Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Today's Train Of Thought- You Wind Some, You Lose Some, October 3rd, 2012

Today's train of thought takes us to the Northstar state and gives us a slight peek at the rail industry's dalliance with 'green energy'.

Railroads of all shapes and sizes throughout the USA and Canada have been scrambling in recent years to take advantage of fossil fuel exploration and drilling in places like Texas, Alberta, the Appalachians or the upper Midwest. In addition to the crude oil or LNG that gets shipped by rail, these drill sites also require a massive amount of sand and pipe be brought in- a demand that often can only be met by dedicated 60-car unit trains.

Since diesel still rules the rails here in North America, running trains on wind or solar power is something of a pipe dream. While some manufacturers have been experimenting with biodiesel or ethanol, it will be awhile before we see that kind of technology in regular usage- if at all.

Yet with the proliferation of windmill farms throughout the country in recent years, the bulky, unwieldy components that make up the massive turbines don't lend themselves particularly well to being shipped via highways- and a little like oil, coal or natural gas, this is where rail freight once again proves its worth as its often the only feasible way of shipping these parts long-distance [FYI- a large part of the reason the parts typically need to move long distance is because they often arrive in the USA via ship from Asia or Europe- NANESB!].

Even the smaller parts for many windmills require at least one 85 ft flatcar to be transported- the blades and tower assemblies often require multiple specially-fitted flatcars in order to be moved by rail.

Here, contributor Christopher Muller caught Soo Line SD60 #6001 heading north (railroad west), cresting a gently undulating grade at Mahnomen, MN on June 25, 2005. This portion of the former Soo Line heads north from the Twin Cities to the Canadian border and onto Winnipeg from there.

Mr Muller also snapped this photo of the red and white SD60 and a trailing Canadian Pacific SD40-2 making their way past the grain elevators in the center of Mahnomen with their cargo. He also managed to compile a helpful photo album on, highlighting the different windmill components as the rolled by that's worth checking out.

Apparently this train is simply passing through, with its final destination being somewhere in Canada.

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