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Snow Trains

While an aqueduct might be preferable, trains are available now
  [vote for,

In recent days/weeks the US national news is engrossed with vast amounts of snow falling on the north-east section of the country. Meanwhile, the western part of the country is suffering from severe drought. So, the proposal is to load as much snow as possible into railroad cars, and transport them to various Western reservoirs that need filling.

While an aqueduct system might be better, it has a problem with not working very well when the water is frozen and accumulating mountainously. And it simply doesn't exist, in terms of East-to-West conveyance. Meanwhile, trains do exist and can transport solid water in significant quantities. We just have to decide if the cost of shipping that water is worth it, both in terms of reducing flooding in the East when the temperature finally rises, and in increasing reservoir levels out West.

Feb 4 addenda: see a couple annotations I added.

Vernon, Feb 03 2015


       [+]Naturally the donor cities would be those that don't have to worry about their own water table levels.   

       Fallen snow is about 1/6 as dense as water... packed say 1/2 ? So just fill up a 250m3 boxcar with a 100t load limit, and yer off to the races.
FlyingToaster, Feb 03 2015

       // I'm not seeing much difference between solid or liquid water //   

       You need new spectacles, then.   

       Snow can be shifted in hopper freight cars. Liquid requires tankers or a pipeline.   

       There is something in this idea. Many cities truck the snow away anyway. If it can be loaded into railcars hauled by electric traction, that would make sense.
8th of 7, Feb 03 2015

       Hmm, snow is a pain to move about compared to water. But at least it's stable in large open containers. Somewhere during transit though, it would melt. Then you have large open containers partially filled with water. You're then going to get waves and all sorts of nasty oscillations in them. You don't need very much water sloshing about before you can tip over a train, or ferry (see Zeebrugge ferry disaster). Now, liquid handling tankers are super baked, but getting snow into the little holes isn't easy.
bs0u0155, Feb 03 2015

       Insulated cars would solve that problem, what would the cost of desalination from the road salt be though?   

       // Somewhere during transit though, it would melt //   

       Would it ?   

       A freight train can run at 60km/h (some go much faster) for very long distances.   

       It's 2500 km between Chicago and Las Vegas.   

       That's 42 hours. For half the time it will be night, so no solar input. So, 21 hours, and the first 30% will be in a region where air temperatures are very low.   

       How much is your trainload of bulk snow going to melt in 14 hours ?
8th of 7, Feb 03 2015

       Which time zone, though?
8th of 7, Feb 03 2015

       [2 fries] We seldom see much of the white stuff on our roads here in LotusLand so help me out here, please. Don't they lay down the salt AFTER they plow the snow off the streets?   

       [8th] I would think you'd prefer the snow to be melted by the time the train reaches its destination. Which is easier to unload, water or snow?   

       As for the idea, wouldn't there be a higher yield if we were to pack ice onto these trains rather than snow? Ice is denser than snow and it would take longer to melt. I guess the costs of procurement, handling & loading would be higher, though.
Canuck, Feb 03 2015

       Packing it when loading would significantly increase the density, but make it harder to unload.   

       Bottom-opening hopper wagons would be better for unloading snow; tipper wagons for ice.
8th of 7, Feb 03 2015

       I've been saying for years if they're worried about the Antarctic melting they should mine the glaciers for water.
theircompetitor, Feb 03 2015

       As something of a compromise, we might imagine an aqueduct that only partly reaches from some Western reservoir toward the East (it might actually be a dry river bed). Trains could dump their melting snow there, sooner than travelling all the way to the actual reservoir.
Vernon, Feb 04 2015

       *placeholder. please ignore this comment until removed*   

       Reminder to self to do the math:   

       Bulk cargo transport cost by rail. Cost of building a pipeline. Cost of desalination. Cost of melting snow. Cost of compacting snow.
Voice, Feb 04 2015

       ^ Well, you can cross out "compacting snow": just jump up and down on it: bear in mind that a standard boxcar can take 100 tons or so, so you don't have to compact it into solid ice to fit. Also "melting snow": throw some white paint onto the cars and a few days won't make any difference.
FlyingToaster, Feb 04 2015

       //Don't they lay down the salt AFTER they plow the snow off the streets?//   

       After, before, during, instead of.   

       Basically the streets in the north east are white from the first hint of snow in the fall until the first real rainstorm after the last snow in the spring, and it's not from the snow. Most areas start spreading salt in advance to keep the roads from getting nasty.
MechE, Feb 04 2015

       // Bulk cargo transport cost by rail. //   

       Low. Ship is even cheaper.   

       // Cost of building a pipeline. //   

       Very high. Plus ongoing maintainance, pumping costs, etc.   

       // Cost of desalination. //   

       High to very high, depending on energy source.   

       // Cost of melting snow. //   


       // Cost of compacting snow //   

8th of 7, Feb 04 2015

       Shirley, you'd just want to dump it in oen of the high lakes in Colorado, preferably one that drains west. Melting takes care of itself, and you can deal with the water in the normal water course management ways. Not sure what the cost of lifting snow 14,000ft would be.
bs0u0155, Feb 04 2015

       Don't dump it in a lake, dump it next to the lake. That way it doesn't melt until summer when they really need it. So basically you'd just be increasing the snow pack on the west slopes of the rocky mountains.   

       Now, to figure out what to do about that salt...
scad mientist, Feb 04 2015

       Actually, what happens to all the salt they use on the roads? I assume most of it ends up in the rivers and lakes anyway before flowing to the ocean. If the concentration in the rivers there isn't enough to matter, then it shouldn't matter if we dump the salty snow in the west coast river instead, except that the California environmentalists will probably object.
scad mientist, Feb 04 2015

       Dump your unwanted snow in the Hoover dam.
UnaBubba, Feb 04 2015

       //Dump your unwanted snow in the Hoover dam//   

       is this is an elaborate way of making the train a hybrid? No, it's diesel-electric snow removing pumped storage with phase change cooling.
bs0u0155, Feb 04 2015

       Actually, don't dump it there, dump it at the source 20-30 miles north west of Denver CO.
bs0u0155, Feb 04 2015

       // Actually, what happens to all the salt they use on the roads? I assume most of it ends up in the rivers and lakes anyway before flowing to the ocean. If the concentration in the rivers there isn't enough to matter, then it shouldn't matter if we dump the salty snow in the west coast river instead, except that the California environmentalists will probably object.//   

       In environmentally sensitive areas (wetlands and drinking water feeds), they've started reducing salt use. In other, borderline, areas, they've started using other salts that have less impact (more MgCl2 instead of NaCl, or organic salts). Practically speaking, however, the total area that is salted is only a small percentage of the total snowfall, so the concentration is fairly low.   

       In this scheme, however, the stuff that is salted is also the stuff that has the highest priority to be removed, roads and sidewalks. As a result, you'd get a disproportionate amount of the salted snow.   

       What might work, although it would require municipalities to stop plowing at least some areas during the storm, would be to let the snow accumulate on the road, then come through with a harvester that leaves the bottom 4-6 inches intact before the plows come through.
MechE, Feb 04 2015

       If you use calcium carbonate as your ice melter, you can then bubble the train exhaust through it and you'll end up with a bicarbonate solution. You've captured the train carbon, and melted more of the snow.
bs0u0155, Feb 04 2015

       You folks may be missing something. If the goal is specifically to take snow from some buried city and move it elsewhere, that needs fresh water, the logistics of the snow-removal can employ scrapers and equivalent that work on the top parts of the snow, and don't scrape the ground where the salt is. So, only fairly pure solid water would be gathered up for shipping.   

       Based on the news, we could be talking about scraping off more than a foot at a time.   

       Then the city snow-clearance equipment would make a 2nd pass along the roads, getting the close-to-the- ground layer of snow. the few inches that were not scraped on the 1st pass, but has all the sand and salt and other stuff associated with it.
Vernon, Feb 04 2015

       What happens to this scheme if it's the wrong kind of snow?
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 04 2015

       All the trains stop running.*   

       Please, do try to keep up. (Although that may be difficult if you choose to travel by train).   

       *This witticism is completely incomprehensible to any reader who is not British and/or less than 30 years old.
8th of 7, Feb 04 2015

       psst [Vernon], [MechE] said that two annos above yours.   


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