Converting Uses To Electric

Our Clean Transportation Proposal targets our fossil fuel powered transportation uses and converts them to emission-free power

 Electrify the Railroads

GHG emissions from railroads are way down the emissions source table on page 9 of the Liedos Report. At 0.5 MMTCO2e, they represent about ½% of Washington State’s total emissions. However, this is about 4% of the state’s emission reduction goal for 2020. In addition, it is over 8 times the 2020 emission reductions (0.06) projected for four of the nine emission reduction policies presented on page 10.

State renewable fuel (diesel) standard 0.03
GHG emissions performance standards 0.0
Energy efficiency programs for public buildings 0.0
Conversion of public fleet to clean fuels 0.03

These four and the other five policies studied only reduce pollution from a given source. A well-intentioned start, but these GHG sources will still be killing the planet, only just a little slower. Energize NorthWest’s clean transportation proposal is to ELIMINATE a pollution source wherever possible, which is what electrifying the railroads would do.

Burke was a railroad buff from a young age and can remember seeing the electrified Milwaukee Railroad locomotives and the overhead wires that powered them. This Wikipedia link covers the history of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad from their founding to their demise. Be assured, that being the most electrified transcontinental railroad did not lead to their demise.

Electrify Tacoma Rail

In Tacoma, we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate electrification by combining the resources of Sound Transit, the City of Tacoma, and one of the City’s utilities, Tacoma Rail. If you are not from the Seattle area, Sound Transit was formed to provide the Seattle area with mass transit. It was started to develop a region-wide Light Rail system but has grown to include ST Express Buses, Heavy Rail (Sounder), Light Rail (Central Link), and in Tacoma, a 1.6-mile streetcar through downtown called the Tacoma Link. All but the Central Link reach our Tacoma Dome Station.

Sound Transit is in the planning stage of a $100 million plus expansion of the Tacoma Link. The selected route will do little to improve the Tacoma Link’s falling ridership. (Burke lives four blocks from the planned expansion route. As a Realtor, Burke sold six homes within six blocks of the proposed route. He is well aware that there are not enough people or businesses near this route to justify this expansion.)

Now is the time to convince Tacoma and Sound Transit’s leaders to emulate Tacoma’s leaders of over 100 years ago that built a streetcar line to Point Defiance Park. It provided a destination for day-trippers as well as providing transportation into undeveloped areas west of the fledgling city. Areas that would develop into major Tacoma neighborhoods. Tacoma owns and Tacoma Rail operates a rail line headed southeast toward Mt. Rainier. Called the Mountain Division these tracks were part of the now defunct Milwaukee Railroad system. This line serves the Frederickson Industrial Park and passes thru Graham and Eatonville on its way to the foothills of Mt. Rainier. This area is one of the few spaces available for future growth and its roadway system is overloaded because a planned freeway was never built.

Let’s redirect the Tacoma Link expansion funds and use them to upgrade the tracks and install overhead catenary to Graham. This would provide the residents of South East Pierce County a pollution free way to commute to Tacoma for work, shopping, and events at the Tacoma Dome. If they want, they can catch the polluting Diesel powered Express Busses or the Diesel powered Sounder trains and continue on to Seattle.

Some of the funds will be used to purchase or lease rolling stock. Although only lightly used for freight and an occasional tourist train, the Mountain Division is a full-sized railroad. The Tacoma Link and Seattle’s Central Link rail cars might share the same track gauge but they are not strong and safe enough to blend in with general rail traffic (Federal Safety Laws). Therefore this line will have to utilize full size locomotives and passenger like the Sounder uses. The Sounder uses Bombardier BiLevel Coaches pulled with a standard Diesel locomotive. We will need electric-powered locomotives. Bombardier makes a unique locomotive, the ALP-45DP. The DP stands for Dual Power as it can run powered by emission free electricity supplied by overhead catenary, or one or both of its diesel engines if needed. This makes it more expensive to buy but saves on construction costs as it can travel anywhere and does not need expensive dedicated service facilities such as the one built for the Tacoma Link system.

The “Mountain Link” train could start at the Graham Park-and-Ride Lot picking up passengers at several other park-and-rides on its way to the Tacoma Dome Station. Here the passengers could transfer to the Sounder, local and regional buses, catch the Tacoma Link to Downtown, or optionally switch itself to Diesel power and continue to Seattle.

If at this time, it does not make economic sense to electrify the Mountain Division, Tacoma Rail could lease several US Railcar’s DMUs (Diesel Multiple Unit). This is a diesel powered rail car that can carry up to 72 passengers and is powerful enough to pull several coaches if ridership warrants. Like the Bombardier equipment described above, these DMUs are approved to operate in mixed mode freight corridors. Therefore, they can be used to provide midday service to Seattle or scheduled service to Olympia as well as serve special events like the U S. Open at Chambers Bay and the Puyallup Fair. For that matter they can provide service anywhere rail tracks are available. (We usually do not recommend anything diesel powered, but if the interim use of these DMUs promotes subsequent electrification it might be worth it.)

If some Sound Transit funds allocated for Link remain, Tacoma Rail could electrify the tracks south to Dupont and provide local daytime service to Tacoma. (Sound Transit runs south to Lakewood but these trains run only in the morning and evening to transport commuters to and from Seattle.)

Our goal at Energize Northwest is not for Tacoma Rail to have a 15 mile electrified branch line, but to demonstrate to the Northwest and the whole nation, that GHG emissions from railroads can be completely eliminated if you power trains with cleanly generated electricity. Tacoma is a good place to start, as Tacoma Power’s electricity is over 95% clean.

Electrify Burlington Northern Santa Fe

Since the number one railroad in our region, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, we only have to convince Warren Buffet it to his advantage to convert to electric power. Maybe a ride on the electrified Mountain Link with Bill Gates can convince Buffet to start electrifying the BNSF tracks that the Sounder commuter trains use between Lakewood (Just south of Tacoma) and Everett. Once started, electrification can be extended to Portland and then on to Los Angles.

Bombardier ALP46A Locomotive

Bombardier ALP46A Locomotive

The Bombardier ALP series locomotives were designed to pull the BiLevel Coaches the Sounder uses. New Jersey Transit does just that with over 35 locomotives and over 300 Coaches. If the tracks were upgraded and overhead catenary installed, ALP series locomotives could be pulling coaches to Portland at 125 mph with zero global warming emissions.

In Washington State, long-range plans for passenger service envisage a dedicated high-speed passenger line parallel to freight lines in the corridor between Seattle and Portland. Building tracks for a high-speed, like 200 mph, train in this corridor would very difficult and expensive. A more sensible approach would be adding a regular speed third track exclusively for passenger rail. With a separate electrified passenger track, automated single rail cars could carry people between Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Portland every 30 minutes. We think if you ask prospective riders which they would rather do, wait two hours for a train that can make the trip in under an hour, or wait 30 minutes for a train that can get them there in about an hour and a half, they will choose the latter.

Berkshire Hathaway has the money to do the conversion, but the State can help by redirecting some of the Federal Rapid Rail funding for electrification. There could be another way to help with the electrification. To export our clean nuclear electricity to the southwestern states, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) will need to increase the capacity of its electrical transmission lines to Southern California. If it can do so with superconducting cables, which have to be buried in the ground, maybe the BPA can negotiate a trade with BNSF. The BPA can provide the electrical distribution system for BNSF in exchange for being able to bury their superconducting lines along their right-of-ways.

Our long-term goal is to electrify all the railroads on the West Coast and then eastward over the Rocky Mountains and to power them with pollution-free electricity from Hanford’s reactors.

As is often the case, the US is behind the rest of the world in the utilization of railroad electrification. In 2006, 50% of the all the worlds rail transport was carried by electric traction. But we are looking ahead. This 2009 Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Report (156 page pdf) analyzes electrification and its effect on the railroads’ carbon footprint. The report even mentions the power needed to electrify BNSF’s mainline from Chicago to Los Angles as being about 1500 MW which is about the output of one nuclear plant. (How about first electrifying Seattle to Los Angles and then Seattle to Chicago.) For your convenience, we have selected three pages pertinent to electrification from the report’s section on Future Trends in Rail Fuel Efficiency.

Electrify Long Haul Trucks

Another way we can reduce transportation fuel usage is to electrify long hall trucks. We can erect power wires over the left lanes of the freeways. Trucks will be converted to diesel-electric with the ability to run on overhead power where available. We will need to develop power poles that can automatically extend from the truck to connect to the overhead wires.  It will take a combined effort of the highway departments, the power utilities, companies like Kenworth, and a bit of ingenuity, but it is more than doable.

Promote Electric Cars

Electric vehicles are coming into their own with the advent of Lithium-Ion batteries. We can encourage this acceptance of electric and hybrid vehicles by increasing the availability of charging stations and keeping the price of electricity low. Later, we can evaluate the feasibility of equipping electric cars with long power poles and having them hook up to the wires powering long-haul trucks.  As an alternative, cars, electric or otherwise, could attach themselves to the back of an electric-powered truck, or a dedicated electric tug vehicle, forming a train to be towed down the freeway. During the tow, electrical power can be transferred from the towing vehicle through the couplings between cars to recharge the batteries of any electric cars in the train.

Recharge Our Aluminum Industry and
Maybe Recharge Aluminum-Air Batteries

The Northwest use to have an extensive aluminum refining industry, which was powered by cheap surplus hydroelectric electric power. With the decline in the availability of surplus electrical power, refineries moved elsewhere. If we can create a surplus of electricity again, we could redevelop the aluminum industry and possibly produce aluminum-air batteries.  Aluminum exists in nature as an oxide, and it takes a lot of electricity to refine it to pure aluminum. However, the process is reversible. You can take pure aluminum, combine it with oxygen from the air, and produce electricity. More electricity than you can get from any current electric vehicle battery. The catch is that you must remove the discharged battery and replace it with a new one. The discharged battery’s oxidized aluminum can then be returned to the refinery and recycled. (Researchers are working to make this process reversible in the battery but nothing is marketable yet.)

Searching for links to information on Aluminum-Air Batteries, we discovered that last year (March 2013) a company in Israel demonstrated an Automobile powered by an aluminum-air battery. Of course, the numerous links to their news article are full of ads, but Phinergy’s Website just promotes their product announcement. We are not in the product endorsement business but check them out. Phinergy is the type of energy start up company we should be promoting here!) 

Convert Our Ferries to Nuclear Propulsion

NS Savannah

NS Savannah

The July 21, 2015, copy of The Tacoma New Tribune almost brought me to tears. The “Today In History” column noted that the first nuclear powered merchant ship, the N.S. Savannah was christened July 21, 1959, by US First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. That is the year I graduated from West Seattle High School and I was proud of my country’s launching of this ship to demonstrate peaceful uses for nuclear energy. Now it is almost 56 years later and the United States does not have one non-military nuclear powered ship. I am disappointed with my country. I hope that I will be able to see the United States crawl out of this creative quagmire before I am decommissioned. The above link to is to Wikipedia’s entry on the Savannah. This link is to a conservationist site for the N.S. Savannah. It is great to see that some people care enough to maintain this positive example of our peaceful use of nuclear energy.

How about converting our ferries to nuclear power?  We already have nuclear powered Navy vessels in Puget Sound. The manufactures of naval power units would be delighted to have a new customer and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard could convert the ferries and maintain their nuclear power plants.

Checking out Wikipedia’s entry on Nuclear Marine Propulsion, we followed a link to the Netherlands and the 2007 Master’s Thesis of J. G. C. C. Jacobs. This 131 page thesis studies, in great detail, the feasibility of powering an 800 TEU container ship with nuclear power. With a little more research, we determined that this size container ship is similar to our Jumbo Class Ferries in both size and propulsion power requirements.

The thesis ends with a financial analysis of nuclear versus diesel power. The data shows the obvious, the capital cost of nuclear is much, much higher, but its fuel costs are much, much lower. There are many variables shown. However, with our present low inflation and interest rates, nuclear power breaks even at about thirty years. After that, nuclear powered ships are much cheaper to operate than diesel-powered ones. Thirty years might seem like a long payback time to an investor, but it is a short time if it completely eliminates this source of greenhouse gasses.

The author selected a Japanese gas-cooled reactor design for his ship’s power. However, this design is a long way from production. Small reactors development is the most active area of nuclear power plant development. The World Nuclear Association’s page on Small Nuclear Power Reactors lists 30 designs in various stages of development and about half a dozen of these are the size suitable for powering a ferry. This WNA page has been greatly expanded since we initially wrote this entry. This is a result of the expanded interest in the development of SMRs. (Updated Nov 2017)

This WNA page also discusses various reactor designs and their development progress. It includes familiar local names like Bill Gates and Energy Northwest but country names like Japan and China appear more frequently. Nuclear power development is having a worldwide renaissance. The Northwest is involved, but we have to make a deliberate effort to put us at the forefront. The simple announcement that the State is interested in Nuclear Power for its ferries would draw developers focus and keep us in the nuclear world’s eye.

Our clean transportation proposal has an almost endless potential for creating jobs as we develop ways to replace carbon fuels with clean Nuclear Power.

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