CATS: In ‘passing’: On ‘track’ to trim emissions

Number 27 in the Clean Air Technologies Series.

What percentage of Americans outside railroad industry circles – that is, those with no direct railroad ties – would you say actually give more than a glancing thought to train-released emissions? Two, three, four percent? More? Less?

Whether a “direct” railroad connection or no, lives, though, are affected. How? From the point of view of personal or universal consumerism, think of the goods trains move: consumer electronics products; coal and oil that supply electricity to our homes, workplaces, entertainment, health and other venues; lumber used in construction; agricultural products; automobiles and the petroleum that fuels them; steel; stone; chemicals; commodities in bulk or by the carload; and so on down the line.

And let’s not forget about the masses using trains for transport purposes, a move no doubt done to help make life less complicated and/or inconvenient (by easing road and highway congestion) which helps reduce harmful air emissions.

And speaking of the roadway element, it has become almost commonplace for foreign and domestic light- and heavy-duty vehicle manufacturers to incorporate into their product lines designs, devices and systems to make emissions fewer and, therefore, less problematic. It is no different for transportation in general as ways are being devised to do the same; something that was unheard of fifty or sixty years ago.

If you think air and environmental matters, matters not then ask yourself this: Why the electric and fuel-efficient-vehicle revolution? I believe it is way more than about just trimming expenses, although this, of course, plays a part.

Circumventing train delay

One of the strategies railroads employ to mitigate air pollution is to cut delay. And, I am not just talking about so-affected motorists delayed while waiting for trains to pass at highway-level crossings (railroad crossings), but those operational inefficiencies within the industry itself; operational inefficiencies such as that which can occur at interlocking plants (junctions) whereby one railroad’s trains might be delayed by another’s in going through and past such interlocking until such time that the waiting train can proceed through such itself.

Another would be that which is created by conflicting train movements as is commonplace in single-track territory that incorporate passing sidings used as a means to get trains traveling in opposite directions past each other. (Sometimes sidings are used as a means to allow one train to overtake another, say, one of lesser priority, going in the same direction). This type of approach is unique to the train operating environment with rare exception.

Triple Crossing, Richmond, Virginia
Triple Crossing, Richmond, Virginia

In the interlocking case, a way above and beyond this is to make use of the ‘flyover,’ which allows one or multiple sets of railroad tracks via viaducts to be carried over one or more sets of other tracks, thereby eliminating the physical at-grade railroad-crossing-railroad intersection. This is the precise resolution in place at Colton Crossing in Southern California, where Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and Union Pacific Railroad rails are now physically separated.

“Under a hot morning sun, federal, state and local officials cut the ribbon for the 1.4-mile concrete flyover designed to speed cargo through Southern California and stop harmful diesel emissions from trains that used to wait up to four hours for their turn to go through the old street-level crossing,” Los Angeles Times columnist Dan Weikel in “Completed Colton Crossing overpass to eliminate rail bottleneck,” wrote.

Located approximately 60 miles east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County, the upper deck rises 43 feet above the track below; the original crossing constructed in 1883, according to Weikel.

“More than 100 trains use the tracks daily, including those of the Metrolink commuter service, which shares the Union Pacific route,” Weikel added.

As for the train-passing-train-on-single-track-infrastructure-using-sidings approach, better train traffic control, siding extension and double- or triple-tracking (multi-tracking) project approaches, can help reduce the time so-affected waiting trains wait. For trains moving in opposite directions in single-track territory, if coordinated just so trains can move past one another with neither having to stop at all.

All efforts to reduce waiting and hence delay time in transportation not only speeds up goods and people movement which, in turn, makes operations more efficient, but is an effective solution regarding reducing pollution.

– Alan Kandel