Thank you for taking the time to learn about Solutionary Rail. We hope that it is the beginning of ongoing communication and support for your work, on behalf of us all.
As we look at even the most progressive legislative efforts such as Rep. Frank Pallone's CLEAN Future Act or the THRIVE agenda, we are impressed by the vision - but discouraged by the missing component of rail. We like to quip that the Class 1 railroads are using the "We are not the droids you're looking for" Jedi mind trick to keep the largest infrastructural treasure and asset for decarbonization hiding in plain sight. The Solutionary Rail Team hopes we can work together to change that.
Contact us to request additional documentation, or to contact or convene experts for colleagues, Committees, or policymakers. The Solutionary Rail team will burn the midnight oil to get you whatever you need. Please harness our team.
With gratitude and solidarity,
Executive Director, Backbone Campaign
Solutionary Rail co-author & campaign lead
Summary of Solutionary Rail:
1. A vital, resilient and growing Interstate rail system is critical for the public good.
2. Railroads and the rail corridors belong at the gravitational center of efforts to build a decarbonized transport and energy future.
3. Mode shift, rail electrification, and use of rail corridors for transmission are interconnected, synergistic, and essential elements for navigating to that future.
A. Mode shift of freight traveling distances >500 miles is in the public’s interest for a range of reasons, not only for GHG emission reductions.
B. Electrification of rail’s fixed infrastructure offers long term efficiencies and savings and reduces extraction and waste stream problems related to batteries, and
C. Rail corridors offer a prime location for a National SuperGrid that requires rights of way for efficient HVDC transmission, in order to both stabilize the variability of renewable energy and increase its supply.
4. The integrated approach offered by Solutionary Rail offers a pathway toward enrolling and mobilizing a bi-partisan, unconventional alliance.
5. The recalcitrance, obfuscation, and extractive business model of the Class 1 railroads are formidable obstacles that threaten critical national infrastructure and its potential to help solve 21st century problems.
6. An unconventional alliance is possible; inviting and engaging allies such as the tribes, EJ communities, labor, family farmers, manufacturers, and those involved in energy generation and transmission, as well as shippers, in the problem solving process is critical to developing win/win solutions that overcome those obstacles.
7. Policymakers are invited to please leverage Solutionary Rail’s years of research, alliance building and proposal development as they convene stakeholders, experts, and cabinet members to further develop and fund win/win solutions.
8. Oversight and direction of the Surface Transportation Board (STB) provides the opportunity to broaden the scope of STB oversight of these under-regulated railroad monopolies, to reaffirm common carrier obligations, and align those obligations with public interest goals updated for the 21st century.
Links to Presentation, Roster of Experts, and Documents:
Our Slide Presentation with supplemental materials
- RailBites - bite size summaries of several rail and transportation issues
Possible Actionable Items
Hearings on Solutionary Rail related subjects such as the STB, common carrier status of Class 1 railroads, rural and short line access, and 21st century public interests related to freight, mode shift, interstate rail transport and decarbonization.
Inclusion of mode shift goals, rural access to Class 1 railroads, rail electrification and connecting SuperGrid right of way with public rail corridor purchase in resolutions, legislation, and amendments.
Collaboration with policymakers and their staff to obtain agency data/formulas to further the creation of a True Cost Calculator for freight transport in the public interest. Check out SR's pre-BETA proto-type HERE
Fund study of “grand bargain” scenarios for integrating, rationalizing and decarbonizing interstate rail and interstate highways, with integration of a National SuperGrid.
Briefing Resources, Experts, & Topics
Info on EU, Open Access, Shift2Rail, UK - Experts for Briefing on EU/UK lessons on Ownership and Open Access
1. Nicholas (Nick) Little - MSU, Director, Railway Education, Center for Railway Research & Education, Broad College of Business, Michigan State University
2. Andreas Aeppli - Principal at Cambridge Systematics https://www.linkedin.com/in/andreas-aeppli/
3. Carlo Borghini - Executive Director of EU’s Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking
Shift2Rail characterization of true costs and proposed logistical solutions and inspiring sources for expanding freight service
Characterization of trucking vs rail is important for broadening support for investments in rail. (This inspired Solutionary Rail’s effort to build a True Cost Calculator for Freight. BETA version here.)
Shift2Rail Catalogue of Solutions a collection of information technology, automation, and engineering tools to assist mode shift in the EU Open Access works system.
A US effort called Rail Pulse, funded by CRISI grant led by PennDOT and involving 5 railroads and veteran of NS Michael McClellan may have some parallels.
Carlo Borghini presentation to TRB 2021 - video HERE (14 min) You need password = 4WRD2GTHR
Carlo Borghini interview and conversation with Solutionary Rail https://www.solutionaryrail.org/shift2rail
Mode Shift & Characterizing True Cost of Freight Transport in the US
What would be required to mode shift the vast majority of freight traveling distances over 500 miles off of roads and onto tracks?
The question of aggressive mode shift and what would be needed to achieve such a major effort over the next decade needs significant investigation. Our team could help unravel that. Our 2020 brief, Moonshot Modeshift was our first effort to address this. More research has been done since.
Experts doing important related work in the US, related to Benefit Cost Analysis, Life Cycle Costs of rail vs truck freight, future of trucking, labor and impacts of platooning, etc, as well as an important rail labor advocate:
- John Maddox, Kansas DOT - Benefit Cost Analysis for Public Private Partnerships to support short line railroads, farmers and reduce road wear and tear in Kansas
Kansas DOT's Win Win Support of Shortline Railroads, March 2021 presentation
Michael Sussman - Principal at Strategic Rail Finance (SRF)/OnTrack North America (c3) Michael has decades of experience and a vast database. One aspect SRF work includes Life Cycle Costs.
Steve Viscelli - author of The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream and a 2018 report "Driverless" www.driverlessreport.org
- Ron Kaminkow and Fritz Edler - Railroad Workers United on labor justice and a just transition for safer work conditions and balancing any trend toward automation with protections for workers.
Recent University of Pennsylvania Truck Size and Weight study (LINK to come)
Solutionary Rail is working with OnTrack North America and others to develop a True Cost Calculator for freight transport to demonstrate the differences in the impacts of truck and rail freight. We are currently utilizing Oak Ridge National Lab’s Freight Analysis Framework (FAF) data with the technical assistance of volunteer Huajing Shi, principal data scientist for Port Authority of NY/NJ. We’d welcome the opportunity to work with your staff, get technical assistance from the Congressional Research Service or other agencies to refine it for use by members of Congress for setting policy priorities.
As of 03/01/2021, we are in the earliest pre-beta stage. Updates will be accessible at http://SolutionaryRail.org/truecost
Motive Power Electrification/Hybrid locomotives (building upon battery locomotive project in California):
Nicholas Little - MSU
Andreas Hoffrichter - -Deutschebahn (previously at MSU)
Andrea Mazzone - FFL4E consortium project
Alan Drake consulting engineer and polymath with visionary perspective on rail and transmission.
Karl Zimmerman or other representative of United Electrical Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) may be resources for this topic.
Trends in rail speed passenger & freight:
All the above experts would likely have something to add, as would:
Thomas White, rail planner, co-author of the Amtrak Cascades Long Range Plan
Steve Chrismer recently retired, Principal Track Geometry Engineer for Amtrak. Last project was assessing the potential to increase maximum Acela speeds from 150mph(240kmh) to 160mph(257kph).
Facts and False Solutions Brief on HrSR, HSR, uHSR
(Also covers risks of over reliance on batteries.)
Article on German trend is toward 155mph (250kph) max
Rail Corridors for HVDC Transmission/National SuperGrid RoW
Experts for Briefing:
James Hoecker - former FERC Chair, the WIRES trade group president, now co-founder of NEMA Rail Electrification Council
Stacy Tatman - NEMA Govt. Affairs Manager
Alexander MacDonald - former NOAA scientist and author of modeling study for 80% Renewables by 2030
Cris Stainbrook - President of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, expert on tribal land use and easements
Assessing Catenary Power for Trucks and Trains (and other public interests in the role of rail in a just transition)
Assumptions/Benefits of catenary for trucks and trains:
- There will continue to be a need for the flexibility of trucking in our freight system for the foreseeable future.
- One important advantage of catenary systems whether on road or over track is that they decrease the negative social/economic/political impacts of additional mineral extraction for battery production, and thus reduce waste stream impacts as well.
- Catenary systems may provide an additional tool for rapidly reducing diesel emissions that are poisoning communities situated near and workers working at ports, warehouses and intermodal facilities.
- Catenary systems may decrease inefficiencies/energy loss related to charging battery-only vehicles which results in less demand for generation and therefore allows for a speedier decarbonization of the energy generation sector.
Therefore, catenary power for trucks may solve certain significant challenges related to the decarbonization of freight transport.
Public Interests in balancing freight movement by roads and rail:
Similar to the potential positive impacts of catenary power for trucks, catenary power for freight (and passenger) rail is also an important component in the decarbonization of transport and energy systems. Hybrid systems such as Siemens’ trucks/eHighways (video here) that supplement catenary supply with batteries and regenerative braking are also an important approach for decarbonizing rail transport. Though the recent Wabtec/BNSF battery locomotive is battery only, it represents a step toward increasing the feasibility of rail electrification (video here). As with trucks, battery power is not a replacement for catenary power. In fact, the public good is best served if rail electrification in the US is accelerated by utilizing battery backup/hybrids for motive power in places where the expense of catenary electrification has been deemed exceedingly expensive.
Prioritizing the Efficiencies of Rail
Catenary power for long haul truck freight does not solve other public interest concerns including:
- Wear and tear costs of HGV on roads and bridges are not addressed/solved by long haul truck electrification
- Inefficiency of energy use per ton mile (relative to steel wheels on tracks/i.e. rail) should be measured for the impact on/slowing of decarbonization of energy generation.
- Road safety may not be significantly improved simply through HGV electrification, (though one could imagine that the technological improvements that accompany catenary trucks could bring safety improvements.)
- Congestion related to long haul trucks is not solved through electrified/catenary trucks.
- Brake and tire pollution is not solved by simply electrifying long haul trucks.
- As with other truck electrification opportunities, implementation timeline and harmonization with other solutions needs to reflect urgency of the community health crisis.
Need for Cost Benefit Analysis and System-wide Design:
- A public interest approach needs to weigh the above factors to reduce current and future social and environmental harms and accelerate decarbonization.
- A vision for infrastructure that serves these public goods requires a harmonization of the transportation, energy generation and transmission systems.
- Rationalizing rail and truck freight and the infrastructure they utilize according to the inherent efficiencies that each offer is part of that harmonization process.
- Community and stakeholder participation in the design of the emergent system is essential for a just and equitable transition to decarbonized society.
The class 1 railroads and their rights-of-way are critical national infrastructure and need to be treated as such when considering transportation and energy infrastructure planning to meet decarbonization and other public benefit goals.
- Capacity of the interstate rail system must be increased to allow the utilization necessary for mode shift that integrates the interstate rail system with the interstate highway system.
- Open Access to the transportation infrastructure is likely necessary to facilitate greater utilization by carriers of all sizes to serve shippers of all sizes.
- Common Carrier rules that historically protected shippers against discrimination according to volume or distance need to be re-instated on transportation monopolies
- Transmission and energy generation is a key element of a decarbonized transportation system.
- The National SuperGrid ideas and harmonization of rail and road transportation infrastructure are inextricably linked.
Rail Connects Us All
Community Leadership & Participatory Process for Solving Problems Together
- Existing societal division/polarization between urban and rural communities may be deescalated through active participation in customizing just transition plans to reflect their unique and shared aspirations and affirm their common cause.
- Community self-determination and community-generated solutions must be woven into any state or national decarbonization plan.
- Engagement of EJ communities, workers and shippers is essential for solving transportation related solutions
- Tribes, rural co-ops, farmers, and all entities involved in energy generation and transmission or the easements for such have a vested interest in this system and need to be at the table for its design and implementation.
- Investment in community-based organizations for public education and participatory planning is essential to animate local engagement in shaping and manifesting a holistic vision for a just transition to a decarbonized and equitable society.
Leadership is essential for turning the tide on a US rail industry headed on a disastrous trajectory.
Class 1 railroads’ extractive, assumptive, and obfuscating approach threatens 150 years of societal investment. Under the guise of so-called “Precision Scheduled Railroading,” aka “PSR,” the Class 1 railroads are engaged in what one analyst refers to as “a prolonged going-out-of-business sale.”
It is in the national interest that the capacity of US interstate railroads grow, not shrink. Rapid, reliable and robust capacity to transport people and freight is necessary for meeting climate and other public interest goals. Access to interstate railroads is as essential as access to our interstate highways and especially critical for the viability of the over 600 short line railroads and passenger carriers.
It is critical that policymakers reiterate that Class 1 railroads are common carriers, allowed to exist as regulated monopolies in exchange for serving the long term interests of the society. Those interests and obligations need to be clarified and updated to serve 21st century priorities for communities, workers and the environment.
Input on Strategy for Secy Haaland related to energy, transmission & the intersection with transportation
Secretary Haaland could help convene key cabinet members and make sure that Tribes are "at the table, not on the menu." The below are some initial thoughts based on these three initial points.
Interdisciplinary problems require interdisciplinary solutions.
- The fates of us all are connected, but the success of Biden via Buttigieg, Granholm, Regan, Kerry, and Haaland - are inextricably linked.
Solutionary Rail has been connecting the dots on these issues for years.
We published a book in late 2016, a series of supplemental briefs, and dozens of interviews with community and technical experts.
Solutionary Rail is a resource to administration leaders & Congress.
(Our 3 minute introductory video is HERE.)
These Solutionary Rail ideas are a place to start:
- Moonshot Modeshift + National SuperGrid Phase 1
A. Utilize BNSF's Northern and Southern Transcons (through partnership or purchase) as a first phase of implementing National Sustainability Corridors.
B. Those corridors would receive federal investment in capacity, modernization and electrification of the rail lines to facilitate a massive "Moonshot Modeshift" of long haul (>500 miles) freight from trucks to trains with both increase in intermodal container traffic and "Roll On - Roll Off" methods. Rapid Freight and Passenger service would be enabled with dedicated fast lanes, sidings, grade separation, etc.
2. The Rights of Way would provide easements for the East/West backbone of the National SuperGrid, consisting of mostly buried, highly efficient HVDC (high voltage direct current) transmission. (Similar to lines on map below)
(We've been working with former NOAA scientist Alexander MacDonald, former FERC chair Jim Hoecker who co-founded NEMA's (National Electric Manufacturers Association) Rail Electrification Council, and others on this idea for years. We brought them and Cris Stainbrook, President of the Indian Land Tenure Foundations who I will mention later to the Select Committee on the Climate process to get rail easements prioritized for transmission rights of way.)
3. Right of Way Justice - these "Sustainability Corridors"/"Transition Corridors" actually cross approximately 20 tribal nations which creates an opportunity for us all.
The Right of Way Justice excerpt from our book HERE was created in consultation with Cris Stainbrook, President of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (and others).
This facilitates terms such as the below:
- access to cultural sites and usual and accustomed fishing/hunting/etc
- increases economic compensation
- benefits related to access to freight and passenger rial service
- use of the transmission infrastructure to support energy sovereignty, energy export, sale of electricity to power the trains
- wherever possible, tribal ownership of infrastructure
Secretary Haaland could utilize Solutionary Rail's staff, our roster of experts and our concepts as resources and impetus for convening her cohorts into a dialogue for a win-win collaboration that honors treaties, protects and expands the commons, and implements a Seventh Generation development model.