News   Feb 26, 2021
 489     0 
News   Feb 26, 2021
 1K     0 
News   Feb 26, 2021
 2K     7 

The Coming Disruption of Transport

TorPronto

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
May 25, 2017
Messages
219
Reaction score
199
TuSimple is a self-driving long haul trucking company already operating in the US south. Add electrification and I am starting to come around to the idea that this will eat pretty significantly into rail traffic--or rail really has to up in game from a service point of view to remain competitive.


Interesting to think what this does to railroads. Do they remain viable? Do they need to merge? Do high value ROWs for passenger rail get freed up (North Toronto sub)?

It definitely feels like autonomous electric HOV vehicles (aka minibuses) will have potential for longer distance regional travel, too. Especially if we can create dedicated HOV lanes for them. They should be quite affordable and effective for travel time, just need to give them appropriate priority over single occupancy vehicles.
I think the risks for rail are all coming at once. Oil and coal are significant cargo which is going away. Add a lower cost for trucking pulling away more cargo from trains and I see the rail companies potentially being cut in half (whatever that means... Traffic/volume). Potential bankruptcy
 

kEiThZ

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Jul 31, 2008
Messages
9,975
Reaction score
3,644
The build up of renewables will involve lots of industrial activity, which should drive some business. But they are definitely going to face challenges as commodities decline. But that's easily a decade out before it truly hits their balance sheets.
 

lenaitch

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Sep 5, 2017
Messages
2,655
Reaction score
2,207
What about all the unit trains of sea cans bringing us the offshore-manufactured stuff that we consume? All via road - without or without drivers?

I await a real-world test of AV trucks in our climate.
 

afransen

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 22, 2007
Messages
3,753
Reaction score
2,039
I think the risks for rail are all coming at once. Oil and coal are significant cargo which is going away. Add a lower cost for trucking pulling away more cargo from trains and I see the rail companies potentially being cut in half (whatever that means... Traffic/volume). Potential bankruptcy
On that subject, and wasn't sure it was relevant, but I thought this piece summarized potential impact of renewables.


Report:
 

kEiThZ

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Jul 31, 2008
Messages
9,975
Reaction score
3,644
How much of their business is actually oil and and coal?

Also I would think the oil business will be there for at least 15-20, even if volumes are declining. Thermal coal is probably over in 5-10 years in North America.
 

2transpo

New Member
Member Bio
Joined
Jan 14, 2021
Messages
81
Reaction score
19
I will repost this here from the CN Milton thread. It sums up my thoughts on the future of rail.

It isn't wise to dismiss the threat from AV and EV trucks to rail. There is legitimate panic in the industry that their adoption will undo decades of hard work. These are some good information sources and I highly recommend you give them a read:




Elon Musk is betting hard on electric AV trucks. He even says they will be cheaper than rail.

The important thing to remember is that shippers choose rail because it is more cost-effective. The problem is that when the cost spread between trucking and rail becomes smaller, shipper will want to use trucking more so they can get better customer service, cargo visibility and much faster delivery times (which are expected to become even faster without the need for driver rest breaks). Rail is very truck competitive and by many estimates will lose 1/3 to 1/2 of all traffic. That will be enough to bankrupt CN and CP. It is probably why CN is focusing a lot on their trucking division and investing in TuSimple. It is conceivable that CN's trucking line will become their primary business. Remember that the trucking market is larger than the rail market. While this may be difficult to conceive of out west, remember that in the east, our rail freight lines are relatively quiet. The 400 series highways do move more freight than the railways in Ontario.

I believe we will see our rail network cut to about 1/3 of its current size be 2050 and fairly quiet with fewer trains.
 

afransen

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 22, 2007
Messages
3,753
Reaction score
2,039
^ I think Musk is more after the short haul market with EV trucks. The long haul market is the target of autonomy. Electrification is an impediment to adoption of long haul AV, or will require some serious charging infrastructure along highways.
 

crs1026

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Oct 16, 2014
Messages
6,693
Reaction score
8,793
^It will be interesting to see whether railways are able to innovate sufficiently to stay ahead of this trend. The current mindset favours extremely long trains - which create a tradeoff in terms of terminal time to build and break apart trains, collect enough cars to build one train, and delays en route (few sidings, too short, etc). The few efforts to buck this trend over the years (eg Ecotrain, Iron Highway, Roadrailer, and even CNW Falcons of yesteryear) all failed but they were founded on existing technology some of which dates from the 1800s.

I’m sure the railways have modelled what driverless trains might save them in labour costs. I wonder what they might have found about smaller, more frequent trains that have different approaches to yarding, classification, etc.

Although I understand the risks of automated trains, it sure seems a lot more manageable to automate something that runs on a fixed guideway which is fenced off than on open highways where humans are allowed to intrude unpredictably and pervasively.

While electrification may be hard to justify economically, at some point railways will have to confront the opportunity cost of friction/thermal-based braking.... trains need to reclaim braking energy instead of wasting it. There are just too many kw’s of energy being lost while braking.

If trucking does drop in price, perhaps railways may revisit some of their sacred principles - air brake technology, wired MU/drawbar connectivity vs distributed power/wireless connectivity, human labour to connect and break up trains vs automated coupling etc.

- Paul
 
Last edited:

sche

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 5, 2019
Messages
173
Reaction score
365
What about all the unit trains of sea cans bringing us the offshore-manufactured stuff that we consume? All via road - without or without drivers?

I await a real-world test of AV trucks in our climate.
Note that real world testing of autonomous cars is already happening in winter climates. Porting the tech to trucks will not be very difficult - the hardest part is recognizing and interpreting everything on the road, not the actual driving of the vehicle. AV cars already get us 95% the way there to AV trucks.
 

kEiThZ

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Jul 31, 2008
Messages
9,975
Reaction score
3,644
The current mindset favours extremely long trains

I think this is a result of the boom in the commodity business for them. Commodities are voluminous and not time sensitive. Take away that business and move to mostly industrial goods and logistics and they would operate differently.

I’m sure the railways have modelled what driverless trains might save them in labour costs. I wonder what they might have found about smaller, more frequent trains that have different approaches to yarding, classification, etc.

Although I understand the risks of automated trains, it sure seems a lot more manageable to automate something that runs on a fixed guideway which is fenced off than on open highways where humans are allowed to intrude unpredictably and pervasively.

Yep. I don't get the claims that all this tech is exclusively detrimental to rail operators. It's much easier to deploy on railways than on the roads. I see shorter, more frequent and more automated trains as the outcome.

While electrification may be hard to justify economically, at some point railways will have to confront the opportunity cost of thermal-based braking.... trains need to reclaim braking energy instead of wasting it. There are just too many kw’s of energy being lost while braking.

If trucking does drop in price, perhaps railways may revisit some of their sacred principles - air brake technology, wired MU/drawbar connectivity vs distributed power/wireless connectivity, human labour to connect and break up trains vs automated coupling etc.

Don't even need to go that far. I imagine a battery electric locomotive with a fuel cell power car and maybe a tank car full of hydrogen behind could do the job. The tech is going to develop. And what they deploy a decade or two from now will look different than our ideas of today. Also, this is basic physics. Any battery or fuel cell tech that makes truck transport cheaper, would make rail mobility more so. The simple physics of reduced rolling friction would drive that one.
 

2transpo

New Member
Member Bio
Joined
Jan 14, 2021
Messages
81
Reaction score
19
AV trucks are a big part of the reason why I support new road construction like highway 413. In a few short years, the economics of rail will not make sense. The world of freight transport will have been disrupted to a point of unrecognizeability. We can't depend on rail to meet the task of supplying a growing economy so we must enable autonomous trucking to do so.

For a similar reason, I don't support bailing out Huron Central. In a few years, the steel coils, lumber and pulp/paper products will be moving for cheap by autonomous trucks, making rail redundant. If the government bails out Huron Central, it will have been a wasted investment. We could take the $50 million we would spend on Huron Central and fund a company like Waymo or TuSimple to get the job done. Wide deployment of AV trucks will happen in the next 2-3 years. By the end of the 2020s, you won't see any human driven trucks on the highway.
 

afransen

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 22, 2007
Messages
3,753
Reaction score
2,039
Don't even need to go that far. I imagine a battery electric locomotive with a fuel cell power car and maybe a tank car full of hydrogen behind could do the job. The tech is going to develop. And what they deploy a decade or two from now will look different than our ideas of today. Also, this is basic physics. Any battery or fuel cell tech that makes truck transport cheaper, would make rail mobility more so. The simple physics of reduced rolling friction would drive that one.
Currently there is zero cost savings associated with using hydrogen vs fossil fuel. Maybe that changes with a hefty carbon tax. Agreed that battery should help rail as well, but because rail is already more energy efficient the benefit as a % of total cost is probably not as great. Same goes for autonomy.
 

crs1026

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Oct 16, 2014
Messages
6,693
Reaction score
8,793
Currently there is zero cost savings associated with using hydrogen vs fossil fuel. Maybe that changes with a hefty carbon tax. Agreed that battery should help rail as well, but because rail is already more energy efficient the benefit as a % of total cost is probably not as great. Same goes for autonomy.
I’m as focussed on the railcar as the motive power technology.

Eventually railways will come around to a “smart” e-wagon that can supply all its own non-propulsion energy needs, and be able to communicate to other cars in the train as some sort of rolling wifi network. Presumably some sort of solar/ battery technology, perhaps with a mini fuel cell that only needs topup infrequently. Removes the need to connect air hoses along the train, able to apply/release power and ”hand” brakes and manage coupling mechanisms. Allows all sorts of condition monitoring, faster braking control. Most importantly, replaces the human labour functions which are the most time wasting portion of the operation, so velocity rises and shorter length trips especially are enabled (iirc the current average rail shipment travels around 700 miles.... anything less, and the yarding time/cost outweighs the efficiency of the long haul)

A lesser level of tech would be to replace today’s DPU arrangement with a greater number of lower-power midtrain power cars, building those long trains in multiple self-powered blocks rather than two or three trains coupled together (as today’s DP trains are in effect). That by itself would permit much more efficient and automated yarding. It might also bridge the battery gap - smaller diesels recharging whatever size battery exists, and offering regenerative braking at a more favourable recharge rate. Those DP segments need not be coupled to each other, they simply maintain minimal spacing and run in a “fleet”.

I’m just blue-skying.

- Paul
 

Top