It’s a real gas. . . maybe!

300px-Union_Pacific_18

An article in Canada’s Financial Post last fall suggested North America’s railways could save a bundle by running their locomotives on natural gas and not diesel fuel. Of course, the article appeared before petroleum prices went into a tailspin.

So, the fuel savings that railways could realize may not now be as great. Still, the idea has merit, if for no other reason that gas prices have historically trailed those for oil. Interestingly enough, starting in the 1950s, Union Pacific used locomotives powered by gas turbines, phasing them out by 1969 when they became too expensive to operate.

Hold the applause

9f30e212-a78d-4e2b-a6d9-abac1d86e762-2060x1236

As noted in England’s Guardian newspaper, China thinks it’s on the right track with what it says is the world’s longest freight service: an 8,100-mile haul from Yiwu, that country’s wholesale hub, to Spain — specifically Madrid. The train made its maiden run in early December.

Not only does China view the service as a new chapter in rail freight haulage between Asia and Europe, but the train took half the time — three weeks — a ship would have needed to make the same trip.

There’s only one problem: the differences in track gauge between China and Russia and between Europe and Spain. The different gauges required the train to be unloaded and reloaded three times.

And although the 30 containers which made up the train’s consist were likely easily handled by cranes, the need to transfer cargo was — and is —  time-consuming. Moreover, as several contributors to the online forum at Railroad.net noted, Russia is unlikely to spend the billions needed to standard-gauge its railway network anytime soon.

True, China, which is standard gauge, could get a same-gauge link to Europe by building a rail link to Iran through Afghanistan. But this is likely to happen, given the terrorism that plagues the Kabul regime, as one of Railroad.net’s contributors notes.