Cap and Trade’s effect on California’s Railroads

The State of California’s official policy is to reduce its emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The Governor recently set a new goal to insure the 2050 goal is met by executive order for the State to cut its GHG emissions to 40 percent below those of 1990 by 2030. Green House Gases are primarily carbon dioxide and methane. Transportation and energy production are both major emitters of GHG. What this will mean to meet these goals to reduce GHG in California are major reductions in the production and consumption of fossil fuels in California.

To bring about these reductions of GHG, the California Cap and Trade program was created using market forces to reward industries that reduce their GHG emissions and penalize those that don’t. Transportation in California, like the rest of the country is depended on oil. Not just for trains, but also trucks, buses and private vehicles. In the future California’s transportation will have to be run with little or no oil to meet the goals set for it by 2050.

California High Speed Rail is a major beneficiary of Cap and Trade. In the near future 25 percent of the income generated by Cap and Trade is earmarked for construction of High Speed Rail in California. The California High Speed Rail Authority has already pledged to use only renewable sources of electricity to run future High Speed Rail Trains which will be electrified. But this doesn’t address the needs to handle growing conventional passenger and freight rail service to reduce GHG emissions.

Outside of High Speed Rail and local rail transit very little rail service is electrified in California.The only other rail passenger service planning as of now to electrify is Caltrain between San Jose and San Francisco. Rail Passenger service in general will need to be expanded to reduce driving and lower the State’s GHG emissions to meet the State’s goals.

To meet the State’s goal to reduce Green House Gases, will need more trains to more places run with locomotives with reduced emissions. This will also mean more rail cars, locomotives, more double tracking with more service to more places, more frequent service and better connections to more markets. All of this is going to need more money. Also needed will be more new housing and development around the area of stations to encourage ridership and reduce the need to drive. Such improvements are needed not only on the LOSSAN Corridor which includes the Surfliners, Metrolink and Coaster trains. But also for the San Joaquin, ACE and Capitol Corridor trains as well. This also includes near future service along the Coast Line between Los Angeles and San Jose and from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley .All of this expanded service will also feed more traffic to California High Speed Rail and possible future Las Vegas to Southern California High Speed Rail.

While we could see additional electrification of rail service to more of California, it won’t be practical to electrify all the railroads. Electrification is unlikely on the freight railroads The freight railroads won’t want to pay for it in California, let alone on a National basis. The freight railroads also want to have standardized equipment for their system for economy sake and would not want to have to change locomotives on trains between electrified and non-electrified track segments. What other options are there for clean locomotives?

What we will likely see will be new hybrid locomotives. Such hybrids are being studied now for the trucking industry. The cost of batteries are already coming down making them more attractive for transportation. Walmart has already built a prototype turbine-electric hybrid semi tractor truck with an aerodynamic body which uses half the fuel of today’s semi’s.Modern small turbine engines can run economically at a constant speed. The acceleration of a turbine-electric hybrid is handled by the batteries. The turbine’s job is to keep the batteries charged. A turbine is both much lighter than a diesel engine and burns much more cleanly. The increased fuel economy and cleaner burning turbine combine to reduce GHG.

For the railroads both passenger and freight, reductions in pollution has been an increasing problem to met with tighter Federal pollution standards coming into effect. Also many neighborhoods near major rail yards are increasingly complaining about diesel locomotive emissions. This is one of the reasons the railroads have been looking at liquefied natural gas (LNG) for their locomotives. For the freight railroads using hybrid turbine-electric locomotives will save more money in reduced fuel consumption and start up costs than building the infrastructure needed for running trains on LNG.

The ability to recycle energy with the train’s regenerative brakes with either batteries or ultra-capacitors make hybrid locomotives much more attractive than LNG. One thing about turbines is they can run on just about any fuel, not just oil. Fuels could be available in the future that are renewable and have a low carbon footprint, much lower than fossil fuels like Natural Gas.

For rail passenger service, Cap and Trade in California is an opportunity to expand and grow. Cars and trucks won’t disappear. But the main problem in the future will be roads. Economics is driving denser populations in cities as people are confronted with higher costs for housing and transportation. The 1950’s and 60’s are long over as is cheap housing in the suburbs and cheap gasoline. Roads today are not as free flowing as they were 50 and 60 years ago. To create more affordable housing and save money on transportation, increased density is coming to California and other urban areas of America. The only way to make this work and avoid gridlock is with expanded rail passenger service.

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