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Bring Back the Streetcars

Paul Weyrich and William Lind, Free Congress Research and Education Foundation
A Conservative Vision of Tomorrow’s Urban Transportation

Executive Summary
For more than half a century, the context in which public transport operated was suburbanization. But recently, that has begun to change. Urban downtowns are reviving, and new towns are being built to traditional patterns. Not only can streetcars serve these nonsuburban areas, they need streetcars in order to flourish.

Streetcars – which we define as rail transit vehicles designed for local transportation, powered by electricity received from an overhead wire – differ from both buses and Light Rail.Streetcars can be modern, Vintage (antique) or Heritage (reproduction) vehicles. All around the country, cities are building new streetcar lines. The most successful are tied in closely w i t h the local transit system.

Construction costs for streetcar lines vary widely, although operating costs are almost always l o w. In general, construction of a streetcar line should cost less than $10 million per mile, one half the “should cost” figure of Light Rail.

Three case studies look in detail at three streetcar lines with varying characteristics: The McKinney Avenue line in Dallas, which is operated almost entirely with volunteer labor; Memphis, Tennessee, which like Dallas uses Vintage streetcars but is operated by transit system personnel and serves as a precursor to Light Rail; and Portland, Oregon, the first streetcar line built in the U.S. since World War II that uses modern equipment.

In its conclusion, the study notes that some form of streetcar line is possible in any city or town . The appendices offer some practical steps and sources of help in undertaking a streetcar line project.
Recommended by EB contributor Brian Kaller who points out that it was written by Moral Majority founder Paul Weyrich and conservative activist William Lind.

Cable cars: back to the future to help combat peak oil?

Stu Oldham, Otago Daily Times (New Zealand)
A plan to run cable cars along High St could be a “small but significant” start to Dunedin preparing for the effects of peak oil, an Australian transport researcher says.

“Cable cars and trams worked wonderfully 100 years ago when we did not have cheap oil,” Associate Prof Philip Laird, of Wollongong University, told the Otago Daily Times last week.

“It may be a case of back to the future, but a city like Dunedin has an opportunity to learn from its past to prepare for the challenges ahead.”

Dr Laird, a rail development and energy in transport researcher, said oil prices would eventually force Dunedin from the “common obsession” with the motorcar.
(18 October 2010)

Electrification and Expansion of Railroads as a Response to Peak Oil

Alan S. Drake, Energy Bulletin
One of the quickest and most effective responses to the realities of a post-Peak Oil economy is to electrify and expand the main-line railroads (about 35,000 miles in as little as 6 years) and later the busy branch lines (another 35,000 miles). The railroads burn slightly less than 300,000 b/d and inter-city trucking uses about 2 million b/d. Inter-city freight includes some of the most essential uses of oil today, such as delivering food and a variety of critical materials.

Replacing 300,000 b/d with electricity is good. Replacing 2 million b/day is significant. Creating a transportation system that can quickly, reliably and efficiently transport food, critical materials and people without oil is a vital national security concern.
(25 October 2010)
The latest version is at Energy Bulletin.

A previous version is at ASPO-USA.

A two-page summary is “>available online. -BA

Can space tourism be green?

… along comes a new study showing how a busy new industry of “space tourism” could affect the world’s climate. It dishes out good news/bad news results. The good news: more soot from spacecraft could actually help reduce average temperatures at middle latitudes. The bad news: the polar regions could see winter temperatures increase by 1 degree C over and above what climate models are already predicting for those regions.

While the study doesn’t name names, it seems to clearly point at least finger at Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur extraordinaire, peak oil believer, green fuel cheerleader and chairman of Virgin Group, which includes the private space-flight company Virgin Galactic. (Branson, incidentally, was on hand for last week’s runway dedication at New Mexico’s Spaceport America, at which Virgin Galactic has a 20-year lease.)

All of which raises a few questions. First and foremost: is there any circumstance under which short, sub-orbital spacecraft trips for the wealthy (seats are $200,000-plus) could be considered a sustainable venture, much less a socially responsible one? And, if the answer is no, what does that make Branson: An eco-entrepreneur who simply can’t resist a technological challenge, green credibility be damned? Or a technotopian adventurer whose business interests will always demand more than pure environmentalism?

And then there’s the issue of human space travel in general.
(26 October 2010)