Archive for March, 2011

One of the well-known problems with mandatory bike helmet laws is how to run a Velib-type bike share system, when the law requires riders wear helmets.

We find a similar problem with mandatory car-seat laws for toddlers. There is no way parents will use car-share programs if they need to lug around car-seats — especially if they have more than one child. Check out this FAQ from Zip Car:

frequently asked questions

does the car come with baby seats?

Unfortunately not. Please provide your own.

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For the past 58 years, the German state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg has been governed by the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). That all ended last night in a crushing defeat to a center-left opposition, composed of the Greens and their Social Democratic Party allies. For the first time, the Greens would govern a German state.

According to media reports, the weekly Stuttgart-21 protests played a major role in CDU defeat. German voters are known for careful spending of public funds, which may explain the historic CDU defeat.

A recent Guardian article provides fascinating account of the Stuttgart-21 protests. The whole thing is worth reading, but here is one highlight:

It must help to feel the support of a weekly turnout, too. Because the Stuttgart movement isn’t just about blowing whistles or keeping trees and stations because they’re old. It’s about ensuring public money is wisely spent (Swabians are notoriously careful). So they’ve sought advice from Swiss rail experts about the number of trains the new station would process. They’ve pointed out the plan’s weaknesses in fire safety and wheelchair access. They have lawyers in their ranks who have proven it’s possible, and affordable, to withdraw from the current building contracts. And they’ve won concessions in arbitration, curbing the sell-off of public land. They’re not stopping there either: they’ve worked out an alternative, Kopfbahnhof 21, which would refurbish the existing station, and invest in the regional network instead of all those tunnels.

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Sweet Home Chicago

Illinois will break ground next month on its planned 110mph “high” speed rail line linking Chicago and St. Louis. As part of the project, IDOT will spend $220 million purchasing six new 5-car trainsets.

You read that right: $220 million, for a mere 6 trainsets.

Needless to say, these will not be fancy schmancy DMU. Whereas modern passenger rail operators have done away with the diesel locomotive altogether, IDOT is planning on good old fashioned loco-hauled train. And not just 1 locomotive, but two! Because you can’t have too many locomotives…

And, it goes without saying, the IDOT will not buy a standard “off-the-shelf” product. IDOT is getting into the train design business. Here is how their web page describes it:

Two new high horsepower diesel locomotives will likely be used on each trainset. Specifications for the new equipment are being developed by a national consortium of State DOTs, equipment suppliers and other industry experts. They are drawing on international best practices in the development of these specifications. A higher level of comfort and safety is being specified in the new equipment. Any equipment purchased for the new high-speed service will undergo extensive performance testing and simulated operations on the corridor prior to the start of passenger service in 2014.

Note the phrase “higher level of safety” — this is codeword for an FRA-compliant tank-on-wheels design. Which must be custom-built at a cost of, well, $220 million.

Too bad IDOT can’t hire these guys:

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Former Board member Rod Diridon describing the communication dysfunction at the California High-Speed Rail Authority:

California, according to former rail board member Rod Diridon and a number of those affected by the planned train, got off to a poor start with its outreach programs. Statewide public relations were under the supervision of main engineering contractor Parson Brinckerhoff. Regional outreach contracts were awarded by the engineering firms in charge of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Los Angeles-Orange County.

Diridon said four years ago “I identified the fact we were having a real problem with some of the engineering groups saying one thing and the board saying another thing.”

That Diridon, of all people, would make this statement is ironic. He was notorious for speaking over staff at meetings, and giving the public erroneous information. This situation had become so awful that staff asked Diridon to refrain from attending public meetings. Eventually, the Governor had him replaced.

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