6/23/2009

Train Geek Tech Quickie Post (with strong environmental impact overtones)

(jump to the bottom for the less-train-specific & more interesting summary)
Cool as all these new Gensets and the more interesting but less-popular trickle-charge battery hybrid switchers are, I'm more interested in the cool ways railroads are rebuilding their older units for yard and secondary service. One of the most environmentally-efficient strategies is to use your existing equipment for as long as is feasible. There's a trade off - more energy, resources, scrap, and money upfront for newer more efficient equipment that will leave a lighter footprint in the long run. After all, they have tens of thousands of these perfectly good older units that have been bumped from mainline duty and it makes much more sense to upgrade these than go for new units (even if they are using lot of trade-in parts like frame, running gear, etc as is common practice for these secondary loco builders). I am a personal fan of in-house projects like Norfolk Southerns large GP50 rebuild program and others of that nature. That's certainly the overall model that my proto-lanced Delaware Boston & Maine RR will be using heavily.

Usually the economics are in favor of keeping but overhauling the existing prime mover, which makes this new line of EMD rebuilds for Kansas City Southern particularly interesting. For one, it's always cool when EMD and GE get into the rebuild/secondary loco market (and invariably a sign of a market slowdown)(I'm a huge fan of GE's Super 7 rebuild line and have my own Super 8 models following that pattern). But more interesting is them using the greatly-improved efficiencies of the newer prime movers where 8 cylinders in a rebuilt Geep or SD can do the work that was previously being done by 16 in a GP38 (non-turbocharged to save on maintenance even!).

Essentially, the point I'm meandering towards is that in making environmental impact assessments, it's important to consider the full lifetime of the hardware and what it will be replacing. I hate when people say 'lets get this brand new [thing] because it's more efficient than the perfectly good one we already have.' How much more efficient is it? What about the manufacturing and disposal impacts? You could keep an older machine in service longer, saving on the upfront costs to build it and the disposal impacts afterward. Or you can replace more frequently to get more efficient, easier to maintain equipment but 'pay' those upfront and disposal costs more often. The ideal is somewhere in between, and this is where it's important to look at how major the upgrades are for a given generation of hardware and what the incremental difference is in upgrade versus holding out. At least that's how I justify keeping my old PowerMac instead of getting a newer more efficient Mac Mini... >_>

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