Sunday, March 22, 2009


The aim of this particular post is to shed some light on the train system in USA. I had this thought that why don’t people in USA use train system to travel in between cities, instead of airplane or their own cars. There is always an option of running trains on electricity by having electricity lines along the railway tracks. This country has an enormous amount of coal reserves, more than oil. If this coal is used in generating electricity, which is used in running trains, with lot of people commuting in trains in place of driving their own vehicles or taking a plane, railway system can become extremely profitable and reliable.
Let’s compare railway system with other forms of transport:
Mode Revenue per passenger mile Energy consumption per passenger mile Deaths per 100 million passenger miles Reliability
Domestic airlines 12.0¢ 3,182 BTUs 0.02 deaths 82%
Intercity buses 12.9¢ 3,393 BTUs 0.05 deaths N/A
Railway 26.0¢ 2,100 BTUs 0.03 deaths 74%
Autos N/A 3,458 BTUs 0.80 deaths N/A

If USA can have the consumption of fuel by railway in form of coal instead of oil, and people start commuting by trains, the energy equation can change dramatically.
You must be having one question, what about the emissions by coal. Well, it has a solution:
Concern for global warming has led to a call for a moratorium on all coal consumption, unless carbon capture is utilized. Coal is the largest potential source of CO2 emissions. The simplest, most stable form of carbon sequestration is to simply leave the coal in the ground.
Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) is the cleanest currently-operational coal-fired electricity generation technology. FutureGen is an experimental U.S. research project to investigate the possibility of sequestering IGCC CO2 emissions underground.
The policies of any country can completely affect the lives of the people and also the state of economy, no matter how rich the country is in terms of resources.
The causes of the decline of passenger rail in the United States were complex. Until 1920 rail was the only practical form of intercity transport, but the industry was subject to government regulation and labor inflexibility. By 1930 the railroads had constructed, with private money, a vast and efficient transportation network, but when the federal government began to construct the National Highway System they found themselves faced with unprecedented competition for passengers and freight with automobiles, buses, trucks, and aircraft, all of which were heavily subsidized by the government road and airport building programs. At the same time the railroads were subject to property and other taxes. Every foot of rail was taxed, and some localities treated them like cash cows.
Some people might still question, but coal, why coal? What about emissions?
Look at this question this way,
This country goes to Iraq looking for oil. So many, people die, for oil. USA imports enormous amounts of oil from other countries increasing its dependency on different countries. USA can be self sufficient and have different forms of efficient transport system, using its own resources, like coal along with oil.
-Once I asked the Dr Webber this question, why doesn’t this country have an efficient railway system?
There are many reasons he could think of which goes against trains
1-Not a large population which travels by trains, unlike in India or Japan
2-Trucks drivers association can easily go into protest, if trains start becoming popular
3-Even, trains in this country run on fuel, not electricity. To set up electricity lines along railway tracks is another issue, can cost some serious money.
But, if the policy makers of this country start to counter every possibility of reducing dependence on oil and are even ready to fight wars in other nations causing millions of deaths and widespread unpopularity, just for more oil, despite of the fact that they already have other forms of fuel, then it is their choice!


Jeff Otto said...

A couple points about your post.
A revamping of the existing rail network or conversion to electric rail would be an effective means of partially offsetting transportation fuel consumption in the U.S. but using coal to produce the electricity to run the new rail network may be short-sighted.
First, much of the existing rail capacity is constrained because of the need to move coal by rail to hundreds of coal-fired power plants throughout the U.S. If you drive by the Fayette power plant an hour down route 71 at any given time and you will see hundreds of railcars full of coal waiting to be unloaded. Increasing coal-fired capacity would decrease existing railway capacity – although many of the lines are not ideal for passenger routes, it would congest many rail stations and transfer points.
Right-of-way costs and the scale of the infrastructure investment would be significant, but one of the largest obstacles historically has been airline lobbying groups. Wikipedia has an excellent summary about how Southwest killed a Texas high-speed rail project. In 1991 the Texas High Speed Rail Authority awarded a 50-year high speed rail franchise to the Texas TGV Corporation - a consortium of Morrison Knudsen (USA), Bombardier (Canada), Alstom (France/UK), Cr̩dit Lyonnais (France), Banque IndoSuez (France), Merrill Lynch (USA), and others. Texas TGV won the franchise after more than two years of litigation instigated by a rival consortium backing German ICE technology. The plan was to connect the "Texas Triangle" (Houston - Dallas/Fort Worth - San Antonio) with a privately financed high speed train system which would quickly take passengers from one city to the next at prices designed to compete with or beat other transport options. This was the same model Southwest Airlines used 20 years earlier to break in to the Texas market where it served the same three cities. Funding for the project was to come entirely from private sources, since Texas did not allow the use of public money. The original estimated cost was $5.6 billion, but the task of securing the necessary private funds proved extremely difficult. Southwest Airlines, with the help of lobbyists, created legal barriers to prohibit the consortium from moving forward and the entire project was eventually scuttled in 1994, when the State of Texas withdrew the franchise. (Courtesy of Wikipedia Рmultiple sources)

Beal said...

It is also important to consider the drastic infrastructure changes that would be needed within every American city, in addition to the infrastructure changes that would be needed between them. Since many American cities were designed around the use of automobiles (especially the sprawling cities of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and now Austin) additional mass transit would need to be installed to transport travelers from the train station to their final destination in each city. Options for this system include subways, improved bus systems, or possibly an expanded rental car program. It will be difficult to implement any of these systems due to the inconvenience posed to the traveler, and thus a likely reluctance to adapt to the new system rather than simply continue driving personal vehicles. In my opinion, the US should install more rail capacity as a safety net that would ensure travel and transport of goods to all cities in the event of exceedingly high oil prices, but I am weary of the prospect of widespread rail transportation due to the required infrastructure changes that would be needed.

Click Tappet said...

Air travel, given that the experience now is but a shadow of its former glory, shouldn't be celebrated as a choice mode of transportation. It is one thing - fast. Domestic air carriers provide universally appalling service. Delays, when they occur, can last for days and are typically not handled well by sophomoric customer service approaches employed by airlines, nor are any of the other mistakes they are prone to making.

Currently, most people do not travel by train because service is simply not available. I was not surprised to find no rail service between Austin and Houston, and only one daily train between Austin, San Antonio and Dallas. Train travel, particularly over shorter distances, is far more pleasant, quiet and relaxing than flying, and safer and easier than driving. As evidenced by 'Amtrak Joe', however, few use the train except in the one corridor well served by Amtrak - Boston-New York City-Philadelphia-Washington.

There are a lot of obstacles to improved passenger rail service in the US, beyond energy concerns:
- Capital costs to build dedicated high speed rail are difficult to finance, since passenger rail is typically seen as a money-losing venture.
- We have become accustomed to air travel, with all its unbelievable indignities, and are unlikely to change to another travel mode unless it is significantly cheaper or faster than air travel. Through cases like checked-bag fees and all business-class airlines, the traveling public has shown its reluctance to pay higher prices for a superior experience.
- We lack the short-distance intercity structure of Europe and Japan, making national rail an unappealing proposition. Separate rail systems in corridors like the Texas triangle, San Francisco-LA-San Diego, etc. could be successful, but connecting disparate cities at 173 mph (the average for the TGV system in France) won't compete well with airline service, which can reach speeds over 500 mph.