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We are going to be hearing increasingly this year about the Highway Funding Crisis. Much of that discussion will be directed toward exploiting the political leverage that our car addiction gives to the Highway Lobby.

But there is the other side of the Highway Funding Crisis, which is freight transport. Our freight transport system has been as deliberately addicted to road funding as our passenger transport system, and in the process is quite heavily addicted to diesel fuel.

Now, the Sunday Train has frequently tackled this issue from the side of the physical unsustainability of our dependence on petroleum based fuels for a majority of our transport. However, its also the case that the system of public finance upon which we built our road transport system is becoming more and more financially unsustainable.

1. America's Underfunded Road Infrastructure

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued their “Infrastructure Report Card”.[1] In that report, America's roads were given a grade of “D”:

The infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of significant concern with strong risk of failure.
According to the ASCE, it would cost $101 billion to maintain the nation's highways in their current state. And the state of the nation's highways at present is not what it should be, with 42% of the nation's major urban highways congested. In addition, 32% of America's major roads are not in a state of good repair, in either poor or mediocre condition, with 54% of highway vehicle miles on pavements that do not provide good ride quality.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that $170 billion in new investment per year would be required to substantially improve conditions, with $85 billion required to improve existing highways so that 74% of vehicle highway miles are on pavement in a state of good repair. In other words, a total of $186 billion annually is required to bring our existing highway network to a state of good repair, with an addition $85 billion required per year to address bottlenecks in the nation's highway network as we presently use it.

When we look to the funding provided, Federal, State and Local governments are only spending $91 billion annually on highway investment. And a part of this is for the construction of new road projects, which will increase the maintenance burden in the future.

Looking more broadly than highways alone, road spending on both highways and local roadways totaled $192.7 billion in 2008. With a funding shortfall in 2008 estimated at 13% of that total, total funding requirements were about $220b, with 43% met by user fees and 45% as subsidies funded by other taxes. State governments are the most important source of funding, meeting 44% of the need, followed by local governments meeting 24% of the need, and finally the Federal government meeting 19% of the need.[2]

The more local the level of government, the more heavily it relies on tax subsidies. In 2008, less than three tenths of Federal government funding were subsidies funded from other tax revenues. About four tenths of state government funding were subsidies, and a dominant nine tenths of local government funding were subsidies. [2] Therefore, if shortfalls in Federal funding spill over to shortfalls in state funding, which force local governments to spend more, this also results in an increase in the share of road costs covered by subsidy.  

Meanwhile, the largest individual source of highway funds, the Federal Highway Trust fund, is funded by gasoline and diesel taxed that has been set at the same nominal amount since 1993, 18.4 cents for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel. According to Kevin DeGood at the Center for American Progress: [3]

  • In inflation-adjusted terms, the gas tax is worth only 11.5 cents today.
  • In 1993, the gas tax represented 18 percent of the cost of an average gallon of gasoline. Today, it represents only 5 percent.
  • If gas and diesel taxes had been indexed to keep pace with inflation, today they would be 29 cents and 38 cents per gallon, respectively.
  • The corporate average fuel-economy standards will rise to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by model year 2025. This will approximately double the efficiency of vehicles compared to current levels and dramatically reduce the amount of tax revenue flowing to the HTF, crippling federal surface transportation programs.
The Federal Highway Trust Fund would be facing a shortfall over the long term simply due to the fact that it is not corrected for inflation, while the cost of maintaining each mile of the highway system increases annually. However, the damage done to the road network is based on miles driven and vehicle weight, not on the amount of energy required to drive those miles and move that weight.

As we pursue greater fuel efficiency to reduce the pollution and greenhouse gas impact of each mile driven, we further reduce the payment made by cars and trucks for each vehicle mile and ton-mile of use of the road.

At the time of writing, the Highway Trust Fund is projected to exhaust all but emergency reserves within the calendar year, if nothing is done to provide new revenues. However, even if a short-term fix is provided, the long term problem remains that we are not keeping up with the maintenance costs of our road network, even as we continue to add to that network, and over the medium to long term, an increasing reliance on electric cars will undermine that part of our highway funding which is derived from vehicle fuel taxes.

This is challenge is both substantial and complex challenge, and it calls for policy responses on multiple dimensions of the problem at once.
We can respond to this shortfall on the funding supply side, by looking for ways to increase the revenue devoted to road maintenance. We can also respond on the demand side, by looking for ways to reduce the need for maintenance generated by road users. The challenge is substantial enough to justify pursuing both approaches. The focus here is on the demand side, to develop demand-side policies can offer a useful complement to efforts to make progress on the supply side.

Passengers carried on light vehicles and buses, and freight carried by heavy trucks quite distinctive types of transportation tasks. They both contribute substantial shares to the unfunded demand for road maintenance, and it is worthwhile to consider demand reduction policies for both types of road users. The focus here is on demand side policies to reduce the wear and tear generated by heavy trucks, to develop demand-side policies for freight carries by heavy trucks that can complement demand-side policies for passenger traffic carried by light vehicles and buses.

 
2. The Role of Freight Shipments by Truck In Our Highway Funding Crisis.

Any comprehensive demand-side policy for the road-funding shortfall must consider truck freight, since a substantial share of road costs can be attributed to truck freight. Starting with the 1997 Federal Highway Cost Allocation Study [4], both Federal and state studies of the allocation of costs between light and heavy vehicles commonly find that heavy vehicles are responsible for 30% to 40% of total highway expenditures.[5] Much of the focus of these studies are on whether the distribution of revenue and costs are equitable, but given spending that is falling short of need, perfect equity means that all users bear equal responsibility for the shortfall.

It is also important to distinguish between between maintaining the system that we have and bringing it up to a state of good repair, and expanding the system that we have. Maintaining the system we have and bringing it up to a state of good repair reduces our unfunded future road liability. Expanding the system, by contrast, increases our unfunded future road liability.

Trucks play an especially prominent role when we consider focus on the cost of maintaining our current system and bringing our current system up to a state of good repair. For example, in the 1997 FHA Highway Allocation Study, it was estimated that 44% due to semi-trailer and multi-trailer trucks, 16% due to heavy unit trucks, and 40% of the cost for system preservation due to passenger vehicles and light trucks. So a policy of reducing the shortfall by reducing the damage done to our roads gains the most leverage from diverting some share of freight carried by multiple unit trucks from road to some other means of travel. [4]

Wear and tear from heavy trucks is concentrated on those roads that are most directly exposed to the funding difficulties faced by the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The highest volumes of truck traffic occurs on National Highway System (NHS) roads. Federal Highway Administration (FHA) day indicates that 22% of NHS roads carry high volume truck traffic, more than 10,000 trucks daily, and a further 13% carry moderate volume truck traffic, between 5,000 and 10,000 trucks daily. By contrast, fewer than 1% of the miles of non-NHS roads carried moderate or high volumes of truck traffic. Among NHS roads, high volume truck traffic is further concentrated on the Interstate System, with 77% of urban Interstate System miles and 64% of rural Interstate System miles experiencing high volume truck traffic. [6]

If there are ways to ship freight with substantially lower maintenance costs per ton-mile, it is possible to reduce the unfunded road maintenance burden by shifting road freight shipments to that alternative. In this policy, there is substantial leverage available in focusing on “long haul” shipments over 250 miles. After all, shifting a single shipment of 500 miles has the same benefit as shifting ten 50 mile shipments, while shifting a single shipment of 2,500 miles has the same benefit as shifting fifty 50 miles shipments.

There are substantial opportunities for shifting long-haul truck freight, since while trucking dominates short haul freight traffic, it also carries a substantial share of all long-haul freight traffic in the country. When national freight traffic is broken down by distance, truck carries a majority of ton-miles for shipments shipments between 250 and 750 miles, and for shipments over 2,000 miles, and over 30% of the ton-miles for shipments between 750 and 2,000 miles. And trucking dominates freight of certain types of goods at all distances, so that for either mixed freight or machinery, a majority ton-miles are carried by truck.

The primary alternative means of carrying long-haul freight are air, water, and rail. Shifting substantial truck freight to air is moving in the wrong direction, since the infrastructure, energy, and environmental costs per ton-mile of air freight are higher than truck freight. Shifting truck freight to water freight is a useful alternative where it is feasible, since well-regulated water born freight offers the lowest infrastructure, energy and environmental costs per ton-mile. However, many truck freight routes lack a viable water born alternative, and many freight customers demand a higher speed than water born freight can deliver. This leaves rail freight as the primary alternative to long haul truck freight that offers lower maintenance, energy, and environmental costs per ton-mile of freight moved.

 
3. Achieving A Big Enough Mode Shift to Electric Rail To Make A Difference.

If a mode shift from truck freight to freight rail offers these potential benefits, why aren't we already pursuing it? Turning to the policy proposals contained in the 2013 NREL study on road to rail mode shift [7] reveals a set of policies that are incapable of achieving a mode shift of sufficient scale to make substantial progress on the problems of energy waste, greenhouse gas emissions, or unfunded road maintenance associated with truck freight.

The 2013 NREL study identifies seven possible Federal policies that could affect the share of different transport modes (p. 50). Expanded reliance on direct-user fees and investment in rail corridors have moderate potential to drive shifts from truck to rail. Increasing the federal fuel tax, regulating or pricing greenhouse gas emissions, or modifying commercial vehicle hours of service regulations would all have low potential to drive shifts from truck to rail. And two policies, increasing truck size and weight limits and re-regulating freight rail rates not only have low mode shift potential but would likely shift freight from rail to truck.

The problem is the characteristics of rail freight make it an unattractive choice for a large number of specific freight shipments. This becomes is reflected in what called the “cross-price elasticity” of truck to rail shift. That is what percent of shift from truck to rail results from a 1% increase in the price of truck freight relative to rail freight. For a wide range of types of freight, these cross-price elasticities range from about 0 (no response at all), to about +1 (p. 30), indicating that customers for most types of freight shipping are relatively unresponsive to relative price changes. As the NREL 2013 study notes:

Regardless of distance, service, or rail technology, there are certain types of commodities for which the railroads are not competitive. Certain automakers, for example, insist on trucking because of special handling requirements; shippers of time-sensitive freight require the flexibility that trucking provides; and bulk commodities may need to move in smaller quantities than can be handled efficiently by rail or to places not served by rail.

In addition, infrastructure improvements might be necessary to make rail more competitive with truck movements along some corridors. Many rail lines have significant speed restrictions and without improvements will not be capable of competing with trucks for short- or medium-haul traffic. One of the largest challenges is removing height clearance obstructions that prevent double-stack intermodal service. (p. 34)

A useful in-depth examination of the potential for investment in rail infrastructure to divert long-haul freight from truck to rail was undertaken by the Virginia Department of Transport in a technical appendix to its Environmental Impact Study of projects for adding lanes to I-81 through Virginia. [9] In the technical report, a no-build bases case is compared to three levels of infrastructure investment in the Piedmont corridor:
  • In the no-build, case, the effective transit speed is 22.5mph, the transit time reliability index is 0.45 (the index measures variability, so the lower, the better), rail load/unload times are 34mins on average and congestion on I-81 is expected to drive a 1.5% shift of long-haul truck traffic – truck traffic over 500 miles – onto rail.
  • With a $111m infrastructure investment, the effective transit speed is 24.8mph, transit time reliability improves slightly to 0.44, and with no change in rail load/unload times there is an expected 2% shift of long-haul truck freight.
  • With a $267m infrastructure investment and $229m in rolling stock, the effective transit speed is 28.1mph, transit time reliability improves to 0.43, and rail load/unload times improving to 9mins, there is an expected 8.2% shift of long-haul truck freight.
  • With an additional $13m in infrastructure investment to make $280m in infrastructure investment and $229m in rolling stock, the effective transit speed can rise to 33mph and transit reliability improve to 0.42, with an expected 10.1% shift of long-haul truck freight.

However, the most substantial improvements are offered by a fourth investment alternative, the “Steel Interstate” alternative along the Shenandoah corridor proposed by a citizen's advocacy group. This involves substantial dual tracking and grade separation, so came with an estimated infrastructure cost of $3.2b, and $300m investment in rolling stock. This investment is similar in size to the roadway alternatives of expanding I-81 to a uniform 6 lanes, at $4.9b, or adding 1 lane throughout, at $5.1b. The capital cost would be fully recovered by user-fees, as compared to the majority of the ongoing maintenance cost of an interstate highway expansion project being covered by tax-subsidy or unfunded road wear.

This investment was projected to deliver an average freight transit speed of 40mph, a transit time index of 0.38, more than 10% better than the base case, and an average 9min load/unload time. The impact of the improved rail freight performance was projected to be a 16.6% diversion of long haul truck freight to rail. However, while the original “Steel Interstate” proposal was for a multi-state rail corridor, the Virginia study was limited to investments in the state of Virginia, and this was a critical limitation:

Based on the findings of the previous studies and using information obtained from Norfolk Southern, DRPT, and Reebie Associates, this report concludes that there may not be sufficient rail capacity on the Norflok Southern Piedmont rail line to service future base load rail traffic. While the scope of this study is primarily based on the future needs of I-81, some assumption of rail capacity was necessary to determine whether and at what point freight diversion to rail would not be possible. It is a distinct possibility that future diversions of truck freight on I-81 to rail mode could be restricted unless additional public investments are made to the rail infrastructure both inside and outside the Commonwealth of Virginia. (p. ES-4)
So investment in rail infrastructure, financed by public authorities and funded by user fees, is capable of attracting a substantial shift from rail freight to truck freight. Based on the study of potential rail diversion by the Virginia DOT, the key factors driving this shift are increases in average rail freight transit speed, improvements in rail freight transit time reliability, and reductions in rail freight load/unload times. However, since it is long-haul truck shipments of 500 miles and longer that are most readily shifted from truck to rail, the full benefit of these investments will only be available if the investment is directed to a rail corridor of suitable length.

 
4. Public Institutions to Harvest the Benefits of a Truck to Electric Rail Mode Shift.

The institutions that we have to both fund and finance freight transport infrastructure are specialized to the freight transportation system that we presently have. Under our current system,   payments to cover a large part of the cost of building and maintaining road infrastructure for freight are funded in roughly equal amounts by tax-subsidies from general income and sales taxes and by user fees. At the federal level, there is a cross-subsidy from user fees collected from passenger cars and light trucks to cover part of the costs imposed by heavy trucks.
Competing means of hauling freight operate on a user-pays basis, specializing on segments of the freight market where their specialized advantages outweighs the tax-subsidies to truck freight. Much infrastructure for water-born freight relies on federal and state public works funded by user fees, and so is, in effect, financed at the lower interest rates available for public debt. Most infrastructure for rail freight is privately owned infrastructure and so is financed at the higher interest rates that must be paid by very capital intensive private going concerns.

So the United States has the market shares for various means of freight transport that we would expect given the public funding and finance of road freight infrastructure, private funding and public finance of water born freight, and private finance and finance of rail freight infrastructure.  We subsidize the least energy efficient means of hauling freight, and as a result have an energy inefficient system that exposes our economy to serious risk in the face of oil price shocks. We subsidize the means of hauling freight that emits the most greenhouse gases per ton-mile, and as a result freight transport is responsible for tens of billions of dollars of damage from greenhouse gases annually. We subsidize the means of hauling freight that is most expensive to maintain per ton-mile, and as a result we have a funding crisis where even after substantial tax-subsidy, highway maintenance spending falls behind highway maintenance needs.

The United States can have a freight transport system that delivers more benefit at lower cost to freight customers, to public authorities funding road infrastructure, and to the general public in terms of both out of pocket costs for goods and services and unfunded environmental costs. One part of doing so will be to establish institutions to support investments that will enable a mode shift of long haul truck freight to electric rail, contracted to make use of recently established carbon neutral electrical power sources.

Given the substantially lower maintenance costs of rail freight per ton-mile, it will be possible to get started on this process by offering public finance for privately funded infrastructure. To get an idea of the advantage offered by public finance, consider that in the cost of capital to BNSF has been found to be 11.25%, while as of May 1, 2014, yield of municipal bonds from the state of Washington range between 1% and 6%, and Federal 10-year Treasury bonds have a yield of under 3%. A $3.2b project, such as studied by the Virginia Department of Transport, financed over a period of 30 years at 11.25% requires annual funding of $380m. The same project financed at 6% requires $230m annually, and financed at 3% requires $160m annually. So public finance at 6% can reduce the annual funding cost by 38%, and public finance at 3% can reduce the annual funding cost by 56%.

Note that providing public finance will offer a substantial private benefit to the railways or railways that have this publicly-owned infrastructure built on their privately owned right of way. For this reason, the investment should be undertaken by a public authority with the capacity to oversee the project, in addition to raising the required funds. This requires a multi-state regional development bank, with the authority to raise funds for infrastructure investment on both publicly and privately owned right of way, with funding provided by user fees and investment on privately owned right of way guaranteed by commitments from the right of way owners to make use of the infrastructure. When this is established, it is vital to set down ground rules that ensure that the development bank pursues the full public interest. This includes ensuring that publicly provided finance will be refunded from user fees, and also includes the public interest in establishing carbon-free transport options.

This development bank system can be used in two ways to reduce both the unfunded maintenance liability and unfunded environmental costs of our highway system. First, it will allow the establishment of electric freight rail on substantial mainline transcontinental rail corridors, allowing freight to be shipped on the using corridors with renewable electric power. Electrifying an entire transcontinental corridor ensures that the commercial benefit of electric freight rail is available to the long-haul shipments that are the primary target for shifting from truck to rail. It also directly expands the capacity of the rail corridor to cope with new traffic, as an electrified rail corridor enjoys an increase in capacity of over 15%.

Once the corridor is electrified, then the development bank will be in a position to invest in new rail capacity to support rapid freight rail shipping. The study of rail investment alternatives by the Virginia Department of Transport established that increasing freight transit speeds from 22mph to 40mph would result in a substantial shift of long haul freight from truck to rail. It is feasible to design single stack freight railcars to carry freight long distances at 90 mph, which implies freight transits of over 80mph for long-haul freight.

A substantial commercial obstacle to rapid freight rail on the current mainline rail system are increased maintenance costs. Operating freight at speeds above 80mph, up to 110mph, requires that the track be maintained to Class 6 standard, which is substantially more demanding than the Class 4 standard that allows a 60mph freight speed limit or the Class 5 standard that allows an 80mph freight speed limit. The cost of maintaining track to Class 6 standard escalates for track that experiences substantial heavy bulk and double-stack container traffic.
Given public finance, new Class 6 track can be built next to existing Class 4 and Class 5 track. This track can be used for freight in three ways. First, it can be used to provide freight rail paths with freight speed limits of up to 90mph for single stack rapid freight rail trains. Second, it can be used as the return path for trains consisting of empty bulk freight and/or empty containers, which have much lower weight per axle and therefore do not escalate the cost of maintaining Class 6 track. Third, sections of the high track can be switched to the neighboring track to use as a passing siding. These would either be sections where curves impose a lower speed limit on the rapid freight rail in any event, so may be maintained as Class 4 track in any event, or else the heavy freight would be limited to low speed siding operations that avoids imposing undue additional maintenance cost.

The cost of building and maintaining this public rapid freight rail throughway, or “Steel Interstate”, would be recouped through access fees to operate on this track. We will therefore gain the public benefits from the investment in this Steel Interstate by virtue of providing public finance for the infrastructure investment, but without requiring substantial public tax-subsidy of the infrastructure. The development bank will not proceed with the project unless it is projected to attract sufficient use to refund the borrowing – and will likely require some guarantee of use of the Steel Interstate by the railway receiving the Steel Interstate investment in its right of way. Since the largest untapped markets for freight rail are markets dominated by truck freight, we can be confident that the private interests using Steel Interstate projects will be pursuing a shift of freight from truck to rail. The primary moral hazard in setting up these development banks is therefore the risk that they invest in entrenching our reliance on unsustainable energy sources for transport.

Thus, to guarantee the broadest possible public benefits from these investments, the development bank should be limited to financing transport projects that will be entirely sustainably powered, or that share of the project that represents a reduction in unsustainable energy required. Therefore, 100% funding a project by the development bank will only be possible for investment in transport infrastructure that eliminates the requirement for unsustainable power. By contrast a project that reduces the requirement for unsustainable power by 10% will only be eligible for 10% funding from the development bank.

 
Sources

[1] American Society of Civil Engineers. “Report Card for America's Infrastructure”. March, 2013: http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/...

[2] Victoria Transport Policy Institute. “5.6: Roadway Facility Costs.” In Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis II – Roadway Costs. 28 August, 2013. pp. 5.6-6. http://www.vtpi.org/...

[3] Kevin DeGood. “Understanding the Highway Trust Fund and the Perils of Inaction”. Center for American Progress, February 20, 2014: http://www.americanprogress.org/...

[4] Federal Highway Administration. “1997 Federal Highway Cost Allocation Study –
Summary Report: V – Highway Cost Responsibility.” 1997: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/...

[5] Oregon Department of Administrative Services, Office of Economic Analysis. “Highway Cost Allocation Study 2013-2015 Biennium.” January 2013: http://www.oregon.gov/...

[6]  Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Dept. of Transportation. “FHWA Freight Management and Operations – Chapter 5: Capacity and Performance Analysis.” August 10, 2011: http://faf.ornl.gov/...

[7]  Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, US Dept. of Energy. “Freight Transportation Modal Shares: Scenarios for a Low-Carbon Future.” March, 2013: http://www.nrel.gov/...

[8]  Inter-agency Working Group on Social Cost of Carbon, United States Government. “Technical Support Document: Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866.” May 2013: http://www.whitehouse.gov/....

[9] Virginia Department of Transport. “I-81 Corridor Improvement Study: Freight Diversion and Forecast Technical Report.” March, 2007: http://www.virginiadot.org/....

 
Conclusions & Conversations

The Sunday Train does not end at the end of the essay ... rather, the end of the essay is just the beginning of the conversation.

And, as always, any topic in sustainable transport is on-topic in the Sunday Train. So feel free to talk about CO2 emissions reduction, energy independence, suburban retrofit and reversing the cancer of sprawl over our diverse ecosystems, or the latest iPhone or Android app to map you bike ride. Whatever.

On this particular topic, what are your thoughts on how to address the problem that the road network that our freight transport is so heavily dependent upon is both ecologically and financially unsustainable?

Originally posted to Sunday Train on Sun May 04, 2014 at 09:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  One thing I noticed about our incipient... (11+ / 0-)

    ...new neighborhood, Stephenson County, IL, is that there aren't a lot of rail lines there. The Wisconsin & Southern used to roughly parallel IL-26, but the tracks were abandoned and removed years ago on the Illinois side of the state line, and the ROW has been obliterated between highway realignment and reclamation by farmers. Even where there are lines, you still need semis to get harvested crops to the grain elevators.

    Even in urban areas, there are lots of places that ship or receive freight that aren't close to rail lines, and expanding or extending rail operations aren't immediately practical, so trucks may still have to play an intermediate role there, too.

    Funding for a Steel Interstate should be complementary to portions of the Road Interstate, and should be decoupled from fuel taxes, but don't expect that until the Democrats have a couple more seats in the Senate, and at least a slim majotity in the House.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Sun May 04, 2014 at 09:23:46 PM PDT

    •  In another section of this piece ... (15+ / 0-)

      ... omitted because I am still waiting on part of the information on railroad maintenance costs per ton-mile, I note the "last mile" issue when looking at the real world energy savings:

      Even after accounting for offsetting factors, the available energy efficiency from a shift to electric rail is substantial. First, most long haul rail freight shipments will include a short haul truck movement at both ends, since far more origins and destinations are equipped with truck loading docks than with rail sidings. Second, the much denser road network implies that shipments via the rail network may require more miles to accomplish. However, even if we presume that only 80% of a long haul shipment will be shifted onto rail, and that the rail trip is 50% longer than the road trip it replaces, this still implies an energy saving of over three quarters of the energy of the truck freight. And since most of the energy consumption is in the short haul truck movement at each end, this can be cut down still further for destinations and origins that are able to equip themselves with rail sidings and replace the diesel truck freight movement with a diesel train completing the trip.
      One benefit of sitting down and reading through the Virginia Department of Transport rail alternatives analysis (done as part of the process of justifying an interstate expansion project, so they definitely were not being generous to rail!) is looking at their estimate of the kind of access fees required. Just providing a financial vehicle in the form of a public development bank is able to make a Steel Interstate viable, if its located in the right place.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun May 04, 2014 at 09:45:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The market will provide (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rashaverak, Calamity Jean

      In the case of rail, I have the hunch that the ROW has not been legally surrendered.

      While back there was an article about a railroad in the mid atlantic coast that was pro-active in reclaiming their ROW.

      As for the last mile, it can't be any worse than the last mile traffic that exists now.

      Tulsa just about finished widening and "improving" I-44 through the city. The feds in effect have provided an urban highway for the city. In a state that can't get it's act together about weighing trucks, which our DOT admits are the cause of at least 33-50% of all highway wear.

      •  The problem is that we have a very heavy ... (0+ / 0-)

        ... thumb on the scale in the tax subsidy for half of our road infrastructure costs, while rail infrastructure is largely both unsubsidized and financed privately at over twice the interest rate.

        Its not even necessary to establish a level playing field ~ simply reducing the degree of discrimination against rail by allowing rail infrastructure investment that serves a clear public interest to borrow at public debt interest rates would go quite a way to enabling far more energy efficient freight transport in this country.

        Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Tue May 06, 2014 at 01:02:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It really depends on the specific ROW. (0+ / 0-)

        But railroads can and do use eminent domain.

        warning: snark probably above

        by NE2 on Tue May 06, 2014 at 07:42:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Freight capacity gobbled up by fuel for export (13+ / 0-)

    has become a big issue here in the Pacific NW. So even when people actively have chosen and want trains to carry their product, the capacity is sometimes not available.

  •  Warehousing and local delivery trucks will be part (12+ / 0-)

    of an integrated system. Although the additional labor costs for the "intermodal" handling of goods will be a sore point with shippers. They'll need some incentive and/or compulsion to accept those costs.

    Personally, I welcome such economic "inefficiency" because it creates jobs. It can contributes to quality of life in other ways as well.

    I don't mind seeing an eighteen-wheeler backed up to the loading dock of a supermarket. But it is ridiculous to use the same size vehicle to deliver frozen pizza dough to a Domino's take-out that occupies less square footage than the interior of the truck.

    I have seen these highway rigs shoehorned into mini-mall parking lots, or just parked on the street,  blocking  a lane of traffic, while the lone driver offloads soft drinks and chips. We all subsidize this behavior with delays, inconvenience and the occasional traffic accident.

    So, another way to help shift freight from truck to rail is to limit local delivery to three-axle vehicles.

    “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing
    he was never reasoned into” - Jonathan Swift

    by jjohnjj on Sun May 04, 2014 at 10:13:29 PM PDT

    •  Yes, ... (11+ / 0-)

      ... it is far more common in Europe for local deliveries to be by smaller panel vans rather than by semi-truck.

      That use of road for temporary loading and unloading is similar to the massive subsidy of passenger car and light trucks through the provision of "free" on-street parking and mandating that developers include off-street parking ... if a semi-truck is parked on the street or occupying multiple parking spots, it ought to pay a multiple parking fee.

      Charge for the use of the resource and you will see a sharp increase in the number of deliveries being made by a panel van that only has to pay for the use of one parking spot.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun May 04, 2014 at 10:23:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  "The High Cost of Free Parking" (9+ / 0-)

        Donald Shoup

        http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu

        Donald Shoup is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, where he has served as Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies. His book, The High Cost of Free Parking, explains how better parking policies can improve cities, the economy, and the environment. In the book Shoup recommends that cities should charge fair market prices for on-street parking, use the meter revenue to finance added public services in the metered neighborhoods, and remove off-street parking requirements
        .

        I'm part of the "bedwetting bunch of website Democrat base people (DKos)." - Rush Limbaugh, 10/16/2012 Torture is Wrong! We live near W so you don't have to. Send love.

        by tom 47 on Mon May 05, 2014 at 01:32:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  What about direct delevery? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BruceMcF

        As bad as big box stores are environmentally (their customer catchment basin is huge and forces customers to drive long distances to reach the store), an Ikea generates 6 tractor trailer deliveries a day.  Once a steel interstate is in place, would this truck traffic be diverted to rail shipments?  

        Put a light rail stop nearby and offer cheap delivery of purchased goods.  Would this reduce the carbon emissions burden sufficiently to make such a store environmentally viable?  

        I'm a 4 Freedoms Democrat.

        by DavidMS on Mon May 05, 2014 at 05:07:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Making those big box stores environmentally ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DavidMS

          ... viable is a multi-factor problem, based on both their supply side environmental footprint and their customer side environmental footprint.

          The Steel Interstate can only address one factor ... for example, a shift of local passenger transport so that car-independent access is possible, combined with multi-use zoning and re-use of expansive parking lots rendered redundant for residential, commercial and professional development could make for a system in which the customer side environmental footprint is much smaller.

          But, yes, it would be quite possible for many or most of those six semi-truck deliveries per day to be shifted to a container that arrives at a railhead and is then hauled locally to the Ikea Store ... that could be by an electric yard truck if the railhead is right next to the store (our Wall*Mart is between the state highway between the two largest towns in our county and a rail corridor), or by a local hybrid-electric container semi-truck if the railhead is a few miles away.

          The Steel Interstate will not move all truck shipments off of trucks, and indeed, many shipments on the Steel Interstate will continue to be made at the beginning and/or end by truck ... what the Steel Interstate is focused on is moving ton-miles from road to rail, since both the wear and tear on the pavement and the CO2 emissions are primarily driven by the number of ton-miles, not by a "head count" of number of shipments that go some part of the way by truck.

          So a lot of the marginal shift for that Ikea store will have been the shipment from point of origin to the Ikea Regional Distribution Center, and the Ikea stores closest to the Regional Distribution Center are likely to continue to receive all or most of their deliveries by truck. However, if there if there is a Steel Interstate route that offers a railhead convenient to a cluster of Ikea stores and convenient connection to the Regional Distribution Center, a Steel Interstate would indeed make it possible to send a number of truckloads by container to that railhead and then locally from there to the individual stores.

          In that system, the highest bang for the buck for direct rail access would be at the Regional Distribution Center, which would saved on delivery costs on both sides of their business, both on receiving stock from their point of origin and in shipping some portion of their regional store deliveries to a railhead serving a cluster of stores rather than onto a truck for direct delivery.

          That also helps explain why the truck-rail shift increases as you increase the speed of the rail freight transit, since the multi-modal transfer at the origin or destination rail head imposes a time cost, and the faster the effective freight transit over the Steel Interstate, the shorter a distance is require to recoup that time cost.

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          by BruceMcF on Tue May 06, 2014 at 12:59:05 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Localizing production and distribution (5+ / 0-)

    In a better future, fewer goods will need to be transported great distances for "efficiency".

    If all the negative externalities associated with freight transport were included in costs, and subsidies for long-haul transport reduced, we's have much more powerful incentives for local production and shorter-haul distribution.

    The transport funding issue will be this year's "shutdown" -- a deliberate attempt by Republicans to slow down the economy by postponing or delaying transport projects in advance of an election.

  •  Excellent diary, thanks! (7+ / 0-)

    Lost my earlier comment, but double track corridors, and a return to local or regional warehousing seem to be the way to go.

    The just in time fad has predictably reaped a lot of high maintenance costs, duh.

    Money is property, not speech. Overturn Citizens United.

    by Betty Pinson on Mon May 05, 2014 at 10:06:48 AM PDT

    •  "Just in Time" means that the highways (and rails) (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rashaverak, JanL, Betty Pinson, BruceMcF

      become mobile warehouses.  Gotta move product.  And wear out the roads doing it.

      I'm part of the "bedwetting bunch of website Democrat base people (DKos)." - Rush Limbaugh, 10/16/2012 Torture is Wrong! We live near W so you don't have to. Send love.

      by tom 47 on Mon May 05, 2014 at 02:35:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The destruction of the rails that would be ... (0+ / 0-)

        ... associated with "Just In Time" delivery is a small fraction of the destruction of the roads, because steel wheel on steel rails is much more durable than rubber wheels and asphalt.

        However,  for too much of our rail infrastructure, delivery on a "Just In Time" basis is not assured, and instead delivery is on an "As Soon As Practicable" basis. And in that case, reliance on "Just In Time" reduces the ability to shift from energy wasteful diesel trucking in response to an oil price shock.

        The Steel Interstate would unlock the hold of long haul diesel trucking on those segments of long haul freight market.

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        by BruceMcF on Tue May 06, 2014 at 12:41:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Terrific diary! (4+ / 0-)

    There is so much information packed into this diary that I am hot listing it for future reference.

    So much attention has been previously focused upon passenger rail service and I am very glad you did this diary on the freight aspect of rail.  It seems that I read somewhere that depending upon the goods shipped, rail can be as much as five times more cost effective.  Obviously heavier or denser goods are going to be more cost effective to ship via rail.  But still, it may prove to be more cost effective for a wider range of goods if the delivery times can be improved.  

    It seems as though one of the weakest points of rail for freight shipments has been the lack of time efficiency.  But the cost of upgrading the system to handle faster speed freight trains seems to be a better bang for the buck when compared with upgrading the highway system and the maintenance factor is going to be lower for rail.

    If I am not mistaken, in most areas, freight still shares the same tracks with passenger service.  One of the things that I believe would help to make rail more attractive to freight customers would be having dedicated freight lines that have been upgraded to handle faster speed trains.

    I hope you will continue to write more on the freight aspect of our railroad system.  Upgrading freight and improving the use of the rails for increased freight traffic should be a step in the right direction for promoting increased use of all rail service.

    "I don't want to run the empire, I want to bring it down!" ~ Dr. Cornel West "It was a really naked declaration of imperialism." ~ Jeremy Scahill on Obama's speech to the UN

    by gulfgal98 on Mon May 05, 2014 at 01:26:35 PM PDT

    •  For most of the country ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gulfgal98, Rashaverak

      ... only a fraction of the tracks actually see an Amtrak train, and then only once a day. And in many cases the fact that many sidings are unable to take the mile-long freight trains means that despite formal priority, its often the Amtrak train that has to sit in the siding waiting for the freight to go by.

      Since freight isn't inconvenienced very much by passenger trains in the majority of the country, the ability of the Steel Interstate system to more effectively host passenger system wasn't a part of this piece ...
      ... but from the passenger train's perspective, it would be a massive upgrade. For many cross-country routes, the total time saving would be enough to turn a train around an entire day earlier, which would mean that fewer trains are required to maintain the schedule, which would allow more money-making sleeping cars to be added to each of the trains making the route.

      Add the cost savings to Amtrak if an entire route is electrified, and some routes that recovering 60%-70% of their operating costs from their ticket revenue might well be able to hit break-even.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Mon May 05, 2014 at 01:37:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BruceMcF, Rashaverak, DavidMS

        once again for this terrific diary and for responding to my comment.  To me, upgrading our rail system is a no brainer.  

        "I don't want to run the empire, I want to bring it down!" ~ Dr. Cornel West "It was a really naked declaration of imperialism." ~ Jeremy Scahill on Obama's speech to the UN

        by gulfgal98 on Mon May 05, 2014 at 01:41:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The entire discussion of what should be done with (0+ / 0-)

    highways, degraded bridges and other elements of vehicle road mobility does not address what materials you will use to make your roads and bridges.

    You can't make roads and bridges without cement, asphalt and steel.

    If you frame  your environmental advocacy for control of greenhouse gas emissions on the basis of ending all fossil fuel use, what are you going to use for materials and energy to construct all of these bridges, roads and rail systems that you may or may not want to build.

    If you take the position of 'no more fossil fuel use' then the collateral consequence is your declaration and your announcement to the world as a progressive Democrat on the steward-to-steward protocol is that all of the following industries and all of the jobs (many held by Democrats) of these industries must be considered as lost jobs, lost economic activity, lost industries and, for Democrats, lost votes (or otherwise if notcompletely lost, then dramatically abridged in an historical manner):

    cement industry
    plastics industry
    asphalt industry
    nitrogen/ammonia production for fertilizer
    semiconductor industry
    Iron & steel industry
    non-ferrous metals industry
    telecommunications industry (depends on metals/plastics)
    highway & building construction industry
    alternative energy generation industry [dependent on metals, plastics, semiconductors.
    aviation industry
    military industry

    This is why progressive Democrats should be careful about their policies and messaging to ensure that what you engage in is------ science and engineering-based energy and environmental stewardship.....rather than an
    ideological driven pursuit of the complete destruction of the fossil fuel industry.

    Progressive Democrat-environmentalists who advocate for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to control our serious global warming problem [the source of all heat-related climate-change problems] have to deal with the real world.  

    That means listening to other Democratic Party constituencies so that progressive Democrat-environmentalists can formulate policy for governance & environmental/energy/economic/employment sustainability.

    Progressive Democrat-environmentalists have to learn to be conservation leadership & stewardship advocates who are not on a ideological mission to throw other Democrats out of their employment and their means to earn a living because they engage in non-reality-based activity (i.e. Gasland, KXL-export-fabrication/conflation, thinking that Lindsay Graham is an enviro, thinking that Red State governor's should have their way with the Clean Air Act,
    Sierra Club getting in the way of California high speed rail, Earthworks-style endless drama, etc, etc . etc. etc.)

    •  While the destruction of several parts of the ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jjohnjj

      ... fossil fuel industry is indeed necessary, since we can not afford to

      You are quite correct that destruction of several parts of the fossil fuel industry is simply necessary, and not itself sufficient.

      It would be quite clearly anti-scientific and, in particular, an assault on policy numeracy to suggest that the emission of CO2 that is associated with the laying of additional track to enable a substantial shift from diesel truck to electric rail is somehow "bad" because of the CO2 emissions associated with some portion of the steel production, given that it is a net saving of the large majority of the emissions associated with the freight shipping.

      This is similar to the attack on the California HSR corridor for the net lifetime CO2 associated with the corridor, based on a simple unit conversion mistake that over-estimated the CO2 emissions of the HSR by nearly a factor of 10. We can't just use catagorical reasoning here, we have to use the same quantitative reasoning that tells us that we can not afford to emit more than 20% of the fossil fuel reserves already available to us, and that if there is a sector of the fossil fuel industry whose survival depends on emitting more than 20% of the fossil fuel reserves available to us, then our survival requires the destruction of that sector of the fossil fuel industry.

      It is, indeed, quite important to listen to the science. The science tells us that the destruction of many sectors of the fossil fuel industry is necessary to our survival as an industrial economy, and so the jobs associated with those sectors of the fossil fuel industry that we are required to destroy for our survival are not long term sustainable jobs in any event.

      Now, if we delay and drag our heels, clearly what will happen is that the crises driven by climate change will become so severe that there will be a collapse of political support for the defense of the fossil fuel industries, and so the people working in those industries will see a loss of their jobs in the middle of economic crisis.

      The economic policy challenge is to ensure that we pursue the approach of investing in advance in the infrastructure required to be able to maintain a healthy economy as we phase out those sectors of the fossil fuel industry that our survival as a national economy requires us to eventually destroy, to maintain robust growth in areas where those working in the fossil fuel industry can gain employment before their jobs are destroyed in a short period of time with no alternative employment readily available in the middle of a furious backlash against the assault that the fossil fuel industry has made on the continued survival of the United States.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Tue May 06, 2014 at 12:38:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You said: (0+ / 0-)
        You are quite correct that destruction of several parts of the fossil fuel industry is simply necessary, and not itself sufficient
        I did not say that and I am not an advocate of destroying the fossil fuel industry, per se.   I am an advocate of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the extent that is feasible through a variety of methods that are all quantitative focused on the amount of CO2 emissions.....not on the source of the emissions being fossil fuel combustion.

        You are still evading the fundamental point of my message that all of the named industrial sectors are critically dependent on fossil fuels for either heat input, process gases or process feedstock.   In most of the named industries there are no alternatives to hydrocarbon fuels and feedstocks.

        If the progressive Democrats are assuming that all coal, oil and natural gas use must be banned, all of the industries I named will die, either sooner or later.  

        Your advocacy does not account for the phenomena of destroying whole U.S. economic sectors (other than the fossil fuel sector) because such fossil fuels are no longer going to be available under a progressive-Democrat-approved national energy policy seeking to ban or cease production of all those fossil fuels.

        •  Yes, I understand that you are ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... shilling for fossil fuel industries, but I was agreeing with the element of your argument that implies that killing off the most damaging of the fossil fuel industries is not, by itself, sufficient.

          However, it is important to remember that there's a difference between using the output of the fossil fuel industry because that is what is available and being dependent upon the fossil fuel industry. For example, while steel is a heavy consumer of the output of fossil fuel industry both for coke for blast furnace steel and for firing electricity generation for arc furnace steel, obviously neither is technically dependent on steel, as coke from non-fossil source can be used for blast furnace steel and electricity from non-fossil fuel source can be used for arc steel.

          As far as limiting carbon reduction to what is considered feasible without risking the long term survival of coal and oil producers ... that is the policy that is aimed at destroying whole US economic sectors. All of our economic sectors can survive putting our fossil fuel sectors into retirement, provided we are permitted to plan ahead and give ourselves enough time to make the transition.

          To be sure, the interests of maintaining the wealth of the fossil fuel producing corporations require that we instead pursue the suicidal policy of putting off the elimination of fossil fuel production until it is too late. But that is in opposition to the long term interests of every other sector of the US economy.

          Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Sun May 11, 2014 at 08:32:41 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  specific semi long haul routes could be ready for (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rashaverak, BruceMcF

    a switch to electric rail right away with a modest amount of extra tracks to remove congestion (and electrification)

    a derivitive that normally doesn't get much notice: the use of the rail corridors for transmission of electricity needed to service the train energy, will double for the green electric superhighway

    buffett appears to be getting ready for this, a few finance articles intoned this a few years ago, with his purchase of bnsf, mid american energy, and the aggressive wind energy plays that mid american makes in that midwest bnsf region

    once the double and triple tracking goes in, the speed for a west coast to midwest shipment will be able to beat a truck, & according to some previous studies,  cost less than half ( i think this was in a bnsf white paper 5 yrs back)

    what lincoln said http://cleantechnica.com/2012/10/10/abraham-lincoln-was-on-to-wind-power-long-before-the-rest/

    by rasfrome on Mon May 05, 2014 at 04:02:52 PM PDT

    •  Yes ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... one of the challenges of Electricity Superhighways is getting the electrical transmission right of way, ...

      ... and if the transmission corridor was in part used to deliver power to remote parts of the rail ROW that doesn't have an adequate local grid to supply the renewable power, then the railway may be in a position to use its rights of eminent domain to acquire the needed vertical clearances adjoining the rail right of way for a HVDC Electricity Superhighway.

      If you look at the BNSF Northern Transcon in particular, Pacific Northwest, Northern Great Plains and western Great Lakes, about half the time that the wind is not blowing strongly on the western side of that corridor, it is blowing strongly on the eastern side, so cross-haul in both directions would substantially increase the effective availability of wind power in both directions.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Tue May 06, 2014 at 03:20:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Or - we can keep building the "rubber railroad"... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF, triplepoint

    (Saints preserve us!)

    “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing
    he was never reasoned into” - Jonathan Swift

    by jjohnjj on Tue May 06, 2014 at 07:19:51 PM PDT

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