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Why aren't there 220mph intermodal trains?


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#1 Crescent ATN & TCL

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Posted 07 March 2010 - 04:05 PM

I was thinking one night why no one has built a HST for intermodal containers? It wouldn't be that hard to take a shell of say a Eurostar, put in a roof hatch the size of a container and set a single container in each car. With containers being very standardized in size, and loading configurations, this should be relatively simple. Also it should meet all loading requirements to run at the full passenger train speeds. With trucks being slow, and aircraft not being able to lift enough containers in the air to be feasible this could become a huge business. It would also help get High Speed going, the freight could run at off peak times so the passenger trains would be unaffected.

#2 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 07 March 2010 - 05:43 PM

I think viable 220 MPH intermodal freight routes are probably going to need to be a lot longer than San Francisco to Los Angeles to be terribly exciting. If you want to limit freight to nighttime, the wait for the train will probably cost more time than would be wasted by taking the highway (or conventional speed railroad, for that matter) from LA to San Francisco at 60 MPH instead of traveling at 220 MPH.

The shippers who are willing to pay a substantial premium for speed already have the option of using an airplane. I don't think there are enough shipments where speed has enough value to fund any substantial amount of 220 MPH track.

However, if we fund 220 MPH track primarily for passenger trains on roughly the same model that the Interstate Highway system was funded, it certainly would be nice to also be able to use that track for things like shipping food more quickly. I'm particularly thinking about being able to get food grown in California on the east coast that would be two days more fresh than it is now.

One other challenge with freight at night is the question of when track maintenance happens. Subway systems tend to shut down completely from roughly midnight to 6 AM unless they have more than two tracks (though PATH is nearly a subway system, and does manage to keep service going at all hours). Existing high speed rail systems which happen to be small enough that a complete trip from one end of the system to the other takes under three hours apparently have similar maintenance windows. On the other hand, if we someday have a 220 MPH or faster transcontinental railroad, we'll probably want to find some way to not shut it down completely at night anyway for the benefit of sleeping car trains from one coast to the other.

Edited by Joel N. Weber II, 07 March 2010 - 05:44 PM.


#3 George Harris

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 03:38 PM

I was thinking one night why no one has built a HST for intermodal containers?

Air resistance. Increases with the square of speed. That is why aerodynamics are of huge concern with high speed trains.

Single level with shrouding, maybe. Stacked containers, absolutely not. The high superelevation used on a lot of the curves could result in overturning.

Then also, the desire seems to be to put the wire at too low a height to clear the double stack.

#4 jis

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 03:50 PM

Then also, the desire seems to be to put the wire at too low a height to clear the double stack.

That also has to do with reducing air resistance.

#5 battalion51

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 09:16 PM

The only thing that could possibly be effective for high speed transport is if you could put packages/mail into containers similar to the way they do on a 767. If you can load up a container and be able to load several of those into a car for high priority packages to move from A to B it could be effective. The key to high speed rail though is fast and light. The thing about freight is that it's inherently heavy...

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#6 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 12 March 2010 - 09:34 PM

The only thing that could possibly be effective for high speed transport is if you could put packages/mail into containers similar to the way they do on a 767. If you can load up a container and be able to load several of those into a car for high priority packages to move from A to B it could be effective. The key to high speed rail though is fast and light. The thing about freight is that it's inherently heavy...


Why do you think light in the key? It seems to me that when you're trying to overcome wind resistance, more weight equals more force that can be applied to counter wind resistance before the wheels slip. More weight does not by itself imply more wind resistance, unless the shape of the cargo changes as a result of the increased weight.

If you could run 15 trains an hour for a couple hours at night with fifty intermodal containers to the train, 80' and maybe 50,000 to 80,000 pounds per container, you'd probably have a lot more freight than can be carried by all of the planes that fly into and out of a major UPS or FedEx hub airport each day; I think the typical airplane carries about one 80' intermodal containerful of freight, and a half dozen trains might be enough to carry everything that goes through a major overnight package hub today. (Or maybe rather than have the nighttime focus, have one or two or three slots an hour for high speed freight during the day on each high speed track.)

If you can carry a lot more freight than the airlines do, larger containers than the airlines use probably do make sense.

The other question is how to prevent the freight railroads from lobbying against this, since they probably don't want to compete with government owned track that allows trains far faster than their own track. What if we had a system where every freight railroad has the option of accepting the use of HSR capacity as an alternative to accepting trackage payments for use of their tracks by Amtrak? I'm thinking of a system where for every passenger car a freight railroad allows to travel a mile on their tracks, they earn the right to run an 80,000 pound (or something) single stack intermodal container EMU for a mile on the high speed tracks. You'd need to work out some system to resolve the scheduling challenges as different freight railroads compete with each other and with passenger trains for the use of a given track.

I think if you give the overnight package companies a cheaper option than their current airplane fleet and give all the package companies equal access to that system, they probably won't be complaining; that should make more consumers willing to ship more packages, which should be good for their profitability.




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