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ASPO-USA: A Citizen’s Guide to an Oil Free Economy

Public Policy

First Chapter of Serialization – A draft soliciting comments
An American Citizen’s Guide to an Oil-Free Economy
A How-To Manual for Ending Oil Dependency

With valuable bonus information on Saving Our Economy, Our Planet and Strengthening Our National Security

by Alan S. Drake

Foreword

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs 29:18

A society that does not plan or prepare, that does not consider the consequences of the present and contingencies of the future, a society that lives only for today, the next quarter or the next election is doomed.

Events and a changing reality will, sooner or later, catch up with those that refuse to prepare. Available resources, time and most importantly, wisdom will simply not be at hand to allow us to adapt and recover from foreseeable negative developments – developments that reasonable people would have started to prepare for decades ago.

This “how-to” manual is intended to help Americans effectively and efficiently address a wide variety of problems that now loom darkly on the horizon and which appear to be moving ever closer. It is an action plan to replace inaction.

The various chapters, taken together, will help create a viable, resilient and sustainable oil-free transportation and economic system that can operate in parallel with our existing petroleum based system. We can transfer our economy, bit by bit, to the new, more efficient and oil-free replacement as our present system becomes increasingly more fragile and eventually unsustainable. These plans all rely on mature, proven and economically viable technologies and not the current “Hunt for Miracles” that Secretary of Energy Chu has so aptly described his department’s Advanced Projects Research.

As new technologies develop, as they will, and are debugged and scaled up, our plans can be adjusted to incorporate these new solutions. Yet we can make a viable, workable plan with what we have “on the shelf”, ready to go today. We need not gamble our future on “Just-in-Time Technology” appearing at just the right time and with just the right technology. No miracles are required, simply foresight, persistence and hard work.

This manual will show, as two sides of a coin, how we can keep the US economy from sliding into Third World status while dramatically lowering our energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. We can divert oil and other consumption that has no lasting value into long lived, productive and energy efficient infrastructure that generates increased high value employment.

An oil-free transportation system can be enthusiastically supported by those who do not acknowledge the gravity or severity of climate change. An oil-free transportation system provides effective and efficient remedies to several critical national problems. However, the creation of an oil-free transportation system is also one of the two most effective ways to control our carbon emissions (the other being conservation & efficiency).

An oil-free transportation system effectively addresses the single greatest strategic threat to the national security of the United States of America – the possibility and indeed probability that “one day” we will no longer be able to import and produce enough oil to keep our economy, our society and eventually our military functioning properly. This threat is discussed further in Appendix B.

As a secondary benefit, our plan will help save many tens of thousands of American lives and improve the quality of life for the average American.

If our future is to be energy constrained, as it appears likely today, there is no better legacy to pass along to future generations than a durable, energy efficient transportation system that operates on renewable energy.

If we are to enjoy the many benefits of a stable and resilient society and ensure the same for the generations to come, we must prepare for the future. Our best hope is a clear vision of the critical problems before us, to devise a set of practical solutions to those problems and to take resolute action to implement effective remedies.

This manual is the first step in formulating the practical solutions we need.

In Aesop’s fable, the Ant worked to prepare for the coming winter while the Grasshopper lived for the day, consuming as much as he could and leaving the future to take care of itself. The grasshopper would react and “do something” when cold weather and food shortages were a reality, but not before. The USA of today is much like the Grasshopper.

Best Hopes,

Alan S. Drake
Chapter #1 – Electrified and Improved Railroads

Overall Strategy – Create an Oil-Free Transportation system that can out-compete our existing oil based system. Electrified and improved oil-free railroads can competitively attract much, and likely most, of today’s truck freight traffic under current conditions of $80 per barrel oil and tax subsidized trucking vs. unsubsidized rail. Extant rail freight plus the freight transferred from trucks can be carried faster, cheaper, cleaner, greener, safer, more profitably and largely without oil, while creating an oil-free passenger network.

At deregulation, the rail modal share of fruits and vegetables was just 1%. It has since grown to about 15% today. Transporting a majority of our fresh food ton-miles without oil is a realistic and very worthwhile strategic goal.

A major goal of an electrified and improved rail system is that in the event of an oil supply shock (imagine $200 to $350 per barrel oil coupled with shortages), our oil-free transportation system can quickly expand to transport at least 85% of today’s inter-city truck ton-miles. This will allow food and critical materials to be transported oil-free and this shift will reduce the pressure on rationing oil to critical needs.

The more society uses roads, the more expensive and slower road transportation becomes. Highway and road expansion projects show that the marginal cost for increased road capacity is higher, usually far higher, per lane mile or vehicles per hour than the inflation adjusted cost of the original road. And the USA is having increasing difficulty in just maintaining the roads we inherited, much less an ever expanding network.

The opposite is true for rail. Extra capacity on existing right-of-way (ROW) is usually significantly cheaper than the base cost. The more we use rail, with appropriate infrastructure investments, the cheaper and faster transportation by rail becomes. The annual maintenance budget for an expanded rail freight system will be significantly less than for trucking highways.

Building the subsidized Interstate Highway system reduced rail use and shoved railroads into the higher cost, lower volume end of the increasing efficiency with increasing volume curve of rail operations. The. market is now slowly moving back down this virtuous curve as rail expands. This paper advocates a significant push down the curve towards faster and cheaper rail service. Increasing the rail modal share of freight will also significantly reduce highway maintenance for even greater economic savings.

Roads have unrestricted access and need to be sized to meet peak demand. Roads also create their own demand over time, thus we simply cannot build “enough” roads, or buy enough oil to operate on them. Clearly, more roads are simply not the answer.

Trains are scheduled and routed and their demand can be managed with creative dispatching, adequate track capacity and state-of-the-art signaling. These strategies expand rail capacity very cost effectively, reduce transit times and lower unit costs. So greater use of electrified railroads is an essential part of the answer.

Much can be done in six years (see Appendix A), but the horizon I am proposing is twenty years, with some additional “in fill” work for another decade. However, oil emergencies can develop in a matter of days. Therefore, infrastructure investment in oil-free transportation should be “forward leaning” to ensure greater elasticity of transportation supply and rapid expansion in the event of an oil supply shock.

ASPO-USA



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