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© July 25, 2005 

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Railroad Technology
and the Oil Shortage

PCC streetcars have been un-retired to help meet the transportation needs on San Francisco.

photo by Jim O'Connor

Written by Gunnar Henrioulle  

A major global issue is the "behind the scenes" positioning for oil/energy supplies. We must do better for our young people. The United States can proudly point to a group of citizens comfortable with a rail oriented, and sustainable, economy.  Each of us must be able and willing to encourage planners, civic and corporate leadership, and social contacts that the US railway network is part of the solution. Rail MUST be on the table in each and every discussion of Energy Conservation, Homeland Security, Global Warming, Environmental Preservation, and Economic Development.

The remaining small railway operators are an example of what must be done, but on a larger scale. Where possible, renewable power must be incorporated with railway operations. The general public needs to understand that railways are a permanent fixture and a required component of commercial and societal COHESION in the Post Carbon (fossil fuel) Era.

Railways in the US are of "IMMENSE INTRINSIC VALUE".  Here's why: The two largest oilfields in the world are "Ghawar" in Saudi Arabia, "Cantarell" in Mexico's Gulf of Campeche. Both of which are in decline. As depletion accelerates in these notable fields, it will not be possible to replace them quickly, by any known or operable energy (in comparable volume of energy units): Bottom line- we face a period of economic stress unlike any in our national history! We are in an "Energy Overshoot" mode, using greater per-capita energy units of consumption, than can be made up by replacement in the depletion regime now facing the world's oil fields over this decade. Railways can help the US make the transition. We must maintain commercial cohesion during the shift to renewable fuels.

If miracles occur, and huge fields are discovered, it would take many to cover the total rate of world depletion and decades to fully develop. The next several decades must be bridged, whether or not new oilfields are put on line and/or the shift to alternative sources of energy are put in operation. This is not a sure bet. It is a safer bet to enable the US to stay mobile with a more comprehensive rail net. The steam railway/electric interurban railway footprint of the WWII era is required, lacking real breakthrough in substitute energy supply. I, for one am not willing to bet the future of this country on the hopes of just-in-time "techno fix". Even if that were that to occur, there are still obvious benefits in a more comprehensive railway network. Rolling efficiency alone justifies rail over much long-haul trucking now in vogue.

Exit with an action plan:

  • Develop region by region mapping of historic railway footprint- see old Thomas Bros, De Lorme' maps. See how the rails came downtown for warehousing. See Boardman's Maintenance of Way Cyclopedias- some examples of elevated railways had midtown victuals warehousing for night freight handling on the same rail. Isn't standard gauge wonderful!

  • ENERGY INDEPENDENCE BONDS (EIB)- liken them to WWII War Bonds (This Is No Drill) for raising part of capital. The EIB can be a voluntary account in a Social Security rework. EIB should be used for actual construction of renewable energy/ linked transport, at a minimum.

  • Develop programs for employment shifts- long haul truckers can become bus drivers, we'll need great shift to buses in urban commute, along with the electric rails.

  • WWII auto plant shift to war production. Likewise shift now- making the stuff of renewable energy and buses and railway equipment.

  • Mass produced electric and fuel cell railcars: see Budd RDC and PCC Streetcars on the web.

  • Carpooling and Technology RandD. Obvious- but not enough without the "Second Dimension Surface Transport Logistics Platform of Railway Matrix."

  • Pick one and start, write a letter, talk to a school board, club members or environmental or business or church group. A few hours a week, a couple of meetings a month. Adopt a local planner down at City Hall- Do it, please.

  • Very important, get the younger generation interested and informed about the ramifications of Peaking Oil. They will endure the change, AND fight the oil wars... is a good reference source for beginners.

Written by Gunnar Henrioulle
Photo by Jim O'Connor


About the Author:

My hands on steam engine credentials are limited to some work with Hal Wilmunder's Antelope & Western in 1960. On a dare, I stole a ride on SP 4460 from Palo Alto to 3rd & Townsend in July 1957. Only cab ride on big steam at speed. Got in trouble...After that I was with CalDWR- Water Resources. Then Aviation Maintenance, Pupil Transportation, and some railway experience, passed the Railway Rules Test (GCOR) and am presently working on rail transportation planning issues on the US50 Corridor between Sacramento, CA and Reno NV. Please see "Tahoe Valley Lines Mission Statement" in MASS TRANSIT MAGAZINE, 11-04, P.70. (Cygnus Publications). Former member High Speed Rail Association, American Public Transit Association.




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Written by Gunnar Henrioulle  

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