Thursday, August 7, 2008

Caltrain Must Hike Fares Too

Caltrain is going to raise fares in order to cover diesel fuel cost spikes. Imagine if it were already electrified. Less cost and cleaner air. Why do cities still think DMU's are a good idea?


kenf said...

"Why do cities still think DMU's are a good idea?"

Because they save the cost of stringing wire that may get stolen. Besides, you can run them on biodiesel :-)

Justin said...

Because cities still worry about short-term capital investment, rather than long term benefits, and savings.
And electrification is not that expensive.

Stephen said...

Isn't the opportunity cost of the electricity going to be higher if the price of crude is higher? (The wording is deliberate: it matters not whether the electric company uses falling water or fission or natural gas or Powder River coal as the power source.)

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I think I understand what you're saying Stephen...but let me make sure. Are you saying that getting a project up and running faster is better than doing it using electricity which could perhaps be slower?

AJ said...

Isn't that the "eventual" goal anyhow? If that's what they're saying they plan on doing, someone should call them on it.

If they have no plans to electify, I might as well write off the electrification as wishful thinking :)

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

AJ, it is the eventual goal of Caltrain. However they keep putting it off because of lack of money. But interestingly enough they are having to spend more money on Diesel. I wish they would start it already...but if HSR passes, they are going to use that as the excuse to put it off until HSR gets built.

AJ said...

Whenever an agency says "eventually", what they're really saying is "when we get goaded into it". It's like telling a loved one you'll take out the trash "eventually" -- you're willing to do it, it will benefit you, but you don't really wanna do it right this second. That's when said loved one tends to push you into it.

Petitions, my friends. Petitions.

Brandon said...

(most) Electricity is not clean, it just moves the pollution somewhere else. In Colorado, the primary source of electricity is coal fired power plants. Even with newer "cleaner" plants coming online, they are a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of electricity currently being used. Someday electricity may be clean, but it's not now, nor will it be for a very very long time.

So if you eliminate the "clean" part of the argument, it's primarily a cost analysis. For corridors with longer distances between stops, and a longer route in general, it is much more economical to run diesel. Those cables and the related infrastructure are expensive, especially with the current cost of copper, in the past 5 years, copper has gone up almost 400%. The cost analysis for the northwest corridor here in Denver had a 30 yr payback for the cost of running the electric lines. The cost of diesel may seem high now, but the reality is that all energy prices pretty much track each other. Oil tends to rise and fall in giant spurts, whereas electricity tends to rise slowly. The local power company here just proposed a 20% hike in electricity prices over the next year.

njh said...

I thought the main issue was the poor acceleration of D-E locomotive trains compared to EMUs. Electrifying the caltrain line and using EMUs would significantly reduce the cost of stopping at stations. Existing trains can be run as bullets.

The main thing is to use the same 25kV design that the TGV and related trains use so that the HSR can plug into the peninsula line immediately, reducing the start up time for the HSR project.

There is no good reason to use low voltage (1500V) DC in this era of smart power electronics.

Regarding the price of copper,
You have: 3.4$/lb*pi*(0.5cm)^2*mile*

Definition: 8526.9645 US$

So we're looking at $8.5k/mile for the conductor. Double it, add in connections and throw a bit out for waste. The copper is not going to be a big part of the cost (given that estimates are usually around $1M/mile).

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Brandon, Denver got tricked out of electric on the northeast corridor. Also the clean argument is twofold. The issue is not just is if the source is clean, but where its emitting. Point source pollution is a big issue and is the reason why kids that live near freeways have higher instances of respritory ailments and asthma.

Even if a coal fired power plant is not clean, it is just one source of pollution in one place versus 10 trains along a whole corridor mucking that up. I will assume that in the 30 year time frame of the project, there will be some sort of movement towards scrubbing coal and natural gas plant emissions, and also a move towards more solar and wind energy. Yes as you say it will be slow, but not planning ahead for it is short sighted.

The second thing is that the clean argument isn't the only one. The main one is the cost argument. Electricity is cheaper to operate and more efficient than diesel. As NJH mentioned, DMU's and EMU's have much different acceleration rates. The reason why Caltrain electrification specifically would be such a boon is because the route speed end to end would be faster and you could do more runs with one operator versus just adding trains.
Look at BTU per passenger mile used. If you look at electric trolley buses versus regular buses, you would notice that there is a 2000 BTU difference between the two modes (4,000 to 6,000 BTU/pm) This makes it cheaper to operate as well. Over a 30 year amortization period, this savings will pay for itself.

Think about when a train stops at a station. It sits there running its engine for a minute at each station not going anywhere, electric vehicles don't draw any power from the wire during this time. Over the course of a year this adds up.

The third thing is that electric vehicles last longer. Electric motors don't have as many moving parts.

I just don't see any good reason to use DMUs or even diesel buses on BRT or trunk bus lines. Electricity is the way we should have gone at the start of the 20th century and its the way we should go in the future.

njh said...

Think about when a train stops at a station. It sits there running its engine for a minute at each station not going anywhere, electric vehicles don't draw any power from the wire during this time. Over the course of a year this adds up.

When I whiz by SJ Diridon on the light rail, every loco is idling, for a lot more than a minute. I presume this is due to the additional wear in starting the engine due to thermal cycling. You also left out noise pollution and passenger vibration, and the difficulty in providing electrical outlets to commuters (both of which are worth far more to me as a commuter than a few more dollars).

For me, cost is a poor justification for PT. It's all about comfortable, reliable, stressfree travel. I am constantly surprised by the american resistance to modern transit.

Stephen said...

I have no objection to electric transportation. Advocates, however, must be careful about suggesting that electric railways are therefore immune from fossil fuel price shocks. (You might want to look at fuel cost adjustment provisions in electric rate bills.) My use of the expression "opportunity cost" extends the argument to electricity from hydroelectric or nuclear energy sources as well. The competition for fossil fuels has knock-on effects on the price of electricity, no matter what the energy source is. Whether the rapid transit is electrified or not, it is not exempt from the effects of that competition on the price it will pay for power (or if it generates its own power, as Milwaukee Electric or the New Haven once did, it really ought treat the revenue it could get from selling that electricity to another user as its cost.)

njh said...

Stephen, you make a very good point, and one that is often missed. The way I've explained this point in the past is to ask the person to consider coming into an inheritance of a big pile of gold bricks. Would they build a house out of the gold bricks, or would they sell 10 gold bricks and build the house with the money thus earnt.

It's surprisingly hard for some people to grok.

Matt Fisher said...

Because they don't like making an investment in electrification of rail, a cost that they would be unwilling to pay.

I just wish the O-Train would go electric. "Baby steps" like the "pilot project" we have in Ottawa that opened 7 years ago are not enough.

In Toronto, they're gonna electrify the GO Train Lakeshore Corridor all the way between Hamilton and Oshawa, and I rode the GO Train from Pickering (east of Toronto) to Union Station in 2001, when I made my first visit there.

For me, my first train ride was on commuter rail, on the electrified Deux-Montagnes Line in the Montreal area, also in 2001, and it uses EMUs. I'm pissed that there are still people who complain about "visual pollution".