The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Destination:Freedom

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

For transportation advocates and professionals, journalists,
and elected or appointed officials at all levels of government

Publisher: James P. RePass      E-Zine Editor: Molly McKay
Foreign Editor: David Beale      Webmaster: Dennis Kirkpatrick

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May 4, 2009
Vol. 10 No. 20

Copyright © 2009
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 10th Year

Home Page: www.nationalcorridors.org

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IN THIS EDITION...   In This Edition...

  News Items…
Amtrak Plus Local Co-Hosts Celebrate National Train Day May 9
  Political Lines…
The AP Reports: Oberstar Calls For Mileage-Based Tax
Spotlight: Listening To Dukakis About Train Time
“Training” Texas: Timing’s Right For High-Speed Rail Across Texas
  Expansion Lines…
Archbishop Blesses Tunnel Boring Machines
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Funding Lines…
New Jersey Transit To Trim Expenses, Not Raise Fares
 
  Across The Pond…
President Sarkozy Presents “Le Grand Paris”
  Off The Main Line… Way Off…
Red Line To Heaven?
  Commentary…
High-Speed Rail And The “ARC” Project
     (Access To The Region’s Core)
  Editorial…
The Time For A White House Summit On Transportation
     Is …Right Now!
  Publication Notes …


NEWS OF THE WEEK... News Items...

 

“Discover The Rail Way”© Is The Theme:

 

Amtrak Plus Local Co-Hosts Celebrate
National Train Day May 9

 

WASHINGTON – Amtrak will celebrate America’s love for rail travel with events across the country at its second annual National Train Day, May 9, 2009, the railroad announced this week.

“Marking 140 years of connecting travelers from coast to coast, National Train Day commemorates the day the first transcontinental railroad was created and looks toward the future of rail travel with large scale events in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, and many more locally organized events in communities nationwide,” Amtrak stated.

“Train travel is deeply rooted in American culture and it shows great promise to become a growing part of our country’s transportation future,” said Emmett Fremaux, vice president marketing and product management, Amtrak. “National Train Day gives the public a glimpse into how the train shaped the country and how it will continue to do so through exhibits showcasing how train travel provides greener travel options with clean technology and greater efficiency through high-speed rail travel.”

On May 9, Amtrak will host complimentary events in four of its gateway stations across the U.S., Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. “An experience for the whole family, National Train Day allows Americans to Discover the Rail Way while enjoying live musical entertainment, interactive green exhibits, VIP appearances, a Kids Corner, and train exhibits from the past, present and future. In addition to the four major market events, communities across the country are encouraged to develop and host their own National Train Day events, which nearly 100 local sponsors participated in hosting for the first National Train Day in 2008,” Amtrak said.

Double, Triple, and Quadruple Points

In honor of National Train Day, Amtrak is offering members of its loyalty program, Amtrak Guest Rewards, the ability to earn double points for any trip taken between now and May 8, triple points after their fifth trip taken during this timeframe, and quadruple points for any trip taken on National Train Day itself, Saturday, May 9. Amtrak Guest Rewards enables frequent train travelers to earn points redeemable for free Amtrak travel year round in addition to a variety of other rewards.

For more information about National Train Day events, promotions and information about the opportunity to host a National Train Day event in your city, visit www.nationaltrainday.com.

About Amtrak

Amtrak has posted six consecutive years of growth in ridership and revenue, carrying more than 28.7 million passengers in the last fiscal year. Amtrak provides intercity passenger rail service to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 21,000-mile route system. For schedules, fares and information, passengers may call 800-USA-RAIL (800-872-7245) or visit wwwAmtrak.com.


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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

The AP Reports: Oberstar
Calls For Mileage-Based Tax

From The Internet / AP

WASHINGTON – “A House committee chairman said Tuesday that he wants Congress to enact a mileage-based tax on cars and trucks to pay for highway programs now rather than wait years to test the idea,” Associated Press reporter Joan Lowy writes “Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN)., said he believes the technology exists to implement a mileage tax. He said he sees no point in waiting years for the results of pilot programs since such a tax system is inevitable as federal gasoline tax revenues decline.

“‘Why do we need a pilot program? Why don’t we just phase it in?’” said Oberstar, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman. “Oberstar is drafting a six-year transportation bill to fund highway and transit programs that is expected to total around a half trillion dollars.”

For the full story see your local AP-member newspaper or check on line.


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Other Voices: Spotlight On The Region, Published By New York City’s Regional Plan Association

 

Spotlight: Listening To Dukakis About Train Time

Vol. 8 No. 8
Used By Permission
April 28, 2009
By Alex Marshall, Editor, Spotlight On The Region

Who was Charles de Gaulle? About half my class of graduate students at the New Jersey School of Architecture in Newark did not know.

What was Margaret Thatcher? A similar number of blank faces recently greeted me.

Who is Michael Dukakis? I haven’t asked my students yet, but I’m sure my loyal Spotlight readers know: he was governor of the state of Massachusetts and the Democratic nominee for president in 1988. 

Unlike DeGaulle and Thatcher, the former governor is still alive and kicking and I saw him a few days ago at a conference on cities in Cambridge sponsored by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the Nieman Institute, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He looked remarkably unchanged from my memory of him 21 years ago, sweating it out in a noble but losing presidential race. He still had the helmet of dark hair, the same lines etched around a bulbous nose, and thick bushy eyebrows. I was shocked to look up his bio afterward and find he was born in 1933, and well into his late seventies.

He was speaking to a group of journalists about where cities were (or should be) heading. One thing soon became clear: Dukakis is a rail man. His blood runs steel grey. He dismissed congestion pricing, Bus Rapid Transit and HOV lanes as decoys, meant only to divert attention from the one true path to better cities and better lives. The key to reviving cities and metropolitan areas, Dukakis said, was rail.

All this makes sense when you understand that Dukakis began his career in the 1960s essentially as a community activist from his neighborhood of Brookline, an inner city suburb, with the dominant issue the expressways with which planners wanted to eviscerate and strangle the city of Boston. Dukakis, as a town leader, congressman and then governor, helped stop the highways and then got funding to improve and extend the subways and commuter rail services.

“Now look,” Dukakis essentially said at the conference. “Three decades later Boston is thriving, a city and metropolitan area for all to envy. It’s no accident. Basically, you get what you invest in. Spend your money on highways and airports, you get sprawl. Spend your money on subways, trolleys, commuter rail and inter-city rail, and you get dense, thriving compact places and cities that become springboards for economic development.”

As you might expect, the news that Obama had won $8 billion from Congress for higher speed rail plus additional funding for Amtrak was wonderful news to Dukakis. But Dukakis, who has served on the board of Amtrak, was surprisingly sober about the difficulties in spending this money. The states and local governments, he said, are the entities in our federal system that will largely plan the projects and spend the money. And they are woefully unprepared to do so.

“Execution has to take place at the state and local level,” Dukakis said, and whether it’s highway or rail, (although rail seems to be worse), governments and transportation departments seem increasingly inept.

“There has been little planning,” Dukakis said. “And when things do happen, they take forever.”

Not only did the Big Dig project in Boston, which involved burying an inner-city highway, take twice as long and cost twice as much as it should have, but even a simple HOV lane in the governor’s part-time home in Los Angeles is taking too many years, he said. Extending the Green Line in Boston along existing tracks is scheduled for completion in 2014, an absurdly long amount of time. By comparison, the extension of the Red Line in Boston from Harvard to Alewife in the early 1980s, a much more complicated project, took about two years.

The answer, Dukakis said, was competence. We need to learn how to do things again, and to recognize the value of good government. (It could have been the 1988 presidential campaign, I thought. That argument didn’t work then but perhaps now, after Katrina and numerous other fiascos, it will.)

For example, if Governor William Weld of Massachusetts had retained Dukakis’s secretary of Transportation Fred Salvucci as Dukakis had advised him to do, Dukakis said the Big Dig would have been completed in “half the time and half the price.”

Listening to Dukakis talk, it struck me how similar he was to Obama in substance and background, if not in style. While he lacks Obama’s soaring rhetoric and physical grace, Dukakis shares with Obama a knowledge of government that starts from the ground up. Dukakis too started in essence as a community organizer, and in every campaign but his presidential one, I read him say once, community organizing was his foundation. If he had been elected in 1988, Dukakis would have been the country’s first urban president in modern times.

Of course, if Dukakis had won in 1988 there would probably have been no Obama as president, although no one can say for sure. Dukakis, showing the ego that must be necessary for anyone to run for president, mentioned at the conference that the Iraq war and all that followed was his fault.

Why? Because if he had won in 1988, there would have been no Bush I and therefore no Bush II and thus no Iraq war. That’s a big chain of causality. But perhaps Dukakis can take some satisfaction in helping create the condition for our current president who may yet give the country swifter trains and an urban revival.


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“Training” Texas: Timing’s Right For High-Speed Rail Across Texas

From Internet sources including the Houston Chronicle and News-Journal.com

Texans have been talking about high-speed rail since the 1980’s, which may come as a surprise to some Americans who view Texas as the quintessential kingdom for the car.

Advocates in political and public policy circles who have wanted to connect the “Texas Triangle” -- Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin -- by high speed rail are encouraged by President Obama’s support for a nationwide high-speed rail system.

A similar plan, called the Texas T-bone, would connect Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston and other towns, such as Temple. But much remains vague: where exactly the route would go, who would build it, the price and funding sources.

“We clearly don’t have a project that is ready,” said Alan Clark, transportation programs manager for the Houston-Galveston Area Council. “There’s no alignment, no one has done any environmental work. It’s all a concept right now.”

Whatever different opinions there may be for the best routes, Texans want stimulus money to kick-start HSR programs in their state.

Two state representatives in Texas have introduced bills that could help move things forward:


Photo: THSRTC

The Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation (THSRTC) is a not-for-profit corporation consisting of local transportation and elected officials from across the state in a grassroots, collaborative effort to realize the first-ever high-speed rail passenger system and multi-modal transportation corridor in Texas called the Texas T-Bone.

“This would be independent of TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) and would be a legal entity that could go to Washington to go after some of the $8 billion in economic stimulus money earmarked by the Obama administration for high speed rail.”

Merritt said passage of his bill would provide needed funding to the East Texas effort to make higher speed rail a reality. He said highways continue to be the state’s transportation entity’s top priority in both funding and staffing.

The federal government has not yet issued guidelines for how to apply for the money, and it’s unclear if the Texas Department of Transportation — or another agency or group — would lead the project. Plans are further along in other states, including California and Florida.

Nevertheless, Texas has natural advantages conducive to high-speed rail, advocates say. The terrain is relatively flat and land is cheaper than in California and Florida.

“We have the ability to produce a system that is reasonably priced,” said David Dean, a former Texas secretary of state. Dean is working as a consultant for the main advocacy group, the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp.

Dean estimates the T-bone would cost $10 billion to 20 billion and could be completed by 2020. It would ease highway congestion and pollution, attract more Fortune 500 companies to the state, and help in an Olympics bid, he said. The Houston route could even help during hurricane evacuations, he added.


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EXPANSION LINES... Expansion Lines...  

Archbishop Blesses Tunnel Boring Machines

DF Staff From Internet Sources

NEW YORK, MAY 1 - New York City’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan has blessed the launch site for two giant tunnel-boring machines that will eventually extend subway service to Manhattan’s Far West Side.

New York’s West Side facing the Hudson River

Mayor Bloomberg and the MTA in February announce the lowering of a tunnel-burrowing machine for the No. 7 subway line extension.


A tunnel boring machine (TBM) 

Tunnel boring machines are used as an alternative to drilling and blasting. Drilling and blasting. Before the advent of tunnel boring machines, drilling and blasting was the only economical way of excavating long tunnels through hard rock, where digging is not possible. (D&B) methods in rock and conventional ‘hand mining’ in soil. A TBM has the advantages of limiting the disturbance to the surrounding ground and producing a smooth tunnel wall. This significantly reduces the cost of lining the tunnel, and makes them suitable to use in heavily urbanized areas.
The 100-ton machines are expected to start work in mid-May. Together the machines will cut two 7,100-foot tunnels through the hard rock underneath midtown Manhattan.

This is the first subway expansion in half a century in New York City. It’s a $2.1 billion project funded by the City and managed by the MTA.

The goal of this project is to transform the Hudson Yards into a vibrant 24-hour neighborhood, containing a mix of commercial, residential, retail, open space and recreational uses and enhancing the vitality of New York City as a whole.

“We’re beginning the next and most dramatic phase of the extension of the number 7 subway line, the first major addition to the city’s subway system in decades,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

“By digging these tunnels, we are expanding our subway network into an entirely new area of the City, Manhattan’s Far West Side. It’s these major, long-term investments in infrastructure that will transform areas full of promise into neighborhoods full of residents, park-goers, office workers, and shoppers.”

[Editor’s note: Mayor Bloomberg made these comments at the announcement of the tunnel boring project back in February.]

The No. 7 line subway extension is expected to open in 2013.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)68.0667.14
Canadian National (CNI)41.7240.77
Canadian Pacific (CP)37.4735.20
CSX (CSX)30.5730.97
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)30.0427.72
Kansas City Southern (KSU)15.3916.70
Norfolk Southern (NSC)35.8037.79
Providence & Worcester (PWX)11.5011.10
Union Pacific (UNP)49.9849.13


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FUNDING LINES... Funding Lines...  

New Jersey Transit To Trim Expenses, Not Raise Fares

From Progressive Railroading

APRIL 29 -- New Jersey Transit will make a considerable number of cutbacks in order to balance its budget in FY10 but they won’t do it on the backs of commuters.

Fares will not go up, despite a reduced amount of operating support from the state.

Expenses will be trimmed by cutting administrative costs, eliminating jobs, offering early retirement, cutting service call hours, and doing a dependent health benefit audit.

In addition, the agency is proposing a $1.3 billion capital program in FY2010 focused on safety and state-of-good-repair improvements, as well as expansion projects. Some of the improvements include the design of a new Portal Bridge on the Northeast Corridor and continuing projects, such as the Northern Branch and Lackawanna cut-off to Andover, Passaic-Bergen rail project and Mass Transit Tunnel.

The capital projects are in addition to $424 million in federal stimulus-funded projects, including the Pennsauken Transit Center, River Line and Atlantic City Rail Line connection, and River Line signal improvements.


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ACROSS THE POND... Across The Pond...  

By David Beale, NCI Foreign Correspondent

 

President Sarkozy Presents “Le Grand Paris”

Major New Regional Transportation Project Includes TGV High Speed Trains
Between Airports And Automated Regional Light Rail

PARIS – French President Nicholas Sarkozy unveiled a new concept for regional transportation in the Paris region last Wednesday the 29th of April as part of the ambitious “Le Grand Paris” regional redevelopment project. The first-term French President was accompanied by several of his cabinet ministers as well as Christian Blanc, State Secretary for the greater Paris region. The massive project includes a new TGV high speed rail connection from Paris CDG airport in the northeast sector of the region to Paris Orly airport south of the center of Paris. Also included in the project is an all-new automated / driverless light rail line added to the Paris Metro system of mostly heavy urban subway-style rail transit. The new metro line will not be the first in Paris to be automated, but it will be the first one to extend well into Paris’s outer suburban areas, a roll which had been filled by the RER suburban rail system.

The goal of the project is to spark environmentally friendly economic growth and improvement in mobility for residents and visitors of the greater Paris region while reducing output of CO2 and other pollutants from highway vehicles. In addition to several new rail projects, “Le Grand Paris” also includes major upgrades and expansion of several existing RER suburban rail routes as well as improvements to many of the region’s roads and highways.


Photo: Government of the Republic of France

Schematic of proposed rail transit projects in “Le Grand Paris,”

Paris is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world with a regional population over 12 million, therefore placing the region in the same category as London, New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Tokyo, Sao Paulo and Mumbai. The city is already well served by the 14-line Metro rapid urban rail transit system, the twelve-line RER suburban / regional rail system and several tram / light-rail lines in the city. The RER and Paris Metro systems have combined nearly 2 billion riders per year.

The main new transportation projects in “Le Grand Paris” are:


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OFF THE MAIN LINE... Off The Main Line... Way Off...  

Red Line To Heaven?  

By Dennis Kirkpatrick
NCI Webmaster
 

With transportation in the headlines these days what better a fitting prank than to install public transit – on the roof.

Known for pranks of a similar nature every so often, students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, installed a replica of an MBTA Red Line subway train on the domed roof of the building which fronts Massachusetts Avenue on one side and the MIT courtyard on the other.

In years passed the dome has been adorned with a full-sized fire truck and even a police car replete with uniformed mannequin holding a donut. One year the dome was painted-over to cause it to resemble the beloved movie Star Wars character “R2-D2.”

Of specific interest to this Red Line train is how it is powered. Normally, Red Line trains are powered by 600 volts DC. However, this one, on close examination, is powered by two solar panels.

If we are at all lucky, the student pranksters of today (known at MIT as the “hackers”) are the engineering designers of the future, and will find a way to resolve the question of mass transit at a low cost.

Clearly, this one is environmentally friendly.

While it remains a mystery as to how students get beyond the various barriers that block access to the roof, this reporter openly confesses that he has stood on that roof himself, although that was well before the times of gray hair and youth was abundant.

The excursion was mostly a tour of the facilities by one of the “hackers” of a couple of generations ago. It was a youthful adventure and one that I partook of when considering furthering my education there.

Alas, that was not to be and the business world became my next adventure.

 

TOP: Photo Courtesy of WBZ-TV.
“The Hackers” pranks are legendary. This time a Red Line train mock up adorns the dome.

 

BELOW: Photo from the MIT web site.
The MIT Dome as seen from the courtyard side of the building


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

High-Speed Rail And The “ARC” Project
(Access To The Region’s Core)

By David Peter Alan

The Obama Administration’s program for development of high-speed rail corridors marks a truly amazing turnaround in the attitude of the U.S. government toward rail travel. After the efforts of past administrations to trim Amtrak or kill it completely, President Obama’s call for funding to make high-speed (or at least higher-speed) rail a reality on corridors around the nation is nothing short of revolutionary. Indeed, this initiative appears to signal the start of a new day for passenger rail transportation in the nation.

If the corridors named by the FRA are developed to their full potential, local rail systems that connect with Amtrak will have far greater capacity and redundancy for commuters and intercity travelers than they do today. But a major threat to this progress looms. New Jersey Transit’s plan to build new tunnels into Manhattan in that will not connect with Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) Line and or with Penn Station but instead will cut off opportunity for growth in rail service both north and south of New York City, doing great harm to the economy in the Northeast which has been in decline.

The new Federal emphasis on developing high-speed rail corridors makes it more critical than ever that trains enter and leave Manhattan as efficiently as possible. NJT’s “go it alone” deep cavern dead-end terminal flies in the face of the President’s goals and must be returned to its original design, which was to connect to the existing Penn Station and then continue with another tunnel through to the East side. New York and New Jersey rail advocates and NARP (National Association of Railroad Passengers) are campaigning to restore the “ARC” tunnels to this original plan. George Haikalis, Chair of the Regional Rail Working Group, has warned for decades that only a comprehensive, regional approach to making both the East and West Sides of Manhattan available to rail traffic from all directions will serve the future transportation needs of the City and the people who go there.

For years, the Conference of Northeast Governors (CONEG) has called for more trains on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) and an upgrade of that line to allow higher operating speeds. Now, the U.S. Department of Transportation has also called for upgrades to the Empire Corridor to Buffalo and the Keystone Corridor to Pittsburgh. Trains on these lines go to Penn Station, and they must be accommodated. There are also plans to improve the Southeast Corridor south of Washington, D.C. and lines in northern New England.

A comprehensive, interconnected, integrated rail system that serves the entire nation will help make the United States competitive in the global economy of the 21st century. President Obama has said that all money appropriated for rail or any other purpose must be spent wisely. For rail in the New York area, that means building infrastructure that opens the city to through travel in all directions. It does not mean the plurality of stub-end competing terminals that characterized rail planning 150 years ago.


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

The Time For A White House Summit
On Transportation Is …Right Now!

By Jim RePass
President & CEO
The National Corridors Initiative

Readers of Destination:Freedom have occasionally remarked when this on-line magazine carries items that seem unrelated to the National Corridors Initiative’s main mission, which is to advocate for both public and private investment in transportation infrastructure.

That was especially true in our early years, when some mistook D:F for a rail site, or wanted only rail-related stories. While we certainly have emphasized rail ---- of the major transportation modes it has been the most neglected in America over the past half century --- we soon came to realize that the only effective way to advance the idea of a broadly stronger transportation infrastructure for America was to understand the systems nature of the transportation business, and report on that, and to begin to include stories that relate transportation infrastructure to the broader economic picture, including its role in fostering development of renewable energy sources that can wean America off of foreign oil.

Recently, The New York Times produced a special section on “The Business of Green” which takes that notion one step further, and gives a good idea why it is so important for independent newspapers such as the New York Times to survive.

Of the stories in the April 30 special section (go to www.nytimes.com) we will take a look at two.

The first we noted was “From the Web to the Power Grid” by Matthew L. Wald, one of The Times’ most experienced and thorough reporters.

In this story Matt reports on the experiences of Kristopher R. Farruggia, who, as an employee of Xcel energy, is “computerizing the real world, in a way that he hopes will make it cleaner.” Lately, he has been supervising the installation of equipment that will extend computer control of the electricity grid in Boulder, CO, reported The Times.

“That has meant overseeing contractors as they install network elements, boxes about the size of a desktop PC that will receive radio signals from a dozen or so advanced electric meters at nearby homes and businesses and transmit that information to an Xcel Energy office,” The Times reports. “About 50 or 60 boxes are being installed every day, and by early June Boulder is expected to have a smart grid that will let the utility communicate minute to minute with customers who have volunteered to participate. The system could eventually exchange information with thermostats, dishwashers, refrigerators and other appliances.”

This is the advent of the so-called smart grid, which by enabling electricity users to time and/or price their electricity usage, will not only save them money, but will reduce the utility’s operating costs and excess energy waste as well. Like transportation, for which we have been advocating not just investment but systems integration, the electricity grid --- and the natural gas grid as well --- can be made far more efficient by an integration of users’ and producers’ ability to communicate regarding need/supply/price.

It will also increase the number of “smart” jobs. “Positions like Mr. Farruggia’s are expected to increase over the next few years as some of the more than $780 billion in federal stimulus money is spent on energy and environmental projects around the country. The Obama administration has pinned many of its hopes for stemming unemployment on the creation of high-tech green jobs,” The Times noted.

The second story we noted in “The Business of Green” is “Bringing Efficiency to the Infrastructure” by The Times Steve Lohr, a well-written piece which clearly describes the history, and the “how” of what is happening in the world of the electricity grid, and gives it historical context.

“In the mid-1990s,” writes Lohr, “the Internet took off because its technological time had come. Years of steady progress in developing more powerful and less expensive computers, Web software and faster communications links finally came together. A similar pattern is emerging today, experts say, for what is being called smart infrastructure — more efficient and environmentally friendlier systems for managing, among other things, commuter traffic, food distribution, electric grids and waterways. This time, the crucial technological ingredients include low-cost sensors and clever software for analytics and visualization, as well as computing firepower.”

“Wireless sensors can now collect and transmit information from almost any object — for instance, roads, food crates, utility lines and water pipes. And the improved software helps interpret the huge flow of information, so raw data becomes useful knowledge to monitor and optimize transport and other complex systems. The efficiency payoff, experts say, should translate into big reductions in energy used, greenhouse gases emitted and natural resources consumed.”

NCI has long said that we don’t live in the information age. We live in the age of [too much] data, which is often worse than none at all because it is paralyzing. The point of Lohr’s story is that that is now changing rapidly, as software becomes more and more capable of “data mining” and even basic decision-making.

“Smart infrastructure is a new horizon for computer technology. Computers have proven themselves powerful tools for calculation and communication. The next step, experts say, is for computers to become intelligent instruments of control, linking them to data-generating sensors throughout the planet’s infrastructure. “We are entering a new phase of computing, in which computers will be interacting with the physical world as never before,” said Edward Lazowska, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington.”

All of this is important to Destination:Freedom readers and to NCI because it helps us understand, in part, how to think about the problems that have prevented the development of an integrated transportation system for America, even as the technology advances to make that possible.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest impediments to progress in transportation systems integration is the Congress of the United States, as well as the transportation bureaucracies it has created.

By this we mean not the people who serve --- some of whom, such as House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair Jim Oberstar (D-MN), who would be a leader in any field, or Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) Chair of the Senate Banking Committee, who is deeply knowledgeable about transit --- but the origins and structure of the committee system itself.

The major Senate and House committees are subdivided into subcommittees along modal lines --- highway, air, rail, etc --- and what happens over time is that the subcommittee chairs become experts in, and advocates for, their particular mode of transportation, and can and do lose site of the big picture; the agencies they create and fund likewise become silos, with all the resultant inefficiencies and turf battles that help no one, and in fact do positive harm to the country.

This is especially the case with the Federal Highway, Federal Aviation, Federal Railroad and Federal Transit administrations, whose mission should all be to move America towards a safe, efficient, and seamless integration of all the transportation modes into a true system, but who have very different histories, funding sources, and cultures.

It is long past time to reform the funding and decision-making process for transportation. It was tried at the US DOT under President Bill Clinton but flopped, largely because the chief of a new “intermodal” division charged with doing that was given no budget – a surefire way to kill anything.

In Congress, we need the leadership to address this difficult issue. Committee and subcommittee chairmen would rather be sterilized than have their fiefs removed or even changed, and staffers are just as problematic, yet that is what we must do, replacing the mode silos with regionally rather than modally delineated subcommittees which are themselves agnostic when it comes to any one transportation mode, and dedicated to systems integration within their geographical region (with the Chairman and Ranking members charged with integrating them). Otherwise, we will continue to slide backward relative to the rest of the world, where transportation is recognized as an essential tool of national economic competitiveness.

We have zero illusions about the difficulty of achieving this, but the alternative is even worse: the continuation of our national decline.

We therefore propose the following: President Obama, who very definitely does “get it” with regard to the need for systems integration in transportation design and implementation, should immediately convene a White House Congress on the Future of American Transportation, and request the participation not only of House and Senate leaders, and agency heads, but representatives of the business community, transportation leaders, and a broad range of the American people as well.

This two-day event would not be too dissimilar from the conferences NCI has sponsored in recent years, but with the imprimatur of the White House, and the prestige of the President, setting the bar and demanding action, it would be a start. And speed is of the essence: billions of dollars in Stimulus funds for infrastructure are about to be allocated. Let’s make sure those funds are spent wisely, so they earn a return for the American people that are paying for them.


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2009 National Corridors Initiative, Inc. as a compilation work and original content. Permission is granted to reproduce content provided acknowledgements to NCI are given. Return links to the NCI web site are encouraged and appreciated. Color Name Courtesy of Doug Alexander. Content reproduced by NCI remain the copyrights of the original publishers.

Web page links as reproduced in our articles are active at the time we go to press. Occasionally, news and information outlets may opt to archive these articles and notices under alternative web addresses after initial publication. NCI has no control over the policies of other web sites and regrets any inconvenience experienced when clicking off our web site.

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, intermodalism, transportation-oriented development, and current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending large images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size. Descriptive text which includes location and something about the content of the image is required. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your web site or e-mail address.

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives – state DOTs, legislators, government offices, and transportation organizations or professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the web address (URL) to our webmaster.

Destination Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

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