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Intermodal



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According to Overland Park Sun newspapers:

Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, said CO2 emissions from the coal plants would be less than emissions from the proposed intermodal facility near Gardner.

In a recent meeting with citizens, Representative Tim Owens (R-Overland Park) expressed a desire for more information on the Gardner Intermodal facility.

Is Sen. Lynn’s statement being taken seriously? Are legislators using the thought that the intermodal facility could generate more CO2 than the Holcomb plant as an issue in judgement about the coal fired power plants? Are they concerned about emissions with regard to funding the facility? Your author has done a quick investigation to get a perspective–and the results suggest that an in depth analysis should be done for the sake of legislator’s judgement.

Another reason for wanting information on the issue is that bill SB 693 is before the Kansas legislature that creates a $63 million fund for the Gardner Intermodal project (6). All the information to follow is relevant to all these judgements.

First, intermodal facilities are being built because of two major reasons: They save money, and they save carbon dioxide and other emissions. They save money because shipping the majority of a trip by rail is substantially less expensive, even including the added transfer and local truck trip segments. And around the nation the savings in carbon emissions and other environmental improvements are cited as reasons for governments to support the installation of intermodal facilities. (1) (2) (3)

Transportation of goods by train creates about 8 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions as by truck (3).

So the statement by Sen. Lynn is quite surprising in that context.

There are various aspects of the entire intermodal system which cause carbon dioxide emissions either directly or indirectly:

  1. Long haul transportation by rail - emissions of the rail system for loads transferred.
  2. Short haul truck transportation from intermodal facilities to or from final destination or source.
  3. Energy use by the intermodal facility itself, either direct (as in fossil fuel heating) or indirect as in electric power usage sourced by coal-fired power plants with emissions at the plant.

Another interesting area for pollution study would be

  • Local pollution concentrations due to the activities above being concentrated in one small location.

This last issue is a localization issue, and is a concern to Gardner and surrounding areas’ citizens and wildlife, but is not related to Sen. Lynn’s point because carbon dioxide is not poisonous or of sufficient concentration to cause any local problems. (Other, emissions may contribute to air quality issues, however–just not the “carbon dioxide” emissions.)

A quick investigation by your author showed that:

  1. Long distance transport by truck of the goods, before considering the reductions by shifting to rail transport, would be significantly less than the emissions of the Holcomb plants, only operating at the initial 20% of full capacity planned for first years of operation. Switching to intermodal will reduce this total trip emissions by goods by a factor of several times more.
  2. The short haul emissions are only a fraction of what occurs by using truck for the entire trip, thus short haul emissions must also be significantly reduced. Some estimates of intermodal systems use 7% short-haul distance out of total shipping unit distance. (3)
  3. Energy used in transfer facilities is only very small fraction of the trip-total emissions for the same set of goods. (Especially see (7), use of new efficient crains.)
  4. Net emissions of total carbon dioxide will be considerably reduced by switching freight to the intermodal followed by short-haul truck.

That emissions will be reduced by switching to intermodal transport can be intuitively understood by the following principles:

Cost of transportation is composed mostly by cost of labor, and cost of fuel, with some amortization of capital costs as well.

The intermodal facility represents a considerable investment in new capital equipment and facility. Yet it is considered to be an economic value, and intermodal facilities around the nation are showing themselves economically viable. So labor and fuel expenses per unit of shipping, taken together, must be considerably reduced to justify the capital investment.

But the labor consists mostly of two parts: Loading, and moving. The number of loading operations is increased by added steps in the intermodal facility! Only the labor of long-haul motion, that of the cost of driving and maintaining a truck as compared to rail transport, would be reduced. All emissions that would track or be associated with that portion of the labor are reduced at the same time, since rail emissions are around 8% of truck emissions for the same ton-mile of transported goods. So for the intermodal to make economic sense, it must be considerably more efficient in fuel use because all the other costs increase except for the long-haul portion which inherently tracks with a decreased emissions. The intermodal facility can’t use more fuel than is saved by the other operations–or it would not be economically viable. Thus the emissions savings should closely track the fuel use and economic savings. Studies of intermodal facilities predict numbers like 85% savings in carbon dioxide emissions. (3)

The facility’s direct emissions would consist of heating, truck idling, and the indirect emissions in electric utilization. Truck idling is a very small part of the short-haul trucking emissions and are factored in general analyses of trucking emissions per freight-mile. Heating should be normal to slightly high for a facility of that size (high because of open doors?) ((4) gives size information, (7) tells of new regenerative electric crains to reduce overall electricity demand.). Electric utilization is that of one  substation — only a very small fraction of a single power plant and at most a tiny fraction of the Holcomb plant’s emissions equivalent. (Supply may be moved from one substation to another after a few decades (5)).

More study needs to be made so as to put numbers to these generalities–and your author requests help from anyone with time and information resources to compile the needed data.

The conclusion is simple. Sen Lynn’s statement is dramatically wrong. The intermodal facility does not use more than the Holcomb plant, rather it produces a considerable savings of carbon dioxide emissions. If this claim is being used by legislators as judgement that the Holcomb plant is not so significant in overall Kansas emissions, then the claim is having very damaging consequences in legislator’s ability to judge the questions of carbon dioxide emissions and their relative consequences. With out regard to the local conditions in Gardner (which the people of Gardner need to consider) this appears to be a very valuable project from greenhouse gas and other pollution standpoint.

Reference (1) A New Mexico: TLU - 15, Intermodal Freight Initiatives (PDF file). This is a background document in the New Mexico Climate Change Action Plan.

Types(s) of GHG Reductions

This measure would primarily reduce CO2 emissions through reduced heavy-truck VMT and fuel consumption; black carbon, N2O, and CH4 from the vehicle exhaust would also be reduced.

Reference (2) Montana Climate Change Action Plan Final Report of the Governor’s Climate Change Advisory Committee, November 2007. (PDF file.)

TLU-11 Intermodal Freight Transportation

The CCAG recommends that Montana encourage the expansion of intermodal rail service for Montana shippers. In addition, the state would strive to increase the competitiveness of rail rates for all Montana shippers. Transportation of freight by railroad generally results in less fuel use and GHG emissions than transportation by truck. …

Reference (3) Best Practices Guidebook for Greenhouse Gas Reductions in Freight Transportation, H. Christopher Frey and Po-Yao Kuo, Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, North Carolina State University, October 4, 2007. (PDF file).

9.6.3 Intermodal Substitutions

Intermodal shifts, such as from modes with high emissions per unit of freight transport (e.g., airplanes and trucks), to lower-emission modes, such as rail and sea-going ships, are attractive options for GHG emissions reductions, if feasible. The typical unit GHG emissions per unit of freight activity of each of these modes range from 0.06 to 2.16 lb CO2 per ton-mile, as illustrated in Figure 9-3. For example, the GHG emissions per ton-mile for rail are only 8 percent of those for trucks, implying a maximum GHG emissions reduction of 92 percent if rail could substitute completely for trucking. The GHG emissions per ton-mile for ships are only 17 percent those of trucks, implying a maximum GHG emissions reduction of 83 percent if ships could substitute completely for trucking.

However, whether freight can be shifted from trucks to rail or ships may depend on a number of factors. These factors include distance, availability of infrastructure (e.g., port terminals, rail/truck intermodal facilities), size of the cargo, schedule, durability of the cargo, relative costs,(127) and the need for new logistics systems.(126) For example, some amount of truck activities, such as pick up and delivery, are likely to be needed even if most of the ton-miles involved rail,. According to one estimate, seven percent of the freight ton-miles require shipment by truck for pick up and delivery, with the balance shipped by rail.(128) For this scenario, the rail-truck inter-modal shift would reduce GHG emissions by approximately 85 percent, instead of the maximum possible 92 percent. Of course, the actual reductions are also affected by implementation of best practices for GHG reduction in both the truck and rail modes, which can lead to a differing percentage difference for the inter-modal shift.

Thus, whether one mode of shipping can be a substitute for another depends on site-specific characteristics, and system-level intermodal analysis will be needed.

Reference (4): City of Gardner, Railroad Operations Questions and Answers

Reference (5): City of Gardner, “Intermodal Library” Various references on the Intermodal facility, from the City of Gardner. Specific entries:

Utility information from Gardner Public Works (PDF file)

Electric Service

The proposed project site is currently within the Kansas City Power & Light Company service area and the existing electric customers within the site are being served by KCPL. KCPL is willing and able to serve the site should the project proceed.

The City of Gardner has the capability to serve the site should the site be annexed into the city limits. To do so, the city would need to acquire the existing customers from KCPL in a process mandated by state statute. A very preliminary analysis indicates that the site could be served from Substation No. 3 In the short term (35 years). Longer term, a new substation would be needed to serve the site and the southwest Gardner service area.

Reference (6): Intermodal and Logistics Park Information

Intermodal Update

April 2008
On March 12, 2008, the Gardner City Council voted to approve a Concept Finance Plan for the Logistics Hub KC project. The Council endorsed the concept plan so that representatives from the Kansas Department of Transportation introduce a bill to allow for State backing of the loans necessary to complete the public infrastructure need for the site, which totals approximately $63 million. SB 693 was introduced to the Senate Commerce Committee on March 19, 2008, which creates an intermodal revolving loan fund, similar to the State’s transportation revolving load fund. This fund would be used for financing the $63 million in public roadway improvements, such as Waverly Road, 191st Street, and overpasses. This legislation does not include funding for the new interchange, mentioned below that is estimated at $20,000,000 or improvements to the Gardner Road interchange at approximately $2 million. The interchange improvements will be financed by the Kansas Department of Transportation.

SB 693 was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee on March 31st, 2008 and passed by the Senate by a 34-4 vote on April 2, 2008 and has been introduced into the House of Representatives. If signed into law by the Governor, this will allow the City to enter into final negotiations for the project. It is estimated that a development agreement and annexation request would occur in June 2008.

Reference (7): BNSF the First American Intermodal Operator to Order Wide-Span Rail-Mounted Gantry Cranes

BNSF has become the first American intermodal operator to order wide-span, high-performance Rail-Mounted Gantry (RMG) cranes from Konecranes.
Some 13 RMG container-handling cranes, which are larger and more efficient than current cranes, will be delivered to BNSF’s Memphis and Kansas City intermodal terminals.

The new cranes are all-electric and will have a low environmental impact, according to Konecranes. The cranes are also equipped with Regenerative Network Braking units that enable energy released during lowering the load or during braking to be fed back to the local electric power grid, instead of being wasted in braking resistors.
The RMGs span 42.6 meters and can lift 40-foot containers one-over-five high. They will be used for the transfer of containers between stack, railcars and road vehicles.

To learn more about wide-span cranes, click here.

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