Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Saturday, August 08, 2009
rail v road
I have been reading a fair bit about Peak Oil etc lately but have a question for you. If electric cars are a bit of a con, how are we going to run trains in the future? I ask, as electric trains seem to be the only way forward [ ] with big electrification schemes coming to fruition.
It's a question of scale and efficiency. I read somewhere that to actually replace our entire car fleet by electric cars we'd need to increase our electricity generating capacity fourfold.
Trains of course are far more efficient for two reasons. Because of the lower friction of steel rail on steel wheel they use energy four times as efficiently. They can also get their supply via third rails, overhead, stubs, conduits etc. They don't need to carry the extra weight of batteries or all need recharging at the same time (overnight mainly in the case of cars).
The other problem for cars is that road surfaces need constant repairing using asphalt, which is oil based. As the price of travelling by car increases less and less people will be able to afford to run cars. This will decrease the tax take, which will probably mean higher road taxes, driving even more people off the roads. If the government try to shift the cost of keeping roads open to the general taxpayer, most of whom will never use roads, they will face huge opposition. Of course the cost of maintaining roads will increase despite the general reduction in traffic levels as the cost of asphalt will be directly connected to the price of oil. All this will be in a background where the future will mean less and less oil.
We'll see a wholesale shift to rail transport both due to government policy and the inability of most people to afford to run a car. The expansion of the rail network will of course mean even less electricity available to the car driver and at the end of the day any government will take the strategic decision to support rail over road, particularly as freight will be switching to rail in huge quantities. I can't see successful electric artics ever working because of the weight of the batteries needed to haul, say, 40 tonnes. Unless they start wiring up all the roads of course, but what would be the point? They may as well then convert them all to railways, to get that 400% efficiency gain!