Sunday, August 31, 2008

“This is a new concept, and it’s going to cost a lot of money....There’s a lot of private money chasing these ideas...”

Elevated transport rail imagined for city

August 31, 2008

Arkansas Democrate Gazette
Copyright 2008

TEXARKANA — The company selected to design Interstate 69 has revealed plans to also implement the world’s first air rail freight system in the corridor, possibly starting in Texarkana, Texas.

“You [Texarkana ] have railroads here, you already have an interstate, bringing I-69 is another interstate, you’ve got Oklahoma, you’ve got I-49,” said Gary Kuhn, senior project manager for Zachary American Infrastructure.

“This is what the logistics world likes to see — that opportunity to go from one mode to another very efficiently.” In a presentation to the Wilbur Smith Rotary Club, Kuhn said the freight shuttle is a new idea, under development by researchers at Texas A&M University.

“We started looking at this very intently relative to what we were doing on [Trans-Texas Corridor ] 35,” he said. “We stumbled upon this quite by accident as the technology we think we should use, and for the last two years we’ve been vetting it.

“ This was born in Texas, it should be done in Texas first,” Kuhn said.

The electric, automated shuttle would produce no emissions and would use steel wheels locked into a steel running surface, preventing derailment.

Raised 20 feet in the air, it uses electric impulses to move a pair of Amtrak-like “transporters” and can carry containers and trailers of various sizes.

Kuhn said 425-horsepower motors would be used to take the shuttle to full speed in seconds, then the engine drops to 40-horsepower.

“There’s more than enough power on the grid for this,” he said.

Property owners in the Trans-Texas 69 corridor will feel less impact because the elevated rail uses a smaller footprint. They can retain their land and get a return from easements allowing support structures.

Multimodal facilities are interchanges for the cargo, loading areas between trucks and rail. Bowie County, Texas, Judge James Carlow said that type of facility could easily be built on the Red River Army Depot property.

“This is a new concept, and it’s going to cost a lot of money,” Carlow said about the freight shuttle. “But when you can run it for a tenth of what the fuel cost will be, it pays back in a hurry.” No estimates were made on the cost of construction, but it would be built with private funds.

“There’s a lot of private money chasing these ideas because they see it’s the future,” Carlow said.

An electric rail can move 100, 000 pounds of cargo for 8 cents per mile. The same transport on a truck, with diesel $ 5 per gallon, would be 85 cents per mile.

“At the design speed, which is 62 miles an hour, we will be able to run 10, 000 loads per day each direction,” Kuhn said.

With the bulk of American freight moved by trucks, Kuhn provided statistics that suggested an electric rail could benefit the industry rather than cut jobs. He referred to a projection of truck traffic increases by the American Society of Civil Engineering. “By 2020, there’s going to be an equivalent of 10 million, 40-foot containers that no port in the United States can handle,” he said. “There’s going to be a new market that no one can deal with.” Kuhn said the freight shuttle combines the benefits of trucks and trains and is not intended to replace either but will fill in the gap of short hauls that trains don’t want. “Their market is 650 or more miles,” Kuhn said. “We’re on the truck side of things.” Use of the rail would be purchased by trucking companies who may have the option of owning their own transporters.

© 2008 Arkansas Democrate

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