Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Electrifying the rails

Via (appropiately enough) the Overhead Wire [2] comes a piece by Alan Drake about electrifying America’s railroads. The article is over a year old, so I apologize, but it’s certainly pertinent to passenger rail right now, particularly considering rising diesel fuel costs.

Electrifying railroads and transferring half of the ton-miles of trucks to rail should save 6.3% of US oil consumption. Japanese and most European railroads are already electrified. The Russians finished electrifying the Trans-Siberian Railroad, from Moscow to the Pacific, in 2002 and electrified to the Arctic Ocean at Murmansk in 2005. So there are no technical limitations. Electric railroads are cheaper to operate and can carry more freight because they accelerate and brake faster (and can generate electricity while braking, saving energy), and have no delays for refueling.

Drake’s article focuses on freight travel, which is certainly important, but it’s clear that electrification would be a boon to passenger rail as well. Depending on the area, electricity can be drawn from a number of fuel sources, including oil, natural gas, coal, wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, and geothermal. Not only does this mean fewer carbon emissions right now, but electrified trains could eventually run completely on renewable sources of energy. From an environmental standpoint, that’s important in terms of preparing for a carbon-neutral future, and from a business standpoint, it’s a great thing to put in advertisements.

Of course, electrifying long-distance tracks is no easy task, but Drake indicates that given the right incentives, freight rail companies would do this on their own. This could potentially benefit Amtrak if it was allocated the resources to invest in new rolling stock. In addition, new passenger lines implementing electrification(and HSR projects such as California’s) would be partially insulating themselves from rising fuel costs… savings which they could pass on to customers.

Filed under: Amtrak, United States High Speed Rail, , , , ,

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July 2008