CSX Traffic

Switching Yard Decatur Illinois

My study overlooks the tracks running through Ashland. A subjective observation is that the number of intermodal/container freight trains is declining. Moreover, the trains seem to be shorter, on average, and we see very few of the double-stacked containers that were introduced a couple of years ago.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (it is behind a paywall) shows how the freight carriers, including CSX, have introduced Just in Time (JIT) techniques for minimizing the amount of time that freight cars spend in switching yards. The railroads are moving toward a passenger-style system in which it is the responsibility of the customer to get his goods to the train depot to meet a schedule rather than have the railroad assemble trains based on what the customer sends to them.

Such a system such as this could create shorter trains — the railroad managers may create such trains just to get cars out of the switching yards and to “declutter” the system. But JIT would not change the overall amount of traffic. If anything, it may increase the number of cars as customers respond to the more efficient service.

Data to do with traffic is available from the Surface Transportation Board. As time permits, it would be good to dig into this information to determine if the subjective impression to do with reduced traffic is borne out by hard numbers.

Amtrak’s Long-Term Vision

Acela train Ashland High Speed Rail

Our last post to do with passenger rail service between Richmond and Washington, D.C. referred to a Richmond Times-Dispatch report that discussed the possibility of having hourly Amtrak service between the two cities. The Washington Post has just published an article on the same theme.

The natural question that citizens of Ashland have is, “How can they fit more trains on the existing tracks?” (One answer may be that freight traffic is declining — that will be the topic of a future post.)

In addition to questions to do with track capacity, if ever we get frequent, reliable train service to northern Virginia, the impact on the quality of life in Ashland (both good and bad) needs to be considered.

Global Hyperloop Conference — 2019

Hyperloop Advanced Research Partnership (HARP)

We, as a community, need to keep a watchful eye on the proposal to drive a third track through Ashland. Although immediate actions have been shelved for now we need to keep our guard up. The issue has not gone away.

From the beginning of the controversy I felt that there should be a technical solution to the problems that were raised. Is there a way of expanding our transportation network (as distinct from merely the railway network) without causing so much disruption?

I think that the answer to this question is “Yes”.

In fact, there are two answers. The first is to introduce new forms of high speed transportation. After all, if there is one industry that is in turmoil right now, it is transportation (think drones, autonomous vehicles, electric cars, Uber). The second answer to move into the third dimension, i.e., to go underground.

In this post, let’s take a look at a response to the first question: new technology.

Here are the requirements for a new form of long distance transportation:

  1. Speeds at least equal to that of airplanes;
  2. Radically reduced impact on the climate as compared to conventional trains, trucks and airplanes;
  3. The highest levels of energy efficiency; and
  4. The highest levels of safety.

So, is there a form of transportation that meets these requirements? I think that the answer is, “Yes”. And its name is “hyperloop”.

In future posts I will describe the basics of hyperloop: what it is and how it works. For now, I would like to introduce an organization called HARP and to provide a plug for the organization’s upcoming conference.

HARP

The initials HARP stand for “Hyperloop Advanced Research Partnership”. HARP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is,

To promote the collaboration, research, funding, and knowledge sharing necessary for the development of high-speed tube transportation networks and standards around the world.

Conference

HARP organizes an annual conference. (Last year’s was at the University of California — here is what I wrote about that successful event).

This year we are meeting at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado — July 8-9th. (I will be leading a session to do with ‘Safety and Security’.) Please spread the word about HARP and what promises to be an interesting and useful meeting.

LoopTransport 2018

Hyperloop Conference UCLA 2018

Last week I attended a Hyperloop conference at UCLA in Los Angeles. I also presented a paper entitled “Hyperloop Safety Study”. The conference followed the Space-X competition, hosted by Elon Musk, in nearby Hawthorne.

I will post details later. But for now, I say that I started my presentation with two simple questions that must always be asked when starting a new project, or looking at new technology: 

  1. Will it work? and
  2. Is it safe? 

My remarks were focused on the second question, “Is it safe?”

Oil Spill in Iowa

Tank Cars spilled crude oil

A freight train carrying crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to Oklahoma derailed on June 22nd near Doon, Iowa. Here are some details:

  • 32 tank cars derailed.
  • 14 of them are leaking.
  • The total volume of the spill is 230,000 gallons (for reference the capacity of a typial DOT-111 tank car is 34,500 gallons, so the total spill is equivalent to about 6 or 7 cars).
  • Much of the oil has been contained with booms, but some of it has entered the local river system.
  • The cause of the event is not known. Speculation is the floodwaters may have eroded the soil beneath the track.

Further information is available here and here.

Derailed and leaking crude oil tank cars Doon Iowa

Fox News Hyperloop Video

Fox News has just released a video to do with hyperloop. The video is upbeat in tone, suggesting that the technology is well advanced and that the general concept is practical. It does not, however, provide any new information.

They also discuss the regulatory environment: should a hyperloop be considered a train or an airplane? They seem to come down on the side of ‘airplane’ because the modules are actually flying along the tubes — there are no wheels or rails.