An energy-independence no brainer: electrified rail

Sitting over breakfast with a German professor of automotive engineering- specifically, internal combustion engines- an ah-ha moment.

Besides the stupidity of privately owned “public utilities” we also entrust our railways to private industry- which in turn, puts short-term profits in front of long-term national interests. We move our freight by rail – but we do it with diesel. The only electrified  rail line in the USA runs between Philly and NYC- hardly the model for a country to ease itself off the teat of foreign oil.

While we keep talking about fuel efficiency standards for cars- and trying to cut fuel consumption for individualized transportation- a huge impact could be made by electrifying the rail lines. It’s also technologically easy. Rail lines already have the right of way- making it easy to run the power to them.

Considering rail is already exponentially more efficient than trucking or air at moving freight, an effort to electrify our rail system would be, in the long run, a much better “stimulus” than building more highways.

Of course, the Germans have already figured this out- that’s probably why they call it “German Engineering” when they refer to the technological state of the art.

And, while this idea was new to me, the folks over at my friend Greg Hunter’s favorite site, the oil drum, already have a long post explaining that while this isn’t a silver bullet solution- it is a much better, and more sound strategically and environmentally than “Drill baby, drill”- read it here:

Multiple Birds – One Silver BB: A synergistic set of solutions to multiple issues focused on Electrified Railroads

and here is a link to a PDF of a plan by Lyndon LaRouche presented to the US Senate in 2005

 

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10 Responses

  1. Dad April 9, 2011 / 8:05 pm
    You said: “The only electrified  rail line in the USA runs between Philly and NYC.” Not true.
    To get to Grand Central Station, steam locomotives went straight up Park Avenue, belching smoke. Residents did not like it. So they buried the rails under Park Avenue. The New York, New Haven and Hartford Rail Road electrified its trains to reduce soot and ran electric trains as far north as Hartford. Then they switched locomotives and continued north to Boston with conventional locomotives. I know nothing about trains from Philly.
     
    (The New York, New Haven and Hartford wanted to get rid of passenger service in the 1950s, so it turned on the heat in summer and turned it off in winter.

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  2. Ice Bandit April 10, 2011 / 7:38 am
    Besides the stupidity of privately owned “public utilities” we also entrust our railways to private industry-…(David Esrati)
    The Lone Ranger: “Tonto, we are surrounded by a band of wild and savage Indians.”
    Tonto: “Whataya mean we, paleface?”
     
    …..no, dear David, it is not “we” who bemoan the fact that most utilities are owned by shareholders. Quite the contrary, we insist our pension funds invest in these securities. And methinks that if the government did run power companies the way they run everything else, we would already be familiar with the rolling blackout. Nor do “we,” as you imply, obsess about fuel efficiency standards, as all of the Hummers, Crown Vics and Coupe DeVilles on the highways will attest. Furthermore, since privately owned railways trace their ancestries in America to before the birth of Karl Marx, they were never “ours” to entrust. Fact is, Uncle Sam proved himself a pretty inept railroad baron with the Conrail experiment, and there are few in the industry who will debate whether such private entities as Norfolk Southern do the better job, and turn a profit to boot. And it is these 21st century Commodore Vanderbilts who will decide if electrification is compatible with their plans and profit ledgers. Now to be fair, dear David, if by “we” you mean collectivists and folks who think all income, liberty and property are at the whim and disposal of government, you may have a point. But leave hombres like the Old Bandito outta’ if…….

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  3. David Esrati April 11, 2011 / 12:29 pm

    @IceBandit

    it is not “we” who bemoan the fact that most utilities are owned by shareholders. Quite the contrary, we insist our pension funds invest in these securities. And methinks that if the government did run power companies

    I’m tired of this “shareholders” have our best interests in mind lie. They have their best interests in mind- and why can’t the people of the US be the shareholders in utilities? We all use them- just like we do police, fire, roads etc.

    We regulate them- so they won’t pollute the environment- we set the prices- it seems stupid to have this be in the hands of private companies.

    Electrification of rail has to happen. But, then again- you still don’t understand the economics of oil- do you Ice.

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  4. Jesse April 11, 2011 / 3:23 pm
    David,

    Who do you think are “shareholders”?  “Shareholders” are owners.  The people of the US can be shareholders in utilities.  They have only to buy a portion of the company.  You make a great point, that utilities provide services to (virtually) everyone.  Much like protection, fire, and roads could be…without taxation.  To the extent that we set prices, we make a mistake, making it less likely that “shareholders” get the value they deserve for their investment.  Either we disproportionately benefit the utility (and the investors) or we disproportionately harm them.  We also destroy the incentive to compete with these entities via the price controls.  

    Have you read economics in one lesson yet?

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  5. Greg Hunter April 11, 2011 / 5:59 pm
    I mean really, one cannot make up the stupidity of the free market acolytes! There is a period where the free markets work for innovation and then the state come in and picks a winner. The winner is picked so that innovation make occur based on a standard power delivery system. This free market process was completed early in the 20th century. Does anybody study history as well as economics?

    The government should step in and declare a winner when it benefits ” the common good” at one time restricting the rail barons and energy barons from owning everything unleashed innovation, which is why railroads and electrical generation are separate. Now that both ( electrical and rail) are quasi public utilities and both are necessary for a civilized American life then they should be merged to compete with modes of transportation that are not generated by American resources. America used it’s oil to win WWII and power our eminence in the world. Those days are over, but we have coal, natural gas, solar, wind and nuclear which WE make and can utilize to get off foreign oil.

    Free market would have never won WWII or got the US to the moon! It takes collective will and a good idea. Electric rail is perfect!

    Remember we buy 9.2 million barrels of foreign oil at 100 per barrel each and EVERYDAY!

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  6. joe_mamma April 12, 2011 / 8:35 am
    I mean really, one cannot make up the stupidity of the free market acolytes! There is a period where the free markets work for innovation and then the state come in and picks a winner. The winner is picked so that innovation make occur based on a standard power delivery system. This free market process was completed early in the 20th century. Does anybody study history as well as economics? – GH
    Not really, decisions are generally made by consumers.  For example…oil came into dominance when cars were deemed by consumers to be worth their price.  It became even more dominant as capitalists found uses for plastics…and it became even more dominant when producers realized they didn’t have to wait on the long transit times or rail and boat and that it made sense to truck and fly raw materials and finished products etc…
    Free market would have never won WWII or got the US to the moon! It takes collective will and a good idea. Electric rail is perfect! – GH
    Nonsense.  Quick…who built the B-29 and B-17 bombers…Boeing, the USS Yorktown….Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company,
    M4 Sherman Tanks…..GE/Ford/, Saturn V Rocket….Boeing, Douglas Aircraft, IBM,  Apollo Lunar Lander….Grumman,  Command/Service Module…North American Aviation 
    It was individuals and corporations that had been operating in a mostly free market that provided the capacity to complete/support these efforts.

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  7. Ice Bandit April 14, 2011 / 7:19 am
    Electrification of rail has to happen. But, then again- you still don’t understand the economics of oil- do you Ice? (David Esrati)
     
    ….let’s assume, for the sake of illustration, that you are correct. Let’s pretend, dear David,  that the Old Bandito is so ignorant of issues economic he thinks that Karl Marx is Groucho’s brother, Gresham writes cheesy historical novels, John Maynard Keynes plays bluegrass banjo, von Mises is the 1980’s porn star who made John Holmes jealous and Laffer opens for Celine Dion in Vegas. This massive ignorance of the dismal science wouldn’t matter if there was an understanding of big government and the failure of central planning. From the collapse of the Warsaw Pact to Fidel Castro’s recent admission that the last half-century of Bolshevism hasn’t exactly brought Cuba prosperity, the last 20 years has been nothing if not the daily reaffirmation that a state’s misery index in directly related to government intrusion. Besides dear David, the economics of oil are not as important as the politics of oil. Recently, our Golfer and Sojourner in Chief promised money and support for off shore drilling. Problem is, that promise was made to Brazil while his administration denies permits to American companies seeking the same consideration. Yessir, dear David, the failure of big government is on daily display and the only two people who don’t understand that are Kim Jung Ill and you……

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  8. David Esrati April 14, 2011 / 8:21 am

    @IceBandit- I’ll ask you about the economics of oil again when we are paying $6 a gallon-

    Electric cars aren’t the solution- batteries are heavy. Electrifying rail is relatively easy- since the trains tend to go the same way everyday (I thought I better explain that to you- since you apparently don’t know shinola about trains).

     

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  9. Bubba Jones April 14, 2011 / 10:14 am
    Electric cars aren’t the solution- batteries are heavy. – DE
     
    Interesting… Nowhere in the ol’ Bandito’s post did he mention anything about electric cars.  So why do you even bring that up in your response to him.
     
    Electrifying rail is relatively easy- since the trains tend to go the same way everyday (I thought I better explain that to you- since you apparently don’t know shinola about trains). – DE
     
    David, is that kind of rude response really necessary?  Really?  Maybe if you didn’t get so defensive, dismissive and rude every time someone disagreed with you, people might actually start to take you seriously.  Have you ever thought of that?  As has been pointed out by others many times on this website, you are your own worst enemy!
     
    Here are a  couple of things to think about regarding this “aha moment” that you’re so proud of.  First, since this all started with breakfast with a German, you need to remember that the majority of Germany’s infrastructure was built/rebuilt after WWII.  Prior to the war, I’m pretty sure (and I’m sure DL will look this up for me!) that Germany was using coal fired locomotives, just like were prevalent in the US at the time.  Next, Germany is a much more “compact” country than the US.  Have you traveled by rail or by car across the Western US lately?  There are a lot of rail lines spread out over some pretty desolate country out there.  And, many of those rail lines were laid on the same rail beds that were constructed well over 100 years ago.  It’s not practical to just say “let’s electrify 30,000 miles of rail line to save some oil!”
     
    However, most, if not all, freight is moved by electrically powered locomotives.  These things have diesel powered generators on board that power huge electric motors.  That’s how they’re able to generate all the torque necessary to start pulling those huge loads.  Those things are pretty efficient already.  But, the question you need to answer is this… Assuming that we run with your idea and we do decide to run big ol’ extension cords along the thousands of miles of rail lines, just where is that power going to come from?  There are already shortages of power generating capacity in some areas of the country so new power plants will need to be built.  How are those going to be fueled????  Hey, I’ve got it!  How about fuel oil fired power plants to supply the needed electricity!! :)  No? What about coal?  PrezBO has already said that he’ll allow coal fired plants to be built, but he’s going to tax them into bankruptcy if someone does dare build one.  Oh, what about a nuke plant?  Nope, due to the issues in Japan right now, all the libs are now scared of nukes.  Hydro?  Nope, the environmental whackos won’t allow that to be done because building a dam will disturb the habitat of a salamander somewhere.  That leaves wind which is as reliable as… well, the way the wind blows.  And solar, but that means the trains can’t run at night.  Maybe we can build a power plant that uses hamsters on a big wheel to do the trick.  Or maybe a big wind up key in the top of all of the trains.
     
    Keep thinking, David.

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