Monday, October 15, 2007

Research Bleg

So, I'm reading today's Toronto Star article about the Feds throwing more money at VIA rail, and a few days ago the Calgary Herald ran a piece about the prospects for high-speed rail in Alberta. Then it occurs to me, "Hey, John, you're a big fan of trains, but you're shockingly ill-informed about the costs and methods of construction for these things."

So, do I have any enthusiasts out there who know a good resource for general train info? Preferably, something that can give me some basis for comparing (for example) the costs and virtues of electrified vs. non-electrified high-speed concepts, or whether electrification is a useful technique outside of high-speed applications.

3 comments:

Gar said...

First some background:
Electrified trains are less polluting, cheaper to run and more expensive to build. How expensive depends on whether there is a pretty good grid already in place. For example, as far as I know zero freight trains are electrified in the U.S. As far as I know most freight trains in the richer parts of continental Europe are. That has to do with continental freights trains passing through populated areas with well developed grids almost all the way, vs. U.S. freight trains traveling long distances through lightly populated desert and prairie. Also pollution from a non-electric freight train in Europe visible affects many more people than it does in the U.S.

Moving to your question - since this is a passenger not a freight system, electrified may be the way to ago. Especially if you are talking about journeys of a few hours or less, rather than days. Because in that case you can consider something along the line of Cybertran, which makes up for the cost of electrification by using very inexpensive tracks. (And contains batteries to let spans of up to 50 miles not be electrified.

john said...

Suppose you want to electrify rail for non-speed reasons (fuel costs, whatever) does it make sense after that to engineer your whole track to be high-speed anyway?

Gar W. Lipow said...

>suppose you want to electrify rail for non-speed reasons (fuel costs, whatever) does it make sense after that to engineer your whole track to be high-speed anyway?

I'm afraid the answer is "it depends". How fast is "high speed" in this context? How fast is "low speed" in this context? What traffic do you expect "high speed" to displace.

One case where "high speed" makes a lot of sense is if you can displace some commuter air travel. On the environmental end you are displacing serious emission. In your economic analysis you are displacing an expensive service, and can charge relatively high price for services - thus recover much of your increased costs. In addition you are reducing airport congestion -- which is an additional economic benefit.