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... massive tax subsidies to bail out the City and a primly proper Teutonic version of neo-Hooverian economics, I'll opt for "other".


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 01:37:52 AM EST
Train Blogging

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 08:54:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In general I think this is a good idea, but there are a couple of things I would change.

First, there is currently a terrible congestion problem in the existing freight system in the U.S. The tracks across Arizona are already operating at capacity, with shipping delays sometimes measured in weeks. Adding passenger traffic into the existing situatoin would just make things worse.

Another problem is the speed differential between freight and passenger trains. Between Denver and Colorado Springs, the mile-long coal trains climb a steep hill near Larkspur. Modern AC locomotives provide their maximum tractive effort at walking speeds, and that's how fast they go. (Slip ratios on the driving wheels under these conditions can exceed 40%!) How does one fit a 100+ mph passenger train into this situation?

These first two issues add up to a big problem for Amtrak today: They suffer too many delays due to the congestion and speed differential.

Also there are the legal barriers to building new rights of way. Railroads have to be pretty much straight, and getting political support for this is tough. Several Colorado rail projects are stalled for reasons related to this.

And then there is the problem that passenger systems never make money. And airplanes are more efficient for trips over a few hundred miles anyway. And heavy freight trains wear out the rails in a different way than fast passenger trains...

So my thought is that there should be two separate railroad systems. One should continue to be the private freight system, with political support for the construction of more capacity. The other should be a collection of regional high speed passenger systems. The passenger system should still use standard gauge steel-on-steel technology so that in the cases where it makes sense there can be a mixing of traffic. This approach would seem to me to solve most of the underlying problems...

by asdf on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 10:20:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually I think I have comingled three numbers:

  • AC traction motor slip ratio, up to 45%, which is the ratio of the rotating speed of the electric fields in the motor to the armature.
  • Locomotive wheel slip ratio, up to 25%, which is how far the wheel goes in comparison to how far the locomotive goes.
  • Locomotive tractive effort ratio, up to 30%, which is the tractive force compared to the weight of the locomotive.

Anyway, they're all impressively large numbers...  :-)
by asdf on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 10:44:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... and the ratio of tractive force to the weight of the locomotive changes ... that's part of the gain, that adding the same tractive force does not add the same weight, because the generator is not carried along for the ride.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 01:13:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't understand how what you are saying is different from what I proposed, so I don't follow the sense of what kind of changes you are proposing:

It is clear what the minimum acceptable bid for provision of electrical infrastructure would be: maintenance of the existing heavy rail capacity, and provision of additional Rapid Rail capacity, in a way that allows for reliable, on-schedule deliveries of freight carried on the Rapid Rail system.

The minimum requirement is retention of existing capacity and provision of new Rapid Rail paths. Given the overlap between existing Amtrak routes and STRACNET, that would basically be all of current regional Amtrak routes either running in the new Rapid Rail network, or replaced by expanded Rapid Rail regional corridor like the Midwest Hub / Ohio Hub / Empire Corridor / Keystone Corridor / Southeast Corridor / Gulf South Corridor / T-Bone Corridor / Cascades Corridor (see maps in part 2).

And of course, the Rapid Rail system would offer opportunities for passenger rail services more similar to European regional trains, so that there would be substantially more opportunity to expand true HSR on the cheese-eating surrender-monkey model of building out HSR corridors in stages, with HSR routes spilling outside of the dedicated HSR corridors, albeit at regular Express speeds.

So rather than two seperate networks, it would be two and a half separate networks, with true HSR systems spilling into the Rapid Rail system.

The significant advantage of this approach is that we have such a substantial stockpile of grossly inefficient interstate freight traffic to mine in support of the system, establishing the Rapid Rail network in the existing rail rights of way adjacent to mainline heavy freight lines.

Indeed, electrifying heavy freight lines can give on the order of 15% increase in capacity, due to the reduction in capital expense of providing electric locomotives with improved accel/deaccel.

And few US rights of way are built out. Many were originally allocated four wide and never built four wide, and the wave of single-tracking has reduced track footprint within rights of way. However, the corridor rights is often such a tangled mix of perpetual leases, freehold tenure and transport easements that outside the cities, it is rarely worthwhile to work through the line abandonment process to shave off part of the rail right of way for disposal.

So we have already existing right of way to be put to use ... that is the only reason that the project could proceed through to full electrification of STRACNET in six to eight years, if pursued at maximum commercial urgency.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 01:00:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, so I'm agreeing with you!  :-)

Although on the rights of way thing, here in the west the tracks were put in across virgin territory without hindrance from local property owners. Many were formally abandoned. But the desired traffic patterns have changed in the past 50 years and now some new routes are required. Particularly here in the front range of Colorado there is a need to relocate the freight traffic out of the population corridor, but the farmers out east don't like that idea one bit. Originally our trains provided transportation from Denver up to the Union Pacific in Cheyenne, supported the agricultural region north of Denver, and carried silver out of the mountains. What we need now is to move coal (well, depending on what you think about coal) from Wyoming to Texas, to move people from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, and to move people around within the front range metropolitan areas.

So under your scheme we would have an eastwardly relocated freight system, a new dedicated high speed corridor parallel to the mountains, and a low speed system to support local passenger traffic.

by asdf on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 02:16:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How a railroad proposes to accomplish the increase in capacity is up to the railroad ... but its important to recognize that what the Rapid Rail needs in terms of effective operation is not dedicated right of way, but dedicated use of track with appropriate capacity.

The segregation of rights of way is an artifact of Federal Railroad Administration regulation, so the alternatives facing a local area under the current regulatory structure are narrower than the alternatives facing a national program with the FRA tasked with implementing a new regulatory regime for the Rapid Rail network.

Set the arbitrary part of the current regulatory system to one side. If there is an electrified Front Range rail corridor that can support 100mph freight with reliable delivery ... which is a vital thing to have for Energy Independence, we cannot have the largest urban center in the Mountain West reliant on diesel motor freight ... then sharing that with passenger rail means that the biggest remaining tasks for the passenger rail system are sorting out the rail line into the urban core and the passenger stations along the way.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 02:54:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Regional freight (deliveries to grocery stores) could be done with a shared infrastructure. That's a significantly different sort of freight train from what we have now. Whether they could be made to go 100 mph in the front range corridor is another question--there are lots of steep hills.

Here's a picture of the two rights of way (one Union Pacific, ex-D&RGW; one BNSF, ex-Santa Fe) near Castle Rock. Full coal cars go south, empties go north.

by asdf on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 04:09:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Rapid Freight Rail could be anything in containers that currently goes long distance by truck.

Even where the speed cannot be 100mph in a section, Rapid Rail can be substantially faster than bulk freight.

The key thing is what's called "superelevation", which is how the track is banked going around the curve.

The correct banking to maintain even weight distribution between the two rails depends on the speed. So if slow bulk freight is using the track, those tracks have little or no superelevation, because the banking would put most of the weight on one track, and the maintenance costs and risk of derailment go up.

However, take advantage of the fact that there is room in either one of those corridors for two tracks, and one track can be dedicated to heavy rail, and the other to Rapid Rail. And the Rapid Rail can be superelevated to allow the Rapid Rail to negotiate those curves much faster than the coal trains can do.

Indeed, they can negotiate the curves fast enough that it would be uncomfortable to passengers, which is why passenger trains on Rapid Rail track in a conventional rail right of way will often be tilt-trains.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 04:28:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Modern AC locomotives provide their maximum tractive effort at walking speeds, and that's how fast they go. (Slip ratios on the driving wheels under these conditions can exceed 40%!) How does one fit a 100+ mph passenger train into this situation?

By leaving the heavy freight on the existing track, which will in any event have little or no superelevation at all, and run the Rapid Rail freight and passenger trains on the Rapid Rail track next to it.

The Express Freight that is taking road freight market share, deliverying freight on schedule at high reliability, will have smaller consists, typically single-stacked containers, and higher power/weight ratios. If you can slot in a 100mph medium/light freight service to run to schedule, you can slot in a 100mph passenger tilt-train to run to schedule.

The hard division between all freight and modern passenger trains is an artifact of the FRA system of regulations, which itself is in service of freight railroads pursuing the available market share under the conditions of the age of cheap crude oil. As described in part 1, this proposal does not change the FRA approach on the existing heavy freight rail network, but sets up a parallel Rapid Rail network that requires PTC and operating procedures to permit safe mixing with UIC compliant passenger trains.

So, as described in part 1, there would be three classes of trains:

  • FRA compliant, able to operate on the heavy rail network, barred from the Rapid Rail network
  • Dedicated Rapid Rail, able to operate on the Rapid Rail network, barred from the heavy rail network
  • FRA compliant Rapid Rail, able to operate on either network.

Since all of the Rapid Rail network will be electrified, Amtrak would upgrade its existing stock to be FRA compliant Rapid Rail, and its expanded capacity would be Dedicated Rapid Rail.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 01:11:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Between Denver and Colorado Springs, the mile-long coal trains climb a steep hill near Larkspur. Modern AC locomotives provide their maximum tractive effort at walking speeds, and that's how fast they go.

What is the gradient at Larkspur?

I would agree that for high speeds on freight routes, lower gradients would be in place. I would even agree that speeding up trains would increase costs. However, the speed-power curve of electric locomotives allows definitely more than walking speeds. Some maximum gradients on European corridors with substantial freight traffic:

  • Øresund Link: 1.56%, passed with 90 km/h I believe;
  • Lötschberg line: 2.7%, Gotthard line: 2.8% (2.6% on most of the climb), passed at 75-80 km/h


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 01:56:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But also a larger share of bulk freight in Europe is water freight, so much of that freight on those lines might fall within the design envelope of what is called Rapid Freight Rail in this diary (and for US contexts elsewhere).

The appropriate consist for high speed container freight on a schedule and the appropriate consist for coal or marble being delivered at lowest cost per ton-mile on the basis of getting there before existing stockpiles exhaust and not wanting to tie up the cars for an excessive length of time ... are two quite different things

It is straightforward that a medium freight train can go up a hill faster than a heavy freight train, especially if that is both a shorter consist and less weight per axle, provided that the commercial advantage of the speed justifies the higher power per ton required.

Adding capacity for a different class of freight changes the commercially preferable speed in that capacity in the same right of way, which changes the optimal super-elevation for that new capacity for that different class of freight, which reduces the time required to traverse bottlenecks on the route, which increases the proportional benefit of higher speeds elsewhere in the route.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 03:26:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the gradient at Larkspur?

I found this in a rail forum:

Rocky Mountain High - RailroadForums.Com

The track in this area climbs through an undulating 1.5% grade through Tomah and Larkspur. Trains are moving anywhere from 10-15 m.p.h.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 05:07:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
HA! Even better:

Crawling Coal on the Joint!

Also gone are the days of speedy ascents up the hill between Denver and Palmer Lake, at least for BNSF. In the 70's, coal trains typically had 21,000 horses to climb the 1.2% to 1.5% grade. With SD60's in the 80's, that increased to 21,200 horses. Today, however, you find those four 4,000 horsepower SD70's totalling 16,000 horses, a full 5,000 short of what you would find 15 years ago! With the advent of AC technology, coal trains can crawl along without stalling.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 05:10:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... between heavy bulk freight and anything else:
From what I've been told in Denver, its a money issue. BNSF went to the customers and said "hey, we can move your coal cheaper, BUT its going to take a few hours longer to get there." The customers and BNSF benefit from not adding additional power to the train. Essentially they bring the engines down to their knees for 20 miles or so but in their eyes they save money.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 09:31:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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