Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hybrid-Electric Trains (HET)?

Trains are an effective, environmentally-friendly, cost-savings method for transporting cargo across long land-distances--especially with the advent of intermodal tranportation, in which carriers maximize the efficiency, cost, and timeliness by integrating different transportation modes for their cargo--whether it's fare-paying passengers, dedicated cargo-containers, or the intermodal-trucktrailer-flatbed combo cars.

New innovations also need to be made for train transport--such that these innovations combine research in alternate energy sources and usage methods, cargo-production-and-destination studies, and new methods of containing and transporting cargo.

Imagine if you wanted to have a family trip to L.A. You could go by plane, but the cost of the tickets for a family of four, the rental car and fuel, the hotels, and whatever attractions you might find there could be prohibative. What if you could drive your car (a PHEV, of course) onto a specially-designed "container car" that accomodates vehicles, then leave your vehicle and walk to the passenger car of the train, where you could enjoy a high-speed, few interruptions, trip across the country or down the coast. You would be able to get up and walk with the kids to the dining-car, or perhaps purchase a meal and/or snacks from the roving attendants with the carts (as they do in Japan on many of the long-distance, non-commuter trains). Because you are on the train with maybe another 400 or so other travelers, you have effectively gotten 200-300 other cars off the road--thus saving fuel and emmisions. You are also experiencing less stress from the driving. Once you get to your destination, you walk through the cars to the one that has your vehicle stored, off-load the car, and away you go with your family. The return trip could be the same.

How to Make the Trains More Effective and Energy-Efficient as Well?

Hitachi has developed a system to use Hybrid-Electric/Diesel technology for trains. By using a battery-assisted diesel-electric traction engine, the battery is used when the train is stopped at a station or elsewhere and during early accelerations up to about 20mph (30kph). After the 20mph/30kph threshold has been reached, the conventional diesel engine activates for further acceleration. Hitachi's tests in Japan showed that the hybrid system cut emissions by 50% and fuel costs by 20%. This system is being worked on for production in Japan and Europe.

This could be another way that the U.S. and world could improve their energy "footprint". This technology is already being used for municipal buses and cars (the HEV and PHEV), so there shouldn't be much of an additional stretch to start applying it to trains.

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