Archive for February, 2010

California’s Bureau of Automotive Repair is proposing a new rule which could drastically limit the effectiveness of smog checks:

The California Air Resources Board and the state Bureau of Automotive Repair want to make the most far-reaching changes to the smog check program in at least a decade. Under the measure, any California motorist with a 1996 or newer vehicle would no longer be required to pass a tailpipe emissions test or a treadmill test. Instead, every two years when the vehicle is due for a smog inspection, a technician would hook up a meter to a port under the dashboard and download data from the vehicle’s computerized onboard diagnostic system.

Instead of measuring actual tailpipe emissions, technicians would merely see if the “check engine” light has come on. Pretty sweet deal for manufacturers of engine code readers, but not so good for the environment.

Using $50 code reader, it is trivial to clear engine codes. Tampering with engine sensors and electronics isn’t that difficult either.

And even if the electronics are working properly, they only catch certain problems. For example, my car had a failing EGR valve, but no check-engine light ever came on.

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Ohio’s Not-So-High-Speed-Rail

Now that winners of the $8 billion “high-speed” rail stimulus have been announced, it is apparent that the goal was to spread money around as many Congressional districts as possible. Perhaps that is good politics, and will help build support for bi-partisan buy-in down the road.

But is this good policy? It means a swing state can get awarded grant funding for a rather dubious project.

Consider Ohio’s 3C project, which is anything but high-speed.

The plan is to spend $400 million upgrading freight tracks for a standard Amtrak service between Cleveland and Cincinnati. When built, it will take trains 6.5 hours to travel the 255 mile corridor. Average speed will be a whopping 39 mph!

The low average speed is only part of the problem. The proposed schedule has (effectively) 3 round trips per day. Instead of regular clock-face scheduling, travelers have to plan their day around infrequent train service. Thus, the service will be neither convenient nor time-competitive against competing automobile mode.

Conventional vs. HSR
There has been an on-going debate as to whether nations should upgrade existing conventional corridors, or build (from scratch) dedicated high-speed rail lines. In most cases, re-using existing infrastructure (i.e. conventional upgrade) is much more cost-effective. The US is major exception to that rule, due to archaic Amtrak operating practices.

It should noted that the Ohio Rail Development Commission does envision a more modern and futuristic service. The website features railfan photos of TGVs and boasts:

The trains of the Ohio Hub won’t be the trains your parent’s remember. They will be modern, fast, convenient and comfortable with the on-board amenities that help you relax or do business. And it isn’t futuristic technology. This type of service is available elsewhere in the world on existing trains.

That sounds great, but these photos of gleaming TGVs are completely at odds with the actual plan. This line will run under FRA ruleset, which is incompatible with cost-effective high-speed rail.

Even worse, Ohio does not intend to run modern off-the-shelf trainsets:

Following the release of Amtrak’s Draft Report for the Ohio 3-C Study on September 15, 2009, ORDC advised Amtrak that the State of Ohio has expressed serious interest in DMU (diesel multiple unit) equipment, potentially manufactured in Ohio by US Railcar (formerly Colorado Railcar), for use in the proposed 3-C service.

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A recent Rand study on Bay Area bicycle fatality/injury statistics has come out. The study has generated a lot of reporting, almost all of which has reached wrong conclusions about the data.

First, let’s review the stats:

In other words, during the 2000-2008 period, there were 10 bicycle fatalities in Oakland, and only a single fatality in next-door Berkeley.

Most reporting has focused in the injury rate. Due to the apparent increase in injury rate, some are asking whether cycling is becoming less safe:

Perhaps it’s all the construction on major arteries like Broadway and Telegraph Avenue, or maybe it’s simply a matter of more bikes sharing space with more cars. If you’ve suspected that riding a bicycle in Oakland is an increasingly perilous proposition, the numbers back you up. Bicycle-involved injuries in Oakland have increased by more than 30 percent between 2000 and 2008.

Injury rates are notoriously unreliable for safety measurement. They are Ok for plotting hot-spots on a map, but not reliable for long-term trend. There are huge discrepancies in how or when a police officer may choose to file a report for non-life-threatening injury. One of the huge problems Bay Area cyclists have faced over the years is getting officers to file police reports in accidents — even in egregious cases, like Hit-and-Run and major property damage. Sure, an injured bicyclist can always visit the police department in order to file a report. But how many bother to do that?

What is striking about the data is that it suggests Berkeley is a really safe place to ride a bicycle. Berkeley had 10 times fewer fatalities than next-door Oakland. And while Berkeley does have 4x smaller population, it has higher bicycle mode share (due to the University).

If this conclusion is correct, it is worth asking why Oakland has higher fatality rate. The answer is that Berkeley has invested heavily in dedicated bicycle infrastructure, whereas Oakland has done virtually nothing. In Berkeley, there is a wonderful Bicycle Boulevard system, which gives cyclists an alternative to busy arterials. Berkeley city government has also not been afraid to take on the reactionary “Nimbys” who oppose traffic calming and road diets. Oakland Public Works, still stuck in a 1950s mindset, will often terminate plans for bike lanes for fear of incurring even the most minor LOS impacts.

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Colorado Railcar Not Dead Yet

Colorado Railcar has come out of bankruptcy. American Railcar Industries, a St. Charles, Mo.-based freight car manufacturer owned by investor Carl Icahn, announced a joint venture with Columbus, Ohio-based US Railcar:

US Railcar Company, LLC, the joint venture of US Railcar, LLC and ARI will be led by President & CEO Michael P. Pracht, a rail industry veteran with extensive experience with the world’s leading rail transportation companies. “These are extraordinary times with growth opportunities for passenger rail in the US” said Mr. Pracht. “The US Railcar Company DMU is designed to enable new cost-effective and environmentally friendly passenger rail service across a range of corridors and routes, all with a proven, existing equipment platform already in service.”

The US Railcar Company DMU was prototyped through a demonstration project in 2002 and is currently the only DMU that is fully compliant with Federal Railroad Administration passenger equipment safety regulations as stated in 49 CFR Part 238. This means the US Railcar Company DMU can be quickly pressed into service using existing freight tracks. 1O DMUs are currently providing reliable passenger service in Florida, Alaska and Oregon.

Colorado Railcar US Railcar is a classic example of how FRA/FTA “Buy-America” trade-protection policies foists expensive and unreliable rolling stock on transit agencies. The company’s survival depends on FRA regulation ’49 CFR Part 238′, which carves out special protected status against far superior offerings from foreign firms.

Even worse, US Railcar is seeking out taxpayer bailout.

US Railcar hopes to build a 100,000-square-foot passenger rail car factory in Gahanna that could employ up to 200 workers. But it needs $8.7 million in federal transportation stimulus
dollars for the project. Although Congress doesn’t directly award stimulus funds, It sure doesn’t hurt, does it? Jourdan said of Pracht’s appearances in Washington.

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Every four years, the San Francisco Bay MTC goes through a “certification” process from the Dept. of Transportation in order to qualify for Federal funds. During the year 2000 review, the agency faced a Civil Rights challenge from transit and environmental groups. The basis of the challenge was that the MTC prioritized white-elephant rail projects at the expense of inner city transit riders.

MTC did eventually beat back the challenge, but only after making empty promises to do better.

In a routine certification process, the U.S. Department of Transportation this year made approval of MTC’s planning and spending process subject to two “corrective actions.”

The government ordered an evaluation of how MTC involves the public in its process, and told the commission to better serve low-income or underserved people as it goes about its business in the nine-county Bay Area, coordinating and financing transportation planning.

With FTA rejection of the BART Oakland Airport Connector project (OAC), the MTC is facing fresh allegations of discriminatory practices in funding allocations. If FTA hadn’t pulled the plug, the OAC project would have replaced an inexpensive shuttle-bus with $12 round-trip airport monorail. The $12 fare would be an enormous hardship on airport workers.

In a scathing letter, Cheryl L. Hershey, FTA Director of Civil Rights, states that FTA will do more than just yank Federal funding. The MTC may face another review:

As you are aware, BART is subrecipient of the MTC, and, therefore, MTC is responsible for ensuring its subrecipients comply with Title VI, the DOT Title VI regulations, and FTA Circular 4702.1A. Your agency is responsible for documenting a process that ensures that all MTC subrecipients are in compliance with the reporting requirements of FTA C4702.1A.

The fact that BART has not conducted the necessary equity analysis for the OAC project or fare equity analysis raises concerns that your agency does not have procedures in place to monitor its subrecipients. In order to determine whether MTC is in compliance with Title VI, FTA’s Office of Civil Rights requests MTC send FTA the following information within 30 days of receipt of this letter:

  • a list of all MTC subrecipients; and
  • MTC’s procedures for monitoring Title VI compliance of its subrecipients

FTA will determine whether the information MTC provides meets Title VI requirements.

See Also

A Better Connector

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According to Professor Andrew McNaughton, transportation goes through periods of gradual changes, punctuated by giant leaps. These leaps cause massive changes in economic development and mobility. In the 18th century, it was canals. In the 19th century, it was the development of railways. The 20th century saw two leaps: the automobile and the airplane. This 1 hour video lecture gives in-depth coverage of what may be the next great leap: high-speed rail.

Professor Andrew McNaughton is the Chief Engineer of the proposed High Speed 2 (HS2) project in the UK, which would connect London with the Midlands and Northwest. His lecture covers a large range of topics in the area of high-speed rail, and will be of great interest to those following similar projects in California and Florida.

Some of the topics covered:

  • Ballast or slab? (Answer: perhaps neither!)
  • Capacity vs. speed vs. punctuality
  • Dwell time, and the design of turnouts
  • Designing train terminals to accommodate huge passenger flows
  • UK vs. France vs. Germany development patterns

The HS2 has come under some criticism, because it may divert “eye-watering” amounts of funding which might be better spent upgrading conventional railways. Dr. McNaughton touches on this at the end of the lecture, in which he argues that HS2 would serve as a catalyst for growth in the Midlands, eventually creating a “supercity” made up of Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds.

Incidentally: the HS2 ROW would be designed for up to 400 kph operation. The expectation is that over the lifetime of the HS2 infrastructure, high-speed rail technology will continue to improve well beyond current 300-350 kph speeds.

High Capacity and High Speed Travel: A 21st Century Solution

Professor Andrew McNaughton, Chief Engineer, High Speed 2

From: The IET Railway Network annual lecture and dinner 2009

2009-10-22 12:00:00.0 Transport Channel

>> go to webcast>> recommend to friend

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