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By Steve Dunham
Journal of Homeland Security, February 2004, revised February 2008. Copyright 2008 Analytic Services. Reprinted by permission.
Converting more of Americas mainline railroads to electric propulsion could increase the nations security by reducing Americas almost complete dependence on oil to fuel its transportation systems.
Oil is the lifeblood of Americas economy, says the
However, the lifeblood is in limited supply, and there are no donors to provide a transfusion. According to the CIA World Factbook, world oil production averages
In the event the United States is confronted with a serious disruption in oil supplies, states the Department of Energy, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve can provide an emergency supply of crude
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. oil consumption is devoted to transportation.10 Fortunately, some efforts are under way to shift Americas transportation system to fuels other than oil. The FreedomCAR, for example (the CAR stands for Cooperative Automotive Research), is a project of the Department of Energy and the
In 1996, General Motors (G.M.) launched the first modern-day commercially available electric car, the EV1, noted the Public Broadcasting System in a discussion of the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?
Under the program, two percent of all new cars sold had to be electric by 1998 and
One area of conservation using existing technology is seeing continued growth: the shift of long-distance truck movements onto trains. The Association of American Railroads claims that on average trains are three or more times more fuel efficient than trucks and that a typical train takes the freight equivalent of several hundred trucks off our highways. Piggyback or intermodal service has quadrupled in the last
This area of fuel economy is driven by government-regulated market forces. However, market forces alone are unlikely to produce a revolution in transportation fuels any more than they are likely to produce a FreedomCAR or a system of Interstate and Defense Highways. The latter cost
Public investment in the past two decades has already greatly expanded the availability of electric transportation using existing technology. This is a necessary step, and it is part of the short-term and long-term solutions for the same reason: whatever combination of power sources is used in the future, they will undoubtedly be used to produce electricity. (Greatly expanded electric transportation will require an overhaul of the nations electric power grid, something that is necessary in any event.)
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
believes that the nation can achieve great benefits by the increased use of hybrid-electric vehicles and electric transportation systems in place of gasoline and diesel powered automobiles, buses and trucks. With the more widespread use of vehicles and systems that utilize generated energy and efficient electric drive propulsion, there can be significant reductions in transportation fuel consumption and emissions. Furthermore, increased use of electric and hybrid electric transportation can contribute to our nations energy security.16
As an efficient way to meet urban transportation needs and reduce pollution,
If the funding were available on a scale comparable to the tax dollars that funded the Interstate Highway System, would railroad electrification be worthwhile? In 1992, the California Department of Transportation studied the technical feasibility of electrifying the commuter rail service between
Amtraks contract for electrification between New Haven and Boston was for
Nationwide, there are hundreds of miles of railroad lines with more than a hundred trains a day, where electrification could be viable today. Electrifying the busiest routes would be a forward-looking move to prepare our nations transportation system to shift away from fossil fuels. Given the freight railroads heavy investment in diesel power, however, the economics do not favor private investment in electrification to guard against fuel shortages that may be a decade or more away. This is a matter of transportation policy, not just profitability, making it an area appropriate for a public-private partnership.
While FreedomCAR and its ilk may one day provide flexible local and individual transportation, national railroad electrification of the busiest routes offers a way, with existing technology, to move large volumes of freight and passengers without necessarily using petroleum.
A good starting point would be the corridors identified by the Federal Railroad Administration for possible high-speed rail development.24 At this point, high-speed trains
The designated high-speed corridors not currently electrified total about 8,400 route miles. At
Electric automobiles for medium- and long-distance trips are still a developing technology. Electric railways are commercial, off-the-shelf technology; the research and development are already done, a lot of it accomplished in Europe. Now, before oil reserves disappear or before another Mideast crisis jeopardizes the western hemispheres oil supply, is the time to begin converting Americas trunk railroad lines to electric powerensuring a different kind of transportation and homeland security.
Click on an end note number to return to the article.
1. Oil page on the Department of Energy website.
2. CIA World Factbook, Rank OrderOilProduction.
3. CIA World Factbook, Rank OrderOilConsumption.
4. CIA World Factbook, Rank OrderOilProved Reserves.
5. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2007.
6. Norman Friedman, Oil, Oil, Everywhere?
7. Graham Jones, World Oil and Gas Running Out,CNN, 2 Oct. 2003: The worlds oil reserves are up to
8. Oil page on the Department of Energy website.
9. CIA World Factbook, Rank OrderOilConsumption.
10. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, position paper on Hybrid-Electric Vehicles and Electric Transportation, June 2003.
11. U.S. Department of Energy, FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership Plan, March 2006.
12. Public Broadcasting System, PBS Now, Who Killed the Electric Car?
13. Association of American Railroads, Overview of U.S. Freight Railroads,
14. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Hours-of-Service RegulationsRevised
15. Federal Highway Administration, Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.
16. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, position paper on Hybrid-Electric Vehicles and Electric Transportation.
17. Paul M. Weyrich, Electric Rail by Location in US and Canada, New Electric Railway Journal,
18. Pennsylvania Railroad Electrification, Transportation History Sources.
19. California Department of Transportation Feasibility Study for Electrifying the Caltrain/PCS Railroad Final Report, October 1992.
20. Caltrain to Start Expanded 98-Train Schedule on March 3, Caltrain press release,
21. Caltrain Projects, Electrification Program, 2008.
22. 1992 Morrison-Knudsen Caltrans Caltrain electrification report,
23. Janice DArcy, Acela: A Poor Track Record, Hartford (CT) Courant,
24. Federal Railroad Administration, Corridor Descriptions,
25. The Federal Railroad Administration classifies track into categories beginning with
26. Federal Railroad Administration, Next Generation High-Speed Rail Technology Demonstration Program,
27. U.S. Department of Transportation, 2007 Budget in Brief.