Thursday, March 29, 2012

Balance Between Transportation Modes

In the USA are a disproportionate number of ton miles being accomplished by highway as opposed to the railroad mode. This is the result of a historic support since World War II for the highway mode by government. Combine the historic government policies toward the railroad mode after World War II and today's imbalance of proportion of ton miles between the modes is the result.

Accomplishing restoration of rail passenger service to a service level and frequency that induces travel demand for higher speed passenger rail service has to be done in a way that compliment freight railroad operations. Restoration cannot happen without either a neutral impact upon a freight railroad or a positive impact upon a freight railroad. Even with a neutral impact upon a freight railroad, the private company is open to unforeseen external costs due to restored passenger rail service. Railroad company managements tend to have long range thinking that bends towards the potential for catastrophe. Another way to say that is that the need to conserve and protect assets for the future underlies railroad decisions. Management cannot and will not be adventuresome in the terms and conditions relating to its right of ways.

The description of the changes to the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg right of way made on this blog assume that the changes would be financed by the passenger train operator. Currently that would be Amtrak. The proposed changes to accommodate higher speed rail passenger trains assumes that the infrastructure required to do so would be for passenger trains.

The current ton miles performed by the railroad mode tend to be for freight that does not require higher speeds. But, there is an incredible market for higher speed freight operations. As line haul cost efficiencies are inherent to the railroad mode, more highway freight will move to the railroad mode. Taking a look at Pennslyvania, I80 here at Sharon, PA sees 8500+ tractor trailers pass by on an average day. Let's assume that half or 4250 will be crossing the Commonwealth its whole length. In other words, 4250 tractor trailers are converted to container train operations. Double stacking the containers would require 2125 rail freight cars or carrying units. That would be about another 26 trains a day with 82 cars per train. The Norfolk and Southern might be able to add 26 more fright trains across Pennsylvania. But doing so would quickly tax the existing Norfolk Southern infrastructure.

If the proposed third track Pittsburgh to Harrisburg were built, that added capacity would create opportunities for the Norfolk Southern to capture new ton miles. It would be necessary for Amtrak or whatever entity that builds and owns the third track to reach an agreement for fees for freight trackage rights.

It is conceivable that another enterprise might operate over the third track. The Roadrailer vehicle could be used by a third entity to move containerized freight at higher speeds over the third track. This woud be possible because a Roadrailer vehicle does not require the sames infrastructure for pickup, sorting and delivery that railroad cars require. A sidetrack and highway access is required for a Roadrailer vehicle. A classification yard is required for the railroad car. A tractor hauling a Roadrailer vehicle performs the pickup and delivery of the Roadrailer vehicle. The Roadrailer vehicle, while not currently used in a chassis and container combination; could be used in such a fashion. Or the competitive railroad mode vehicle might remain a trailer van.

In the long term, railroad companies must be planning for the loss or lessening of coal shipping revenue. Regulations for coal burning power plants makes it likely that coal tonnage will not be a source for more railroad earnings. ( See: Replacement for that revenue is the potential in providing greater higher speed freight operations. Higher speed freight volumes creates a greater capacity to operate higher speed freight operations.

The balance between the highway mode and the railroad mode is that highway capacity should be maintained. Railroad capacity should be maintained and increased.

1 comment:

  1. All the modes of transportation require full maintenance whether it road or rail.