Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cost of Coal

One other cost of coal seldom considered is its disproportionate percentage of railroad tonnage versus revenue. Coal is important to railroad company earnings. To make earnings from moving mountains of coal, barely adequate locomotive power is assigned to move loaded trains from origin to destination within the permissible hour of service rules.

Slow moving coal freight trains are profitable because they use fewer btu's of energy to get the job done.

Estimates of btu's per ton mile for rail overall is 1720.  Containerized / trailer on flatcar operations require 2,040 btu's per ton mile. A unit coal train requires 890 btu's per ton mile. ( "Energy Use In Transportation" Richard Mudge, Febrauary 1982, Congressional Budget Office for House Committee on Energy and Commerce.")

Slow moving coal trains impede the fluidity of a mainline. That is a cost of coal seldom considered. More often the external costs to air and water quality caused by coal are what is discussed.

Coal is a major impediment to increasing speed over the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line.

Suppose that the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Line were electrified? Electrification will likely exchange about 2.5 to 3 btu's of refined oil for 1 btu of electricity.  So an electrified railroad would appear to be able to move coal at containerized / trailer on flatcar speeds using fewer btu's than an oil based railroad operation.

Assuming 2.75 btu's divided by btu's required to move containerized / trailer on flatcar trains, 2040, equals 742. (See draft, "An American Citizen’s Guide to an Oil-Free EconomyA How-To Manual for Ending Oil Dependency With valuable bonus information on Saving Our Economy, Our Planet and Strengthening Our National Security" by Alan S. Drake, for btu estimate for electrification.)

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