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#1 MZBKA

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 01:08 AM

Hi there. This is my first post. I am a relatively new Amtrak (riding for about 9 months) mostly taking the Wolverine service in Michigan and the Empire Builder to Minneapolis. I like what I've experienced, and I, like many of you, would love to see Amtrak improve its service.

It seems like Amtrak will also be hit hard by the rising costs of fuel for its trains that run on diesel. I am curious if it costs less and how much less to run a train that runs off on catenary rather than off of diesel. I would also like to know how much catenary costs per mile and if maintenance is a huge issue. I don't know. . .maybe I'll win the lotto and put up some overhead wires between Detroit and Chicago. :)

Also, is there a good reference page where I can educate myself on the different track requirements and costs of upgrades for different speeds of travel? Thanks a lot. I'm looking forward to learning a lot here!
!

#2 WhoozOn1st

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 01:55 AM

Welcome, MZBKA!

While I'll leave it to others to get to the nitty-gritty about electrification, I can say right off the bat that it's hideously expensive in terms of initial cost - the bucks laid out for building an electrical (catenary)(or even 3rd rail) infrastructure, at least in terms of mainline railroading. Electric transit (e.g. light rail) ain't cheap, either.

A number of people here at the forum are juicejacks (Aloha, GG-1), and I'm sure they'll be happy to answer your questions in detail, and/or point you in the right directions for learning more on the subject.

And if you do win the lotto, I'm your long lost cousin. :D

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#3 GG-1

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 02:53 AM

Welcome, MZBKA!

While I'll leave it to others to get to the nitty-gritty about electrification, I can say right off the bat that it's hideously expensive in terms of initial cost - the bucks laid out for building an electrical (catenary)(or even 3rd rail) infrastructure, at least in terms of mainline railroading. Electric transit (e.g. light rail) ain't cheap, either.

A number of people here at the forum are juicejacks (Aloha, GG-1), and I'm sure they'll be happy to answer your questions in detail, and/or point you in the right directions for learning more on the subject.

And if you do win the lotto, I'm your long lost cousin. :D

Aloha

Just finished 1 15 hour work day. Tommorow will find at adress on an increadable page on "Jiuice" if someone else doesnt post it before I wake up!

Good night
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#4 jis

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 08:40 AM

Aloha

Just finished 1 15 hour work day. Tommorow will find at adress on an increadable page on "Jiuice" if someone else doesnt post it before I wake up!

Good night
GG-1

Hi GG,

I think I know the page you mean, but unfortunately my flight just got called and I am headed out the door of President's Club here at EWR. By the time I land in Tokyo and am hooked up to the itnernet again you will have woken up and then perhaps fallen asleep again too. :) So I will leave it to you to post the URL.

Suffice it to say that in general initial costs are large for electrification but if there is significant traffic on the line then after the initial investment is done the general cost of operations often works out to be less. Electrification also gives one a choice of source of energy for running the trains, so potentially dependence on sources that depend on the goodwill of questionable allies can be minimized, and also greenhous gas emissions reduced. But for achieving any of those there needs to be a policy and political will, both of which are sorely lacking in the US at present. Indeed the unwritten policy at present appears to be to do the needful to maximize profits of oil companies and the net result of electrification would be the exact antitheisis of that.

Edited by jis, 25 May 2008 - 08:40 AM.


#5 PRR 60

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 09:21 AM

The viability of railroad electrification is dependant upon have a large volume of traffic to share the expense. There are a limited number of corridors in this country that have that type of traffic.

The construction cost of catenary is high. The electrification of the 156 mile, two-track line between New Haven and Boston cost $800 million. That was over $5 million per mile eight years ago. The cost is driven not just by placing the wires over the tracks, but also by all the behind the scenes stuff that is required: the substations, the protection and control equipment, the utility connection costs, the power dispatching center, and even the signal systems. Most signal systems on regular railroads behave badly when subject to the electric currents that will be induced on the rails by catenary. They often have to be modified or replaced.

Catenary also adds a pile of on-going operation and maintenance costs: tree trimming, replacing broken insulators, maintaining a bunch of power transformers and circuit breakers, putting the lines back up when the inevitable tear-downs happen, storm restoration, staffing a power dispatch center, and a host of stuff like that. All that adds up to expense that has to be offset by the reduction in energy cost and lower maintenance of the locomotives. So, if you don't have a whole lot of trains running on the line, it is probably not worth the expense. Even the New Haven to Boston work was probably not cost justified. The justification there was to save running time for the Acela service.

#6 the_traveler

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 10:34 AM

Also, true the locomotives run on electricity, but where does it come from? :huh: Most likely from burning oil or gas! And at least on the NEC, the voltage that runs through the wires is 25,000 volts!

It makes sense in a high capacity corridor (like the NEC) to electrify. (At my station in KIN, I can expect to see at least 1 train an hour - not all of them stop - on average from 6:30 AM to 11 PM.) But it would not make sense in MT or AZ, where there is 1 train a day - or less!
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead and enjoy the ride!

The view is much better at 3 feet than it is at 30,000 feet!

#7 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 12:40 PM

The Draft Capital Improvement Program document the MBTA was making available six months ago says that the MBTA Commuter Rail system has 600 miles of track. What's not entirely clear is whether they're counting a mile long chuck of right of way that's double tracked as one or two track miles; the 156 miles from BOS to New Haven is clearly the length of the right of way. The MBTA's capital plan does have a table listing how many miles of track there are on each line, but there's no identifyable multitracked line that can be easily cross referenced with the numbers in the Amtrak timetable. And you do need to subtrack the miles that have already been electrified by Amtrak.

But it sounds like somewhere very roughly around $3 billion might electrify the whole MBTA Commuter Rail System if the cost per mile ends up being similar, which is somewhat less than the cost of building two miles of quad tracked tunnel and three underground stations in downtown Boston.

(I also wonder if the MBTA's cost per mile might end up being higher if trains run more densely and therefore require that the substations be able to feed a higher wattage per mile to the system.)

#8 PRR 60

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 01:18 PM

Also, true the locomotives run on electricity, but where does it come from? :huh: Most likely from burning oil or gas! And at least on the NEC, the voltage that runs through the wires is 25,000 volts!


Amtrak has some dedicated hydro generators at Safe Harbor dam in Pennsylvania that provide some of the NEC power (as long as flow in the Susquehanna permits), but the bulk of Amtrak power is commercial from the local utilities. That means a mix of nuclear (about 50%), coal, hydro, gas and a small element of wind. Oil is not a big player in power generation except for running jet peaking units on exceptional use days in the summer.

Right now, natural gas is the fuel of choice for new power generation. The reason: is it easy to build. There are preliminary plans for some new nuclear units, but those are years away. Hydro is max'd out in a practical sense, at least in the east. Wind is coming into play, but it is not considered base generation for power system planning because it is not a reliable source. No wind; no power.

The NEC catenary voltage and frequency varies by location. The new build between Boston and New Haven is 25,000 volts (25kV), 60 cycle (60hz). The Metro North section New Haven to New York is 12.5kV, 60hz. The former PRR section New York to Washington and Harrisburg is 11kV, 25hz. The 60hz power is provided by the local utilities. The 25hz power is provided by either the Safe Harbor 25hz generator or through Amtrak or utility owned converter stations that change the 60hz commercial power to the 25hz catenary power.

#9 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 03:07 PM

Wind is coming into play, but it is not considered base generation for power system planning because it is not a reliable source. No wind; no power.


I believe some European countries are getting 20% of their energy from wind.

The relability of wind does create some challenges, but I also don't think anyone has really fully explored all of the options for compensating for the variability, and putting a bit of effort into making that work will probably ultimately result in clearer air.

For example, if a significant fraction of the wind power is running HVAC in buildings, it's possible to build a control system that will turn off the heat or air conditioning for a few minutes in all of those buildings while you wait for the natural gas plants to start up when the wind dies down, and people in the buildings will probably never notice. (You need to make exceptions for equipment that's especially temperature sensitive,. but that's probably a tiny fraction of the total load.) You can probably do something similar with household refrigerators. And you might even be able to build all of these devices to notice that they're getting 59.9 hz instead of 60 hz (which happens automatically when utility power is struggling under the load) and shut off on that basis, though it's important to make sure that different devices are sensitive to slightly different cuttoffs so that they don't all suddenly try to restart all at once. (They probably should have a randomized cutoff and a randomized delay, and if the frequency falls below their cutoff at any time during the delay, they should reset the clock on the delay. That would probably do a good job of keeping the restart load under control.)

And where you have hydroelectric plants whose peak generating capacity cannot be sustained 24x7 because of the amount of water behind the dam, you can choose to run those plants only when the wind power is failing. I don't think starting up a hydroelectric plant takes very long at all compared to a coal or nuclear plant.

I gather that predicting when the hotest days are going to be at least a couple days before they happen is not terribly challenging. Those days tend to be both low wind and high air conditioning load, and they may be good times to fire up older, less environmentally friendly plants, with those dirtier plants shut down for 90% or more of the year.

#10 MrEd

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 03:11 PM

In Germany I saw a headline for a nuclear train. I was impressed until I got the details, it was just hauling nuclear waste.
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#11 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 03:19 PM

NR-1 is said to have a nuclear power plant the size of a desk, which makes me think you could probably fit NR-1's power plant into a space smaller than the typical locomotive diesel, but then again, its speed is not terribly impressive.

And I'm not sure how you make sure that the lead shielding stays in place when the hypothetical nuclear powered locomotive collides head on with another locomotive.

#12 GG-1

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 05:56 PM

Aloha

Mahalo Jis, I thought you might have landed before I got back, wasn't supposed to be in theater today, but had to go in to smooth over a problem, caused be the show carpenter not reading the memo about what was needed..

Anyway this is the link to the Catenary page I referred to last night.

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#13 RTOlson

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 07:38 PM

In California, the Bay Area commuter train service, Caltrain, is seeking to electify about 49 miles of its track. The initial price estimate -- $600865 million. That's up to $17.7 million per mile.

Here's the Wikipedia article, which sources the information to a Caltrain Web page that has a ton of PDFs.

#14 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 11:26 PM

The major advantage of electric locomotives is there massive torque advantage over diesel-electric engines of comparable horsepower. Translation: Like for like, they accelerate faster.
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#15 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 03:13 AM

The major advantage of electric locomotives is there massive torque advantage over diesel-electric engines of comparable horsepower.


I'm confused. I thought the real benefit was that for a given weight of complete locomotive, the electrics have more horsepower, because the equipment to take catenary power and convert it to the form the traction motors can use is a lot lighter than a diesel engine that produces the same amount of power.

Translation: Like for like, they accelerate faster.


Which in commuter service means that making lots of stops doesn't hurt the schedule nearly as much.

Maybe it also helps on intercity service running on track that has lots of curves where you have to deal with lots of permanent speed restrictions.

#16 WhoozOn1st

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 04:06 AM

In California, the Bay Area commuter train service, Caltrain, is seeking to electify about 49 miles of its track. The initial price estimate -- $600865 million. That's up to $17.7 million per mile.


I think Caltrain is an excellent candidate for going electric. Funding looks tough right now (when does it not?), but if fuel prices continue to climb, as I believe they will, increased public clamor for more frequent service would reinforce the electrification justification.

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Caltrain locomotive street running at Oakland. Atypical because Caltrain doesn't go to Oakland. This engine is on the wrong side of the bay for some reason. Dragging in a crippled Capitol Corridor train?

Edited by WhoozOn1st999, 26 May 2008 - 04:19 AM.

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#17 RTOlson

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 05:45 AM

A comment attached to an Engadget post using the photo yields the answer to the unique photo.

Apparently, the Capitol Corridor engine was providing the power. It was returning the Caltrain engine to the San Jose maintenance yard.

darnit @ Aug 2nd 2007 1:39PM
Indeed, that is Jack London square. I was actually sitting on that train as the photo must have been taken. Two things are interesting about the picture chosen. First, it is a Caltrain engine at the front, but the second engine and the rest of the train is a Amtrak train. Second, Caltrain does not run through Oakland Jack London! The Amtrak train was returning a serviced Caltrain engine back to San Jose!


Perhaps this arrangement isn't so odd. Amtrak is under contract from two separate agencies to operate Caltrain and Capitor Corridor. I'd reckon it's not ususual for a CC train to haul a Caltrain engine for more distant repairs, but you probably wouldn't see a lot of shared resources (like California cars on Caltrain).

#18 WhoozOn1st

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 06:40 AM

RT, is a returning serviced engine automatically assumed to be deadheading cold, and in this case only serving as a cab unit for the real power?

It is indeed an unusual shot.

BTW, regarding that Engadget link: And I thought us rail foamers were weird! :lol:

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#19 RTOlson

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 07:58 AM

^^
I don't know. I'm not familiar enough with the practice (or with any multi-engine operations) to say for sure.

Your theory could work, especially because both of those engines are configured for push-pull operations. The CC engine would be pulling the rest of the consist while pushing the Caltrain engine. Do things work like that?

However, if you're going to man an engine for operations, would you rather leave it powered down or power it up to help share the load?

As for the Engadgeteers, they are certainly an interesting bunch. There's a lot of diverse opinions about technology to be sure. If you want absolutely insane, just spend a few minutes reading the comments on Slashdot

#20 George Harris

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 02:22 AM

In California, the Bay Area commuter train service, Caltrain, is seeking to electify about 49 miles of its track. The initial price estimate -- $600865 million. That's up to $17.7 million per mile.

Here's the Wikipedia article, which sources the information to a Caltrain Web page that has a ton of PDFs.

I am still little by little slogging through the Caltrain report while I am riding buses or trains (I go San Francisco to Mountain View a couple times a week), and it is not quite as bad in cost as it first sounds.

First, the plan is to electrify all the way to Gilroy, so the distance is 76 miles, not 46.
Second, the total track miles that will have wire hung are nearer 200. That is 76 times 2 plus the four track sections plus yard and station tracks.
Third, the cost estimates in the report include the equipment.

It appears that the electrification itself minus equipment in more in the neighborhood of $3 million per mile of track. This also includes some bridge modifications as well. There is also the issue of the four tunnels. These things are tight clearance now, and there is no way I can see that the traffic can be handled if they are single tracked, which leaves enlarging them as likely being needed.

From what I read so far, they are not planning on closing all the grade crossings, as they talk about the need to replace the circuitry for them, another cost.

The wire will be higher above the rail than in the Northeast, as there is the need to be able to run double stacks under it, at least south of San Jose, and possibly high clearance for freight for most of the distance north of there.

Edited by George Harris, 01 June 2008 - 02:23 AM.





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