Making tracks for high-speed freight: What’s not to like?!

There are those who rail against California’s bullet-train project asserting that the system will require subsidization. They argue that there isn’t enough available capital even to fund construction of 119 miles of line between Shafter and Madera, much less build 520 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim (the complete Phase 1 portion). These critics, detractors, naysayers would do well to read the May 1, 2019 Project Update Report.

So, I can’t help but notice all the delivery vehicle goings on throughout the neighborhood, drivers delivering various items to front doors day in and day out and can’t help but wonder how such could translate over to long-distance rails.

For France’s Train a Grande Vitesse (Train of Great Speed or TGV for short), there once was the La Poste. What La Poste had to do with were specially equipped high-speed trains to handle parcels and mail operating on specific routes. The trains were liveried in yellow so as to prevent their being mistaken with their passenger train counterparts and they typically ran during the night.

This type of train service is one among a number of ways to bring in added revenue and the type of cargo carried could be expedited (express) freight, meaning being time-sensitive in nature.

So, in the United States, with parts of one bullet-train line already under construction at “more than 32 active construction sites” throughout California’s San Joaquin Valley, there are two more high-speed train endeavors proposed and planned for operation, the first between Las Vegas, Nevada, and now San Bernardino with the ultimate aim of making Los Angeles, California the west-end originating/terminating point. Then there is the system right now in the planning process for Dallas-Houston service. It is anticipated that the latter two will commence construction later this year.

At any rate, in elaborating more on the aspect of fast freight, by taking on that capability, such can help pay bills, cover expenses.

As such, road users might appreciate not having to jockey for a position on congested freeways or sharing the pavement with 80,000 pound tractor-trailer trucks. High-speed trains do not have to compete for precious highway space. Not only do they have their own independent right-of-way, but can operate safely at speeds as much as four times faster than the fastest speeds permitted to trucks on highway lanes.

What’s more, because of an electric power feed, high-speed train operations are clean operations. There are none of the toxic chemicals and particles that diesel-locomotive-exhaust contains. Compared to highway travel, electric, high-speed trains are far friendlier on the environment and to air.

In the Interstate 15 (I-15) service lane, meanwhile, there are 50 million people taking trips between southern Nevada and southern California, annually. At times the thoroughfare resembles a parking lot. Imagine if time-sensitive, express freight could run between the two regions overnight. High-speed rail can fill the bill. Now take that and apply to California’s and Texas’ future high-speed rail programs too. Just think of the possibilities! Offering such a service could shave valuable minutes off of delivery schedules.

A freeway-congestion alleviator, a toxic-air purifier, an express or expedited rail-cargo conveyor, with the potential for such to be both revenue-generator and profit-maker and, all, with no on-track interference from regular passenger- and freight-trains either.

So, tell me: High-speed freight rail: What’s not to like?!

Image above: Federal Railroad Administration

– Alan Kandel

3 thoughts on “Making tracks for high-speed freight: What’s not to like?!”

  1. > “So, tell me: High-speed freight rail: What’s not to like?”

    Building a separate system for “high-speed” (whether for freight or passengers) is wasteful of resources for construction and energy for operations, and there will be high CO2 emissions from both (for operations, at least until we have a 100% renewable energy grid).

    We will accomplish a lot more a lot quicker and at lower cost by improving the rail network we already have, to improve average speeds throughout. This is a move to what railroaders call “higher speed rail” (faster than at present, but not as fast as “high-speed”).

    One small example of how federal funding can help with this is the “Mukego Yard Freight Rail Bypass Project,” which will improve speed and avoid delay through a chokepoint and add capacity to both the yard and the line: https://www.progressiverailroading.com/mow/news/WisDOT-seeks-comments-on-Muskego-Yard-freight-rail-bypass-project–61033. This, improved signalling, a shift to moving block control, and addition of more double-track, etc. are what is needed, through public-private partnerships.

    See also Solutionary Rail’s assessment and conclusion on higher speed versus high-speed. https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/backbonecampaign/pages/4600/attachments/original/1563923538/hrsr_rb3.pdf?1563923538

    Reply
    • Electrification of existing rail is a good start where air-pollutant emissions-reduction or elimination (if generated from 100 percent renewable sources) is concerned.

      I don’t believe high-speed rail is necessarily wasteful. Two systems that I am aware of are profitable: one in Japan and one in Spain. So, I guess it would depend on how the system is managed.

      The reason I write about high-speed-rail issues as it relates to air quality is because of its viability as an air-quality improvement mechanism, that is, when there are sufficient passenger counts per train to get a positive return on investment. A 5,000-horsepower locomotive with train in tow hauling 500 passengers yields a per-passenger horsepower rating of 10 and that makes trains such an efficient and clean mode of transportation. The “High Speed Rail and Sustainability” report provides a comparison of airplane, car, and high-speed train where nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and non-methane hydrocarbon emissions on the Frankfurt-Hamburg line is concerned, and this, I believe, is for a non-renewably-powered high-speed train run. You may read about this in: “A mode less traveled – rail: What it affords that roads don’t – Part 2. Link here: https://alankandel.scienceblog.com/2019/10/19/a-mode-less-traveled-rail-what-it-affords-that-roads-dont-part-2/

      The three high-speed rail projects discussed above when completed and operating, will present Americans and others the opportunity to travel to major metropolitan centers and regions using a mode and technology that can whisk them between city-pairs on schedules competitive with those of the airlines in identical markets. Keeping in mind the San Joaquin Valley has some of the most polluted air in the country, California’s project makes absolute sense as high-speed trains are successful at not just getting people aboard the trains in numbers that do them justice but help cleanse the air and improve the quality of many lives in the process, even those not served by the trains. I just don’t see zero-emissions motor vehicles and reduced emissions flights sufficing in this way anytime soon.

      I wrote about the high-speed freight train aspect as a means to bring in additional revenue, get a number of big-rig trucks off the highway pavement potentially making highway travel for all users potentially safer in that there theoretically would be less heavy truck traffic which would result in considerably less wear and tear to road surface and subgrade, but most importantly in my opinion, and to reiterate, to help clean up the air.

      If there is a better way to do all of the aforementioned and then some, I would be all for it.

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