In the United States, the closest that we have to TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) is Amtrak’s Acela, a high-speed passenger train that operates at speeds of between 75 mph (120 km/h) and 150 mph (241 km/h). We could potentially benefit from a national high-speed rail system. Shifting domestic air travel from air to rail could help to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption.
“Nationally, moving freight accounts for 20 percent of all energy consumed in the transportation sector. Trucks carry approximately 66 percent of all freight shipped in the United States, while rail carries about 16 percent. Together, truck and rail transport now consume over 35 billion gallons of diesel fuel each year. In the Northeast, 40 percent of all on-road transportation-related nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and 51 percent of the fine particle emissions (called fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5) are from heavy-duty trucks. Yet these trucks are responsible for approximately seven percent of the region’s vehicle miles traveled. (2002 Data)”
“The Northeast corridor also relies heavily on rail to transport freight. Rail often operates in densely populated urban areas where ozone levels consistently exceed the health standard. With locomotives having useful lives of up to 40 years, programs to control emissions are especially important in this region. The best strategies for reducing diesel emissions from the railroad freight industry, as with passenger trains and smaller locomotives, include electrification, advanced emissions controls, idle reduction and switching to low sulfur diesel fuel.”
According to the World Bank Railway Database, in 2000 Amtrak passenger service was all electric. On the other hand, almost all freight that moved over rail in the United States still used diesel-electric locomotives. Even so, rail transport continues to be one of the greenest ways to move freight,” Such new, high-speed electric rail development, to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption, certainly could apply to freight as well as passenger transport.
Writing for the Virginia Pilot, Gregory Richards is encouraged that “America’s railroads are back to laying track.”
For decades, freight railroads tore up or sold stretches of rail as they lost cargo to trucking companies. But that downsizing has reversed itself in the past few years. Freight has flowed back to railroads amid the confluence of congested highways, a truck driver shortage and high fuel costs – problems not expected to fade away anytime soon.
Railroads, including Norfolk-based Norfolk Southern Corp., have been scrambling to accommodate all the freight on their pared-down networks.
“We see a lot of factors coming into play that are going to make rail transportation a more and more desirable alternative for shippers all across the country,” Wick Moorman, Norfolk Southern’s chairman and chief executive, said recently on CNBC.
The railroads’ solution? Spending billions of dollars to bolster their web of rail lines across the country, resulting in the biggest railroad building boom since World War I.
As AG readers know, this blog advocate much greater use of kinetic energy reclamation systems in the transport sector. One frequently overlooked area is intermodal freight, i.e., the switching of large cargo containers among trains, trucks and ships. The Virginia Pilot reporter noted a strong demand now for moving freight. “Coupled with limited capacity,” writes Richards, “provides a strong market incentive for railroads to make improvements on their own.” And, this blog suggests that regenerative braking and suspension could make a good deal of sense for railroad investors.
Regulatory agencies, like CARB (California Air Resources Board), have focused upon curbing emissions from port-based cargo-handling equipment. Unfortunately, due to low availability and high cost of batteries, there so far has been only limited switching of mobile cargo handling equipment to diesel-hybrid or all-electric utility vehicles at ports and intermodal rail yards.
Trucking companies and railroads could form a useful alliance in this regards. Trucking companies already “are among the railroads’ biggest customers; they move long-distance freight with trains,” notes Richards. Not only do truck companies benefit from more efficient rail service; they could benefit from deployment of technology that reduces emissions and fuel consumption.