Friday, February 08, 2019

Making Tracks in the US

So with the Green New Deal on the street there is considerable talk about improving railroad travel.  Eli has a couple of perhaps odd points to make.

First high density is NOT something that is needed for fast trains, as a matter of fact it is a hinderance.  It doesn't matter how fast a train is if it has to make a lot of stops and every stop includes significant time decelerating as well as accelerating.  Moreover close to stations a high speed train travels slowly over normal tracks into the station rather than over a high speed right of way.

Ideally the time between stations should be of the order of one to two hours.  For high speed trains this is somewhere between 200 and 400 km (in disgraced units between 120 and 240 miles).  Thus, the East Coast Corridor between Boston and DC might not be a very good place to start as can be seen from the marginal reduction of travel time between the faster trains (Acela Express) and the normal ones on the NY - DC route, much of which is due to additional stops for the slower trains.

So where would be a good place to start.  There are a couple which suggest themselves.  Eli might point to a route linking Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

On Twitter, Paul Farrar, pointed out that Texas might be a good place to start.  Houston to Dallas  has been suggested, but such a route could be built out to include Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St, Louis and Chicago from Dallas, and to New Orleans and Austin from Houston.

So there are many possibilities for high speed rail in the US given the political will.

Which brings the blog to Eli's second point.  Railroads in the US are not electrified.  Even for freight there are places where considerable gains in decreased emissions and efficiency could be made by electrification of freight routes. One of the bedevilments limiting high speed rail passenger travel in the US has been that both freight and passenger trains travel on the same route.  Eli would propose that the lowest hanging fruit is electrification of the major freight routes, followed by building out a separate really high speed passenger rail network, starting in the middle of the country, where the land is mostly flat and population density outside of major cities is low.


Russell Seitz said...

Merging flyover cities with regional seaports would increase their cultural amenities & travel possibilities while decreasing the need for passenger rail.

All things considered, I'd rather be in Minmadmllgophia, waiting to put my car on the Silver Meteor to Florida

Bernard J. said...

Hi all.

Sorry to go off-thread, but I'm wondering if someone could remind me who did the analyses of the global warming signal using just half a dozen random stations, and if they could provide a linkie to the work?


David B Benson said...

But the French TGV has dedicated tracks between dedicated stations. Sometimes the stations are right next to the older ones.

Fernando Leanme said...

The Green New Deal and the Infanticide legislation really boosted Republicans' chances in 2020. All you need is for the communist wing of the Democratic Party to propose price controls and the construction of gulag camps to house prisoners forced to build high speed rail.

EliRabett said...

David, sometimes the stations are separate (Lille) and sometimes not (Paris), but truly high speeds do require separate tracks

Bernard, Eli thinks you mean @caerbannog666

jrkrideau said...

@ EliRabett 9/2/19 5:53 AM
But is that not what David said?

I don't see why the e East Coast Corridor would not be a candidate for highspeed rail unless the objection is that it would be prohibitively costly to to build dedicated trackage.

I am going on distant memory but I don't see the Acela vs normal train times as a good argument. Acelas are not 'high speed' trains in the usual meaning of the word as used internationally and they are sharing 150 year old infrastructure with other traffic.

Provide dedicated, electrified right-of-way with top-line signalling, no level crossings and reduce stops between New York and Boston to zero or close to.

This is not to argue that there appear to be many suitable places in the USA that would benefit as much or more from real high speed rail that the Corridor.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

FL: the communist wing of the Democratic Party

BPL: Fernando is on crack again.

Russell Seitz said...

It's not the crack, it's the psychodelic covers Jacobin .

EliRabett said...

The distance btw DC and NYC is about 220 miles, but at a minimum there is Baltimore and Philadelphia (let alone Wilmington and Newark). Simply too many stops to make it worthwhile to build TGV infrastructure.

OTOH, NYC to Boston might be reasonable if you want to skip Hartford/New Haven.

Russell Seitz said...

Eli, the weird thing about the Acela is that it takes three times longer to get from New Haven to New York than New London to Boston.

It's powerful unfair that Rhode Island has the fastest trains in the nation- riders should be given more time to admire it.

jrkrideau said...

@ EliRabett

The distance btw DC and NYC is about 220 miles, but at a minimum there is Baltimore and Philadelphia (let alone Wilmington and Newark)

Why stop anywhere along the route? If you are flying from DC to NYC do you normally expect to land at Baltimore and Philadelphia en route?

John ONeill said...

Half the freight traffic in the US is coal, so any serious attempt to rein in climate change could see the railways underutilised. ( The Green New Deal is not a serious attempt. France went from mostly oil-fired power stations, to ~75 % nuclear, in fifteen years. No 'renewables only' scheme has come anywhere near that, and the bigger they get, the more of a drag their unreliabilty will become.)
There is a lot of room for technical improvements to passenger rail. If self-driving trucks can slave themselves to the front vehicle and form a virtual train, why can't real trains behave the same way ? You could have drive wheels, and limited storage, on each carriage. The train itself would bypass every station except the terminal ones, while 'feeder carriages' loaded up on the side tracks, and then matched velocity to link up on the fast line. Compared to roads, the computing power needed would be trivial, and it would keep fast vehicles and crowded platforms safely separated.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

J O'N: France went from mostly oil-fired power stations, to ~75 % nuclear, in fifteen years. No 'renewables only' scheme has come anywhere near that,

BPL: I think Denmark is at 50% wind power now. When did they start?

Supernaut said...

To BPL: that % is important, but most important is the carbon intensity. France, which is, say, 75% nuclear has a carbon intensity of 81 grams of CO2/kWhr. Denmark, which is, as you say, 50% wind power (it's in fact 74% renewable) has a carbon intensity of 192 grams of CO2/kWhr. Admittedly I just looked this up today, but I bet that at any other day/time the numbers won't vary much. So France wins (yet again).

TransparencyCNP said...

"Here are the 11 Proposed Hyperloop Routes in the United States"
Now called:
"Virgin Hyperloop One"

Russell Seitz said...

Our wallmongering President might examine Japan's successful people-proofing of the Bullet Train right of way.

OTOH, the top of a Great Wall is a cool place for a TGV.

John ONeill said...

To BPL - Denmark didn't even have a 'national grid' till a few years ago. The western half is still more closely linked to Germany, and the eastern to Norway and Sweden, than either half is to the other.The German grid is twenty times bigger than Denmark's, and the Norwegian and Swedish one ten times bigger. Denmark can afford to build lots of wind turbines, because they can export the surplus, and in calm periods, Norwegian hydro, Swedish nuclear, and German coal can make up the difference.( They can sort of afford it - their power is the most expensive in Europe.) In fact, they have to export a lot of the power even when their coal plants are still running, because the coal plants also provide district heat. So they can claim to be heading for 'carbon neutrality' even when a lot of the electrons they're using came from coal.

jrkrideau said...

@John ONeill 11/2/19 6:22 AM

Half the freight traffic in the US is coal, so any serious attempt to rein in climate change could see the railways underutilized.

Fantastic opportunity in some areas to convert underused or disused right–of–way into high speed trackage or to look for other markets?

If coal is no longer the key commodity for the freight railways, this seems like the perfect time for them to develop new markets and services. Perhaps we could argue that some US railways are suffering from Dutch Disease caused by coal rather than oil?

One might argue that the dominance of coal as a key commodity has stifled innovation both technically and in the area of service provision and marketing.

Old_salt said...

You have to be careful with commenter statistics. As of 2016, coal was 16% of total carloads transported by trains, not 50%. So, the incentive for new markets/services is significantly smaller.

Unknown said...

The thing Eli carries around in his head is that US freight is mostly grain and coal, while in the EU it is goods.

John ONeill said...

'You have to be careful with commenter statistics.'
I stand corrected. In 2008, eyeballing the graph, coal was about 900 million tons of nearly 2000m total railed, by 2017 it was down to about 600 of 1750. Nothing else comes close, by tonnage, but crude petroleum products spiked sharply till 2012, then declined just as sharply. Also, the industry says a recent drop in carloads of fracking sand has been significant.

EliRabett said...

Part of what gets lost in these discussions is most of the travel on high speed rail is between stations that are only a few hours apart, for example Paris and Lyon or Marseilles. Really long rides can take the best part of a day. Still by the time you get to the airport, check in, go thru security, get on the plane, arrive, wait for your bags, get to the center of town by taxi or train, there goes the day.

Bernard J. said...

Thanks Eli. Yup, it was that throat-tearing cousin of yours...

Russell Seitz said...

India's wannabe TGV ran into sacred cow trouble on its inaugural trip

bjchip said...

Think of this.

Suppose we electrify the network for freight, do that first.

Then we computerize the electrified freight units, driverless and 3-4 cars in a packet.

Then we run them all over the place as a packet switched network using all the currently unused rail time (the damned things have no trains on them most hours of the day and night) to get bulk freight all over the country. A rail freight system for the 21st century instead of the 19th?

Just saying.

Also, skip Newark, you can get from Newark into NYC quickly enough, 14k and directly linked by PATH Wilmington is close enough to Philly. You have to stub those so the HS link is in fact HIGH speed. When the distance is shorter like that, you want to feed the HS link not slow it down.

That gives you 4 stops NYC to DC with the a good 130 Km first leg, 144 for Baltimore and 56 Km to DC. This could be very very quick and run in weather that grounds air traffic.