Flying is Quicker and more Cost Efficient than Passenger Rail

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 8th, 2014

Week in Review

Politicians everywhere want to build high-speed rail.  Why?  Because there are maybe only 2 high-speed rail lines in the world that operate at a profit.  All other passenger rail requires government subsidies.  Because the massive capital and operating costs for passenger rail are so great they cannot recover them via ticket prices.  And high-speed rail is the costliest of all.

So passenger rail requires new taxation to support it.  And politicians like new taxes.  Also, building passenger rail requires an enormous infrastructure.  Built and maintained by lots of people.  Union people.  Something else politicians love.  Rewarding their union friends with lots of new union jobs.  Which is why politicians love high-speed rail.  They get a lot ‘thank you’ votes for all that government spending.  No matter how costly or inefficient passenger rail is as a means of transportation.  As we can see here (see I Spent 28 Hours on a Bus. I Loved It. by Eric Holthaus posted 2/4/2014 on Slate).

traveling by plane car train bus R1

The infrastructure between point A and point B for cars and buses is already there.  Paid for with fuel taxes.  Planes need no infrastructure between point A and point B.  But trains do.  A very costly infrastructure.

Trains carry more people than buses.  But not as many as planes.  Which means the far greater cost of passenger rail is divided by fewer ticket purchasers.  Whereas the less costly flying is divided by more ticket purchasers.

Planes can fly around 500 mph.  Passenger rail can travel up to 100 mph on some sections of track.  While high-speed rail travels at speeds of just under 200 mph on dedicated (and very expensive) track.

You add these points together and it’s little wonder that traveling by train costs about 20% more than flying.  While taking 5.8 times as long.  Or a little less for high-speed rail. Making the plane the undisputed champion of long-distance travel.  And it works without massive government subsidies.  Which is the best kind of travel there is.  The kind where the people traveling pay for their travels.  And not everyone else.  As is the case with passenger rail.

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Air Transport vs. Rail Transport

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 29th, 2013

Economics 101

Trains require an Enormous Amount of Infrastructure between Terminal Points whereas a Plane does Not

Trains and jets are big and expensive.  And take huge sums of money to move freight and passengers.  Each has their strength.  And each has their weakness.  Planes are great for transporting people.  While trains are best for moving heavy freight.  They both can and do transport both.  But pay a premium when they are not operating at their strength.

The big difference between these two modes of transportation is infrastructure.  Trains require an enormous amount of infrastructure between terminal points.  Whereas a plane doesn’t need anything between terminal points.  Because they fly in the air.  But because they fly in the air they need a lot of fuel to produce enough lift to break free from the earth’s gravity.  Trains, on the other hand, don’t have to battle gravity as much.  As they move across the ground on steel rails.  Which offer little resistance to steel wheels.  Allowing them to pull incredible weights cross country.  But to do that they need to build and maintain very expensive train tracks between point A and point B.

To illustrate the difference in costs each incurs moving both people and freight we’ll look at a hotshot freight train and a Boeing 747-8.  A hotshot freight gets the best motive power and hustles on the main lines across the country.  The Boeing 747-8 is the latest in the 747 family and includes both passenger and freighter versions.  The distance between Los Angeles (LA) and New York City (NYC) is approximately 2,800 miles.  So let’s look at the costs of each mode of transportation moving both people and freight between these two cities.

Railroads are so Efficient at moving Freight because One Locomotive can pull up to 5,000 Tons of Freight

There are many variables when it comes to the cost of building and maintaining railroad track.  So we’re going to guesstimate a lot of numbers.  And do a lot of number crunching.  An approximate number for the cost per mile of new track is $1.3 million.  That includes land, material and labor.  So the cost of the track between LA and NYC is $3.6 billion.  Assuming a 7-year depreciation schedule that comes to $1.4 million per day.  If it takes 3 days for a hotshot freight to travel from LA to NYC that’s $4.3 million for those three days.  Of course, main lines see a lot of traffic.  So let’s assume there are 8 trains a day for a total of 24 trains during that 3-day period.  This brings the depreciation expense for that trip from LA to NYC down to $178,082.

So that’s the capital cost of those train tracks between point A and point B.  Now the operating costs.  An approximate number for annual maintenance costs per mile of track is $300,000.  So the annual cost to maintain the track between LA and NYC is $840 million.  Crunching the numbers the rest of the way brings the maintenance cost for that 3-day trip to approximately $278,671.  Assuming a fuel consumption of 4 gallons per mile, a fuel cost of $3/gallon and a lashup of 3 locomotives the fuel cost for that 3-day trip is approximately $100,800.  Adding the capital cost, the maintenance expense and the fuel costs brings the total to $566,553.  With each locomotive being able to pull approximately 5,000 tons of freight for a total of 15,000 tons brings the cost per ton of freight shipped to $37.77.

Now let’s look at moving people by train.  People are a lot lighter than heavy freight.  So we can drop one locomotive in the lashup.  And burn about a gallon less per mile.  Bringing the fuel cost down from $100,800 to $50,400.  And the total cost to $516,153.  Assuming these locomotives pull 14 Amtrak Superliners (plus a dining car and a baggage car) that’s a total of 1,344 passengers (each Superliner has a 96 passenger maximum capacity).  Dividing the cost by the number of passengers gives us a cost of $384.04 per passenger.

Passenger Rail requires Massive Government Subsidies because of the Costs of Building and Maintaining Track

A Boeing 747-8 freighter can carry a maximum 147.9 tons of freight.  While consuming approximately 13.7 gallons of jet fuel per mile.  At 2,800 miles that trip from LA to NYC will consume about 38,403 gallons of jet fuel.  At $3/gallon that comes to a $115,210 total fuel cost.  Or $778.97 per ton.  Approximately 1,962% more than moving a ton of freight from LA to NYC by train.  Excluding the capital costs of locomotives, rolling stock, airplanes, terminal infrastructure/fees, etc.  Despite that massive cost of building and maintaining rail between point A and point B the massive tonnage a train can move compared to what a plane can carry makes the train the bargain when moving freight.  But it’s a different story when it comes to moving people.

The Boeing 747-8 carries approximately 467 people on a typical flight.  And burns approximately 6.84 gallons per mile.  Because people are a lot lighter than freight.  Crunching the numbers gives a cost per passenger of $123.11.  Approximately 212% less than what it costs a train to move a person.  Despite fuel costs being almost the same.  The difference is, of course, the additional $465,753 in costs for the track running between LA and NYC.  Which comes to $346.54 per passenger.  Or about 90% of the cost/passenger.  Which is why there are no private passenger railroads these days.  For if passenger rail isn’t heavily subsidized by the taxpayer the price of a ticket would be so great that no one would buy them.  Except the very rich train enthusiast.  Who is willing to pay 3 times the cost of flying and take about 12 times the time of flying.

There are private freight railroads.  Private passenger airlines.  And private air cargo companies.  Because they all can attract customers without government subsidies.  Passenger rail, on the other hand, can’t.  Because of the massive costs to build and maintain railroad tracks.  With high-speed rail being the most expensive track to build and maintain.  Making it the most cost inefficient way to move people.  Requiring massive government subsidies.  Either for the track infrastructure.  Or the electric power that powers high-speed rail.

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Obama’s Rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline raises Food Prices and makes the World a more Polluted Place

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 13th, 2013

Week in Review

President Obama yielded to the environmentalists in his liberal base on the Keystone XL pipeline.  Who opposed it on environmental grounds.  Ironic as the environment will be at greater risk if the president doesn’t let them build the pipeline.  And to make matters worse the price of gasoline will go up also.  Making one of the worst economic recoveries in U.S. history worse.  By leaving less money in consumers’ pockets.  While at the same time raising the price of everything that uses refined oil to get to market (see Killing Keystone Seen as Risking More Oil Spills by Rail by Rebecca Penty & Jim Efstathiou Jr. posted 4/9/2013 on Bloomberg).

A rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline by President Barack Obama would push more of Canada’s $73 billion oil exports onto trains, which register almost three times more spills than pipelines…

Shipping more supplies by rail would lead to higher costs for oil producers because train shipments are more expensive than pipelines…

Without Keystone, designed to carry 830,000 barrels a day of oil, shipments of Canadian crude by rail would rise an additional 42 percent by 2017, according to RBC Capital Markets.

“One of the unintended consequences of delaying Keystone XL is that more oil has been getting to markets in Canada and the United States using rail, truck and water-borne tankers,” Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, said in an e-mail. “None of those methods of transportation are as safe as moving it by pipelines,” he said.

Trains are one of the most efficient ways to transport heavy freight.  Bulk freight carriers on the Great Lakes can ship heavy freight cheaper but they don’t travel as fast as trains.  And they can only travel on water.  A train can travel almost anywhere.  Over, under and around bodies of water.  Something a ship just can’t do with land.  But the benefit of train transport comes with a cost.  Rail infrastructure is very costly.  And you have to have it wherever a train travels.  Unlike a ship.  Still, rail is the best way to transport bulk freight.  Except that kind of bulk freight that we can push through a pipeline.

To think of the immense advantage of moving things by pipeline consider the hot water in your house when having a bath.  Without the pipeline system in your house you would have to heat water outside over a fire.  Then carry it in small containers and pour it into your bathtub.  Container after container you would have to fill with cold water.  Carry it to where you converted it into hot water.  Then carry the hot water by foot where you could stumble or fall, spilling your converted cold water.  Leaving you a mess to clean up.  And the need to burn more fuel to convert more cold water into hot water.

Now imagine having a bath by simply opening the hot water tap at your bathtub and letting it fill your tub.  It’s a whole lot easier.  Less chance to spill water.  And you burn less fuel.  So which would you rather do?  Clearly moving anything by pipeline is the best way to move anything.  You reduce the chance of spills because the only moving part is the oil in the pipeline.  And there are no loading and unloading costs to factor into the price of gasoline.  As the refineries basically have a hot water tap to turn on when they want to refine oil.  It just doesn’t get simpler than that.

Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t put the people or the environment first.  Just those people who oppose businesses and capitalism.  Who don’t care that people have to spend more to put gasoline into their cars.  Or have to spend more at the grocery store thanks to higher fuel costs passed along in higher food prices.  For if it were up to them people wouldn’t even have cars.  Or enjoy eating anything that came from an animal.  That’s the world the environmentalists have in mind for the American people.  Where the people sacrifice.  So the animals can enjoy a pristine environment.  Where they can happily eat each other.  And crap all over the place.  The way Mother Nature meant it to be.  Before God created man.  Who the environmentalist hate.  And blame for making a mess of everything.

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FT138: “High gas prices mean high food prices.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 5th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

We use Diesel Fuel in our Ships, Trains and Trucks to move Food from the Farm to the Grocery Store

People don’t like high gas prices.  When the price at the pump goes up more of our paycheck goes into the gas tank.  Or, more precisely, in everyone’s gas tanks.  For even if you don’t drive a car when gas prices go up you’re putting more of your paycheck into the gas tanks of others.  Thanks to oil being the lifeblood of our economy.  And unless you’re completely self-sufficient (growing your own food, making your own clothes, etc.) everything you buy consumed some petroleum oil somewhere before reaching you.

Gas prices go up for a variety of reasons.  The purely economic reason is the market forces of supply and demand.  When gas prices rise it’s because demand for gasoline is greater than the supply of gasoline.  Which means our refineries aren’t producing enough gasoline to meet demand.  And the purely economic reason for that is that they are not refining enough crude oil.  Meaning the low supply of gasoline is due to the low supply of crude oil.  Which brings us to how high gasoline prices consume more of our paychecks even if we don’t drive.  The reason being that we just don’t make gasoline out of crude oil.  We also make diesel fuel.

Diesel fuel is a remarkable refined product.  It just has so much energy in it.  And we can compress an air-fuel mixture of it to a very small volume.  Put the two together and you get a long and powerful power stroke.  Making the diesel engine the engine of choice for our heavy moving.  We use it in the ships that cross the ocean.  In the trains that cross our continents.  And in the trucks that bring everything to where we can buy them.  To the grocery stores.  The department stores.  To the restaurants.  Everything in the economy that we don’t make for ourselves travels on diesel fuel.  Which is why when gas prices go up diesel fuel prices go up.  Because of the low supply of oil going to our refineries to refine these products.

Oil is at a Disadvantage when it comes to Inflation because you just can’t Hide the Affects of Inflation in the Price of Oil

And there are other things that raise the price of gasoline.  That aren’t purely economical.  But more political.  Such as restrictions on domestic oil drilling.  Which reduces domestic supplies of crude oil.  Political opposition to new pipelines.  Which reduces Canadian supplies of crude oil.  Special ‘summer’ blends of gasoline to reduce emissions that tax a refinery’s production capacity.  As well as our pipeline distribution network.  Higher gasoline taxes.  To pay for roads and bridges.  And to battle emissions.  The ethanol mandate to use corn for fuel instead of food.  Again, to battle emissions.  All of which makes it more difficult to bring more crude oil to our refineries.  And more difficult for our refineries to make gasoline.  Which all go to adding costs into the system.  Raising the price at the pump.  Consuming more of our paychecks.  No matter who is buying it.

Then there is another factor increasing the price at the pump.  Inflation.  When the government tries to stimulate economic activity by lowering interest rates they do that by expanding the money supply.  So money is cheaper to borrow because there is so much more of it to borrow.  Hence the lower interest rates.  However, expanding the money supply also causes inflation.  And devalues the dollar.  As more dollars are now chasing the same amount of goods and services in the economy.  So it takes more of them to buy the same things they once did.  One of the harder hit commodities is oil.  Because we price oil on the world market in U.S. dollars.  So when you devalue the dollar it takes more of them to buy the same amount of oil they once bought.

Oil is at a particular disadvantage when it comes to inflation.  Because you just can’t hide the affects of inflation in the price of oil.  Or the gas we make from it.  Unlike you can with laundry detergent, potato chips, cereal, candy bars, toilet paper, etc.  Where the manufacturer can reduce the packaging or portion size.  Allowing them not to raise prices to reflect the full impact inflation.  They still increase the unit price to reflect the rise in the general price level.  But by selling smaller quantities and portions their prices still look affordable.  This is a privilege the oil industry just doesn’t have.  They price crude oil by a fixed quantity (barrel).  And sell gasoline by a fixed quantity (gallon).  So they have no choice but to reflect the full impact of inflation in these prices.  Which is why there is more anger about high gas prices than almost any other commodity.

Perhaps we can lay the Greatest Blame for the Current Economic Malaise on the Government’s Inflationary Monetary Policies

Current gas prices are hitting record highs.  And this during the worse economic recovery following the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Gas prices and the unemployment rate are typically inversely related to each other.  When there is high unemployment people are buying less gasoline.  This excess gasoline supply results in lower gas prices.  When there is low unemployment people are buying more gasoline.  This excess demand for gasoline results in higher gas prices.  These are the normal affects of supply and demand.  So the current high gas prices have little to do to with normal economic forces.  Which leaves government policies to explain why gas prices are so high.

Environmental concerns have greatly increased regulatory policy.  Increasing regulatory compliance costs.  Which has greatly discouraged the building of new refineries.  And making it very difficult to build new pipelines.  Which tax current pipeline and refinery capacities.  A problem mitigated only with their restriction on domestic oil production.  The current administration has pretty much shut down oil exploration and production on all federal lands.  Reducing crude oil supplies to refineries.  These environmental policies would send gas prices soaring if the economy was booming.  But the economy is not booming.  In fact the U-6 unemployment rate (which counts everyone who can’t find a full time job) held steady at 14.7% in September.  So an overheated economy is not the reason we have high gas prices.  But the high gas prices may be part of the reason we have such high unemployment.

Perhaps we can lay the greatest blame for the current economic malaise on the government’s inflationary monetary policies.  Inflation increases prices.  Especially those things sold in fixed quantities priced in dollars.  Like oil.  And gasoline.  The price inflation in refined oil products is like a virus that spreads throughout the economy.  Because everyone uses energy.  Especially the food industry.  From the farmers driving their tractor to work their fields.  To the trucks that take grain to rail terminals.  To the trains that transport this grain to food processing plants.  To the trucks that deliver these food products to our grocery stores.  From the moment farmers first turn over their soil in spring to the truck backing into to a grocery store’s loading dock to consumers bringing home groceries in their car to put food on the table fuel is consumed everywhere.  Which is why when gasoline prices go up food prices go up.  Because we refine gasoline from the same crude oil we refine diesel fuel from.  Oil.  Creating a direct link between our energy policy and the price of food.

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Californians hate their Environmental Policies so much they buy Chevy Volts to Cheat the System

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 9th, 2012

Week in Review

Buses are cheaper than trains.  Because all a bus needs is fuel in its tanks and firm ground to drive on.  A train on the other hand is very expensive.  Because wherever a train goes you need a dedicated road (i.e., railroad tracks).  A massive infrastructure wherever that road goes.  And an army of people to maintain and operate it.  Subways are even more expensive.  Because they are underground.  Which makes everything more costly.

California has spent a fortune on their trains in the greater Los Angeles area.  So let us compare a few statistics on both buses and trains.  Buses are more numerous.  They have 183 bus routes covering 1,433 square miles.  While they have 5 rail lines for a total of 79.1 rail miles in service.   Their buses have average weekday boardings of approximately 1,125,840.  While their trains have average weekday boardings of approximately 319,883.  (These numbers are approximate because one train line’s boardings are included in the Metro Bus ridership numbers for some reason). 

It is clear their trains are not moving anywhere near the number of people their buses are moving.  And for all that investment it hasn’t even helped to remove cars from the road or cut pollution.  Because the roads are still so congested that they have High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) or car pool lanes on their expressways.  To encourage people to save the planet.  By jamming as many people into a car as possible for their commutes to work.  For if they do they can take the less congested HOV lanes and cut an hour or so off of their drive time.  Well, it turns out that not only do Californians hate taking the bus and train they also hate car pooling.  Enter the Chevy Volt.  The answer to all of their dreams (see Volt sales surge in California thanks to car-pool access by Peter Valdes-Dapena posted 6/7/2012 on CNN Money).

Sales of General Motors’ Chevrolet Volt plug-in car, which had been dwindling in recent months, are enjoying a big resurgence in California, a state with some of the highest gas prices in the nation.

But the uptick in Volt sales isn’t about saving gas; it’s more about saving time.

Despite being incredibly fuel efficient, the Volt’s emissions when operating on gasoline weren’t clean enough to qualify it to drive in California’s car-pools lanes, relegating Volt owners to the whims of grueling California traffic.

But now, thanks to some new engineering tweaks to fix that issue, 2012 model year Volts sold in California can drive in those free-flowing HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes — even with only one person in the car…

California car buyers will jump at any opportunity to drive in HOV lanes.

Those lanes flow much more smoothly than other traffic-choked lanes on California highways, especially at rush hour, O’Dell said.

O’Dell owns a car with an HOV-lane sticker and says that when he’s driving that car, he gets to work in about an hour. When he’s driving a car without the sticker it takes him from two to two-and-a-half hours, he said.

In addition to HOV-lane access, the Volt is also eligible for a $1,500 state tax rebate in California on top of a $7,500 federal tax credit. Some local governments in California offer additional benefits for plug-in car buyers, as well.

The Chevy Volt allows these people do what they want to do.  Stay off the buses.  Stay off the trains.  And drive their cars.  Alone.  And it has nothing to do with saving the planet.  They just want to drive in the HOV lanes and save a couple of hours driving each day.  And they’re willing pay more to be able to do that.  For time is money.  And life.  Time lost sitting in traffic and waiting for a bus or a train is time that we can never get back.

California has the strictest environmental laws in the country.  But when it comes to living with the consequences of these laws the people will look to cheat.  As they are with the Chevy Volt.  Which will reverse all the progress the environmentalists have made in restricting people’s freedoms in California.  By placing such a high opportunity cost on driving a car alone.  Painfully long commutes.  But thanks to the Chevy Volt Californians can do what they’re always wanted to do.  Drive their gasoline-powered cars.  In the fast lane.  Hell, they may never plug in their hybrids.  And pretend they’re driving real cars in the fast lane.  Just to relish the knowledge that they’re putting one over on the environmentalists.

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Generator, Current, Voltage, Diesel Electric Locomotive, Traction Motors, Head-End Power, Jet, Refined Petroleum and Plug-in Hybrid

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 6th, 2012

Technology 101

When the Engineer advances the Throttle to ‘Run 1’ there is a Surge of Current into the Traction Motors

Once when my father suffered a power outage at his home I helped him hook up his backup generator.  This was the first time he used it.  He had sized it to be large enough to run the air conditioner as Mom had health issues and didn’t breathe well in hot and humid weather.  This outage was in the middle of a hot, sweltering summer.  So they were eager to get the air conditioner running again.  Only one problem.  Although the generator was large enough to run the air conditioner, it was not large enough to start it.  The starting in-rush of current was too much for the generator.  The current surged and the voltage dropped as the generator was pushed beyond its operating limit.  Suffice it to say Mom suffered during that power outage.

Getting a diesel-electric locomotive moving is very similar.  The massive diesel engine turns a generator.  When the engineer advances the throttle to ‘Run 1’ (the first notch) there is a surge of current into the traction motors.  And a drop in voltage.  As the current moves through the rotor windings in the traction motors it creates an electrical field that fights with the stator electrical field.  Creating a tremendous amount of torque.  Which slowly begins to turn the wheels.  As the wheels begin to rotate less torque is required and the current decreases and voltage increases.  Then the engineer advances the throttle to ‘Run 2’ and the current to the traction motors increases again.  And the voltage falls again.  Until the train picks up more speed.  Then the current falls and the voltage rises.  And so on until the engineer advances the throttle all the way to ‘Run 8’ and the train is running at speed. 

The actual speed is controlled by the RPMs of the diesel engine and fuel flow to the cylinders. Which is what the engineer is doing by advancing the throttle.  In a passenger train there are additional power needs for the passenger cars.  Heating, cooling, lights, etc.  The locomotive typically provides this Head-End Power (HEP).  The General Electric Genesis Series I locomotive (the aerodynamic locomotive engines on the majority of Amtrak’s trains), for example, has a maximum of 800 kilowatts of HEP available.  But there is a tradeoff in traction power that moves the train towards its destination.  With a full HEP load a 4,250 horsepower rated engine can only produce 2,525 horsepower of traction power.  Or a decrease of about 41% in traction horsepower due to the heating, cooling, lighting, etc., requirements of the passenger cars.  But because passenger cars are so light they can still pull many of them with one engine.  Unlike their freight counterparts.  Where it can take a lashup of three engines or more to move a heavy freight train to its destination.  Without any HEP sapping traction horsepower.

There is so much Energy available in Refined Petroleum that we can carry Small Amounts that take us Great Distances

The largest cost of flying a passenger jet is jet fuel.  That’s why they make planes out of aluminum.  To make them light.  Airbus and Boeing are using ever more composite materials in their latest planes to reduce the weight further still.  New engine designs improve fuel economy.  Advances in engine design allow bigger and more powerful engines.  So 2 engines can do the work it took 4 engines to do a decade or more ago.  Fewer engines mean less weight.  And less fuel.  Making the plane lighter and more fuel efficient.  They measure all cargo and count people to determine the total weight of plane, cargo, passengers and fuel.  So the pilot can calculate the minimum amount of fuel to carry.  For the less fuel they carry the lighter the plane and the more fuel efficient it is.   During times of high fuel costs airlines charge extra for every extra pound you bring aboard.  To either dissuade you from bringing a lot of extra dead weight aboard.  Or to help pay the fuel cost for the extra weight when they can’t dissuade you.

It’s similar with cars.  To meet strict CAFE standards manufacturers have been aggressively trying to reduce the weight of their vehicles.  Using front-wheel drive on cars saved the excess weight of a drive shaft.  Unibody construction removed the heavy frame.  Aerodynamic designs reduced wind resistance.  Use of composite materials instead of metal reduced weight.  Shrinking the size of cars made them lighter.  Controlling the engine by a computer increased engine efficiencies and improved fuel economy.  Everywhere manufacturers can they have reduced the weight of cars and improved the efficiencies of the engine.  While still providing the creature comforts we enjoy in a car.  In particular heating and air conditioning.  All the while driving great distances on a weekend getaway to an amusement park.  Or a drive across the country on a summer vacation.  Or on a winter ski trip.

This is something trains, planes and automobiles share.  The ability to take you great distances in comfort.  And what makes this all possible?  One thing.  Refined petroleum.  There is so much energy available in refined petroleum that we can carry small amounts of it in our trains, planes and automobiles that will take us great distances.  Planes can fly halfway across the planet on one fill-up.  Trains can travel across numerous states on one fill-up.  A car can drive up to 6 hours or more doing 70 MPH on the interstate on one fill-up.  And keep you warm while doing it in the winter.  And cool in the summer.  For the engine cooling system transfers the wasted heat of the internal combustion engine to a heating core inside the passenger compartment to heat the car.  And another belt slung around an engine pulley drives an air conditioner compressor under the hood to cool the passenger compartment.  Thanks to that abundant energy in refined petroleum creating all the power under the hood we need.

The Opportunity Cost of the Plug-in Hybrid is giving up what the Car Originally gave us – Freedom 

And then there’s the plug-in hybrid car.  That shares some things in common with the train, plane and (gasoline-powered) automobile.  Only it doesn’t do anything as well.  Primarily because of the limited range of the battery.  Electric traction motors draw a lot of current.  But a battery’s storage capacity is limited.  Some batteries offer only about 20-30 miles of driving distance on a charge.  Which is great if you use a car for very, very short commutes.  But as few do manufacturers add a backup gasoline engine so the car can go almost as far as a gasoline-powered car.  It probably could go as far if it wasn’t for that heavy battery and generator it was dragging around with it.

This is but one of many tradeoffs required in a plug-in hybrid car.  Most of these cars are tiny to make them as light as possible.  For the lighter the car is the less current it takes to get it moving.  But adding a backup gasoline engine and generator only makes the car heavier.  Thus reducing its electric range.  Making it more like a conventional car for a trip longer than 20-30 miles.  Only one that gets a poorer fuel economy.  Because of the extra weight of the battery and generator.  Manufacturers have even addressed this problem by reducing the range of the car.  If people don’t drive more than 10 miles on a typical trip they don’t need such a large battery.  Which is ideal if you use your car to go no further than you normally walk.  A smaller battery means less weight due to the lesser storage capacity required to travel that lesser range.  Another tradeoff is the heating and cooling of the car.  Without a gasoline engine on all of the time these cars have to use electric heat.  And an electric motor to drive the air conditioner compressor.  (Some heating and cooling systems will operate when the car is plugged in to conserve battery charge for the initial climate adjustment).  So in the heat of summer and the cold of winter you can scratch off another 20% of your electric range (bringing that 20 miles down to 16 miles).  Not as bad as on a passenger locomotive.  But with its large tanks of diesel fuel that train can still take you across the country.

The opportunity cost of the plug-in hybrid is giving up what the car originally gave us.  Freedom.  To get out on the open road just to see where it would take us.  For if you drive a long commute or like to take long trips your hybrid is just going to be using the backup gasoline engine for most of that driving.  While dragging around a lot of excess weight.  To make up for some lost fuel economy some manufacturers use a gasoline engine with high compression.  Unfortunately, high compression engines require the more expensive premium (higher octane) gasoline.  Which costs more at the pump.  There eventually comes the point we should ask ourselves why bother?  Wouldn’t life and driving be so much simpler with a gasoline-powered car?  Get fuel economy with a range of over 300 miles?  Guess it all depends on what’s more important.  Being sensible.  Or showing others that you’re saving the planet.

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Passenger Rail losing Money in Vancouver like they do Pretty Much Everywhere

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 8th, 2012

Week in Review

Governments love trains.  Not because they’re good economic models.  They’re not.  Unless you’re hauling heavy freight.  No.  They love them because they are so costly.  And require lots of workers from union construction workers to union maintenance people to union operators.  And that’s a lot of votes.  Which is why governments love trains.  And hate gasoline and the freedom it gives their people (see TransLink revenue took a hit despite higher ridership, cross-border gas trips by Andrea Woo posted 4/5/2012 on The Vancouver Sun).

Ridership grew on Metro Vancouver’s public transit system last year, but wavering revenues from TransLink’s gas tax and lower-than-expected use of the Golden Ears Bridge contributed to the transportation authority’s deficit, according to its annual report…

TransLink attributes the shortfall to a 5.9-per-cent decrease in fuel sales volume last year, brought on by high gas prices. Drivers also likely fuelled up in neighbouring regions, such as the Fraser Valley Regional District and Whatcom County, according to the report…

The gas tax, which is applied to gasoline and diesel fuel sales in Metro Vancouver, rose two cents to 17 cents per litre on April 1.

Meanwhile, ridership grew 8.6 per cent in 2011, with a total of about 233 million paid trips during the year. That figure is 18.5 million more than the target goal for the year, according to the report…

“Although [the bridge] experienced growth in traffic volumes over 2010, it was not to the level assumed in the budget,” the report stated. “Another contributing factor to the lower revenues were the toll discounts provided in April and May for off-peak and weekend travel.”

The TransLink Golden Ears Bridge Task Force is working on a number of initiatives to increase revenue and “enhance customer convenience,” according to the report. They include a public awareness and education program, market research and real-time web monitoring of traffic conditions on the bridge.

Most passenger trains lose money.  Because they are poor economic models.  Due to the costly infrastructure they require.  Other than the Bullet Train in Japan and the TGV in France no passenger train can pay for itself.  And that’s only a total of two lines that can.  So all passenger rail requires government subsidies to survive.  And it’s no different in Vancouver.

In Vancouver they have a 17 cents gas tax per liter of gas.  Which is about $0.64 per gallon.  Which is pretty high.  If you fill up a 17 gallon gas tank that’s about $11 in taxes.  So if you’re wondering why gas is so expensive here’s your answer.  Of course if you’re going to penalize people for using gasoline people are going to use less gasoline.  Which can be a problem if you’re funding your passenger rail with gasoline taxes.

To reduce congestion on the Golden Ears Bridge they’ve offered discounts to cross during off-peak hours.  Because gas taxes are so high people take advantage of the lower toll and travel off-peak hours.  Which can be a problem if you’re funding your passenger rail with a tax on bridge tolls.  But they’re trying to “enhance customer convenience.”  And based on what they just said that can only mean finding a way to make people pay more.  By either removing the discount toll and increasing congestion during peak hours.  Or increasing the toll.  Whichever they choose the result won’t enhance anyone but the taxing authority.

Perhaps they should cut the gas tax and the toll tax.  Which will encourage more gasoline purchases.  Increasing tax revenue even at the lower gas tax rate.  And making the streets so congested that people will avoid it by leaving their cars at home in favor of using passenger rail.  This increase in economic activity will translate into more sales and other taxes for the taxing authority. 

Counterintuitive, yes, for government officials.  But they should give it a try.  Better yet, in the future, they should just say ‘no’ to passenger rail and save themselves this headache in the first place.  And stick with busses.  Which are a far more successful economic model.

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Flint Tools, Levers, Wheels, Animal Power, Water Power, Wind Power, Steam Power, Electrical Power, Nuclear Power and Solar Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 22nd, 2012

Technology 101

Man harnessed the Energy in Moving Water with a Water Wheel

When prehistoric man first chipped a piece of flint to make a sharp edge he learned something.  It made work easier.  And his life better.  This tool concentrated his energy into that sharp edge.  Increasing the amount of energy he could put to work.  Allowing him to skin an animal quickly and efficiently like never before.  Making better hides to protect him from the elements.  Yes, he said, this tool is good.  But in a somewhat less sophisticated manner of speech.

From that moment forward it has been man’s singular desire to improve on this first tool.  To find ways to concentrate energy and put it to work.  Levers allowed him to move heavier things.  Wheels allowed him to move heavier loads.  The block and tackle allowed him to lift or pull heavier weights.  Harnessing animals allowed him to do all of these things even better.  And we would use animal power for millennia.  Even today they still provide the primary source of power for some less developed countries.

But animals have their limitations.  They’re big, they eat, drink, pee and poop.  Which doesn’t make them an ideal source of power to turn a mill wheel.  A big wheel that grinds grain into flour.  It’s heavy.  But it doesn’t have to spin fast.  Just for long periods of time.  Then man had another moment like he did when he chipped a piece of flint.  He noticed in his environment that things moved.  The wind.  And the water in a river.  The wind could blow fast or slow.  Or not at all.  But the water flow was steady.  And reliable.  So man harnessed the energy in the moving water with a water wheel.  And connected it to his mill wheel via some belts and pulleys.  And where there was no water available he harnessed the less reliable wind.

The Steam Engine eliminated the Major Drawbacks of Water Power and Wind Power 

The water flowed day and night.  You didn’t have to feed it or clean up after it.  And a strong current had a lot of concentrated energy.  Which could do a lot of work.  Far more than a sharpened piece of flint.  Which was ideal for our first factories.  The water wheel shaft became a main drive shaft that drove other machines via belts and pulleys.  The main drive shaft ran the length of the factory.  Workers could operate machinery underneath it by engaging it to the main drive shaft through a belt and pulley.  Take a trip to the past and visit a working apple mill powered by a water wheel.  It’s fascinating.  And you’ll be able to enjoy some fresh donuts and hot cider.  During the harvest, of course.

While we built factories along rivers we used that other less reliable source of energy to cross oceans.  Wind power.  It wasn’t very reliable.  And it wasn’t very concentrated.  But it was the only way you could cross an ocean.  Which made it the best way to cross an ocean.  Sailors used everything on a sailing ship from the deck up to catch the wind and put it to work.  Masts, rigging and sails.  Which were costly.  Required a large crew.  And took up a lot of space and added a lot of weight.  Space and weight that displaced revenue-earning cargo.

The steam engine eliminated the major drawbacks of water power and wind power.  By replacing the water wheel with a steam engine we could build factories anywhere.  Not just on rivers.  And the steam engine let ships cross the oceans whenever they wanted to.  Even when the wind didn’t blow.  And more space was available for revenue-earning cargo.  When these ships reached land we transferred their cargoes to trains.  Pulled by steam locomotives.  That could carry this revenue-earning cargo across continents.   This was a huge step forward.  Boiling water by burning coal to make steam.  A highly concentrated energy source.  A little of it went a long way.  And did more work for us than ever.  Far more than a water wheel.  It increased the amount of work we could do so much that it kicked off the Industrial Revolution.

With Nuclear Power our Quest to find more Concentrated Forms of Energy came to an End 

We replaced coal with oil in our ships and locomotives.  Because it was easier to transport.  Store.  And didn’t need people to shovel it into a boiler.  Oil burners were more efficient.  We even used it to generate a new source of power.  Electrical power.  We used it to boil water at electrical generating plants to spin turbines that turned electrical generators.  We could run pipelines to feed these plants.  Making the electricity they generated even more efficient.  And reliable.  Soon diesel engines replaced the oil burners in ships and trains.  Allowed trucks and buses to run where the trains didn’t.  And gasoline allowed people to go anywhere the trains and buses didn’t go.

The modern economy ran on petroleum.  And electricity.  We even returned to the water wheel to generate electricity.  By building dams to build huge reservoirs of water at elevations.  Creating huge headwater forces.  Concentrating more energy in water.  Which we funneled down to the lower elevation.  Making it flow through high-speed water turbines connected to electrical generators.  That spun far faster than their water wheel ancestors.  Producing huge amounts of reliable electrical power.  We even came up with a more reliable means to create electrical power.  With an even more concentrated fuel.  Fissile material gave us nuclear power.  During the oil shocks of the Seventies the Japanese made a policy change to expand their use of nuclear power.  To insulate them from future oil supply shocks.  Which it did.  While in America the movie The China Syndrome came out around the time of the incident at Three Mile Island.  And killed nuclear power in America.  (But as a consolation prize we disproved the idea of Keynesian stimulus.  When the government created massive inflation with Keynesian policy.  Printing money.  Which raised prices without providing any new economic activity.  Causing instead high inflation and high unemployment.  What we call stagflation.  The Japanese got a big Keynesian lesson about a decade later.  When their massive asset bubble began to deflate giving them their Lost Decade.)

And with nuclear power that quest to find more ways to make better and more efficient use of concentrated energy from that first day we used a flint tool came to an end.  Global warming alarmists are killing sensible sources of energy that have given us the modern world.  Even animal rights activists are fighting against one of the cleanest sources of power we’ve ever used.  Water power.  Because damming rivers harms ecosystems in the rivers we dam.  Instead political pressures have turned the hands of time backwards by using less concentrated and less efficient sources of energy.  Wind power.  And solar power.  Requiring far greater infrastructure installations to capture far less amounts of energy from these sources.  Power plants using wind power and solar power will require acres of land for windmills and solar panels.  And it will take many of these power plants to produce what a single power plant using coal, oil, natural gas or fissile material can generate.  Making power more costly than it ever has been.  Despite wind and sunshine being free.  And when the great civilizations become bankrupt chasing bankrupt energy policies we will return to a simpler world.  A world where we don’t make and use power.  Or machinery.  Much like our flint-tool using ancestors.  Albeit with a more sophisticated way of expressing ourselves.

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Cars are Better for the Environment and more Convenient than Trains in L.A.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 10th, 2011

Week in Review

California is going broke.  Out of control public sector pension and health care costs.  The high cost of regulation hindering the economy.  And spending money on light rail that the people don’t want.  And makes it take more time to get from point A to point B (see 17 Miles in Just 78 Minutes! Light Rail vs. Reality in LA by Reason TV posted 12/9/2011 on YouTube).

They spent billions of dollars for these trains.  They’re slower than the buses.  They run emptier than the buses.  They subsidize them almost 10 times as much as the buses.  And the average light rail trip uses more energy than a car per passenger mile.  About twice as much.  Which means they contribute more to global warming than cars do.  In other words, this is why California is in the financial mess they’re in.  Bad government policy.

It took 78 minutes to travel 17 miles.  If you do the math that’s about 13 miles per hour.  If you drove in a car on a road with a 35 mph speed limit you would have made it in about 30 minutes.  For a round trip that’s an hour of drive time compared to about 2 .6 hours of train time.  Well, train and bus time.  Because there are a few transfers.

Cars are cheaper and use less energy than trains in L.A.  And they are so much more convenient.  So why are they replacing cars with trains?  More union jobs to build these lines.  And more public sector jobs to run these lines.  That and I guess for the global warming.

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High-Speed Rail will do what Planes can do, only for a lot, lot more Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 3rd, 2011

There may be only two High-Speed Lines in the World that Actually Pay for Themselves

There won’t be high-speed rail any time soon.  Chalk up another one in the ‘lose’ column for Obama (see Senate: ‘No confidence’ in Obamarail by Barbara Hollingsworth posted 10/3/2011 on The Washington Examiner).

… the $100 million the Senate left as a “placeholder” is likely to be zeroed out by the House, Orski notes, effectively killing President Obama’s dream of a high-speed rail network throughout the U.S.

In February, the president asked Congress to appropriate $53 billion through 2018 to provide high-speed rail service. The $100 million is the Democrat-controlled Senate appropriations committee agreed to keep in the budget (by a voice vote) is a drop in the bucket.

“Senate appropriators have done more than merely declare a temporary slowdown in the high-speed rail program. They have effectively given a vote of ‘no confidence’ to President Obama’s signature infrastructure initiative,” Orski says.

You know, $53 billion was a little light to begin with to provide access to high-speed rail to 80% of all Americans.  So that $100 million placeholder obviously wasn’t going to pay for much of anything.  Not even the environmental impact studies.  At best it could maybe pay off a campaign donor or two.

“Their posture is understandable,” he added. “After committing $8 billion in stimulus money and an additional $2.5 billion in regular appropriations, the Administration has little to show for in terms of concrete results or accomplishments. Aside from an ongoing project to upgrade track between Chicago and St. Louis (a $1.1 billion venture that promises to offer a mere 48 minute reduction in travel time between those two cities), no significant construction has begun on any of the authorized rail projects.”

And the only really high-speed rail project in the works – a 220 mph, 160-mile, $67 billion bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco – is in trouble because of public opposition (a new poll found that two-thirds of likely voters in California are against it) and the fact that the cost estimates have doubled since 2008.

Orski reports that analysts now believe that the California high-speed rail project cannot and will not be built without a substantial federal subsidy – which is not likely to materialize.

Gee, I wonder where that $8 billion of stimulus funds went to.  Campaign donors?

Can NOT be built without federal subsidies?  You know why?  There may be only two high-speed lines in the world that actually pay for themselves.  One in France.  And one in Japan.  High-speed rail loses money.  Just like Amtrak.  Only more.  They’re just so incredibly costly to build.  And to operate.  To get them to pay for themselves you need numerous trains per hour.  Packed with paying customers.  And, preferably, few automobiles.

Private Railroads aren’t Building High-Speed because Passenger Rail is not Profitable.  High-Speed or Otherwise.

Japan is the home of the Bullet Train.  They ushered in high-speed rail.  To move the people of one of the most populous nations on the planet.  They are so crowded that they use 747s for commuter jets.  Now that’s population density.  Which is what you need to make high-speed passenger rail work.  Which is why the Tokaido route works (see The Difference Engine: Fast track to nowhere posted 5/20/2011 on The Economist).

OF ALL the high-speed train services around the world, only one really makes economic sense—the 550km (340-mile) Shinkansen route that connects the 35m people in greater Tokyo to the 20m residents of the Kansai cluster of cities comprising Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto and Nara. At peak times, up to 16 bullet trains an hour travel each way along the densely populated coastal plain that is home to over half of Japan’s 128m people…

The sole reason why Shinkansen plying the Tokaido route make money is the sheer density—and affluence—of the customers they serve. All the other Shinkansen routes in Japan lose cart-loads of cash, as high-speed trains do elsewhere in the world. Only indirect subsidies, creative accounting, political patronage and national chest-thumping keep them rolling.

This one Japanese high-speed rail line makes money because they pack them in like sardines.  Affluent sardines.  Who don’t need subsidized tickets.  So these trains can charge enough to cover their costs.  And with 16 packed trains an hour each way during peak time keeps these expansive rails nice and shiny.  And shiny rails produce enough revenue to cover costs.

California wants a share of that bullet-train hubris. Where Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin have turned down billions of federal dollars for high-speed rail, the Golden State has been pressing on with its $43-billion scheme to build a high-speed rail service from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area, with spurs eventually to San Diego, Sacramento and San Luis Obispo.

The irony is that California has the highest rate of car-ownership in the country, if not the world. It also, despite years of neglect, has one of the best road networks anywhere—certainly leagues ahead of Japan’s. On top of that, it enjoys a highly competitive network of budget airlines serving its main cities. The Los Angeles Times got it about right when it editorialised on May 16th that “California’s much-vaunted high-speed rail project is, to put it bluntly, a train wreck”.

Lots of cars, good roads and cheaper gas than in Japan.  That’s three strikes already against high-speed rail in California.  Will people leave their cars at home to pay more to be packed in like sardines and travel according to a train schedule instead of their own whim.  Which you can do with a car.  You want to go somewhere.  Just hop in the car and go.  That’s nice.  And convenient.  And you have no one coughing in your face.  Or groping you in the crowd.  Pretty nice benefits.  Especially if you’re a young lady.

And an expensive one at that. Between them, the federal government, municipals along the proposed route and an assortment of private investors are being asked to chip in some $30 billion. A further $10 billion is to be raised by a bond issue that Californian voters approved in 2008. Anything left unfunded will have to be met by taxpayers. They could be dunned for a lot. A study carried out in 2008 by the Reason Foundation, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Citizens Against Government Waste put the final cost of the complete 800-mile network at $81 billion…

The problem in making the case for high-speed rail in California is that, though it is the most populous state in the union, there are simply not enough people packed into the 50-mile wide coastal strip that wends its way 350 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Put it this way: the Shinkansen plying the Tokaido route have access to some 180,000 potential passengers per mile of high-speed track. Even by 2025, when California’s population is likely to have grown from today’s 38m to 46m or so, the number of people within the coastal strip is unlikely to exceed 85,000 per mile of track.

No wonder the Los Angeles Times called it a train wreck.  Lots of cars, good roads, cheaper gas and lower potential passenger density along the line.  No wonder they need federal subsidies.  It’s a black hole for money.  That’s why private railroads aren’t building these things.  They can’t make money with passenger rail.  High-speed or otherwise.

We should not Invest in Rail because Track is Expensive whereas Airspace is Free

Passenger rail is not a working business model.  They bleed money.  Which makes them very attractive to politicians.  That’s why they love them.  Because they know they will require more and more taxpayer money.  And they are always happy to raise taxes to pay for this public good that the public prefers not to have.

As can be seen, rail projects don’t happen fast.  So including high-speed rail projects in a stimulus bill wasn’t going to stimulate anything.  So why do it?  I don’t know.  Pay off a campaign donor or two?

Japan is built for high-speed rail.  When your cities are so crowded that they have capsule hotels you are a candidate for high-speed rail.  You have the population density that will pack trains like cans of sardines.  When you have vast tracks of open country you’re not a good candidate for high-speed rail.  The U.S. has vast tracks of open country.  And is therefore not a good candidate for high-speed rail.

We should not, then, invest in rail.  Americans will drive their cars for most trips.  And fly when it’s too long to drive.  For planes cost less per passenger mile to operate.  Because all of their infrastructure is at airports.  Unlike trains.  This is why air travel is cheaper than train travel.  Because track is expensive.  Whereas airspace is free.

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