• Electrifying Freight Lines

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by Ken V
 
Desertdweller wrote:The Milwaukee Road certainly got their money's worth out of their electrification...
There are a couple of discussions of the MILW electrification and the "gap" on the Granger Railroads forum:
http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopi ... 81&t=19677 and http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopi ... 81&t=43081
scharnhorst wrote:How about BC Rail in British Columbia, Canada and there Electric lines they seemed to run well well for there time before CN took over and removed everything after taking BC Rail over.
The Tumbler Ridge electric line was abandoned due to a number of mine closures. That was before CN took over operation of BC Rail's network.
  by RocketJet
 
I know it's been a year but have there been any more developments as far as BNSF about considering mainline electrification? I know Warren Buffet commented about a specific price that diesel could reach that would make electrification economically viable. As far as I know, the only electrified freight line in the U.S. is the small privately owned Black Mesa and Lake Powell Railroad. Is there any talk about this changing in the near future?
  by scharnhorst
 
RocketJet wrote:I know it's been a year but have there been any more developments as far as BNSF about considering mainline electrification? I know Warren Buffet commented about a specific price that diesel could reach that would make electrification economically viable. As far as I know, the only electrified freight line in the U.S. is the small privately owned Black Mesa and Lake Powell Railroad. Is there any talk about this changing in the near future?

Only problem is that the Black Mesa and Lake Powell Railroad is 100% isolated and has no connections or interchanges with any railroads along it's whole route locomotives and rail cars have to be trucked in. Seeing any changes on the route would be vary doubtful at best.
  by Desertdweller
 
Conceptually, the BM&LP is a conveyor belt, not a railroad.

I think there are too many unknown factors in this country right now to make any predictions about electrification.

One of the prime factors that comes to mind is the future cost of electricity. While electric railroads themselves are not polluting, the means of generating that power is a prime concern. The current Federal Administration stands in opposition to coal-fired power plants and nuclear plants. This doesn't leave many options: wind (doesn't always blow, or blows too hard); solar (gets dark at night); hydro power ( most of the American West is arid or semi-arid); and natural gas.

Cost of materials for electrification: copper between $3/4 dollars a pound. Do we build generating plants or buy it off the grid?

Will traffic density support the investment required? Current motive power is doing a good job of moving freight at a reasonable rate of return. High-speed rail would be a case for electrification, but we haven't got any, at least in areas not now electrified.

Les
  by RocketJet
 
Desertdweller wrote:Conceptually, the BM&LP is a conveyor belt, not a railroad.

I think there are too many unknown factors in this country right now to make any predictions about electrification.

One of the prime factors that comes to mind is the future cost of electricity. While electric railroads themselves are not polluting, the means of generating that power is a prime concern. The current Federal Administration stands in opposition to coal-fired power plants and nuclear plants. This doesn't leave many options: wind (doesn't always blow, or blows too hard); solar (gets dark at night); hydro power ( most of the American West is arid or semi-arid); and natural gas.

Cost of materials for electrification: copper between $3/4 dollars a pound. Do we build generating plants or buy it off the grid?

Will traffic density support the investment required? Current motive power is doing a good job of moving freight at a reasonable rate of return. High-speed rail would be a case for electrification, but we haven't got any, at least in areas not now electrified.

Les
The source of the future electricity would certainly be the primary question as that has to do with how much it will cost and at what cost of carbon emissions. We can certainly rule out more coal production, such a movement would be extremely unpopular but as Nuclear energy is becoming more popular among the great environmental thinkers as well as the country as a whole, things may change.

If many more nuclear plants are built (which would only happen after Yucca Mountain is resumed and completed), it seems reasonable the price of electricity would come down. But I dont think that the railroads will wait for more power plants, I think if Diesel becomes more expensive, they will seriously consider electrification starting with their mainlines.

Does anyone know about whether or not current electric catenary technology requires substations as it used to? I know the Northeast and Keystone corridors use them today but if they were built from scratch, would they need them. I assume for the longer lines that go through deserted landscapes far away from other sources of electricity, substations would be needed.
  by Desertdweller
 
I don't think we can rule out additional coal plants at all.

This is a political, not an environmental issue. As is nuclear plants.

This is one of the issues that will be decided by the next presidential election.

We have the coal, if we are allowed to use it.

Les
  by Gadfly
 
Desertdweller,

I remember in the early days of my career, Southern/NS as well as other roads had a lot of experiments in liquified coal for diesel locomotives. It seemed to be the in thing. But the price of oil dropped drastically during that time, and I haven't heard much about it since. Diesel loco tech has advanced since then, and I wonder if there's any movement in the liquified coal area once again due the high price. While not a rabid rail buff, anxious for huffing, puffing, polluting steam engines, I was also intrigued with the ACE-3000 concept that was being put forth in Railway Age at the time. Likewise, the price of fuel killed any of the rail buffs hopes of some sort of steam revival. It is still a subject, however, that piques my curiosity. What "if" there WAS a way to use coal, either in internal combustion or external cumbustion to move trains? If we got rid of the present adminstration (I hope) and its opposition to coal, there are advantages, particularly in the area of dumping our dependence on foreign oil. What "if" America suddenly quit using oil to move trains? Millions of gallons suddenly now surplus! Trains now pulled using some other form of fuel (coal). Not so much the traditional, smoke-spewing, huffing puffing locomotive we remember fondly, but some form of domestic fuel that deprived our enemies of that revenue. Would it make an impact of other petroleum uses? Was steam technology fully explored in light of the advances in computer technology. Could the problems of the steam locomotive (maintenance, labor, and long down time) be overcome? Could they be made to run an equal distance to the current diesel engine? Would it create jobs in the coal industry, or the rail industry that would actually pay back its costs? I am not longing for a return to steam as the rail foamers would, but looking objectively at the subject to see if this old technology would have a future. I'd just like to know. Wouldn't it be neat to tell our enemies to take a hike and EAT their oil!!!!!! :)


GF
  by Desertdweller
 
GF,

I would love to be able to tell our enemies where to stick their oil! But the answer to the issues in your post are more rooted in politics than in rail technology.

We have plenty of oil right here in this country. It just isn't being pumped. Lack of oil is not the problem. Identifying and admitting who our enemies are is the problem. This requires a political solution.

We are literally sitting on the bulk of the earth's coal reserves. Even if we were really running low on oil, there is sufficient coal to provide our petroleum needs for centuries.

Diesel power won out over steam because of the savings in labor and facilities. Only by irrefutably proving that this, could a hide-bound, traditional industry like railroading be convinced to make a wholesale changeover in technology. A reverse of this, going back to steam, would require a similar conversion. Highly unlikely.

The UP tried a couple of innovative attempts to incorporate the two technologies. The first was in the late 1930's, with the introduction of steam-turbine-electric locomotive prototypes built by GE. I don't know why these didn't work out, maybe they were just too complicated to work on.

The second attempt was to build a locomotive that would burn coal directly in a turbine engine. This was two stages removed from prevailing industry technology. The first stage was a turbine engine to power an electric drive system. The second stage was powering it with coal. This engine was a railfan's dream: a Great Northern GE "Big Bertha" electric carbody housing the turbine and generator; a PA-1 carbody containing the control cab and auxiliary Diesel power unit; a Rube Goldberg tender holding the coal and a means of pulverizing it. Can't you imagine a fleet of these monsters? Can you imagine the sound?

Considering this was from a railroad that was known to doublehead gas turbine electrics with 4-8-8-4's, it helps to put it in perspective.

But alas, it didn't work. Fly ash from the coal ate off the turbine blades.

I have to say the solution to bringing back coal-powered trains is to electrify the lines and burn the coal in generating plants to power them. And it doesn't look like we have many lines that could possibly justify that.

Les
  by RocketJet
 
Desertdweller wrote:I don't think we can rule out additional coal plants at all.

This is a political, not an environmental issue. As is nuclear plants.

This is one of the issues that will be decided by the next presidential election.

We have the coal, if we are allowed to use it.

Les
I would have to respectfully disagree, Burning Coal is am environmental issue, that is why it is a political issue. Burning Coal is probably the most environmentally harmful and archaic ways to produce electricity.

http://www.thegreenrocket.com/images/CO ... -Chart.gif

From what I have read, there is no such thing as clean coal. Yes we have lots of coal, but under the Obama Administration and even among many forward thinking Libertarians and Republicans, burning more coal sounds like a very bad idea. Burning coal will not get us off oil unless we also start driving electric cars but the "green" results of such a thing would be negated by the coal burning. I'm not even the biggest environmentalist but there is little will apart from the Coal lobby to burn more coal. I see only a future of further regulations on such a thing. Big environmentalists such as Stewart Brand and Billionaires like Bill Gates all agree that Nuclear energy is the future if done right accompanied by Solar and Wind.

I do think that Gas Prices will continue to get more expensive over the long run and I think that electrification of freight rail will come, I think it is just a question of when. For those of you interested in the debate, this is a very interesting clip with balanced points of view.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UK8ccWSZkic
  by scharnhorst
 
People will Bitch about everything under the sun with all the NIMBY's and Environmental Groups or Eco-Terrorists groups as I refer to them.

All Nice but people bitch because they don't want to see wind mills or Solar panels out in there back yard.
Solar power nice idea but only works in areas where there is a lot of Sunny days
Wind Energy Nice idea but again need to be built in areas where there is a lot of open space and wind flow
Hydro Power Nice but not much water in the West.

People are crying about pollution when it comes to drilling holes or striping away top soil
Hydro Fracking
Coal
Natural Gas
Oil

Not to many Thermal Wells around

Nuclear Power..... I my self don't trust it no matter where or who is at the control room As I recall 3 Mile Island almost went into a full melt down in the late 1970's. I my self spent a few years guarding the Chernobyl exclusion Zone (1986-1992) and know what this crap can do to people and wild life. Besides what the hell do you do with all the waste product can't eat it or do anything else with it for that matter. Last but not least what do you do with the Land if it is Polluted with Radio Active waste or fall out? Sure you can grow stuff on it but you'll never ever be able to eat it or drink the water or the Animals that live directly in the area(s) It took us a few years but we did fence off the Exclusion Zone with 3 barbed wire fences and even posted armed guard towers around the area along all the roads going in and out of the zone till the over growth of plants grew back in thick enough to where nobody can walk threw it.

Electric Railways work in Europe because there small country's and the tonnages are not as heavy as they are here in the U.S. which is why so many of them still use 35 foot and 40 foot 2 axle railroad cars. Russia is a different story they do use Electrics in parts of the country but Diesels are used to travel from Moscow to the Pacific cost because of the vast open spaces of nothing but wilderness for hundreds and hundreds of miles across Siberia it's much easier to take on fuel at station stops which also enplanes why Steam was still popular right into the 1980's there because they could stop and load up on coal or wood at near by logging and mining colony's along the route.
Last edited by scharnhorst on Mon Oct 08, 2012 6:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
  by Desertdweller
 
Rocketjet,

"Burning coal is the most environmentally harmful way of making electricity." I doubt if you will find anyone in the Ukraine or Japan who would agree with that.

"There is no such thing as clean coal". Coal-fired power plants are now required to have devices to capture the fly ash once released. The ash is then shipped out in covered hoppers to be used in making cement.

"There is little will besides the Coal Lobby to burn more coal." That depends on how you define the Coal Lobby. Do you think that term only applies to wealthy coal mine owners? What about the thousands of people who actually work in the mines? What about the communities who depend on those mines and miners for their economic existence? What about the people who make their living transporting and delivering that coal?

We have the bulk of the world's coal reserves. You seem to see something wrong with using them. It is a political issue, a matter of opinion.

We do not need coal to replace oil as motor fuel. We have tremendous oil reserves also. It is, again, a political decision to burn other countries' oil instead of our own.

It is the stated goal of the present administration to make coal-fired power plants prohibitively expensive. Another political position. Do you really think that is a good idea? Do you use electricity?

Most states have at least some coal in amounts that can be commercially mined. Coal mining is one of our basic heavy industries.
We are in no danger of running out of coal.

We are in no danger of running out of oil, either. At least half our states produce oil. If you travel around the country much, you will see a great many capped oil wells, more than are producing. When I was in high school, we were told we only had about 15 years of oil left. Another political lie.

Scharnhorst is right.

Les
  by scharnhorst
 
In the Long term we can't get rid of Coal power plants in the United States. I could see keeping them around for stand by operations when power is needed during peak seasons like Summer or Winter in emergency situations or if another Power Plant go's off line for critical repairs and or maintaince/inspections.

If you compare the major issues in Ukraine which still suffers with planed power outages. Believe me they do turn the power off on the traffic signals and the Police direct traffic by hand stores and shops have no lights or A/C during the summer months during the day and every other street light turns on at night.
Nuclear was once was called the "Friendly Atom" in order to promote Nuclear Power as the Greatest source of energy to ever be harnessed by Man in the USSR.

Last time I had traveled back to Ukraine many of the Nuclear Plants were being shut down due to there Dangerous and unsafe operations they use a Liquid graphite to keep the cores cool unlike American plants that use Cool Water. As the Nuclear Plants shut down Coal plants are being rebuilt next to the turbine halls on the grounds next to the reactor buildings to save on money on building new power plants, control rooms that once monitored the Reactors now watch over the Coal furnace and steam levels in the new additions and the original turbine halls.

Hydro Power is still vary popular there but as with anything most of the Dams were built during Stalin's 5 years plans in the 1930's and are in need of major up grades and with vary little funding as it is will take years to do.

Wind Power is vary slowly starting to catch on as well as Solar Power.

Natural Gas is also popular and plentiful so as the Russians don't shut down the flow in the pipe lines when they get mad.

Out side in the small villages there is no Power and Telephones are referred to as wall decorations because they don't always work. The people still burn Wood, Peat, Cow droppings and on occasion Coal spillage picked up along the Railroad Tracks are still popular yet as a heating source that has been in use for hundreds of years. Kerosene and hand made candles made from animal fat are still a major lighting source as well.


Japan is a whole different animal all it's own with there Government now closing there Nuclear Plants they are now facing planed power outages and are in need of alternate energy and power supply's. If you go all the way back to the Start of WWII Japan's main reason for invading so many country's was not just to expand but to search and strip them country's of there natural resources because the mother land run out.


I see it this way Even if Coal were to be suppressed in some way here in the U.S. we'll always going to mine it for export to country's that don't have the vast resources that we have so readily available at this time. So I guess you could say there is a bright side to this as the Jobs will always be there in some form or another no matter if your a railroader, trucker, or a merchant sailor on a bulk cargo ship.
  by RocketJet
 
I still think you are underestimating the environmentalist lobby in this country that I believe has surpassed that of Coal (not yet Oil) in strength. I would highly recommend reading up on the debates and see where the best and the brightest minds in our country stand on these issues and not base opinions off emotions. Yes Three-Mile Island Happened, Yes Chernobyl happened. Both under lax regulation, poor precaution, and poor maintenance. Since the late 80's, there have been major leaps in nuclear design and although they have not been instituted, those who read and critically examine them are much more forthcoming to the idea of further nuclear investment. Anyhow I do not have the time to start an energy debate here but for the sake of the nation's future, I would seriously ask all who are reading this to listen to some of the recent debates on why so many intelligent people looking for real answers are finding that Nuclear is our best major bet.

Now aside from where the electricity will come from, I simply think it will come down to the price of Oil. If Diesel becomes too expensive, to my knowledge, electrification is the only other LEGITIMATE choice as of now. If I were a betting man, I would bet that BNSF will be the first to begin investment in electrical equipment and that such changes will begin in the next 10 years.
  by Gadfly
 
Desertdweller wrote:GF,

I would love to be able to tell our enemies where to stick their oil! But the answer to the issues in your post are more rooted in politics than in rail technology.

We have plenty of oil right here in this country. It just isn't being pumped. Lack of oil is not the problem. Identifying and admitting who our enemies are is the problem. This requires a political solution.

We are literally sitting on the bulk of the earth's coal reserves. Even if we were really running low on oil, there is sufficient coal to provide our petroleum needs for centuries.

Diesel power won out over steam because of the savings in labor and facilities. Only by irrefutably proving that this, could a hide-bound, traditional industry like railroading be convinced to make a wholesale changeover in technology. A reverse of this, going back to steam, would require a similar conversion. Highly unlikely.

The UP tried a couple of innovative attempts to incorporate the two technologies. The first was in the late 1930's, with the introduction of steam-turbine-electric locomotive prototypes built by GE. I don't know why these didn't work out, maybe they were just too complicated to work on.

The second attempt was to build a locomotive that would burn coal directly in a turbine engine. This was two stages removed from prevailing industry technology. The first stage was a turbine engine to power an electric drive system. The second stage was powering it with coal. This engine was a railfan's dream: a Great Northern GE "Big Bertha" electric carbody housing the turbine and generator; a PA-1 carbody containing the control cab and auxiliary Diesel power unit; a Rube Goldberg tender holding the coal and a means of pulverizing it. Can't you imagine a fleet of these monsters? Can you imagine the sound?

Considering this was from a railroad that was known to doublehead gas turbine electrics with 4-8-8-4's, it helps to put it in perspective.

But alas, it didn't work. Fly ash from the coal ate off the turbine blades.

I have to say the solution to bringing back coal-powered trains is to electrify the lines and burn the coal in generating plants to power them. And it doesn't look like we have many lines that could possibly justify that.

Les
No matter what we do, everything is going to become more expensive. It's just a product of history and future demands. The ACE3000 was "supposed" to address all of these problems of coal-burning---maintenance, pollution, and the then-scarcity of oil from OPEC. It was to use coal and water packs similar to a shipping container that could be loaded onto and off specially built tenders with a front-end loader or a simple mobile crane. Computers were to enhance the firing of the boiler for maximum efficiency. Smoke and pollution were to handled with "scrubbers", the which of I am not fully familiar. It was not just another rail buff's dream choo choo, but a real solution to the problem at the time. I do also question the side-rod design as a giveaway and concession to the hopeful foamers who would give anything to see a steam engine in regular service again. I also DO understand the difficulties of coal. Its dirty, it creates pollution by spewing carbon and particulates into the air (it can, however, be controlled in *stationary* applications), and the mechanical limitations that gave diesel the edge were too huge to ignore at the time. In 1979-1982 Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and others were supporting the research of ACE, so we can't say they would be opposed to steam simply because it is steam. They WOULD, I believe, support serious research into whatever alternate technologies could equal or surpass the diesel loco, with the object being to remove oil as a fuel. Many railroad companies, I believe, still own many coal fields as additional assets. The difference in THEN and NOW is, the price of oil is RISING, not falling as it did in the early 80's, placing a huge burden on the railroads, the aviation industry, and the average person in the price of fuel and all commodities that are either derived from pretroleum or transported by it. Obviously, we need to change our political objectives to either permit the use of our abundant resources, reduce its disadvantages, OR allow our own oil resources to be used to the fullest as well. While I would not wish ill of our foreign brethren, it would be satisfying to see such allies, especially the ones who have enjoyed huge revenues at our expense, have to face the realization that they cannot continue to sell $100 barrels of oil, but, rather, have to do with $25 because the American market and the customers they have gouged and held in disdain for so long no longer plead for a suckle at their teat. For enemies who will us ill, go to the devil!

I know that there other alternatives that don't necessarily involve external combustion, but this attempt at reviving the "old" technology and the research into liquified coal (slurry) stopped when the price of oil fell like a rock, and there was no need to pursue it, and a gallon of gas at the pump was back at .79/ga. But what of liquified coal to burn in diesel locos? Could that help? When the research stopped on ACE3000, there had been NO effort to advance steam tech since about 1956. Even in 1980, computers were being used to control various functions in a variety of industries. When the diesel loco came along, it solved so many problems of the steam engine, it just wasn't even funny. Logically, any research in steam propulsion basically stopped dead. Stationary boiler and steam production for other applications continued, however. Could all the problems of the steam locomotive be now solved with modern methods that didn't exist then? Answer: We don't know. Production of steam in a mobile application or research into such a thing hasn't been pursued. Everything from efficiency to adhesion to safety just quit.

I don't really care either way what technology would be applied, but this has always been in the back of mind. What if................................................... ? How do we KNOW that steam locomotive technology cannot be advanced, or that it could surpass diesel.

I do also know that, as mentioned, advancing a new technology is difficult. Re-starting an old one, even more so. That could be due to old memories and stereotypical response, a reluctance to "regress"(?). But do we really know that we know just because it was inefficient in 1950? Without data, we never will One final item. We talk of environment. What about the visual "pollution" of a maze of catenary? Is THAT not a form of pollution? :)

GF
  by Desertdweller
 
GF,

I think the source of progress in steam development since 1956 has been concentrated in electric power production. Even the other large user of steam engines, the shipbuilding industry, has converted to Diesel.

Again, I can think of only two users of small, mobile steam engines: nuclear submarines and liquid-fueled rockets. All nuclear subs are steam-driven. And liquid-fueled rockets use steam-powered turbine pumps to pump massive amounts of propellant.

Wind turbines are not the answer to electric power production a lot of people think they are. I have worked around a lot of those in Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico. Obviously, they require wind. Even in these places, wind does not always blow. What a lot of people may not realize is that it is common to have too much wind. Once the wind hits around 40mph, the turbines would rip themselves apart if they were allowed to spin. At that speed, the blades lock with the narrow edge facing the wind ("feathered"), and they remain that way until the wind falls to a save speed.

Rocketjet,

I think you are overestimating the influence of people who would like to pay exorbitant amounts for gasoline, heating oil, and electricity. Perhaps you live in an area where tax-subsidized alternative transportation is available, or maybe you just like to spend money.

I don't put much stock in "environmental geniuses". These were the people who told us 40 years ago we had 15 years of oil left, or maybe more recent "geniuses" like Al Gore.

We could not have built this country without heavy extractive industries like oil production, and coal and iron mining. I live in Western Nebraska within thirty miles of the largest coal-fired power plant in the state. I know of no environmental damage from this plant. From a safety standpoint, I would rather have this coal plant here than a nuclear plant.

Scharnhorst,

You know better than any of us the results of nuclear power run amok. Water-cooled reactors are probably safer than graphite or sodium-cooled reactors, but they are far from safe if something goes wrong.

I was visiting my parents in Colorado Springs when the Chernobyl accident occurred. The news reports initially reported a high level of radiation coming from a place in the Soviet Union. My first thought was a nuclear weapons accident.

Les