Sunday Train

A column of essays about Sustainable Energy & Transport, Transport for Economic Opportunity, and the Climate Catastrophe which our nation and the globe is plummeting toward, aided and abetted by vested interests and staunch defenders of the status quo. After a corridor realignment, Sunday Train has been running out of Voices on the Square as its origin Station since July 2012. BruceMcF is the lead author, and accepts submissions. Frequency is mostly weekly, normally sometime Sunday evening, except when life happens in such a way that it isn't.

Sunday Train: Variable Renewables and Dispatchable Demand

CAISO renewable energy late April 2015

Much of the focus on the Sunday Train is on electrification of transport, ranging from 2,000 mile hauls of electrified freight through to hopping on an e-bike to pick up some groceries. And spending this school year mostly living and working in Beijing brings many of the possibilities to life ... from riding the subway to get to the Sanlitun district for Texas BBQ, to seeing an electric freight train passing on a line overhead as the bus we were riding for our school spring outing last Saturday was bogged down in Beijing traffic, to seeing the electric delivery tricycle used by the pizza delivery from Woudaokou for the neighbor down the haul who seems to live in delivered pizza and Indian food.

But the efficiency gains of electric traction are only half of the story for sustainable transport, since its not fully sustainable unless that electricity is generated in a sustainable way.

And when following online discussion of renewable energy at the Energy Collective, which attracts both advocates for and detractors of investment in renewable energy resources, a perennial source of ammunition for attacks on renewable energy are the challenges of meeting demand for electricity with the harvest of a variable source of energy that is available on its own schedule, and not ours.

This is a topic I have touched on before (cf , ), Inspired by the article at the Energy Collective: Will Natural Gas Peaker Plants Become Obsolete?, I am coming back to today. What I want to focus on today is the opportunities offered by dispatchable demand for better integration of variable renewable energy. And I would be happy if you would join me to discuss this topic (or any other topic involving sustainable transport), below the fold.

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Sunday Train: A Steel Interstate for the Keystone West Corridor


In the last Sunday Train, I talked about the study on Keystone West improvements commissioned by the PennDOT. This study finds that upgrades are expensive, and benefits are modest, in terms of allowing for one or two additional services per day, but at a substantially higher subsidy per passenger mile.

However, this study had a quite peculiar "hole" in the range of options: even though the Keystone East is a Rapid Passenger Rail corridor, electrified and upgraded to 110mph to allow the successful upgrade in frequency and transit speed of the Keystone service between Harrisburg and NYC via Philadelphia ... Rapid Passenger Rail was completely ignored as an option.

This meant that the only speed upgrade that was considered was an Express HSR corridor that was "designed to fail" under the designated criteria, since it would be on a different alignment, and so not pass through the communities between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh currently served by the Keystone West.

While "back of the envelope" calculations suggested that filling in this hole would offer some advantages, it would still give an intercity service requiring operating subsidized for a decade or more.

However, this was all under "status quo" assumptions. What I look at this week is what changes for the Keystone West if we were able to start building out a Steel Interstate system for this country, to shift some of the petroleum-dependent, carbon-emitting pavement-destroying heavy diesel truck long-hail freight onto sustainable powered electrified Rapid Rail Freight. Join me for this much more promising future ... below the fold.

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Sunday Train: The Hole in the PA Keystone West Feasibility Study

One of the things I was waiting on last year was delivery of Pennsylvania's feasibility study for improvements on the "Keystone West" corridor. The "Keystone East" corridor connecting Harrisburg and Philadelphia was upgraded in 2006, with an electrified corridor with speeds of up to 110mph providing travel times competitive with driving, especially in the suburban Philadelphia area. So when a "Keystone West" feasibility study was announced, there were high hopes in some quarters that some substantial improvements might be made on the "Keystone West" corridor, connecting Pittsburgh with Harrisburg, currently hosting only the Pennsylvanian between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

The feasibility study is was originally promised for substantially earlier, with a final draft completed in May 2013 but the trip from final draft to final report took more than a year, being finally published in August of last year (pdf).

A quick review of the Executive Summary reveals that a range of things can be done to improve the Keystone West, which could trim something less than an hour from the current five and a half hour trip to Harrisburg (with a further hour and a half to Philadelphia). It also takes a look at, and quickly dismisses an Express HSR corridor.

But for some reason ... while it considers an option to add a third passenger-only track on the Keystone West, it completely ignores the option of a Rapid Rail speed upgrade on that track ... despite the fact that a Rapid Rail speed upgrade was part of what made the Keystone East project successful. So I'll take a look at this curious hole in the feasibility study, below the fold.

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Sunday Train: Five Levels of US Intercity Rail Policy

In Sunday Train last week, I referred to the Bipartisan Majority to Authorize the funding of Amtrak as "Good News". One commentator in the discussion in one of the crossposts pointed out that the news wasn't all that particularly good, since continued funding on this basis over the indefinite future will spell serious trouble for the system as a whole.

Now, as I suggested more than once, the "good news" last week certainly was not unqualified good news ... that is, to say it was "qualified" good news was already taking on board the bad electoral news for Amtrak in the continued Republican House Majority combined with a new Republican Senate Majority, which opened the door to some of the deep, slashing cuts to Amtrak that some on the Republican side have long hoped to make. So the "qualified good news" was that in going for a total defunding of Amtrak, the radical reactionary wing of the Republican party overplayed its hand, opening the way for a majority of House Republicans, along with basically the entire Democratic caucus, to authorize the continued funding of Amtrak at just about the levels that have been in place over the past four years.

But that was set against the bad news of the INDOT refusing to continue the Hoosier State service on the ground of basically not being allowed to have its cake and eat it too ... insisting on acting like the organization putting together a passenger rail service, without being treated as a passenger railway. And so I started thinking about the Hoosier State / Cardinal corridor in the context of, on one hand, the very low bar for "good news" in transport funding with this Congress, versus the tremendous need we have for a massive wave of investment in transport that can be powered by sustainable, renewable energy. And to organize my thinking, I started to sort it out into five levels:

  • Level 0: "Very Much Worse";
  • Level 1: "Barely Scraping By";
  • Level 2: "A Basic Skeleton Service Done Right"
  • Level 3: "Incremental Growth"
  • Level 4: "Aggressive Growth"

More about the five levels ... below the fold.

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Sunday Train: On Amtrak, I've got some good news, and some bad news.

This last week, there was the surprising start to a headline in the Washington Post that began, "GOP House and White House agree on something" ... and that something was: Amtrak funding (and pets on a train).

From NPR:

The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act passed on a vote of 316-101 (132 Republicans joined 184 Democrats in voting for the bill; 101 Republicans voted against). It keeps spending for Amtrak at nearly current levels — about $1.4 billion a year — for the next four years, and includes other reforms aimed at improving the railroad's fiscal performance.

... so that is a majority of the Republican majority voting for a bill that both Heritage Action and Club for Growth were scoring, looking for a "No" vote to gain their approval, and which the White House gave qualified approval to (though perhaps it helped some of those Republicans that they can point to parts of the bill that the White House did not approve of). And so the Northeast Corridor trains and long haul trains, alongside most of the state approved corridor services under 750 miles in length, can continue running.

But this was not an entirely "good news" week, since we also heard that Indiana DOT scuttles Amtrak Hoosier State. The Hoosier State is the "companion" train to the three-times-a-week Cardinal, and together the two provide for a daily connection from Indianapolis in the early hours of the morning, scheduled to arrive in Chicago in mid-morning. The Indiana DOT has declared its refusal to continue the service unless it gets to put the service together on its own terms, only using Amtrak for the elements of the service where Amtrak gets a better price than a private operator. And so customers of the Hoosier State service will be getting a special "April Fool's" gift in the form of a drop down from daily to three times a week rail access to Chicago.

More about the qualified good news and unqualified bad news, below the fold.

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Sunday Train: Future of Rail Technical Symposium, Washington DC. 3 Feb, 2015

Last week in Washington DC, your Sunday Train correspondent was able to attend the "Future of Rail Symposium" held in Washington DC. The presenters discussed various aspects of building a Steel Interstate corridor, including the Steel Interstate concept, a discussion of electrified rail around the world, why rely on electricity rather than LNG for major backbone corridors, the engineering and economics of electrification in North America, an approach to financing an initial Steel Interstate corridor without requiring new legislation to be passed through our gridlocked Federal government, vehicle and track considerations of the "Rapid Freight" rail component of the Steel Interstate, the labor dimension and the need for a new social contract with Rail Labor, and a final presentation on the "Solutionary Rail" proposal by the Backbone Campaign to establish a Steel Interstate on the BNSF Northern Transcon corridor.

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Sunday Train: West Virginia River Runner Rail and the Steel Interstates (from 1 May 2011)

Tonight's Sunday Train is a repeat of the 1 May, 2011 Sunday Train, from before the Sunday Train came to Voices On The Square

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The flashy rail projects are the very HSR projects to build bullet trains serving urban areas with millions of people.

But the role of rail in supporting sustainable extends beyond the bullet train system alone. It may not be critical to the financial success of these bullet trains to provide service to people living in urban areas of 50,000 to 200,000 ~ but its critical to these people to have access to some form of sustainable intercity transport.

Indeed, if we are going to be harvesting wind power, solar power, sustainably coppiced biocoal, geothermal, run of river hydro, and other sustainable resources ... we are going to be creating incomes in areas away from the 1m+ cities. We best look after the needs of the people who come to those areas looking for work.

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Sunday Train: Cyclists Clamoring for Segregation

While browsing around reading transport cycling news, I ran across a blog post from the UK from the second half of September: Bas' Blog: Coming to London: cycle paths fully separated from other traffic (vote!) 23 September 2014:

This morning in my inbox:

I am writing to let you know that Transport for London, in partnership with the boroughs of Southwark, Camden, Islington and the City of London, would like your views on proposals for a new Cycle Superhighway between Elephant & Castle and King’s Cross.

Yes please! TFL is asking for comments on the plans in a public consultation. More information on the plans can be found here (East-West route) and here (North-South route), you can leave comments here (E-W) and here (N-S).

,,, and when I looked around, stories about segregated "cycle paths" or "cycle tracks" or "cycleways" were not that hard to find. Join me below the fold for a look.

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Sunday Train: Reflections on a visit to the East Coast

Your intrepid sustainable energy and transport reporter was recently required to engage in some official business with an overseas consulate located in New York city, and in order to be able to afford to sit and wait as the wheels of bureaucracy as long as might have been required, obtained lodgings in a relatively cheap motel in New Brunswick and took the NJ Transit Northeast Corridor train back and forth. This week's Sunday Train is a collection of scattered observations made along the way.

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Sunday Train: NEC High Speed Rail for Under $20b (from 15Jul2012)

Sunday Train this week is a re-run from 15 July, 2012

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

One of the transit bloggers that I enjoy reading is Alon Levy who blogs his observations on a variety of transit topics at Pedestrian Observations . Following the important California HSR funding vote in the California State Senate and the excitement leading up to it, I thought I'd like to take a look at the proposed Express HSR system for the states of the Northeast Corridor.

Of the $53b cost of the proposed San Francisco to Los Angeles Express HSR corridor seems hefty ~ and it seems even heftier when it shows the Year of Expenditure headline value of $68b ~ then the proposed Northeast Corridor states Express HSR will seem massive.

However, Alon claims:

Northeast Corridor HSR, 90% Cheaper
...
In contrast with this extravaganza, it is possible to achieve comparable travel times for about one tenth the cost. The important thing is to build the projects with the most benefit measured in travel time reduced or reliability gained per unit of cost, and also share tracks heavily with commuter rail, using timed overtakes to reduce the required amount of multi-tracking.

This sounds like an intriguing possibility ... but is it realistic? Or is it wishful thinking? Follow me below the fold, and then let's discuss it.

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