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yellow peril watch...,
"Of course young lady, steam will save the world!":
Note how the state[/corporate] helped to destroy rail, the comments endorsing efficiencies introduced by the intervention and vibrant discussion thereof (largely left unsaid, those other developments in engine, highway, and air travel likewise benefitted/lead by public investment - airlines existing almost entirely by profitable transfers through the Pentagon etc., highways likewise serving security interests, deisel engines via the navy), perhaps obscuring externalized costs, on regulation one may defer to Kolko and his evidence that much of the regulation was endorsed/introduced/managed by existing business to lock out market competition - amid the no doubt complex relations between corporate sector, public and private interests, and the state - all perhaps preventing more efficient transition costs and technologies in some alternative system of public development, and likewise introducing new problems, environmental largely, that remain unresolved, incurring externalized costs on future generations. I am, happily, reminded of enthusiastic ventures to steam thresher reunions when I was a child. Never understood the enthusiasm, but I believe there is some of it in the discussion.
Haven't finished the comments, perhaps more later, gotta run.
update: Back from the bar and toasting a humbler foreign policy, and fairly buzzed:
The obvious plus for the steam engine is flexible energy sources, being anything that produces heat. The terrible deficiency of oil based transit, fueled by the explosive power of combusting petrol, even considering abiogenic origin hypotheses, is rapidly increasing extraction costs, political economy (the oil is 'over there'), monopo/oligarchic rents from OPEC etc., and increasing global demand. Deisel has been "efficient" because of low extraction cost per unit of energy and our run of the global market. This will change.
We take as given - aside from the option of the electric engine powered by renewable resources in urban areas - that all our pollution costs for transit are roughly equal but have contemplatable tradeoffs. E.g. you can run a fairly efficient steam engine train with biodeisel, cow dung, natural gas, nuclear fuel, etc.. What you leave behind is a somewhat correctible matter in terms of pollution control but none of them offer particuarly welcome alternatives.
The hydrogen cell is, notwithstanding future developments, merely a derivative of the oil industry which generates most of our present hydrogen supply. It's possible that converting fossile fuels (e.g. converting coal to hydrogen [pdf] - the US still has enormous amounts of coal) to hydrogen gas would be more sustainable than burning those same fuels, presumably pollutant byproducts could be more easily trapped from those processes. Dreams of a decentralized system of hydrogen production by hydrolysis remains only as inefficent as hydrolysis itself. Pending breakthroughs in low cost catalyst and membrane improvements to that process - producing industrial pollutants of their own - this remains in the pipe, pending greater investment. The idea is nevertheless worthy: if we could find a way to produce bulk hydrogen with local renewable resources efficiently we would have a potential replacement for cheap transit fuels. Expensive, like oil will be (you ain't seen nothin!), but you can still go upstate to see grandma at Christmas with something faster than a two ox cart.
In the market or any other imaginable system the efficiency of your transit system carries the cost of your fuel extraction. Given any possible extraction - renewables like hydro, tidal, solar, or wind have their own extraction costs - oil remains the least expensive in large part thanks to state subsidy. Regulatory protection is, from what I understand, merely maintaining monopoly rents in segments of the vertical chain. We will pay too little for gas as long as politically possible.
Certain vulgar Libertarians make significant complaints about ethanol inefficiencies, but ignoring byproduct outputs (animal feed, organic fertelizers, etc), and never mentioning the massive government interventions on behalf of the oil industry. All these costs are transferred to the public, the benefits acrue to producers - and of the producers we prefer corn growers to oil oligarchs, preferably the smaller producers growing their own biodiesel for mechanized farming.
There are many alternatives, a scant few of which already exist but have yet to see heavy investment (or have been comparatively undersubsidized). Past and present myopic policy suggests serious alternatives that might exist will never be persued sufficiently, for real alternatives rarely serve political interests. In the meantime - barring a cover up I haven't heard about - if we are to decide to go nuclear locomotives I offhand suggest we let the Navy run the trains, and probably any future plants. I can't help but admire our own track record when it comes to demonstrating how big our dicks look when they're in cramped submarines.
And while I'm immitating a rambling rednosed papa smurf: god save Ninja High School and the Bow Street Distillery!