Saturday, April 30, 2016

You Load 16 tons, and What Do You Get

In the US coal accounts for about 20% of all railroad freight.  Coal is going away and that is going to hit the bottom line of many railroads, some of them a lot harder than others.  No more sixteen tons to load.

So . . . . what else is there to say


E. Swanson said...

I happened to work on railroad safety problems about 25 years ago.

One issue I worked on was the energy consumption of the trains, specifically the effects of aerodynamics of the hopper cars used to haul bulk dry commodities. The computer models we used showed that the energy to move stuff can be reduced by adding a cover to the top of the typical open topped cars. Coal trains are usually put together in one batch of the same cars, all open topped. They go from the mine to the power plant fully loaded, then return to the mine as a bunch of empty cars. The aerodymaic drag is much greater while empty and adding a top to the cars would considerably reduce the energy used for the trip back to the mine. This effect is rather obvious, yet, the railroads still don't use tops on their coal cars...

E. Swanson said...

By coincidence, there's a long story about Robert E. Murray and his coal mining which appears in today's NYT:
A Crusader in the Coal Mine, Taking On President Obama

At the end, there's a quote from a speech the mine owner gave:
“This global warming hoax,” Mr. Murray told the students, “it’s a movement that is destroying America.”

Yes, "the movement" could end up destroying his America, but, if the science is correct, it's attempting to save the Earth for everyone else. Murry, like many others, takes his talking points from the denialist camp playbook and probably has no clue about the scientific facts. Therein lies the problem which "the movement" must somehow overcome if it is to succeed...

JohnMashey said...

Murray has said he wants to be the last standing...

You can get a feel of his views by watching this video, as he speaks just after TX AG Paxton, proud of suing the government often (but who has other issues).

Aaron said...

A friend runs the research program for a major lettuce producer. Back in the '30s, almost all produce was shipped from California to the east coast via train. These days produce is trucked from California east.

Every couple of years, my friend tries shipping a train load of produce east. Every time, the trains of produce ended up on sidings until everything rots.

The rail companies have forgotten how to ship produce across the country in a timely manner.

Jim Eager said...

I'm no expert, but I do know a fair bit about railroads.

Re covers for bottom-dump hoppers and rotary-dump gondolas used in coal service, adding/removing the covers would add considerably to train cycle time, which would probably end up requiring additional train sets to handle the same number of loads on current schedules, thus increasing equipment investment cost over and above that of the covers themselves. Instead, the trend has been toward automatically actuated rapid-discharge hoppers that can dump their full load in as short a time as possible, thus increasing train cycle time. Covers would also add to labor costs at both loading and unloading points, so the reluctance of railroads to use covers is understandable.

That said, I do know of one case (Otter Tail Power Co, 1975-mid 1980s) where several train sets of coal gondolas were built with hinged roofs that were automatically opened and closed at both the loading and unloading points. Those cars have since been retired from coal service and I don't know anything about how successful they were in operation, or what their maintenance costs vs fuel savings were. A more current use of covers are retractable fabric mesh covers on loads of pulverized powdered coal and coke, but in this case the covers are meant to reduce loss of coal dust during transit, which can be considerable.

Re shipping produce by rail, although traditional car-load produce largely switched to truck trailers over three decades ago, until relatively recently many of those trailers actually still moved east by rail, riding as piggy-back trailer-on-flat-car (TOFC) loads. The wholesale switch to containers for domestic (in addition to international) intermodal shipping pretty much killed those trailers off, although some produce does still move by rail in refrigerated containers.

afeman said...

Every couple of years, my friend tries shipping a train load of produce east. Every time, the trains of produce ended up on sidings until everything rots.

Sounds like my experience with Amtrak outside of the NE corridor.

Hank Roberts said...

Nobody wants to slow down or stop a coal train.
Everything else gets out of its way and waits.

But the value of the railroad rights-of-way increases once there are fewer coal and other fossil fuel trains running -- the rights of way are valuable for pipelines and cable, for uninterrupted stretches of protected access, preexisting, across many different jurisdictions that would otherwise each want a permit to build.


Everybunny should tell Elon Musk to acquire the right of way for a lettuce hyperloop.

Jeffrey Davis said...

Did I first see this video here?

Jeff Beck (et alia) and Billy Gibbons

16 Tons

Jim Eager said...

"Nobody wants to slow down or stop a coal train.
Everything else gets out of its way and waits."

That's largely because of the immense weight and momentum of them, Hank (100+ tons x 110-120 cars). It takes far more fuel to get them going than it does to keep them rolling.

Everett F Sargent said...

refrigerated container = reefer

16 Tons = truckload of skunk

20' reefer = 967 cu. ft. = 46,407 lbs
40' reefer = 1959 cu. ft. = 57,450 lbs

Blunt Madness

Light 'em up!

Hank Roberts said...

> That's largely because of the immense weight and momentum

Yep. When I was a kid in North Carolina, during the middle decades of the last century of the previous millenium, a traffic cop told me why they never tried to wave down or stop the tobacco trucks running through downtown.

Those were big flatbeds each carrying nine "hogshead" wooden barrels. She said when those drivers tried to stop fast, the barrels would bust loose and roll until they crushed something.

"A fully and tightly packed hogshead of tobacco weighed from 1,000 to 1,500 pounds."

The dominant product in the system gets the right of way, regardless of who else is in the way.