Tag Archive: energy

May 14 2012

Sunday Train: Faster Trains Yields More Services Per Day

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Back in the 29 Nov 2009 Sunday Train, Frequency and Waiting on a Train, I reacted to a point made in John McCommon’s book, Waiting on a Train:

“Once those intermodal trains can go through Stampede Pass, it will take some traffic off the main line and free up more room for additional passenger trains,” said Uznanski.

By bringing the number of trains up to eight a day between Vancouver and Portland, ridership and ticket revenue will increase significantly. Currently ticket sales – what is known as farebox – cover 43% of the Amtrak Cascades’ operating expenses; the state subsidizes the remainder. Run eight trains daily, however, the farebox recovery goes up to 70%.

It’s all about frequency. When trains are frequency and convenient, ridership – particularly business travel – grows dramatically, said Uznanski.

It was a mantra I was to hear from experts all across the country – frequency builds ridership and only frequency significantly builds farebox recovery. Sure its great to have trains running more than 100mph in a corridor, but if there are only a couple of trains a day, they just aren’t convenient enough to move people off the highway or away from the airport.

– John McCommons, Waiting on a Train, Chelsea Green Publishing: Vermont, p. 51

This came back to mind when I was thinking last week about the “Cornhusker Rocket” proposal to reintroduce regular corridor service between Omaha and Chicago via Des Moines, Iowa City and the Quad Cities. Often times, a substantial benefit in getting train speeds up is that ability to operate more services per day with the same number of trains.

May 07 2012

Sunday Train: The Rock Island Line is a Mighty Fine Iowa Rapid-Rail Road

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The Iowa Department of Transport has just completed the Chicago to Omaha Regional Passenger Rail System Planning Study, to select its preferred alignment for a detailed Environmental Impact Report.

There were five alignments in the study, based on the five historical passenger rail services between Chicago and Omaha. From north to south, these are: the Illinois Central; the Chicago & Northwestern; the Milwaukee Road; the Rock Island Line; and the Burlington Line. The study also included one combined alignment, based on where the Burlington Line and the Rock Island Line cross in Wyanet in western Illinois.

The combined alignment is the one selected, taking the Burlington alignment out of Chicago, and then taking the Rock Island line to Moline in the Quad Cities on the Illinois / Iowa border and through Iowa City and Des Moines to Omaha (probably via Council Bluffs, but that has yet to be determined).  

Apr 30 2012

Sunday Train: Leveraging HSR for a Fresno Regional Rail Corridor

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Kings County officials have been opposed all proposed routes:

Board members said no high-speed rail route through Kings County would be acceptable while denouncing the Authority and its Fresno-to-Bakersfield environmental impact report.

“I think we should come out and oppose high-speed rail in Kings County, no matter what alignment they have,” said Supervisor Tony Barba during a discussion of the county’s official response to the EIR, which is due Thursday. He was applauded by a large crowd that nearly filled the Board of Supervisors’ chambers at the Kings County Government Center.

And then they opposed getting started on California HSR:

HANFORD – Kings County supervisors on Tuesday will likely ask three key legislators to delay high-speed rail funding until the project resolves local conflicts.



The Legislature is expected to vote in June whether to spend $2.7 billion in state bond money on the project, which has created major controversy in the San Joaquin Valley and stoked opposition from several cities and counties who believe it should be scrapped.

Denying the funding would stop the Authority from starting construction in Fresno later this year or in early 2013.

And now, County officials seek to preserve Amtrak :



But Authority officials have recently entered into discussions with Kings County to see if Amtrak service through Hanford and Corcoran can be preserved, said Larry Spikes, Kings County administrative officer. Downtown stations are considered critical to cities’ local economy.

Authority Board Chairman Dan Richard couldn’t be reached for comment.

“Taking Amtrak right out of the heart of Hanford and Corcoran is just not a good idea,” Spikes said.

So, don’t want the HSR Station in town, don’t want the HSR to go outside of town, and wants Amtrak to be continued to Hanford and Corcoran at slow speed when the San Joaquin after the high speed route between Merced and Bakersfield becomes available.

What I am looking in this week’s Sunday Train is a different way to go about this that provides a mix of local and intercity transport benefits to the major county centers: the Fresno Regional Rail Corridor.

Apr 23 2012

Sunday Train: Should Cap&Trade Funds finance the California HSR?

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

One element of the recent California HSR “revised” draft 2012 Business Plan (which we shall call the Other, Other Plan) involves looking to one particular means of finance in addition to general fund bond finance and Federal transport grant funding:

Cap-and-Trade Program Funds

Assembly Bill 32 (Statutes, 2006, Chapter 488) mandates a reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. In accordance with that law, California will implement a market-based cap-and-trade program. Funds from the program can be used to further the purposes of AB 32, including for development and construction of the high-speed rail system.

This has led to the current controversy in which the California Legislative Analysts Office, the LAO, has argued that the Cap and Trade funds might not be usable for HSR (pdf: p. 8).

One of their points, “Other GHG Reduction Strategies Likely to Be More Cost Effective,” involves a serious and common misframing of the question of the use of funds dedicated to reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions: when reducing GHG emissions in a project that serves multiple purposes, the cost effectiveness of the GHG emissions spending depends on what share of the project funding is represented by that GHG emissions spending.

So more on transport, Green House Gas emissions, and the peculiar analytical weaknesses that crop up whenever the California LAO turns its attention to HSR, over the fold.

Apr 16 2012

Sunday Train: The Miami/Orlando Passenger Rail Project

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

I saw this story a couple of weeks ago, but between the happenings in California and some unanswered questions I had, I haven’t mentioned it yet. Florida East Coast Industries plans Miami-Orlando passenger service by 2014:

Passenger train service between Miami and Orlando could begin as early as 2014 under a plan announced Thursday by Florida East Coast Industries.

The new “All Aboard Florida” service, which would be privately owned and operated, would offer frequent, regularly scheduled daily trains geared to business travelers and tourists. The Miami-Orlando trip by rail would take three hours, about the same time it takes by car via Florida’s Turnpike.

There would be four stops: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando, each with connections to airports, seaports and existing rail systems such as Tri-Rail and Metrorail. The trains would run on existing FEC tracks that stretch along the east coast from Miami to Cocoa. Forty miles of new track would link Cocoa to Orlando.

Well, waddya know ~ a Passenger Train that Rick Scott can’t kill. More about the Miami/Orlando Train, below the fold.

Apr 08 2012

Sunday Train: Did Governor Brown Save California’s HSR?

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

As I mentioned in last week’s Sunday Train, the California HSR Authority came out with a revised draft Business Plan.

And why do you revise a draft Business Plan? Because some people suggested some modifications to your previous draft Business Plan might be in order … for instance, if there’s a possibility that you cannot get bonds authorized to start work on the part of the corridor where the Federal Government has already put some funding on the table.

The new, revised, draft Business Plan seems to mark the final passing of the baton from the Judge Kopp absolutist vision of the what an HSR “simply has to be” to the more grounded, realistic vision of Governor Brown …

… and in the process of dragging the HSR Authority back into touch with reality, it is quite possible that Governor Brown has saved the California HSR project.

There are two qualifiers here. The first is that without an account of someone privy to the details of the Governor’s intervention, we won’t know what changes were things the California HSR was on track to doing anyway, and what changes were pushed upon them. But even there, what “the HSR Authority wanted to do” was likely heavily influenced by the changing of the guard from Schwarzenegger appointees to Brown appointees at the Authority.

The second is that getting to work is not yet a done deal. Supporters of the project ~ whether ongoing supporters or those won over by the newly revised plan ~ still need to work to help see the project through to construction of the first construction segment.

The devil is in the details, so we go chasing the devil below the fold.

Apr 02 2012

Sunday Train: HSR & the Slow Trains of No. California

The headlines out of California indicate that there has been a substantial shift in terms of the California HSR system. In particular, it seems that Gov. Brown has waded into the fray and is reframing the issue from the Only-An-Infrastructure-Geek-Could-Love frame of the Initial Construction Segment and the mythical “Train to Nowhere”, to the “when do I get to ride it?” frame of the Initial Operating Service.

You can find the lead up to the big move at the CHSRblog:

Deal Reached to Combine Caltrain Electrification and HSR (22MAR)

Legislature Appears to Have Votes to Approve HSR Funding (23MAR)

Jerry Brown Lowers HSR Cost by $30 billion

And Newspaper sneak previews of what will be Monday’s Big News at:

Sacramento Bee: Gov. Jerry Brown to change high-speed rail plan, lower cost by $30

Mercury News: Questions remain despite revised Calif. rail plan  

SF Chronicle: High-speed rail plan slashes costs to calm critics

However, while the newspaper accounts given glimpses and hints and quotes of very carefully written statements from the principle actors … digging into the details will have to wait until the details are released.

So instead, I want to take a look at the existing “Slow Speed Rail” systems of Northern California, to get a better background understanding of what “connecting with” the existing systems might mean.

Mar 12 2012

Pique the Geek 20120311: More on Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is back in the news since the Ohio Department of Natural Resources indicated that it was likely that disposal of those fluids after the actual fracturing operation was likely the cause of seismic activity in the Youngstown area, the largest of which was a magnitude 4.0 on 20111231.  It turns out that it us usually not the fracturing activity itself that caused the seismic, but rather deep well injection for disposal of the spent fluids after use.

This not the only potential problem with this procedure, however.  I have written about the process before, but am returning to give a more in depth treatment of it.  I was first drawn to the subject when earthquakes occurred in Guy, Arkansas last year.  The Guy area is not known for seismic activity, but sure enough after deep well injection of the spent fluids began so did the earthquakes.

Before we look at the potential problems with this process, we should look into why it is done and some historical background.  It turns out that the process is over a century old.

Feb 24 2012

The Price at the Pump: It’s All About Speculators and Profits

The price of gas at the pump has risen sharply since the beginning of the year and is expected to continue to rise through the summer. The demand for oil and refined products has fallen over the last year, there is a surplus of oil on the market and the United States is exporting more gasoline than it’s importing. In the absence of supply and demands, the main factor is speculation on the world market that has been driven by the latest threat of military action in the Middle East and other smaller factors like the growth of emerging countries such as China and India.

Since oil prices are the biggest component in the price of gasoline, pump prices are soaring. AAA said Tuesday that the nationwide average price for a gallon of gasoline stood at $3.57, compared with $3.38 a month ago and $3.17 a year ago. It takes about $6 more to fill up the tank than it did this time last year – and last year’s gasoline-price surge helped take the steam out of the economic recovery.

Defining what percentage of today’s high oil and gasoline prices is due to excessive speculation, driven by Iran fears, is something of a guessing game.

“I put the Iran security premium at about $8 to $10 (a barrel) at this point, which still puts crude at about $90 or $95,” said John Kilduff, a veteran energy analyst at AgainCapital in New York.

The fear premium is the froth above what prices would be absent fears of a supply disruption – somewhere in the $80 to $85 range for a barrel of crude oil. It means that even with the extra cost put on oil from Iran fears, prices are at least another $10 higher than what demand fundamentals would dictate.

Why? Financial speculators.

What should the price of oil be if left to conventional supply and demand market fundamentals? Canada’s the largest supplier of imported oil to the United States, which now actually produces more than half of the oil it consumes. Production and delivery costs for a barrel of oil from Canada are about $75 a barrel. The market-fundamentals cost for a barrel of oil is in that ballpark; above that, speculation sets the prices.

“It’s as simple as that,” said Gheit, who has testified before Congress and called for regulatory limits on speculation in commodities markets.

Historically, financial speculators accounted for about 30 percent of oil trading in commodity markets, while producers and end users made up about 70 percent. Today it’s almost the reverse.

President Obama barely mentioned this in his energy speech this week and his energy policy offered no solutions to controlling the speculators.

One of the possible solutions that has been mentioned is to reduce the amount of refined product that the US is exporting. There are arguments that both support and discredit this as a solution:

Most of the ongoing increases in gas prices can be traced to geopolitical concerns and rampant financial speculation that have run up the cost of crude oil. And yet, if U.S. refiners limited themselves to domestic sales, there would be a glut on the market, and diesel and gasoline prices would inevitably drop.

“The other countries are willing to pay more than we would,” said James Hamilton, an economics professor and blogger at the University of California, San Diego. “And that’s the price we pay, too, what they’re willing to pay.”

Hamilton said that’s how things work in a global market. “If you are a refiner and you’ve got gasoline to sell, you want to sell it where you can get the highest price,” he said. “If Mexico is willing to pay a higher price to Americans, you’re going to want to sell it to them instead of Americans.” [..]

“I do not support an outright ban of exports,” said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program for the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen. “And I don’t want to see the government regulating retail prices. But I don’t think that it is in our best interests to be exporting at the rate at which we are.”

Slocum suggests that exports of petroleum products “should go through a regulatory barrier to assure that they aren’t resulting in higher prices for Americans, or otherwise hurting the economy.”

That’s what happens now with U.S.-produced crude oil. Oil companies aren’t allowed to export crude without permission from the Department of Commerce, which, by law, checks to make sure “that the proposed export is consistent with the national interest”. [..]

Any attempt to limit exports would, of course, be met by ferocious resistance from the refiners. Their profit margins would drop, and refiners would inevitably warn that with less money to reinvest, there could be shortages in the future.

But the many refineries owned by large, vertically integrated oil companies that own the oil production facilities as well are hardly hurting for money. In fact, when oil prices go up, as they are now, their profits go up as well; it doesn’t cost them any more to get the oil out of the ground — somewhere around $30 a barrel — but they get to charge as much as the market will bear.

No politician, not even the President, wants to stop the flow and profits to these “oil-garchs” and the flow of cash to their campaign coffers. That said, another solution that can be done is to temper the war mongering in the Middle East. Instead of threats of military intervention with Iran which even our military and national security advisers agree would be disastrous, a more reasoned diplomatic approach could go a long way to curbing the speculators. When President Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu at the White house next month, he needs to stress the need to temper the saber rattling.

Dec 12 2011

Sunday Train: A Streetcar for Broadway (LA)

Nearly a month ago, Yonah Freemark had a post at The Transport Politic entitled, Los Angeles’ Streetcar Plans: Too Duplicative of Existing Services?. He wrote:

Los Angeles has big hopes for its downtown, and, like most of the country’s major cities, it has seen significant population growth in the inner core over the past ten years. Now, to extend this renaissance, the city – also like many others – is planning a streetcar line that would traverse the district from north to south. Last month, it applied for $37.5 million in U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant dollars, which it hopes to supplement with local and private funds to complete an initial route of between 3 and 5 one-way track miles at a cost of between $106 and $138 million.

Despite the fact that planning for the L.A. streetcar goes back for more than a decade thanks to the work of a public-private local advocacy group, the city will have plenty of competition in its effort to win federal funds. Requests for the third round of TIGER funding outnumbered actual funding available by 27 to 1. With so many projects up for consideration, anything funded by Washington ought to be valuable. But L.A.’s project could benefit from significant improvement.

And then … well, join me over the fold.

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