Why HSR, but not electrification?

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Why HSR, but not electrification?

Postby SouthernRailway » Fri Aug 30, 2013 8:45 pm

This month's Trains magazine has an article about Conrail's proposals to electrify some of its freight lines. The article states that the investment would have been paid back through lower operating costs and more in under 10 years. Conrail would have done it except that it wasn't able to obtain credit to do so.

Question: why was the Obama administration so focused on building higher-speed rail projects around the US, when more of an economic impact may well have come from spending government money (if Class Is wouldn't do it) on electrification of freight lines (with some Amtrak lines benefiting from that)?

I'll hold my comments on the current administration, but is there just no political benefit to electrification of freight lines? Would Class Is not care enough? Other reasons?

Thanks.
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Re: Why HSR, but not electrification?

Postby mtuandrew » Tue Sep 03, 2013 10:47 am

I'd like to know the answer to this too, considering that the Milwaukee was approached by GE with an offer to close the Gap and resupply with GE electric locomotives, financed by GE itself (though I don't know the specifics of that offer.) I get the impression that Conrail primarily routed through freight along the Water Level Route, so perhaps electrification was less important and less attractive to lending agencies and companies.

As for the current era (no pun intended), are you reading, Mr. Buffett?
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Re: Why HSR, but not electrification?

Postby ExCon90 » Tue Sep 03, 2013 2:36 pm

I haven't gotten to the article yet, but the feeling at Conrail was that the best way to conquer the Alleghenies was via Cleveland and Toledo rather than electrification to Pittsburgh. As to SouthernRailway's question about the government's position, high-speed rail is sexy, glamorous, a hot topic, and they have it in Europe. Freight trains are invisible except when something bad happens.
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Re: Why HSR, but not electrification?

Postby 2nd trick op » Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:02 pm

Agreed; anyone who thinks that politicians, from either side of the spectrum, have any interest in a sensible, long-term approach has another think coming. The executives of very few, and very large freight roads remaining, know this as well; also that the winds of politics keep changing, sometimes over a relatively short time, and today's heavy investment mignt be de facto nationalized by re-reglation a few years from now.

But like it or not, the fact is that few sectors, if any of the economy are more at the mercy of the public sector than the railroads. And General Electric is certainly no advocate for lassez-faire.

So I expect that sooner or later, most likely later, an interest in electifiying a few major freight lines might revive. But the circumstances for thet to happen are a long way from the correct alignment right now.
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Re: Why HSR, but not electrification?

Postby v8interceptor » Mon Oct 07, 2013 11:38 am

Both BNSF and Norfolk Southern have conducted electrification studies in recent years.
NS seemed to be the most serious about it, at one point their proposals for developing the Crescent Corridor seriously considered electrification. They were exploring the idea of a public/private partnership to finance the project with Amtrak a major partner.
NS has backed away from the electrification idea in the alst couple years although they are continuing to make major investments in the Crescent Corridor.
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Re: Why HSR, but not electrification?

Postby CTRailfan » Fri Oct 18, 2013 7:34 pm

Freight rail electrification is a very interesting topic, and that article really got me thinking. In the future, in an oil- and carbon- constrained world, we are going to need electrified freight rail. Because of the huge infrastructure investment, I think it will take government investment, at least at the current fuel prices. Push fuel prices up a few bucks more, and things start to look rather different. The other reason that it's going to have to happen is the staggering scale of the oil and carbon savings. While we develop better electric cars, we could take a big chunk out of US oil usage with an increased percentage of US freight traffic moved by trains (largely with intermodal and transload sites and short truck hauls at the ends) using technology that was developed 99 years ago by the NYNH&H. Yes, 25kV/60 with computer-controlled 8000hp locomotives running in DP is a little different than the New Haven's original configuration with box cab locomotives and 11kV/25, but the basic idea of electrification with step-up and step-down transformers was developed by 1914.

This site has a rather interesting idea:

http://www.steelinterstate.org/

I'm not sure that putting whole trucks and their drivers on trains would make much sense, nor would HSR sets like Acela running with heavy freight traffic, and their map is based off of DOD maps that have strategic routes with little relation to general traffic flows, but the general idea is good. A national system (comprised of the current private railroads) with domestic stack clearances west and north of the NEC, double- triple- or quad-tracked mainlines, 110mph mainlines for express trains with 79mph freight running for hotshots, fully grade separated would be the ideal. I do think that in the future, we should build separate 230mph HSR lines, and not try to run one system. We need true HSR, and then the electrified freight lines can serve for some more regional/localized service for Amtrak with frequent stops with 110mph running in-between so that they don't get too badly in the way of freight, and provide more local service than HSR routes can. Access into the northeast is going to be tricky. A ton of work would be required to clear the line from Selkirk to Worcester for stacks under the wire, we need the NYC freight rail tunnel with stack clearances to Maspeth via NJ, and then COFC spine car service or fillet'ed stacks connecting Maspeth, Cedar Hill, Worcester, Albany, and maybe Davisville and somewhere near Hartford/Springfield together. But that's getting way ahead of the overall freight rail electrification concept.

Some of the key features that they have should be incorporated into a big, nationwide system, plus a couple of my own:
1. 25kV/60 electrification
2. Full grade separation
3. 2 3, or 4 tracks
4. 110mph trackage, concrete ties, CWR
5. A series of passenger stations for Amtrak type of service
6. A series of power change points with freight yards to break off to secondary lines
7. More intermodal ramps and transloading facilities to get freight closer to where it needs to go

Once some sort of incentives are offered by the government and one railroad takes the plunge, I think there will be a domino effect with others in other areas going electric, and then competing routes going electric as well to compete. The BNSF Southern Transcon is the likely first project, even though it would be a huge project. Others will follow. It's going to be a lot cheaper out west, where there are far fewer tunnels, although some routes will still have a lot of clearance issues to overcome in order to get the clearance required for 25kV/60.

While the technology itself is there, there are some other challenges with electrification and modern railroads that have never been addressed. One is that you cannot physically load a stack train under the wire, which means you either have to have diesel helpers to tow the train into the loading/unloading track, or a yard where diesel switchers (we're not actually talking switchers, think a pair of repowered computer-controlled SD-40's) pick trains up and bring them to be unloaded and visa versa. The reality is that it will depend on how much room is available. At some sprawling facilities, there are yards available to switch, while on others, the train will crawl right up to idling diesel helpers on the track, couple up, and go into the container facility. There are some other applications where loading electrically powered trains may be tough, to figure out, like unit grain trains. Many other types of trains are switched at the ends anyways, so they wouldn't really be affected by electrification.

Another is in terms of the routes. There are going to have to be a number of power-change points in order to run on and off of electrified lines, unless a lot of really expensive dual-modes are purchased. Local freight on the mainlines will also have to stay diesel, as they have to be able to go into sidings and such that aren't electrified. Building something like the steel interstate would help route-wise, as it makes a fast, efficient backbone, where freight would be routed to the nearest steel interstate electric changeover point, not the shortest route, as running a longer route and avoiding diesel running would be more efficient than running diesel on the shorter route. This, however, brings up another problem if there is going to be government funding involved. The government is going to have to spread the money around amonst all four major railroads, as otherwise one may feel left out, as traffic will shift to the electrified lines that are cheaper to run on, even if they are somewhat circuitous.

I wouldn't be too worried about switching fleets from diesel to electric. While big six-axle power can't be trickled down to secondary lines and shortline operators like the Geep's and SD-40's of the past, the early Dash-9's and similar are already totally worn out, so moving new orders to electrics and starting to retire some older diesels won't leave diesels with nowhere to go, as a gradual electrification process will take decades, and will still leave plenty of lines needing diesel power.
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Re: Why HSR, but not electrification?

Postby NorthPennLimited » Sun Jun 29, 2014 9:20 pm

Ask an engineer on Amtrak's NEC, NJT, MARC, SEPTA, or Metro North what happens to catenary in Hurricanes, Noreasters, extreme heat, and extreme cold.

And electric locomotives are very fickle in extreme cold and heat.

The new Eco-friendly substations and transformers have to cool with oil that won't cause PCB's which is good for living things, but less effective in keeping a substation or transformer cool during peak demand on a scorching July or August day.
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Re: Why HSR, but not electrification?

Postby 2nd trick op » Fri Jul 04, 2014 5:48 pm

A long time ago, the author of an article in Trains voiced the sentiment that "So long as the wires are up. it's cheaper o use 'em." Over the long run, that proved not to be the case, but the superior profile of the former Reading Lines between Harrisburg and New York/Philadelphia vs Pennsy's Trenton Cutoff was likely as much of a factor in dooming the E-44's which, reportedly were efficient enough to spawn one last study at the height of the first "oil shock/squeeze" in 1973-74,

But with PANAMX now looming on the horizon, one wonders how quickly, and by what means, the Class I's can muster the traffic to take up some empty space that might materialize on those now-well-maintained transcontinental main lines. NS, for example, has already improved the former N&W main line n order to take advantage of a shift in imports to the Port of Greater Hampton Roads, and the already-manifest decline in coal traffic, even for export, has likely already freed up some capacity on the waterfront itself.

Add to this some flexibility in costing via partnering with short lines, regionals, and local authorities, plus the practice of co-ordinating the deliveries of many commodities from centralized bulk-oriented terminals (first inspired a long time ago by NYC/PC's Flexi-Flow), and the residual effects of the ratemaking freedom granted by the Staggers Act), and I see the freight roads as possessed of a much larger "tool kit" than was the case back in the 1950's. But the economies promised by electrification are simply not as prominent, particularly when weighed against the high cost of capital and constant possibility of increased regulation.
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Re: Why HSR, but not electrification?

Postby bcgfdc3 » Fri Sep 26, 2014 11:33 pm

Kinda along the same idea but not. I am in Pennsylvania and we have an industry boom in natural gas. Has anyone every looked into making natural gas locomotives? The over the road trucking industry is starting to use them. There are many benefits, one is the low emissions and less need for maintenance due to the clean burning. The biggest downfall is fill stations which could be easily be overcome in such a large industry. There would be no need to modify a track or line that wanted to run a NG loco instead of a diesel one.

Just looking for opinions.

Thanks
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Re: Why HSR, but not electrification?

Postby dowlingm » Mon Sep 29, 2014 2:10 pm

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Re: Why HSR, but not electrification?

Postby mmi16 » Tue Sep 30, 2014 8:22 am

bcgfdc3 wrote:Kinda along the same idea but not. I am in Pennsylvania and we have an industry boom in natural gas. Has anyone every looked into making natural gas locomotives? The over the road trucking industry is starting to use them. There are many benefits, one is the low emissions and less need for maintenance due to the clean burning. The biggest downfall is fill stations which could be easily be overcome in such a large industry. There would be no need to modify a track or line that wanted to run a NG loco instead of a diesel one.

Just looking for opinions.

Thanks

NG is being looked at. Fuel storage for line haul may be a problem.
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