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Much of the focus on the Sunday Train is on electrification of transport, ranging from 2,000 mile hauls of electrified freight through to hopping on an e-bike to pick up some groceries. And spending this school year mostly living and working in Beijing brings many of the possibilities to life ... from riding the subway to get to the Sanlitun district for Texas BBQ, to seeing an electric freight train passing on a line overhead as the bus we were riding for our school spring outing last Saturday was bogged down in Beijing traffic, to seeing the electric delivery tricycle used by the pizza delivery from Woudaokou for the neighbor down the haul who seems to live in delivered pizza and Indian food.

But the efficiency gains of electric traction are only half of the story for sustainable transport, since its not fully sustainable unless that electricity is generated in a sustainable way.

And when following online discussion of renewable energy at the Energy Collective, which attracts both advocates for and detractors of investment in renewable energy resources, a perennial source of ammunition for attacks on renewable energy are the challenges of meeting demand for electricity with the harvest of a variable source of energy that is available on its own schedule, and not ours.

This is a topic I have touched on before (cf Sunday Train: The Myth of Baseload Power, Sunday Train: The Two Transitions to A Renewable Electricity Supply), Inspired by the article at the Energy Collective: Will Natural Gas Peaker Plants Become Obsolete?, I am coming back to today. What I want to focus on today is the opportunities offered by dispatchable demand for better integration of variable renewable energy. And I would be happy if you would join me to discuss this topic (or any other topic involving sustainable transport), below the fold.

cross-posted from The Sunday Train

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In the last Sunday Train, I talked about the study on Keystone West improvements commissioned by the PennDOT. This study finds that upgrades are expensive, and benefits are modest, in terms of allowing for one or two additional services per day, but at a substantially higher subsidy per passenger mile.

However, this study had a quite peculiar "hole" in the range of options: even though the Keystone East is a Rapid Passenger Rail corridor, electrified and upgraded to 110mph to allow the successful upgrade in frequency and transit speed of the Keystone service between Harrisburg and NYC via Philadelphia ... Rapid Passenger Rail was completely ignored as an option.

This meant that the only speed upgrade that was considered was an Express HSR corridor that was "designed to fail" under the designated criteria, since it would be on a different alignment, and so not pass through the communities between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh currently served by the Keystone West.

While "back of the envelope" calculations suggested that filling in this hole would offer some advantages, it would still give an intercity service requiring operating subsidized for a decade or more.

However, this was all under "status quo" assumptions. What I look at this week is what changes for the Keystone West if we were able to start building out a Steel Interstate system for this country, to shift some of the petroleum-dependent, carbon-emitting pavement-destroying heavy diesel truck long-hail freight onto sustainable powered electrified Rapid Rail Freight. Join me for this much more promising future ... below the fold.

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One of the things I was waiting on last year was delivery of Pennsylvania's feasibility study for improvements on the "Keystone West" corridor. The "Keystone East" corridor connecting Harrisburg and Philadelphia was upgraded in 2006, with an electrified corridor with speeds of up to 110mph providing travel times competitive with driving, especially in the suburban Philadelphia area. So when a "Keystone West" feasibility study was announced, there were high hopes in some quarters that some substantial improvements might be made on the "Keystone West" corridor, connecting Pittsburgh with Harrisburg, currently hosting only the Pennsylvanian between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

The feasibility study is was originally promised for substantially earlier, with a final draft completed in May 2013 but the trip from final draft to final report took more than a year, being finally published in August of last year (pdf).

A quick review of the Executive Summary reveals that a range of things can be done to improve the Keystone West, which could trim something less than an hour from the current five and a half hour trip to Harrisburg (with a further hour and a half to Philadelphia). It also takes a look at, and quickly dismisses an Express HSR corridor.

But for some reason ... while it considers an option to add a third passenger-only track on the Keystone West, it completely ignores the option of a Rapid Rail speed upgrade on that track ... despite the fact that a Rapid Rail speed upgrade was part of what made the Keystone East project successful. So I'll take a look at this curious hole in the feasibility study, below the fold.

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Daily Kos does not want me to post this story ... that is, the diary editor cannot handle the drop-outs in my WiFi here at University in Beijing, so it keeps giving me a fresh "new diary" page every time I hit "save and publish" the full length diary.

So you can read the diary at: the home station of the Sunday Train.

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This last week, there was the surprising start to a headline in the Washington Post that began, "GOP House and White House agree on something" ... and that something was: Amtrak funding (and pets on a train).

But its not all good news this week ... because if the INDOT has its way, the Hoosier State will be cancelled.

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Last week in Washington DC, your Sunday Train correspondent was able to attend the "Future of Rail Symposium" held in Washington DC. The presenters discussed various aspects of building a Steel Interstate corridor, including the Steel Interstate concept, a discussion of electrified rail around the world, why rely on electricity rather than LNG for major backbone corridors, the engineering and economics of electrification in North America, an approach to financing an initial Steel Interstate corridor without requiring new legislation to be passed through our gridlocked Federal government, vehicle and track considerations of the "Rapid Freight" rail component of the Steel Interstate, the labor dimension and the need for a new social contract with Rail Labor, and a final presentation on the "Solutionary Rail" proposal by the Backbone Campaign to establish a Steel Interstate on the BNSF Northern Transcon corridor.

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Cross-posted from The Sunday Train ~ apologies for the jet-lag induced cross-posting delays

Your intrepid sustainable energy and transport reporter was recently required to engage in some official business with an overseas consulate located in New York city, and in order to be able to afford to sit and wait as the wheels of bureaucracy as long as might have been required, obtained lodgings in a relatively cheap motel in New Brunswick and took the NJ Transit Northeast Corridor train back and forth. This week's Sunday Train is a collection of scattered observations made along the way.

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Sunday Train this week is a re-run from 15 July, 2012

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

One of the transit bloggers that I enjoy reading is Alon Levy who blogs his observations on a variety of transit topics at Pedestrian Observations. Following the important California HSR funding vote in the California State Senate and the excitement leading up to it, I thought I'd like to take a look at the proposed Express HSR system for the states of the Northeast Corridor.

Of the $53b cost of the proposed San Francisco to Los Angeles Express HSR corridor seems hefty ~ and it seems even heftier when it shows the Year of Expenditure headline value of $68b ~ then the proposed Northeast Corridor states Express HSR will seem massive.

However, Alon claims:

Northeast Corridor HSR, 90% Cheaper
...
In contrast with this extravaganza, it is possible to achieve comparable travel times for about one tenth the cost. The important thing is to build the projects with the most benefit measured in travel time reduced or reliability gained per unit of cost, and also share tracks heavily with commuter rail, using timed overtakes to reduce the required amount of multi-tracking.
This sounds like an intriguing possibility ... but is it realistic? Or is it wishful thinking? Follow me below the fold, and then let's discuss it.
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YAATS (Yet Another Airport Terminal Station) has opened in Dallas for the "orange line" in the Dallas Area Regional Transit light rail system. This is not at the regional airport Love Field, even though the Orange Line runs directly past Love Field, but at the Dallas / Fort Worth International airport, following completion of a five-mile extension to the western end of the Orange line.

The Dallas Morning News reports:

“Strategically, this is a major accomplishment,” said Mayor Mike Rawlings.

It is undoubtedly DART’s biggest accomplishment in its 31-year history. The way officials and regional leaders see it, the airport-rail link brims with promise. They say it will dramatically bolster North Texas transit options, attract more conventions and provide a smooth welcome to international visitors.

So lets take the Sunday Train to the airport, below the fold.
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The topic for this week's Sunday Train was brought to my mind when I listened to the Energy Gang podcast. They were discussing the question of whether "CSP (that is, concentrated thermal solar power) is dead", and the always entertaining, but not uniformly informative, "energy futurist" Jigar Shah declared that "CSP is dead" (segment starts 30:29), backing the claim up with a set of bullet points that fell far short of supporting the claim. And listening to the set of bullet points, it seemed to me that he was talking in the context of the phase of the transition to renewable energy that we are presently in, and ignoring the phase of the transition that we will have to pass through if we are to survive as a national economy and national economy.

In short, he seemed to be talking more as an energy presentist than an energy futurist, claiming that there was no plausible position for solar CSP power based on both the technology currently rolled out for a technology that is experiencing rapid development, and on context of renewable energy being added to an energy system which is untenable over the long term.

But I do not mean to single out Jigar Shah, since as I have recently been exploring various discussion spaces talking about various issues in the roll-out of renewable energy, cross-talk between the different phases of the transition to renewable energy seems to be commonplace. So what I wish to write about this Sunday afternoon is the "Two Transitions" to renewable energy: the Current Transition and the Next Transition.

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In a sense, Sunday Train has been mentioning reverse pumped hydro before the Sunday Train actually existed. In 2007 at Daily Kos, in "Driving Ohio on Lake Erie" (reprinted in 2012 at Burning the Midnight Oil), reverse pumped hydro was mentioned as one technology for smoothing the variability of Lake Erie offshore wind. In 2008 on Docudharma, talking about what we could do if we pursued serious goals, as opposed to "predicting" what "they" are "likely to do", I mentioned it again. I mention it again in The Myth of Baseload Power. And it features in the description of where Biocoal would fit into among dispatchable renewable energy in Unleashing the Political Power of Biocoal.

But one thing that Sunday Train has not done is to give a closer look at the current state of play of reverse pumped hydro in the United State, what are the regulatory obstacles that stand in the way of greater development of reverse pumped hydro, and what can be done to sidestep or overcome those regulatory obstacles. Evidently, I must have been saving all of that for today, for placement below the fold.

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As noted this week at The Overhead Wire:

There has been a lot of chatter recently on the issue of fast vs slow transit.  This week is the perfect time for this discussion as two major United States transit projects of differing stripes opened up; the Metro Silver Line in Washington DC and the Tucson Streetcar.
On the one hand you have neoliberal Matthew Yglesias as the neoliberal "let us explain to you why There Are No Alternatives (TINA)" site Vox saying:
Without a dedicated lane, a streetcar can't really run much faster than a bus under ideal conditions. And since unlike a bus, a streetcar can't shift out of its lane to avoid an obstacle, in real-world circumstances it's likely to move slower than a bus. There are some objectives related to real estate development and tourism that this kind of project can serve, but they're nearly useless in terms of transportation.
And on the other hand you have the piece by Robert Steuteville at Better Cities and Towns, Place Mobility: Sometimes good transportation is slow, which observes:
The Portland streetcar has been a catalyst for $4 billion-plus investment and up to 10,000 housing units in the Pearl District and other neighborhoods close to downtown. All of these people and businesses have Place Mobility. They use the streetcar for quick trips and to make connections — it doesn't matter that it moves very slowly because they don't have to go far. But the new people and businesses in the Pearl and downtown are not the only beneficiaries. All of the existing businesses and residences also benefit from rising Place Mobility.

When a streetcar -- or other catalyst -- creates a compact, dynamic place, other kinds of mobility become possible. The densest concentrations of bike-share and car-share stations in Portland are located in the area served by the streetcar. That's no coincidence. You can literally get anywhere without a car.

Of course, much of the "debate" falls into the logical fallacy of the false dichotomy, as if there is a choice between either having slow transit or having fast transit, when the reality is that we not only need both, but that improving either one improves the utility of the other.
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