Commentary, Electrification, High Speed Rail, Rail Technology, Technical and Rolling Stock

RailPAC sends letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in response to letter from California Assembly Speaker Rendon on High Speed Rail Settlement Agreement

The Honorable Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
Washington, DC 20590

July 7, 2021

RE: Response to California Legislature’s Electrification Technology Letter

Dear Secretary Buttigieg,

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) is an all-volunteer
bi-state organization that has advocated for the improvement of commuter and intercity
passenger rail service since 1978. Many RailPAC members are veterans of the railroad
industry or have considerable knowledge and experience of energy application and
transmission.

Recently the Speaker of the California Assembly and several co-signers sent you a letter
regarding the FY2010 High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Settlement Agreement.
The letter from the Speaker argued that battery and hydrogen technology make overhead
power delivery obsolete and that the Settlement Agreement should not restrict funds
solely to an overhead power system. In addition,that letter contained optimistic
assumptions and omissions which we would like to highlight.

While there is potentially a role for battery and fuel cell technology in rail transportation,
it is clear that neither hydrogen fuel cell nor batteries can deliver enough power to
operate a high-speed train. The key issue is the impact of weight and speed on the power
requirements.The critical advantage to overhead catenary electrification is the ability to
“offload” the power source to stationary power sources. This “off-loading” avoids
significant vehicle weight by eliminating thousands of pounds of fuel cell, hydrogen fuel
or batteries. Simply put, batteries and hydrogen fuel cells will never be light enough, or
have the on-board energy storage density to match the power efficiency of overhead
electrification for high speed rail operations. Overhead electrification has proven reliable
and is safe and cost effective for high-speed rail systems around the world.

Some members of RailPAC work on the design and building of prototype battery electric
locomotives while others own hydrogen powered automobiles and are involved in
advocating for adoption of hydrogen power. They were uniformly critical of the
Speaker’s proposal. They note that battery and hydrogen technologies are still unproven
both from the technical and economic perspective. There are scalability issues around the
production and distribution of green hydrogen which will require a significant investment
to become viable.Overhead electrification is “off the shelf” technology with decades of
proven service and continuous technological improvements.

Finally, given the lack of technical awareness and the lack of due diligence in the
Speaker’s letter,one can only presume the real intent of the letter was to sow confusion
in order to delay the project further,adding costs. Certain members of the Assembly
hope to divert funds to projects in Southern California seemingly unaware that there is
planned or ongoing investment of over $30 Billion in funded rail projects in the region.
Neither Southern California public agencies nor the construction industry has the
immediate capacity to take on additional large scale projects even if the funding were
made available.

RailPAC remains committed to the California High-Speed Rail project Early Interim
Service as the most viable path to the phase one high-speed network and the only viable
alternative to increased highway and airport investment. RailPAC sees no need to alter
the existing language in the Settlement Agreement. Thank you for your strong support
for passenger rail.

Sincerely,

Steve Roberts, President

Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC)

cc: Chief Counsel, Federal Railroad Administration

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