Yes we CAN have it all: Upgrading electric rail lines could also upgrade the electric grid

  • Published on September 17th, 2017

Solutionary Rail is a book with a strange title that proposes a plan to solve two critical infrastructure challenges with a single effort. Electrifying the US rail system and installing electrical transmission lines that serve to both provide power to the rail system and to transport electricity from capillary generation sources to the destination of most rail traffic — urban centers.

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Transporting People & Products

The core of the solution is the electrification of the rail system in the United States, which has the potential to unlock clean, reliable freight and passenger mobility for the entire country. To truly enable efficient transportation of people and goods over these rail lines, track modernization is required. Updating existing lines enables higher speeds on the existing thoroughfares without the expensive upgrades required for full-blown high-speed rail.

“Electrified rail can move the economy as a whole beyond reliance on fossil fuels” — Solutionary Rail

Improving the speed of existing rail lines while at the same time updating them to modern electric rail technology has the potential to transform the public perception of rail and, ultimately, the public and commercial utilization of these assets. Trains that run more frequently from major city to major city across the broad expanse of the United States and not just the eastern seaboard have the potential to make rail travel time-competitive and cost-competitive with air travel given the significant incremental time required at most airports to get through traffic and security prior to a flight. Faster, more reliable, electrified freight trains could draw high value cargo off diesel trucks clogging freeways and back to far more efficient tracks.

Moving Electricity to Where It’s Needed

In parallel to the upgraded rail lines, new electricity lines will be required to power these electric rail superhighways. Instead of installing the minimum gauge required to power the trains, Solutionary Rail suggests the installation of new bike trial in akron ohio by Jason Segadyarterial high-voltage transmission lines that, in addition to powering the trains themselves, serve as conduits to move power from remote generation areas — like wind farms in central Kansas — to city centers where the power can be better utilized.

“Railroad corridors could serve as electricity superhighways transmitting wind and solar energy from remote rural areas to metropolitan markets.” — Solutionary Rail

Optimizing existing assets by installing high-voltage lines where lower-voltage lines would have gone maximizes the value the general public, rail passengers, rail operators, and both public and private utilities while adding incremental value to regional utilities, distributed generators, and the overall national grid system.

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Improving the speed of existing rail lines while at the same time updating them to modern electric rail technology has the potential to transform the public perception of rail and, ultimately, the public and commercial utilization of these assets. Trains that run more frequently from major city to major city across the broad expanse of the United States and not just the eastern seaboard have the potential to make rail travel time-competitive and cost-competitive with air travel given the significant incremental time required at most airports to get through traffic and security prior to a flight. Faster, more reliable, electrified freight trains could draw high value cargo off diesel trucks clogging freeways and back to far more efficient tracks.

Moving Electricity to Where It’s Needed

In parallel to the upgraded rail lines, new electricity lines will be required to power these electric rail superhighways. Instead of installing the minimum gauge required to power the trains, Solutionary Rail suggests the installation of arterial high-voltage transmission lines that, in addition to powering the trains themselves, serve as conduits to move power from remote generation areas — like wind farms in central Kansas — to city centers where the power can be better utilized.

“Railroad corridors could serve as electricity superhighways transmitting wind and solar energy from remote rural areas to metropolitan markets.” — Solutionary Rail

Optimizing existing assets by installing high-voltage lines where lower-voltage lines would have gone maximizes the value the general public, rail passengers, rail operators, and both public and private utilities while adding incremental value to regional utilities, distributed generators, and the overall national grid system.

Due to their lower maintenance requirements, electric trains run a higher percentage of the time and are less prone to mechanical failures. This translates to a real-world improvement in reliability, further enhancing the proposition for potential customers who must rely on the trains for their travel needs. Increased reliability also makes trains a more attractive option compared to air travel, which is notoriously unreliable. Whether it be a mechanical failure, overbooking of flights, or weather challenges, air travel is widely known for interrupting business travel and vacations alike.

The Path Forward

Solutionary Rail is not a mere book but a platform designed to bring a revolutionary idea to the masses. A book that seeks to catalyze “a people powered campaign to electrify America’s railroads and open corridors to a clean energy future.” That movement started with the visionary concept that has been fully fleshed out in the book itself (Amazon link). If the idea tickles your fancy, buy a copy; search out the authors, supporters, enthusiasts; and get involved. This is an idea so massive, it is going to take an army to bring it to life, and each and every one of us has a role to play.

The originators of Solutionary Rail come from The Backbone Campaign, which was started to do exactly that — bring together passionate advocates from across the US and around the world to bring this powerful concept from paper to the plains, from idea to Iowa.

Get informed. You can take action first by getting informed about the full solution. Head over to the Solutionary Rail website where you can learn more about the full proposal and the demonstration project the team is working on. Buy the book, read it, then pass it on to others who are interested in solutions to the climate change crisis or mass transit.

Take local action. Engage your state’s governor and congressional representatives to let them know that you want electrified rail solutions in your state. Educate them on the benefits of electrified rail and the full Solutionary Rail solution. Ask them to work with their peers in neighboring states to bring the solution to life.

Share this article. It’s an easy way to connect your friends, family, and local activist pals with a well thought out solution to mass transit and renewable energy generation in the US.

(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica.)

About the Author

writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.