The Impact of Reduced Coal Consumption on the Southeastern Railroad Network

UTK Project Information

NuRail Project IDNURail2013-UTK-R08
Project TitleThe Impact of Reduced Coal Consumption on the Southeastern Railroad Network
UniversityUniversity of Tennessee at Knoxville
Project ManagerDave Clarke
Principal InvestigatorDr. Mark Burton
PI Contact Information
Funding Source(s) and Amounts Provided (by each agency or organization)$62,000 NURail Funds; $30,000 Graduate Student Tuition; $16,000 Dr. Clarke Salary Matching (10%); $16,000 Dr. Sawhney Salary Matching (10%)
Total Project Cost$124,000
Agency ID or Contract NumberDTRT13-G-UTC52 (Grant 2)
Start Date2014-01-01
End Date2017-08-31
Brief Description of Research ProjectThe U.S. is in the midst of a major reduction in coal use for power generation. This is due both to environmental policy and to abundant and low cost natural gas. The transition from coal may have a significant impact on rail traffic patterns in the southeastern U.S. Coal forms the backbone of rail freight traffic in the region, and its disappearance could jeopardize many secondary mainlines and branch lines. The objective of this project is to analyze the impacts of reduced coal consumption on the southeastern railroad network, particularly with regard to the viability of the coal distributing portion.
Coal consumption over the short and medium term will be predicted based on:1) Published government and industry data;2) Surveys and interviews of coal producers, utility companies, and railroad managers for professional judgment on the coal market changes;3) Previous research findings and data concerning coal trends.
Identified coal flows will be combined with other rail commodity flows for the same time period to develop flow matrices. The RAILNET model will be used to develop traffic flow patterns within the southeastern U.S. RAILNET assigns rail traffic based upon a multi-commodity, non-linear optimization approach that predicts the profit maximizing flow pattern considering link and terminal capacity. It has been employed successfully in other studies of the region. The study will use UTK's detailed railroad network of the eastern U.S.
The predicted flow patterns will be compared with a base year to identify changes. A final report will outline these changes and their potential impacts on the health of the network.
Describe Implementation of Research Outcomes (or why not implemented)The research outcomes are not actually implementable, as the objective was to predict and assess railroad system behavior. However, the model and network used in the study will be enhanced and used in additional follow-on work.
Impacts/Benefits of Implementation (actual, not anticipated)The project has generated interest from several organizations, including the Association of American Railroads and the Appalachian Regional Commission, in examining energy transportation issues in more detail. This is leading to follow-on work as mentioned above.
Web Links
Project Website
Final ReportNURail2013-UTK-R08_Final_Report-Reduced_Caol_Consumption.pdf