Environment

Sunday Train: Sleeping On A Trip, In Transit

Well, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay ... and so when you consider the posting plans for The Sunday Train, which quite often fail to qualify among the best laid plans, disruptions should not be a surprise.

Last y'all heard from me, I was posting from Northeast Ohio, with plans to continue posting from Eastern Tennessee and then Northeast Ohio again before arriving back in China for the new Fall Semester. But computer facilities in my son's rented house in Knoxville, Tennessee were much less than in my previous summer trip to see my young grandson ... as in, no computer and the only internet was WiFi borrowed by my wife from the neighbors next door ... so that put the kabosh on that.

And the return leg to Northeast Ohio before flying off to China was originally planned to be fairly tight ... and it got even tighter (as will be described below as part of this week's topic), leaving no time to post once I returned to the much better blogging infrastructure up there.

This week's topic is Sleeping on a Trip. Americans once took for granted that a long cross country trip might involve sleeping in a Pullman car or in a sleeping cabin. Then we took to the air, and allowed our rail transport corridors to devolve into slow trains hauling bulk cargo as we subsidized truck freight while taxing rail freight.

And I was planning on writing on this topic before leaving for China, but after my Greyhound trip from Knoxville to northeast Ohio, and then my 13 hours flight from Detroit to Beijing, I've got even more to write about now, as I see whether I can hit the fortnightly posting target I've set for the Sunday Train while in China. Since I was here in China (but still jet-lagged) last Sunday, it's this Sunday or Bust.

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Sunday Train: A Cycle Track In Downtown Akron

This past Thursday, thanks to twitter, I learned that just one county to my west, a Cycle Track was being opened: Akron opens new bike trail through downtown:

The path is part of the city’s effort to become more bicycle friendly and to encourage people to leave the Towpath Trail and experience downtown.
“Downtowns that are attractive centers, especially for a young workforce, have amenities like cycle tracks and bike trails,” said Suzie Graham, president and chief executive officer of the Downtown Akron Partnership. “It positions us more as a forward-thinking community.”
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The path is part of the larger iTowpath effort funded by the Knight Foundation. It is one of more than 20 projects attempting to connect the Towpath to local attractions.

{Picture: Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal, follow link for slideshow}

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Sunday Train: Rapid Passenger Rail moving ahead

As you are probably well aware, the US Government is gridlocked, which means that for years and years, nothing has been getting done.

However, because of the appropriations for "High Speed Rail" in 2009 and 2010, things are being done right now. "Bullet train" High Speed Passenger Rail services often grab the headlines (and you can watch a fairly hokey California HSR Authority youtube video on what they did in the first six months since construction started), but much of the actual services that we will see starting up in the final years of this decade will be work on or preparation for the "Rapid Passenger Rail" services that upgrade top speed from the sluggish conventional US corridor speed of 79mph to 110mph or more.

The primary Rapid Passenger Rail project is the Chicago to Saint Louis "HSR", which will cut about an hour from the present five and a half hour trip. The majority of this project will be completed next year, though some work will continue into 2018. Other projects are underway in Michigan, on the Northeast Corridor, and in the Pacific Northwest.

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Sunday Train: Adventures on the Beijing Subway

I have ridden the Beijing Subway and lived to tell the tale!

Of course, the youtube clips you might be able to find about incredible overcrowding on the Beijing subway is just part of the story. Indeed, when riding on my "home" subway line, I often not only find plenty of standing room on the train ... I often get a seat.

So follow me as I wander through the Beijing Subway System, below the fold.

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Sunday Train: Washington State Labor Council support Steel Interstate Feasibility Study

Sunday Train has long supported the Steel Interstate concept ... but Sunday Train is "merely" an online activity composed of my online blogging in various forums and your discussion in various forums.

However, since 2013, I have also been involved in the advocacy of the Steel Interstate concept in a more direct collaboration organized by the Backbone Campaign, under the heading of "Solutionary Rail.

And the Backbone Campaign and Solutionary Rail team were successful in gaining the support of the Washington Labor Council for a feasibility study.

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Sunday Train: First California HSR Service to connect Bay & San Joaquin Valley

Hey, long time no see!

The Sunday Train was on hiatus during the Chinese Fall Semester, as I had four sections to teach four hours a week with two new preps and one repeat prep, plus two weekend sections of an eight week intro to macro class for the International MBA (all in English ~ my Mandarin is next to non-existent) ... and so by the time Sunday rolled around, I was either in recovery from a six day week or teaching in the afternoon.

This coming semester promises to be a little bit less hectic, so I will once again try to hit the fortnightly writing schedule that was my original promise last summer, before the reality of my Fall teaching schedule hit me between the ears.

There has certainly been no shortage of things to write about, from the latest ebikes designs to be funded on Kickstarter to progress on Rapid Passenger Rail projects around the to the ongoing fight to raise the profile of the Steel Interstate to the President Obama's proposed $10/barrel oil tax. However, the first topic of the new semester is going to be continue a long-standing Sunday Train topic ... the California HSR project.

Because the California HSR authority just released its preliminary 2016 Business Plan for public comment, and it includes the headline grabbing change of Initial Operating Service route from Merced/Burbank, to San Jose / Bakersfield ... in other words, switching to a route from the Bay to the San Joaquin Valley, instead of the 2014 proposed IOS route from the LA Basin to the San Joaquin Valley.

So, in my first Sunday Train out, I've got a short look at what is going on.

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Sunday Train: Hobbling & Liberating Renewables with Markets

A concept that has been percolating into debates over the feasibility or desirability of moving to an all-renewables, no/low carbon energy supply system is the ceiling on what percentage share of our total energy supply we can take from variable renewables. At The Energy Collective, in the second of a two part May 2015 series on Wind and Solar energy, Jesse Jenkins looked at the question of Is There An Upper Limit To Variable Renewables?. Now, as the Sunday Train has covered many times, there is an upper limit, and so an all-renewable no/low carbon energy system requires dispatchable renewables as well as variable renewables ... and all cost-optimizing models of all-renewable energy systems that I have seen confirm this.

However, Jesse Jenkins proceeded to mis-characterize the policy question at hand, when he wrote:

First, as a growing body of scholarship concludes, the marginal value of variable renewable energy to the grid declines as the penetration rises.

Indeed, where renewable energy earns its keep in the energy market — and is not supported outside the market by feed-in tariffs — the revenues wind or solar earn in electricity markets decline steadily as their market share grows.

Well, not so fast. There is a fundamental flaw in the assumptions behind this claim. It turns out that kind of market situations that allow market prices to measure a resource's "ability to earn its keep" quite clearly exclude this particular situation he is talking about.

So it makes a difference how markets are put together, which is what this week's Sunday Train takes a look at.

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Sunday Train: Can Nuclear and Renewable Energy Be Friends?

There is an ongoing general discussion in the field of sustainable energy that does not carry the risk of the destruction of our current industrial society and economy about variable renewable energy.

Renewable energy includes a range of low or no carbon sources of energy - but not all renewable energy is sustainable, and not all is low or no carbon. And not all low or no carbon energy sources are from renewable energy resources.

Among the sustainable, no/low carbon renewable energy resources, the most abundant involve the harvest of variable renewable energy, with windpower and solar PV being the most notable. So one obvious strategy for a no-carbon-emitting energy system is to base it on collecting as much of these affordable variable renewables as practicable, and then use other no/low carbon sources to fill in the gaps.

However, in some quarters, this elicits a counter-argument. The most "successfully de-carbonized" economies of the world today are either those with a very high reliance on reservoir hydropower ... which while very useful in the United States offers nowhere near a large enough economic resource to meet any large fraction of our current consumption ... or those with a very high reliance on nuclear power.

Indeed, near the beginning of this month, Stephen Lacy briefly reported on a report from the Breakthrough Institute that raised an alarm that the new Clean Power Plan may in fact oversee a net increase in GHG emissions. The final plan does not include measures to avoid the decommissioning of substantial numbers of nuclear power plants. And the numbers are stark:

  • The 30 nuclear plants at risk by 2030 avoid over 100 MMT of CO2 emissions
  • New non-hydropower renewables are expected to avoid 60 MMT of CO2 emissions by 2030
  • New nuclear plants under construction are expected to avoid under 30 MMT of CO2 by 2030

So where retention of those 30 nuclear power plants would find us over 80 MMT of avoided CO2 ahead, and in a position to accelerate that in the following decade ... their closure could leave us over 10 MMT below where we are now.

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Sunday Train: Cuomo Backs the Worst Air Train to LaGuardia

Back in January, Yonah Freemark covered the news that Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a genuine clunk of an Air Train to La Guardia airport. The proposal was, as Yonah Freemark put it, "an AirTrain that will save almost no one any time."

Yonah Freemark was not the only transit blogger to give this proposal the thumbs down. Benjamin Kabak writing at 2nd Avenue Sagas pointed out in On the flawed LaGuardia AirTrain proposal and Astoria’s N train that a superior subway connection from LGA to Manhattan had been proposed by Rudy Guliani in the late 90s, but abandoned due to NIMBY opposition.

Benjamin Kabak points to Cap'n Transit Rides Again and the post from May, It's time to extend the N train to LaGuardia, where Cap'n Transit points out that the main "leaders" who fought against the N extension to LaGuardia have now passed from the scene, and now may be the time to test the waters again with the original N-train to LaGuardia plan.

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Sunday Train: The New Gulf Wind, NOLA to Orlando

In this September's Trains magazine{+}, Bob Johnston looks at the history and current state of play of the eastern section of the Sunset Limited route, running from New Orleans through to, most of the time, Orlando Florida. This is a live topic since both houses have passed Amtrak funding bills, which are currently awaiting reconciliation, and both include language setting up a group to study re-establishing intercity rail service on the Gulf Coast.

This also ties into three issues previously examined on the Sunday Train. The Orlando terminus offers the possibility of connecting rail services, which include the Carolina services, some of which extend through to Florida, and also the planned Rapid Rail All Aboard Florida hourly daytime passenger services between Orlando and Miami. And the western connection ties this into the previous Congress-mandated study of upgrades to the existing Sunset Limited, which proposed to replace the current route by extending the Texas Eagle through to Los Angeles, connecting to a New Orleans corridor service at San Antonio.

{+: Note that online access to Trains! magazine is mostly paywalled for subscribers to the print edition.}

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