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Archive for October, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s web site boldly announces that the priority for the first 100 days of her administration would be to implement “biggest investment in American infrastructure in decades.” Funding for $275 billion program would come not from any new taxes but “corporate tax reform”. If you are thinking that means closing tax loopholes, it is in fact quite the opposite:

Clinton has said she would finance infrastructure spending through unspecified “business tax reform.” Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said on CNBC Oct. 18 that the money would come from a lower tax rate on profits stashed overseas by U.S. corporations. Other Democrats close to the Clinton camp said they anticipate she would adopt the Schumer approach. The lower tax rate would produce a one-time bonanza as companies brought home an estimated $2.5 trillion stockpiled abroad.

Profits earned overseas are supposed to be taxed at the same 35% rate as domestic profits. Those overseas taxes are only applied when the revenues are repatriated to the US. Large companies like Apple and Microsoft have been keeping their stash overseas, while lobbying Congress to lower the tax rate. (Technically, most of these funds are already in US banks, so this is all a kind of financial fiction.) The lower tax would indeed be a bonanza for companies, as they would get a windfall in the billions — money that was supposed to be paid to the US Treasury.

As most readers know, the nation’s infrastructure deficit is the result of declining gas tax revenues. For two decades, Congress has refused to adjust the gas tax for inflation. The only reasonable solution to this problem is to return the gas-tax back to normal levels — and not by giving away billions in corporate tax breaks.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook testifying before Congress on his company’s tax avoidance

 

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Berkeley could become North America’s first major city to build a comprehensive Dutch-style cycle-track network. For the past two years, city staff has been developing a new Bike Plan, which is set to go before City Council in December. The plan would revolutionize cycling in a town with an already respectable bike mode-share. If approved, the plan would prioritize the construction of new cycle-tracks in the south campus area, and convert a downtown segment of Milvia into a cycle-track.

The plan also calls for cycle-tracks on the major arterials , including Claremont, Telegraph, Shattuck, University, and Adeline. Each those projects would have to go through a “multi-modal” corridor study. Berkeley staff says these studies are needed to accommodate other road users (buses, pedestrians, and automobiles). Hopefully, the studies will not used to sandbag the bike plan…

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(Link if video doesn’t play.)

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Amtrak is really trying to upstage airlines on complicated boarding procedures:

On the day of your trip, check in with a uniformed Amtrak employee who will verify your ticket, and issue you a boarding pass. You will then be directed to the appropriate boarding area to wait for your train. The earlier you check in, the earlier you’ll be in the boarding process. If you don’t check in, you’ll be among the last to board.

Board with Your Assigned Group
About 30 minutes before departure, a boarding call will be announced and you’ll board with your assigned group.

General boarding for passengers traveling in Coach Class will take place in the Great Hall. There will be signs to direct you to the location of your assigned group. Customers who purchased a $20 Priority Boarding Pass for the Legacy Club will be the first Coach Class group to board.

They also recommend arriving at the station at least 45 minutes before departure, to deal with this nonsense. And “boarding gates” will close 5 minutes before takeoff train departure.

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In an action that went largely unnoticed last month, the CHSRA has changed the specifications for platform lengths. Whereas they were originally to be 430 meters (long enough for double trainset), they will now be just 800 feet (243 meters). This will effectively cut the capacity of the system in half.

The memo does allow for longer platforms at shared stations — if other operators are running longer trains. Its effect on the cramped Transbay Terminal is unclear, as Caltrain is only planning for 8-car EMUs.

The decision also affects placement of turnouts and crossovers. So once the track and platforms are locked in concrete, it would be extremely difficult and costly to change later on. Reducing costs of the project is one thing — but this is an example of being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

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Double trainset

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Back in 2009, SMART came up with a bonehead plan to use custom-design rolling stock — a decision heavily criticized in this blog. And here we are six years later, and they are still struggling to get something working:

On September 7, 2016, SMART was notified by SCOA [Sumitomo Corporation of America] that the failure was due to an underlying design flaw in the engine’s crankshaft. Responding to this news, SMART’s Vehicle Maintenance Superintendent, supported by LTK vehicle engineers, travelled to the Cummins Engine facility in Seymour, Indiana, and on September 14 met with Cummins, carbuilder Nippon Sharyo and SCOA. At the meeting it was agreed that the engines would be rebuilt with a new crankshaft designed for the life of the engine, as soon as possible.

So now all the engines will need to be scrapped, and the train design re-tested. The SMART staff is now (very optimistically I think) saying the line won’t open until at least Spring 2017. The previous opening date was supposed to be the end 2016 (which had already been pushed back 2 years due to other issues).

Remember: the whole rationale for using custom FRA-compliant rolling stock was that it would take “too long” to get regulatory approval for off-the-shelf European DMUs.

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Jokelahoma

No joke. The Governor of Oklahoma has declared October 13th as Oilfield Prayer Day.

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(click image to enlarge)

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