tracks and in some locations parallel haz Mat pipelines. (SP has many miles).  That does not count utilities crossing ROWs at all kind of angles. 

 

Most Rail Is Already Electric And All Will Be Even In North America (forbes.com)

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Posted by David1005 on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 4:33 AM

If the railroads are looking for equipment heights at around 21 feet, The clearance for electrification would be around 29 feet. That is a major obstacle. All the signal systems would have to be replaced as the locomotives would need to use the running rails for the ground return.  There is the question of where would a reliable source of power come from.  And the big one, where would the money come from to pay for all of this. 

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 7:05 AM

I have repeatedly noted my belief in battery-hybrid dual-mode-lite as a progressive solution to 'electrification'.  Whether the 'engine' part is diesel, biodiesel for zero-net-carbon, or blue hydrogen with sequestration for zero-carbon ought to be more or less 'tech agnostic' with respect to the form of the electrification; the key (as the Garrett engineers noted in the '70s) was to size and operate the trains as if they were limited by the onboard power, rather than go straight to 6000hp 'straight electrics' that require continuous access to high-voltage current with good short-term draw regardless of traffic.

The Chinese developed a perfectly good "potholing" solution suitable for HSR construction.  I'm quite certain we could develop at least as good a solution once the 'political will' is there to implement OHLE "rollout" (first on severe grades and as 'recharge points' for dual-mode) but the issue here is demonstrated feasibility.

Meanwhile, the Indians happily operate full electrification with ridiculous overhead clearance (think clearance required for 25kV with doublestacks on skeleton flats!) and it looks every bit as ridiculous as you'd think it would, but it seems to be operable.  Yes, there are better prospective solutions that involve dual-mode-lite, but again there's proof in the real world how the trick can be done.

I note with no particular surprise (and more than usual quiet disappointment) that the Next Big Thing of battery/hydrogen light rail trains is being quietly abandoned (apparently in favor of battery trains with distributed recharge points).  Remains to be seen whether the North American version of the fuel supply system can be made to work any better.  But do NOT expect that straight hydrogen fuel-cell locomotives as replacements for diesel-electric units are going to be much of a successful development...

We're coming up on two decades of the nonsensical idea that PTC should be an overlay on legacy signal systems.  Europeans have had very effective signal systems that work with 25/50kV since at least the days of TVM, and if there has to be a 'walking rollout' of compliant PTC as punctate electrification proceeds, it should be implemented (without a lot of consultant BS and wrangling about it) in parallel, to an appropriate standard.

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Posted by PJS1 on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 9:10 PM

David1005
 And the big one, where would the money come from to pay for all of this. 

This is a critical question.  For a nation with a federal government debt of more than $33.8 trillion, as well as gobs of state and local government debt, where will the money come from?  

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Posted by tree68 on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 9:41 PM

PJS1
This is a critical question.  For a nation with a federal government debt of more than $33.8 trillion, as well as gobs of state and local government debt, where will the money come from?  

Someone will have to make a convincing case for the investors that electrification will pay back, in spades.  Barring that, or a healthy infusion of taxpayer money, it's not going to happen.

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Posted by Gramp on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 9:48 PM

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 10:25 PM

tree68
 
PJS1
This is a critical question.  For a nation with a federal government debt of more than $33.8 trillion, as well as gobs of state and local government debt, where will the money come from?   

Someone will have to make a convincing case for the investors that electrification will pay back, in spades.  Barring that, or a healthy infusion of taxpayer money, it's not going to happen.

Let us also face the fact that the PRR segment of electrification on the NEC was done for the most part with federal money.  FDR investing in the country to get it moving out of the Depression

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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 7:07 AM

BaltACD
Let us also face the fact that the PRR segment of electrification on the NEC was done for the most part with federal money.  FDR investing in the country to get it moving out of the Depression

If I'm not mistaken, the funds concerned were from the RFC (which was a Hoover-era program) and were in the nominal form of loans that PRR subsequently repaid.

I don't know if NYC repaid their RFC loans for the 'pump priming' construction of the J3as, but someone who is a New York Central fan or historian will know.  I don't think Staufer said definitively in Thoroughbreds, but will check when I have time.

The financing for catenary need be no more complicated that Government guarantees of construction loans, to keep rates controlled and necessary tranches available, and setasides from taxes.  To the extent the cat and wayside power are part of a larger 'energy strategy' -- as they certainly should be -- alternative capital and maintenance funding should be involved on some fair pro-rata basis.

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Posted by kgbw49 on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 8:26 AM

In the original article in Forbes the areas of highest percentage of electrification seem to be the countries with government-owned railroads.

It would be interesting to find out how the various countries power the catenary.

If there is a financial case for electrification it will happen.

Those India double-stack trains with drover vans or whatever they are called there (cabooses) on the end are impressive, albeit still shorter than the typical US train.

However they do double up with a mid train locomotive and drovers van on some. They look to use 5-packs of flat cars.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yNq8lP6cfL4&pp=ygUnaW5kaWFuIHJhaWx3YXlzIGRvdWJsZSBzdGFjayBjb250YWluZXIg

 

 

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Posted by MJ4562 on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 10:23 AM

I would argue that taxpayer funding spent on rail electrification would be a better investment than subsidizing personal vehicles.  Never going to happen though for various political reasons. Plus we really can't afford it anyway. 

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Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 10:42 AM

A problem with the "how in the world are we going to pay for this?" argument is it assumes we're currently paying nothing and this is an entirely new expense. How much do railroads currently pay each year for diesel fuel? The fuel costs are paid from the rates they charge companies for moving their goods (and the companies pass the cost to the consumer), and I assume using fuel costs as an expense giving them a tax break, meaning they pay less tax (so we pay more). Ultimetly we all pay for it.

It is likely, once the infrastructure was in place, that using electricity (which could be generated by solar power, wind power, etc.) would be much cheaper per year than diesels. 

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 12:19 PM

The other issue that is not being addressed is where will the electricity formerly generated by locomotives come from once the catenary is strung.  The existing power grid cannot handle the additional load from railroads.

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Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 12:51 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH
The existing power grid cannot handle the additional load from railroads.

Especially not when you include EVs - there are already grid capacity issues with charging them.

Every power source has its foes.  Some people hate hydroelectric (gotta get rid of those darned dams), some hate wind turbines (unsightly, kill birds), some hate solar (for taking up what could be productive farm land), some hate nuclear (OMG! Chernobyl!), some hate the various fossil fuels.  

Power source issues notwithstanding, money to build will be the issue.  The railroads do use substantial amounts of fuel, which would theoretically be replaced by electricity.

Even setting aside construction, what's the ROI for going with electricity?  Social issues are not part of the discussion.

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Posted by Leo_Ames on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 4:51 PM

It's the ROI that traditionally kills these. All the big studies for electrication of busy mainlines through the years have shown that they're financially viable. But the rate is too slow and spread over too many years.

When they can get a better return elsewhere, their limited capital is going to go somewhere else rather than towards electrication.

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Posted by oltmannd on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 6:40 PM

I believe Mike Iden has the best solution.

https://www.railwayage.com/mechanical/locomotives/follow-the-megawatt-hours-hydrogen-fuel-cells-batteries-and-electric-propulsion/

Battery tenders for the "gaps".

Electrify the heavy mainlines.  Let hybrids, fuel cell, bio-diesel handle the rest.

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Posted by oltmannd on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 6:46 PM

Leo_Ames

It's the ROI that traditionally kills these. All the big studies for electrication of busy mainlines through the years have shown that they're financially viable. But the rate is too slow and spread over too many years.

When they can get a better return elsewhere, their limited capital is going to go somewhere else rather than towards electrication.

 

RRs are flush with cash - all that low OR PSR generated cash flow.

Electrification can be a winner on heavy main lines.

https://blerfblog.blogspot.com/2023/04/i-built-train-performance-calculator.html

I crunched some numbers....

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Posted by oltmannd on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 7:10 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH

The other issue that is not being addressed is where will the electricity formerly generated by locomotives come from once the catenary is strung.  The existing power grid cannot handle the additional load from railroads.

 

https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/flow/total_energy_2022.pdf

RRs used 0.05 quadrillion BTUs 

Electrical generation consumed 33 quadrillion BTUs 

I don't think anyone would even notice if RRs electrified....

 

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Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 8:55 PM

wjstix
... It is likely, once the infrastructure was in place, that using electricity (which could be generated by solar power, wind power, etc.) would be much cheaper per year than diesels. 

It's not all gravy once the electrification is built.  The NEC was built around a century ago, and needs tens of billion$ just to bring it to a state of good repair.

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Posted by Gramp on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 10:14 PM

wjstix

...How much do railroads currently pay each year for diesel fuel? The fuel costs are paid from the rates they charge companies for moving their goods (and the companies pass the cost to the consumer), and I assume using fuel costs as an expense giving them a tax break, meaning they pay less tax (so we pay more). Ultimetly we all pay for it... 

 

??? Huh?  I would hope that legitimate costs are being  accounted for against sales revenue to arrive at true taxable income. Otherwise gonna fall down, go booom. 

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Posted by jeffhergert on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 11:04 PM

tree68

 

 
PJS1
This is a critical question.  For a nation with a federal government debt of more than $33.8 trillion, as well as gobs of state and local government debt, where will the money come from?  

 

Someone will have to make a convincing case for the investors that electrification will pay back, in spades.  Barring that, or a healthy infusion of taxpayer money, it's not going to happen.

 

The government is good at unfunded mandates.  PTC anyone?

Although I haven't been following it closely, California is supposed to be trying to force all locomotives to be zero emissions by 2030 or 2035 depending on type of service.  Some shortlines are worried that they won't be able to afford the technology, that really isn't there yet.  Some expect that they would have to shut down.

Just force it nation wide, which isn't above the realm of possibility, and it almost forces electrification.  At least for heavily trafficed lines.  It might lead to abandonment of lesser trafficed lines.  The railroads might think the expense is not justified.

Jeff

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Posted by Euclid on Thursday, November 30, 2023 11:00 AM

jeffhergert

 

 
tree68

 

 
PJS1
This is a critical question.  For a nation with a federal government debt of more than $33.8 trillion, as well as gobs of state and local government debt, where will the money come from?  

 

Someone will have to make a convincing case for the investors that electrification will pay back, in spades.  Barring that, or a healthy infusion of taxpayer money, it's not going to happen.

 

 

 

The government is good at unfunded mandates.  PTC anyone?

Although I haven't been following it closely, California is supposed to be trying to force all locomotives to be zero emissions by 2030 or 2035 depending on type of service.  Some shortlines are worried that they won't be able to afford the technology, that really isn't there yet.  Some expect that they would have to shut down.

Just force it nation wide, which isn't above the realm of possibility, and it almost forces electrification.  At least for heavily trafficed lines.  It might lead to abandonment of lesser trafficed lines.  The railroads might think the expense is not justified.

Jeff

 

That is the one and only way I could see railroad electrification happening.  It would come with the premise that it did not have to be profitable or even cost effective in the normal railroad business sense.  It would be cost effective in the objective of saving the planet.  Not only are there no limits to the value of that cost, but we have also arrived at the point of there been no limits on public spending.  Electrification by Regulation.
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Posted by Fred M Cain on Thursday, November 30, 2023 1:43 PM

I don't believe that clearance issues in tunnels and through-truss bridges are much of an obstacle.  The real problem is cost, which several of you have already mentioned.

I distinctly remember hearing as a kid that Southern Pacific was studying the electrification of their Sunset Line from West Colton to Indio in the 1960s and if that turned out to be successful, possibly extending it eastward all the way to El Paso.  I also think that they also looked at electrifying Donner Pass.

However, in both cases, they decided against it.  Why?  Almost surely due to cost.

Today, battery powered freight locomotives for long distances are still in the experimental phase and might or might not pan out.  In some cases, catenary might make more sense.

For some reason that I have never quite been able to fully grasp and digest, other countries found a way to electrify, but not the U.S.

I suspect that unless the Greens have their way and mandate something, Diesels will probably continue to rule American rails for some time to come except in yards or for short distances where batteries would be far more practical.

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, November 30, 2023 2:15 PM

Fred M Cain
I don't believe that clearance issues in tunnels and through-truss bridges are much of an obstacle.  The real problem is cost, which several of you have already mentioned.

I distinctly remember hearing as a kid that Southern Pacific was studying the electrification of their Sunset Line from West Colton to Indio in the 1960s and if that turned out to be successful, possibly extending it eastward all the way to El Paso.  I also think that they also looked at electrifying Donner Pass.

However, in both cases, they decided against it.  Why?  Almost surely due to cost.

Today, battery powered freight locomotives for long distances are still in the experimental phase and might or might not pan out.  In some cases, catenary might make more sense.

For some reason that I have never quite been able to fully grasp and digest, other countries found a way to electrify, but not the U.S.

I suspect that unless the Greens have their way and mandate something, Diesels will probably continue to rule American rails for some time to come except in yards or for short distances where batteries would be far more practical.

Other (nominally European & Japanese) countries had to rebuild much of their rail infrastructure from the ground up after WW II.  The rebuilds were done as governmental projects, not private business projects.  Governments and debt are different than private companies and debt.  Governments can withstand the debt necessary to finance electrification as a matter of public interest.

In the US, while the railroads had to be rebuilt after WW II it was not the same task as in Europe and Japan.  The US railroads were the victims of deferred maintenance during the war.  The physical plant and equipment had been run hard and put away wet to carry the wartime traffic demands.  While the railroads were profitable during the war, they were not a profitable as possible because of the 'discounted rates' that governmental traffic moved over.

During the remainder of the 40's the US roads tried to play catch-up on their maintenance only to find a declining level of traffic needed to finance the maintenance catch-up programs.  Nowhere in this landscape did the Federal Government step in and offer the capital necessary to bring about electrification.

The countries whose railroads are predominately electrified are that way because of the desires and investments of their governments.

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Posted by Gramp on Thursday, November 30, 2023 2:38 PM

Interest on government's debt as rates go up will swamp all programs.  Electrification would be a nonstarter.  I think we're in the danger zone of not being able to right the ship. Very bad outcome if we have a crash.  Will not be pretty. 

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Posted by MidlandMike on Thursday, November 30, 2023 6:47 PM

A TV news story tonight showed a test of an in-pavement (induction) charging grid being installed in a Detroit street.  There are similar tests going on in several other countries.  If the government finances any transportation electrification, it will be for autos, and not trains.

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Friday, December 1, 2023 12:32 AM

Fred M Cain

I don't believe that clearance issues in tunnels and through-truss bridges are much of an obstacle.  The real problem is cost, which several of you have already mentioned.

For the 1991-92 study on electrifying the freight RR's in SoCal, half of the total projected cost was in providing adequate clearance for the 50kV catenary.

During my GE years, GE was working (but I wasn't) on the hybrid diesel-electric locomotive, which prompted two ideas on my part. One was that the hybrid would have been useful for long tunnels as the prime mover could be throttled back to reduce exhaust gases and heat from engine cooling. The other was to put batteries on electric locomotives to power through non-electrified trackage (as done by the CNS&M), where such trackage could include areas where clearances were insufficient for catenary.

I also think battery technology has progressed to where a hybrid commuter locomotive (or hybrid DMU's) would make a lot of sense. Part of it would be recovering energy that would be otherwise lost in braking, but the other effectively doubling or tripling the output of the prime mover in acceleration and be able ro spend moore time at track speed between stops.

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Posted by kgbw49 on Friday, December 1, 2023 6:42 AM

BaltACD

 

 
Fred M Cain
I don't believe that clearance issues in tunnels and through-truss bridges are much of an obstacle.  The real problem is cost, which several of you have already mentioned.

I distinctly remember hearing as a kid that Southern Pacific was studying the electrification of their Sunset Line from West Colton to Indio in the 1960s and if that turned out to be successful, possibly extending it eastward all the way to El Paso.  I also think that they also looked at electrifying Donner Pass.

However, in both cases, they decided against it.  Why?  Almost surely due to cost.

Today, battery powered freight locomotives for long distances are still in the experimental phase and might or might not pan out.  In some cases, catenary might make more sense.

For some reason that I have never quite been able to fully grasp and digest, other countries found a way to electrify, but not the U.S.

I suspect that unless the Greens have their way and mandate something, Diesels will probably continue to rule American rails for some time to come except in yards or for short distances where batteries would be far more practical.

 

Other (nominally European & Japanese) countries had to rebuild much of their rail infrastructure from the ground up after WW II.  The rebuilds were done as governmental projects, not private business projects.  Governments and debt are different than private companies and debt.  Governments can withstand the debt necessary to finance electrification as a matter of public interest.

In the US, while the railroads had to be rebuilt after WW II it was not the same task as in Europe and Japan.  The US railroads were the victims of deferred maintenance during the war.  The physical plant and equipment had been run hard and put away wet to carry the wartime traffic demands.  While the railroads were profitable during the war, they were not a profitable as possible because of the 'discounted rates' that governmental traffic moved over.

During the remainder of the 40's the US roads tried to play catch-up on their maintenance only to find a declining level of traffic needed to finance the maintenance catch-up programs.  Nowhere in this landscape did the Federal Government step in and offer the capital necessary to bring about electrification.

The countries whose railroads are predominately electrified are that way because of the desires and investments of their governments.

 

And their government's choice of the baseload generation necessary to provide reliable power for all that electrification of the government-owned railroad.

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Friday, December 1, 2023 1:46 PM

MidlandMike

 

 It's not all gravy once the electrification is built.  The NEC was built around a century ago, and needs tens of billion$ just to bring it to a state of good repair. 

Have you checked what all that money is about?  Maybe $1 - 2B for all the CAT work.  All the rest is ROW, Sawtooth bridge Dock bridge. bridges including the Maryland and Connecticut bridges.  Undercutting the whole track to remove bad sub grade, stations, & Etc. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, December 1, 2023 2:39 PM

In the USA electrification will not go forward without mass quantities of Federal Government 'seed' money, lots and lots of seed money.

The ROI on electrification is not sufficient to attract private capital investment in the project.

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Posted by Backshop on Friday, December 1, 2023 2:57 PM

BaltACD

In the USA electrification will not go forward without mass quantities of Federal Government 'seed' money, lots and lots of seed money.

The ROI on electrification is not sufficient to attract private capital investment in the project.

 

What will make it even more expensive is that the .gov couldn't just help one railroad.  If they helped NS, they'd have to do the same for CSX.  If the money goes to UP, BNSF will demand an equal amount.

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