The Ergosphere
Friday, January 27, 2006
 

We could have replaced Iraq

Taking a long-overdue look at the Interstate system's statistics, I note that it has roughly 43,000 miles of roadway.

If we look at British estimates for cost and assume $1.5 million/lane/mile $2.4 million/lane/mile for construction of rails down freeway medians, the entire Interstate system could get another 2 lanes of rails for $129 $206 billion.  If overhead wires for electric power cost another $500 $800 thousand/lane-mile, the total rises to $172 $275 billion.  This could potentially replace all truck diesel used on expressways.

As of 2004, the transport sector was using 42.5 billion gallons/year (2.774 million bbl/day) of diesel.  If 60% of this was burned on freeways, we'd have been able to save 1.66 million bbl/day; if the electrification of freeways allowed e.g. battery- or flywheel-powered operation for some local legs also, the total could go over 2 million barrels/day.

The total oil production of Iraq is now down to 1.7 million barrels/day.  At $65/bbl, it's worth $110 million/day ($40.3 billion/yr).

If we'd spent the cost of the Iraq war on getting rid of our own petroleum demand, we'd have been able to pay for it at least once by now, maybe twice.  Ignoring the cost of maintenance and electricity, the savings would have paid back the cost in about 7 years at current oil prices.  The return would be on-going, and boosted by reduced noise, smog and particulates.  All we'd have had to do to Saddam is blow up his oil infrastructure so he had no money to buy weapons.

When I think about what we could have done versus what we did, it disgusts me.

UPDATE: Figures corrected for kilometers vs. miles (original erroneous figures in strikeout where this displayed unambiguously).  At least I wasn't trying to get this post to Mars.

 
Comments:
BTW, great blog E-P, you are a much needed voice of reason.

I posted on this topic back in July of '05.

http://blacksunjournal.typepad.com/bsj/2005/07/war_in_iraq_too.html

I was comparing the cost of the war to nuclear, solar, or wind power.
 
"he savings would have paid back the cost in about 4 7 years at current oil prices."

E-P, I assume you mean 4-7 years here (and not 47).

Nice post. I've been wondering how much it might cost to run electrified rail along the interstate system. Sounds like a good idea to me (rail being a 10 times more efficient way of transporting goods than truck!).
 
No, that's a struck-out 4 (4 corrected to 7).  The strike-bar doesn't show well across the 4, and there seems to be no way to make it show clearly what I meant, so I've deleted it.
 
The $200B figure strikes me as optimistic, particularly considering the sections of interstate that have development built up around them (through and around cities).
 
For every mile of urban right-of-way, there's considerably more rural mileage with a wide median just begging to be co-opted.  Shoulders next to noise walls might be usable, or a lane of pavement could be converted to rail, with no extra space required.

Where rail rights-of-way have fallen into disuse, restoring the rails and adding power wires would create freight (and perhaps bus) highways where there's currently nothing.  Moving freight quickly, quietly and cleanly in and out of city centers would be a huge boon.
 
Rail rights-of-way would have to be broadened, to allow the vehicles a way to get around breakdowns. Need not be top-quality pavement, but you have to have something, or the system will be thrown into chaos by a single failure.
 
No.  Dual-mode trucks could use roads to get around blockages, and could enter or leave the rail at any grade crossing.
 
E-P, it's nice to come to your blog and hear productive and innovative ideas instead of the whining and blather so prevalent elsewhere. You are right, we could have replaced Iraq. We also could have a spare $300B/year for such projects if our "defense" budget was sized to meet our actual needs. One quibble- we would not have needed to blow up Saddam's oil; he was never a threat. He could have been cheaply contained, just like we contained the Soviets, who really *did* have WMDs.
 
Check out the RUF.
 
Alas, the RUF is a non-starter.  No vehicle with a huge tunnel intruding upon the passenger and cargo space is going to find widespread acceptance, and the investment in tracks requires it.  (A flatter track would not cause this problem, but the designers seem unwilling to consider it.  It's almost as if they want the idea to prevent consideration of alternatives to the status quo, rather than promote them.)
 
The connection with Iraq is bogus. Look at Denmark, a net exporter, they've still got troops in Iraq.
And Denmark and Norway (another net exporter) are still in hot water with the Muslim world and subject to a boycott, because of a few harmless cartoons in a Danish newspaper, which got reprinted in a Norwegian one.

What difference would it make to the Mid East situation if the US consumed 1.7 million barrels less? (Prices would be a bit less, consumption elsewhere a bit higher, and overall production a bit lower with the highest cost producers taking the biggest hit)

As for your calculation:

Look at Europe, we've got plenty of electrified rail. We still transport loads by road because it's more flexible and faster.

And also, these railway lines need to be maintained and have capacity limits.

You like to make these theoretical calculations that give bogus results. Fact is that liquid fuel based road transportation has enornous advantages, as shown by the fact that it's still enormously competitive even with road fuels priced at $5 per gallon.

You are just dreaming, if you think that merely building electrified railway lines would magically get people to abandon road based trucks for goods transportation.

$100 per gallon or plain simple unavailability of liquid road transportation fuels would do it, but not just building electrified railway lines.
 
"Look at Europe, we've got plenty of electrified rail. We still transport loads by road because it's more flexible and faster."

You're talking about conventional trains confined to tracks, not trucks which can operate on or off tracks.

"And also, these railway lines need to be maintained and have capacity limits."

<sarcasm> I was unaware that Europeans had invented roads which needed no maintenance and had no capacity limits.  When and how did you do this? </sarcasm>

"Fact is that liquid fuel based road transportation has enornous advantages, as shown by the fact that it's still enormously competitive even with road fuels priced at $5 per gallon."

I see you don't ask whether the advantages are due to the road, the liquid fuel, or some other factor like smaller units and flexible scheduling.

Most US trains operate on liquid fuel too, and derive no advantage beyond less infrastructure required.  They are most profitable for large shipments of bulk cargo, which is due to the high overhead of loading and unloading.  A system of trucks operating on and off rail at will would not have that overhead, and electric power would free them from the cost of petroleum (as well as eliminating emissions and noise).

"You are just dreaming, if you think that merely building electrified railway lines would magically get people to abandon road based trucks for goods transportation."

It's more than that.  I propose to make the rails into just another lane on the highway, and the electricity available wherever the rails go.
 
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