Friday, November 20, 2009

FRA Reports: Freight Trains More Fuel-Efficient Than Trucks

A recently released study from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) concludes that railroads are truly more fuel-efficient than truck for freight shipment. As reported by Railway Age , the findings confirm what I’ve know for some time: the lower coefficient of friction of steel on steel translates into less fuel per ton-mile. Adding to the inherent advantage governed by the laws of physics, the FRA also noted technological advances in more fuel-efficient locomotives:

“While all types of transportation are vital to the distribution of goods across the country, this study shows that utilizing America’s freight rail system can lead to significant fuel savings,” said FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo (pictured at left). “The environmental benefits of these positive changes over the last two decades are enormous. We look forward to working with the freight rail industry to make sure these gains continue.”

The text of the final report (Comparative Evaluation of Rail and Truck Fuel Efficiency on Competitive Corridors, dated November 19, 2009 ) is even more impressive. Section 1.5 summarizes the main finding:

“For all movements, rail fuel efficiency is higher than truck fuel efficiency in terms of ton-miles per gallon. The ratio between rail and truck fuel efficiency indicates how much more fuel efficient rail is in comparison to trucks. As illustrated in Exhibit 1-1, rail fuel efficiency varies from 156 to 512 ton-miles per gallon, truck fuel efficiency ranges from 68 to 133 ton-miles per gallon, and rail truck fuel efficiency ratios range from 1.9 to 5.5."

Translating that to English, in case you didn't get the impact of it, means that rail is between twice and 5.5 times more fuel efficient!

With ongoing technological development in locomotive efficeincy, the scorecard for rail will only improve more. Already, there are the locomotive equivalent of the Prius. And even more emissions reductions for yard locomotives, to the point where there is even a working battery-powered yard engine prototype being tested.

Add the environmental advantage to rail to the econonomic advantage to the tax payer: every frieght car on privately-owned and maintained, tax-paying freight rail lines saves the equivalent of four trucks pounding the life out of highways and bridges that will be repaired and replaced at taxpayer expense. The economic benefit of rail is truely a two-for: reduces the cost of taxpayer-finances public infrastructure while adding revenue (thus, higher tax payments) for the freight railroads.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Road to Reform? The MassDOT is Coming! The MassDOT is Coming! (Part 1)

Coming in one week is a major reorganization of the state transportation agencies. Right now, Massachusetts has an alphabet soup of agencies loosely organized under the Secretary of Transportation and Public Works. The reorg will create MassDOT, somewhat resembling the normative state DOT (Department of Transportation) that most states have.

The stated reasons for the reorganization are many. There are fiscal considerations such as the savings of consolidating certain administrative functions and reforming retirement programs. There is the idea all state highways and bridges should be maintained and operated by a single agency instead of several. There is the idea of greater transparency, greater responsiveness. And the idea of consolidating transportation policy, decision-making, and funding into a single multi-modal vision.

While the fiscal considerations are the selling point for many, I want to focus on what this means for transportation in Massachusetts.

  • Will this end the chronic underfunding of the MBTA?
  • Will this do anything with the backlog of structurally and functionally deficient bridges?
  • Who will plow the DCR parkways and bridges this year?
  • Where is that bus that should have come 15 min. ago?

I’ll get to a number of these issues over the course of a series of posts on this topic. But first, my number one argument for creating a DOT.

Argument No. 1 for a DOT
Witness how the taxpayer looses out when there’s an uncoordinated gaggle of transportation agencies each with their narrow vision and objectives. My example takes place along the MBTA Lowell Line, where the proposed Green Line Extension is planned. I’ve been working on projects in this corridor over the last 18 years. For all that time, the MBTA anticipated the Green Line extension and we had even done a preliminary alignment for that extension so that when we designed drainage improvements in 1991, we would design to accommodate the future Green Line.

All the while, MHD (Massachusetts Highway Department) had its consultants designing replacement bridges for the local streets that spanned the MBTA rail corridor. Now MHD could save a lot of money on the new bridges by spanning as narrow a corridor as possible. Shorter bridges are less expensive. So, rather than consider the future Green Line, MHD would rather just design a new bridge to span only the active tracks.

Keep in mind that the Commonwealth had made a commitment to extend the Green Line as mitigation for the Big Dig. And to build the Green Line, the bridges needed to be long enough to span not just the 2 or 3 active tracks, but at least 4 tracks to accommodate the addition of the extension. Nevertheless, over the last 10 years, MHD still built 3 new bridges that are not long enough to accommodate the Green Line Extension.

So, this is clearly a case where a narrowed-focused agency was not making decisions in concert with the state’s commitment for another agency. With such parochial thinking, it is the Commonwealth and ultimately the taxpayers who are the losers.

So, my hope is that a single DOT will ensure that all transportation divisions (bridges, roads, transit, aviation) will be on the same page as far as state commitments and coordination with other proposed projects. Capital and operating expenditures need to be considered in the context of the planning and objectives of the entire state transportation system.

Some Clear Advantages
Theoretically, a single DOT should result in a better approach to policy, funding, and planning:

  • A single consistent transportation policy
  • An intermodal approach to transportation planning
  • Better funding of all modes (particularly the chronically underfunded transit systems and parkways)

My example above illustrates the need for the first two advantages. Let me expound a little on something I’ll call “cross-modal” funding.

Cross-Modal Funding
On the funding side, there should be more opportunities to achieve equity in funding the various modes. In particular, gas tax revenues could more readily fund more that just highways as it typically has in the past. This approach could help out the chronically underfunded MBTA.

But to understand this approach, there needs to be an understanding of how this will benefit the Commonwealth. This starts with understanding that adequate funding for transit and rail will also benefit the state roadway system. As people shift from single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs) to transit, it frees up roadway capacity, improving highway operations and reducing the wear and tear on roads and bridges. This also should reduce the need to spend funds to increase roadway capacity.

The same is true with freight. Every freight car represents 4 less trucks taking up roadway capacity and pounding the life out of taxpayer funded bridges. Shifting freight, particularly to the privately owned freight lines, off loads the tax burden of repairing and replacing public roads and bridges while providing added revenue to tax-paying freight railroads.

Furthermore, transit and rail use of less real estate than highways to carry the same number of people per hour or tons of freight per hour.

In summary, a shifting of funding to provide reliable passenger transit and encourage freight rail use will provide benefits in terms of lessening the burden of taxpayer-funded maintenance, repair, replacement, and capacity improvements on the state’s public roads and bridges.

More to Come
More discussion will follow in subsequent posts.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

High Line Park: A Most Unusual Rail-to-Trail Project

The High Line Park opened this week on the west side of Manhattan. This is probably the most unusual and unique rail-to-trial conversion in the US.

Why? Perhaps because it’s located 30 feet above the city streets. Perhaps because it’s a rail line that few knew it was there. Perhaps because it may be the only rail-to-trail linear park entirely on an elevated steel viaduct.

Also, it is a new approach to the creation of a linear park. The linear park, pioneered by Fredrick Law Olmsted with Boston’s Emerald Necklace, is typically characterized by one or modes of transportation facilities weaving through a long park corridor. High Line Park weaves a pedestrian esplanade with park landscaping within the linear corridor of this Westside viaduct.

High Line Park was one the New York Central Railroad’s West Side fright line, high above 10th Avenue in Manhattan. It was built in the 1930s to replace the street-running tracks that served the Hudson River piers and other industrial customers. The railroad used men on horseback, nicknamed “cowboys,” to guide the trains through the city streets.

The elevated line brought two improvements:
1. It removed the conflicts of running freight trains through busy city streets
2. It was electrified and eliminated the use of steam engines

The elevated line served many west-side customers for years. But with the dawn of interstate highways and the shifting of freight from trains to trucks, the line feel into disuse in the 1970s and abandonment in the 1980s. Interestingly, the out-of-service line remained in the ownership of Conrail and was even transferred to CSX in the Conrail breakup.

As with most unneeded and abandoned structures, the High Line was scheduled for demolition. However, others had another vision. What some saw as an eyesore, others saw as a most unique and interesting “place.” It is above and away from the bustle of the sidewalks and streets. It provides a unique view of the city. And it is an opportunity to provide new open space without demolishing any buildings to create it.

The Friends of the High Line and others advocated for the vision of a park for years. Finally, it has become a reality, as the first segment opens.

For more information about the park, the history of the High Line, and great photographs and videos, visit the Friends of the High Line at the website: .

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How to Safely Control Trains on the Green Line

Following the recent MBTA Green Line crash at Government Center, and with another similar crash in recent history on the Riverside Line, a number of people have asked “Can it have been prevented?” In other words, could a more modern type of signals and train control have made it impossible for one train to crash into another?

Right now there are signals in the subway and out on the Riverside Line. But, unlike other lines, there is no “enforcement” of the signals. On the other subway lines and on major rail lines (like Amtrak’s Northeaster Corridor), a train that passes a red light will automatically have its breaks come on.

There is no such system for the Green Line. But would a signal system with “enforcement” work on the Green Line?

The short answer is that such a train control systems could be used, but I don’t think it would work on the Green Line. Such a system would keep the trains further apart. With trains running 90 seconds apart, they would back up and the Green Line wouldn’t handle the approximately 240,000 people a day that use it.

Train Control Systems - A Brief Overview
What most people know about tranit signals are the red-yellow-green lights in the subway. The indications are similar to traffic signals for motor vehicles.

In addition to the signals themselves, train control often has a component of “enforcement.” The simplest feature is the trip stop – a little arm next to the track that is up when the signal is red. The arm sets off the train brake, preventing it from going through the red signal.

In more complex systems, the signal system can interact with the train controls. Sometimes called “civil enforcement” a train control system will not only stop the train before it goes through a red signal, but also will slow it down if it’s going over the speed limit. [Can you imagine that in automobiles? You’re on the MassPike going the limit of 65. You want pass a car, and speed up to 70, but the “enforcement” comes on and slows you back to 65!]

This “civil enforcement” is used on most of the Red and Orange Lines and on high-speed lines, like Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

The Green Line has on “civil enforcement” and that is part of the question: should it be used on the Green Line.

Train Control on the Green Line Today
In general, the MBTA Green Line employs 3 types of train control:

1. Automatic Wayside Block Signals: These are the red-yellow-green signals along the side of the tracks.

2. Line of Sight: This is used for street reservations (like the median of Commonwealth Avenue, Beacon Street, or Huntington Avenue) and for street running (e.g., Huntington Avenue and South Huntington Avenue outbound of Brigham Circle.

3. Traffic Signals: Where there are traffic signals at intersections where the Green Line runs in a street reservation or in the street, these traffic signals also govern the operation of the trains.

Automatic Wayside Block Signals
The red-yellow-green automatic wayside block signals are used on the Lechmere Viaduct, Central Subway and on the Highland Branch (Riverside Line, D Branch). This system employs a three-aspect (red, yellow and green), two-block system. Wayside signals will display red if the track circuit immediately beyond the signal is occupied. Signals will display yellow if the next signal in the direction of operation displays red and the intervening track circuit is unoccupied. Signals will display green if the next signal in the direction of operation displays yellow or green and the intervening track circuit is unoccupied (i.e. a minimum of two signal blocks ahead are clear).

Line of Sight and Traffic Signals
When the Green Line runs in the street (like South Huntington Ave.) or in a street reservation (like Commonwealth Avenue), there is no signal system. Rather, operations are be governed by what is called “operator line of sight.” This is no different from anyone driving a car.

Just like driving, there are a series of rules that the operator must follow. And, like driving a car, safety is highly dependent on the operator’s judgments and actions. The operator must obey the traffic signals and also maintain a safe separation from the train in front of them.

What Works and Doesn't Work for the Green Line?

The Green Line is the most heavily used light rail system in the nation. With over 240,000 daily riders, it's four branches converge in the Central Subway, where trains run an average of 90 seconds apart at rush hour. Any regular rider of the Green Line knows how close the trains operate. Often as one train leaves a station, the next one is entering.

Also, the trains tend to bunch up, something know as "platooning." When my firm was working on the light rail accessibility study, we modeled the Central Subway. Even when we started the model with every train running right on time, the model showed that give it an hour or so and the trains will bunched up!

This bunching means that trains may be running at about 45-second headways while bunched, and a few minutes between the bunches. In other words, there is a statistical distribution and the 90-second headway is only the statistical average.

Why is this important? Because, a signal system with train control would not support headways as little as 45 seconds in the Central Subway. Such as system looks at the breaking distance, the distance it takes a train to stop. The system ensures that the train will stop before it can possibly hit the train in front of it. This would keep the Green Line trains further apart. It would reduce the number of trains that can pass through the subway in an hour.

On the other hand, such as system might work on the Riverside Line where speeds are higher and trains run about 5 min. apart at rush hour. Likewise it might be applicable to the new extension to Medford. But the MBTA is studying this, and we should await the study results to see if it would work.


In conclusion, I agree that safety may need to be improved in the wake of recent accidents. However, a train control system does not appear feasible for the subway, due to the tight headways that are needed to get all the trains through on time. It may be applicable for the Riverside Line and the new extension to Medford. But in any case, we should await the results of the ongoing MBTA study of how best to safely control trains on the Green Line.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Speed Isn’t What It Used To Be

When we think of “high speed” and “rapid” we may think of something really fast, maybe like a rocket.

But when our Federal government defines these terms, it isn’t all that it should be.

High Speed Rail (HSR)
Take “high speed” rail, for an example. Now, when I think of that term, I’m thinking the Bullet Train in Japan or the TGV in France. Speeds over 150 mph up to 200 mph, and maybe faster.

Is that what our Federal government is thinking? Not quite. While our President declares “Make no little plans,” the legislation is designed to lower expectations. “High speed rail” is 110 mph, a full 40 mph below the top speed of Amtrak’s Acela.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
BRT is supposed to be a blending of buses and rapid transit. So, it should be as fast as rail rapid transit (like a subway), but cheaper to build with buses and simple pavement replacing more costly and complex rails, power and signals systems.

In theory, the buses would run on a separate busway or a highway HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane, therefore traveling “rapidly” (say, 40 to 60 mph) between stations.
Let’s contrast theory and practice.

In Boston, the Silver Line is considered BRT. There’s the Washington Street Silver Line, where the bus has a bus lane and some advantages (pre-emption) at the frequent traffic lights. So, maybe between stops and red lights, the bus may get up to about 25 to 30 mph. But when you add in time waiting for lights, the speed averages maybe 15 or 20 mph. What’s so rapid about that? Many in Roxbury and the South End know we’re not talking travel times equivalent to the long-gone elevated Orange Line on Washington Street.

Then there’s the Silver Line from South Station to Logan Airport and City Point in South Boston. Part is in a subway tunnel, not unlike the four rail transit lines (Green, Red, Orange and Blue). Now the Red Line travels at up to 50 mph in the subway. Even the Green Line can hit 30 mph or more in the subway. So what about that BRT? The Silver Line tunnel opened with a posted speed limit of 10 mph. Even at 15 or 20 mph, is that what you’d call “rapid.”

Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line
Another local speed misnomer is the least know segment of Boston’s rail transit system – the trolley line between Ashmont and Mattapan. When it opened on August 29, 1929, it was truly “high speed.” A typical trolley line ran in city streets, which was fairly slow going. The “High Speed” line was built along a partially abandoned rail line, avoiding city streets, and reaching “high speeds” up to 30 mph.

Today, the line still runs, with streetcars approaching 70 years old, still reaching speeds approaching 30 mph. But to many, it’s still known as the High Speed Line.

Speed certainly isn't what it used to be!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Focus on Your Driving!

Stories recently in the news:

  • MBTA drive crashes while texting
  • Women dies when hit by driver painting her nails
  • Passengers killed when commuter rail engineer crashes train while on cell phone
  • Man gets in accident driving while eating cereal with milk

These are all recent tales of driving while distracted. The common sense lesson is simple! No matter what mode of transportation: Focus on your driving!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Longfellow Bridge Reconstruction -- Long Overdue but Plans Need Work!

The Longfellow Bridge between Cambridge Street in Boston and Main Street/Broadway in Cambridge is finally in the design stages of a long-awaited rehabilitation. Much of the minor steel framing needs repair/ replacement, the entire deck needs replacing, and the towers are leaning and need to be rebuilt.

Good news: Mass. Highway Dept. (MHD) has the design under way and just filed its Environmental Notification Form (ENF), part of a state environmental review process for projects.

Not so good news: This is a vital transportation link (Red Line, pedestrians, bicycles and motor vehicles) and these links need to be better accommodated during construction.

I have copied my letter of comments on the ENF below, which details my concerns regarding how the project is accomplished.

Though I may have some concerns, it is paramount that the project proceed as soon as possible, once the construction staging issues are incorporated into the project plans.


Secretary Ian A. Bowles
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Attn: Anne Canaday, EEA #14384
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114-2524

RE: Massachusetts Highway Department (MHD)
Reconstruction of Longfellow Bridge
Boston & Cambridge, MA
Comments on Environmental Notification Form

Dear Sec. Bowles:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important project. For the ease of identifying comments in contrast to statements and discussions, my comments are in underlined italics.

The Longfellow Bridge is an important multi-modal link connecting Boston and Cambridge and part of a regional system of roadways, transit lines, walkways and bicycle facilities. It is also an important route for emergency preparedness, in that it leads directly to a major hospital (Massachusetts General).

I have multiple interests in this project.

First, around 1982, I was the project engineer with DeLeuw, Cather & Company, consultants for the MBTA for the design of the platform extensions of Charles Station onto the Longfellow Bridge:

  • MHD and their consultants (Jacobs) can blame me for the difficulty of the pinch point created where the platform extensions reach onto the bridge. I designed those pinch points into the roadway to accommodate the platform extensions.

  • Back in 1982, I stood with Dave Lenheart of the then MDC on Span #1[1] of the bridge with the deck opened up as we looked upon the rusted structural steel. Thus, I can say personally that this repair project is long overdue and MHD should expedite this project to the extent possible.

[1] Span #1 is labeled on sheet 32 of 59 (titled “Construction Stages, Stage 1, Sheet 1 of 4”) in Attachment 2 to the ENF.

Second, I use all 4 modes of the bridge, particularly in getting to work. Normally, I take the Red Line (over the Longfellow Bridge). When the weather is nice, I try to bike in once or twice a week (over the Longfellow Bridge). When I need a vehicle for work-related travel, I drive (over the Longfellow Bridge). And sometimes if the weather is nice (like after the MEPA hearing last week) I walk home (over the Longfellow Bridge).

So, clearly I have a stake in ensuring that the project will maintain all four modes during and after construction.

Final Configuration
I applaud the project design as presented in the Environmental Notification Form (ENF) in its inclusion of all four modes at the end of construction: pedestrians, bicycles, the Red Line and motor vehicles.

Alternatives for Eastbound (Inbound) Boston ApproachPage 6 of the ENF describes three alternatives were developed to address the pinch point caused by the inbound platform extension I designed some 27 years ago.

At first, I would agree with the preferred alternative 1 for the Boston approach (as described on page 6 of the ENF). This alternative accommodates a sidewalk, a full bike lane and 3 approach lanes to the Charles Circle signalized intersection.

However, it moves one retaining wall into parkland. Regarding this issue, there are both state and federal concerns:

  • From a historic resources perspective, I agree with the ENF’s assessment that although there is some loss of parkland, this is compensated by the historically-sensitive treatment of the relocated wall. Assuming the Massachusetts Historic Commission (MHC) and the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) concur, this issue should not delay the project in terms of the historic approval process on the state and local level. The MHD should confirm that moving the wall is acceptable to the MHC and BLC.

  • On the other hand, this is a 4(f) parkland taking from a federal perspective. Since MHD intends to use federal funds in part for this project, MHD should address this issue of whether the 4(f) issue will delay the project start-up by requiring a separate environmental review under the federal NEPA process. The MHD should address this issue of possible project delay due to 4(f) issues related to federal funding.

Conclusion on Alternatives:
I have different conclusions that depend on whether there would be a delay in federal funding due to 4(f) issues:

  • If there are significant schedule delays in project startup due to parkland taking, then I agree with the ENF’s conclusion that Alternative 1 is the best.

  • If there are significant schedule delays in project startup due to parkland takings, then I recommend Alternative 3 (no wall relocation) combined with the widening of the sidewalk over Span #1 as included in Alternative 1.

Construction Staging
During construction, it is essential that all four modes be accommodated. But more than that, construction presents an opportunity for an exemplary approach: incorporating energy and environmental policy by shifting modal use from motor vehicles to the more modes that expend less energy and pollute less (i.e., walking, bicycling and transit). The MHD should look into ways to reduce motor vehicle trips and shift trips to the other 3 modes.

Page 7 of the ENF describes two options, both of which raise some concerns.

Option 1 would take an estimated 12 to 18 months less than Option 2. It would maintain Red Line service and one 10-foot wide sidewalk for pedestrians. However, it would maintain only one inbound travel lane a little over 14.5 feet for both bicycles and motor vehicles. Outbound bicycles and motor vehicles would be detoured over the Cragie Bridge. Problem with this approach include the following:

  • The outbound bicycle detour is simply not reasonable. Bicyclists will not detour to the traffic-congested Leverett Circle area. Rather, they will travel westbound on the open sidewalk. A better plan for two-way bicycle accommodation during construction is needed.

  • The outbound motor vehicle detour into the traffic-congested Leverett Circle is equally unreasonable. The peak hour delays waiting for several light cycles at the Circle and at the Land Blvd./Gilmore Bridge/O’Brien Highway intersection. I would also detour traffic towards the site of the relocation of Lechmere Station for the Green Line Extension at the exact same timeframe as this project. Furthermore, consideration should be given to detouring traffic towards the Harvard Bridge (Massachusetts Avenue). A better detour plan is needed that considers a more regional approach and considers other EOT projects (e.g., Green Line Extension)

  • However the greatest concern is for emergency access. With MGH at Charles Circle, the Longfellow is an important ambulance access route. Likewise, the bridge is used for other emergency purposes including mutual response to fires as well as police and other law enforcement agencies. Let me emphasize the importance of this issue. Two years ago, my son and I went bike riding. Once home, his heart rate did not decline. After a few hours my wife took him to Cambridge Hospital. Once they realized the situation, they were immediately rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital where they had the experienced doctors who know what immediate action was needed. My son is fine now, in part because the ambulance was able to cross the Longfellow Bridge without delay.I cannot underestimate the importance of maintain emergency access in both directions.

    o MHD should consult with Boston, Cambridge and state emergency departments (police, fire, EMS) before any further consideration of Option 1.
    o MHD should not pursue Option 1 without provisions for two-way emergency access across the Longfellow Bridge 24/7/365 throughout construction.

Option 2 would take an estimated 12 to 18 months longer than Option 1. It would maintain Red Line service and one 10-foot sidewalk in all phases. It would maintain motor vehicle access in either direction in one or two lanes. It is unclear from the plans included how bicycles would be accommodated during construction.

  • Option 2 is clearly superior with regards to emergency access and the detouring of traffic. Still, construction activities will inevitably cause some motorists to seek alternative routes, be they the Craigie or Harvard Bridges or other routes.

  • Option 2 does not clearly indicate how two-way bicycle accommodation will be maintained during construction.

  • Comments:
    o Option 2 should be considered the preferred option
    o MHD should better describe how two-way bicycle access will be provided through all the states of construction.

Storm DrainageThe ENF states on page 10 that it is not practical to meet all stormwater standards. In particular, the ENF states there is no room on the bridge for sediment collection or pollution removal systems. Also, with the exception of the first 2 spans in Boston, no runoff will be diverted to existing storm drainage systems. For the spans over water, the scuppers will simply drain into the river.

While full diversion of flow does not appear practical, improved water quality could be obtained if it were possible to divert the water quality volume (WQV) or first 1 inch of runoff to some form of sediment control and/or water quality enhancement device.

Consideration of attempting to treat about 1” of runoff was brought up by the representative of the Charles River Watershed Association at the ENF meeting on April 30th.

Based on that comment, my thought was to see if there could be one device per span, maybe located over the pier. The scuppers would drain to this device, which would retain the WQV and let the excess flow discharge to the river. This would at least provide some treatment for the initial runoff, which is more heavily laden with contaminants.

As the ENF does not include any WQV calculations, I have provided a calculation of the WQV for one span of the bridge, based on 1” of runoff:

A = W x L
A = (2’ +11’ + 11’ + 5’ + 10’) x 150’
A = 5,850 SF
A = 0.134 Acres (based on 1 acre = 43,560 SF)

WQV = 1” x A
WQV = 1” x 0.134 Acres
WQV = 0.134 Acre-Inches
WQV = 487.5 CF

This represents a rectangular tank approximately 6’ x 8’ x 10’. Other shapes could be used. The device would need convenient accessways from the roadway to allow inspection, cleaning and other maintenance.

A tank to hold a WQV based on 1/2" of runoff would be half that size.

I am not familiar enough with the structure to determine if such devices could be stowed somewhere above the piers, so they are maintainable but do not create a visual impact.

MHD should consider whether it is feasible to provide some sediment removal and water quality enhancement, be it for a 1” WQV or even 1/2" WQV. This could be by a tank, maybe with a vortex device or a filter, located in the piers. Flows greater than the WQV would overflow, either at the scupper itself or at the tank.

Other Comments

  • Section III (Consistency) should include discussion of:
    o Consistency with Grown Policy, and
    o Consistency with the Massachusetts Bicycle Plan.

Thank you for the opportunity to review the ENF for this very important project. I look forward to seeing the bridge under construction soon and restored to structural good repair in the years to come.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Benefits of Rail

You may have heard or seen the recent commercials by the major railroad CSX:
  • A gallon of fuel moves 1 ton of freight 423 miles
  • One train takes the average of 286 trucks off the highways
Finally, there is a railroad is touting the benefits that come with operating at a lower coefficient of friction. Steel wheels on steel rails translate into less fuel needed.

While I've known the many benefits of rail over trucking, it has never been advertised to the general public. Likely, because the public has little interest or concern for railroads, except when they are held up at a grade crossing.

But now CSX believes there is a reason to sell this to the public. And they are hitting the major talking points. In esseence, using less fuel used translates into benefits that both conservatives and liberals can appreciate.

First, the economic benefit: less fuel used saves money. This is something even trucking companies realized in the ‘80s and ‘90s when they employed railroads for cross-country shipping of containers and trailers. Business and the economy in general benefit from lower shipping costs.

Second, less fuel used means less pollution including less greenhouse gas emissions. CSX is touting how shipping by rail is “greener” than trucking. And with new improvements in locomotive fuel efficiency, including Prius-like locomotives, rail is becoming even more environmentally friendly.

Third, when freight moves from highways to rail, it reduces highway traffic (something CSX promotes in one of its commercials). Instead of trucks pounding the payments and bridges built and maintained by gas tax dollars, rail freight runs on privately maintained infrastructure by companies that pay taxes. Why aren't the free-market conservatives all over this one? Shift freight to rail and reduce taxes while promoting business and increasing tax revenues!

Fourth, less use of fossil fuels reduces dependence on foreign oil.

The concept is simple: operating at a lower coefficient of friction, rail freight uses less fuel and produces less emissions.

Postscript: Now, while CSX is spreading the word, no one should believe they are the epitome of sustainability and environmental protection. Any railroad is an industrial operation that produces a number of hazardous materials from the preservative in wood ties to leaky fuel tanks and spills of petroleum products. Still, by advertising a commitment to sustainability and environmental protection, CSX and other railroads are cleaning up the operations.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Obama on U.S. high speed rail: "Make no little plans"

As reported by Railway Age:

President Obama on Thursday, April 16, released an
unprecedented long-term strategic plan to advance
U.S. high speed rail development, beginning with
the $8 billion “down payment” provided through the
Administration’s recent American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act, augmented by $1 billion per year for five years in budget appropriations.

"Make no little plans," the President said at a nationally televised news
conference as he presented a plan—centered on rail—for the future of

U.S. transportation. It would begin with upgrading existing rail lines—a
foundation, so to speak—and then progress to building dedicated high
speed corridors, as has been done elsewhere in the world. In great detail

and with an almost startling breadth of knowledge about the high speed
industry, he talked about the many benefits of high speed rail, among them
the convenience of center city to center city travel and relief from highway
and air travel congestion.


So, what does this all mean?

On the positive side, this is the most pro-rail announcement of any recent administration. National passenger rail advocates line the American Public Transit Association (APTA) and the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) were falling over themselves in praise of the announcement.

And when you compare this announcement to the lean years of Reagan, Bush and Bush, a rail advocate would think they died and went to high speed rail heaven. In the Reagan years, even Amtrak was zeroed out in the administration's budget and there was no thought of high speed rail, unless it was paid for by the states or private sector. Even the Clinton years were no panacea for funding new intercity rail.

Putting the euphoria aside, what does this mean for funding? Well, it's a total of $13 billion over about 6 fiscal years:

  • $8 billion in stimulus funding
  • $1 billion per year for 5 years

Sound like a lot?

Again, it's a monumental amount compared to the past; I'm afraid it's a drop in the bucket compared to building a system that looks like real high speed rail, such as the TGV in France.

First of all, the funding will be diluted among 10 politically-determined corridors:

Do the math, and it's a average of $1.3 billion per corridor. Somewhat impressive, but say the corridors are about 500 miles (most are longer), that's $2.6 million/mile which is a nice upgrade, but won't buy you a TGV system.

Second, look at what this is buying. Pres. Obama talks about upgrading first. And the press release also defines "high" speed rail at 110 mph, which sound high compared to 65 mph on the interstate, but not compared to TGV speeds over 200 mph.

Now, my background in intercity high speed rail includes working on the US Dept. of Transportation's "Commercial Feasibility Study" were we looked at what it would take to run rail operations with maximum speeds of 90, 110, 125, 150 and 200 mph on most of the same corridors listed above. My job involved looking at maps and track charts in great detail and "test driving" the corridors (using a spreadsheet-based simulation program) to see how fast you could go if you upgraded the tracks or if you built new tracks (for the 200 mph option). Then we estimated how much it would cost it would take to reach each of these top speeds.

In short, I know what you can get out of these corridors and how much it would cost to get there.

Here's a summary of my conclusions:
  1. The selection of the 110 mph top speed actually proved to be the most cost-effective target in terms of capital cost compared to increased ridership and associated revenue. While 110 mph is modest compared to TGV (at 186 mph), it is a prudent first step.
  2. Where the federal funds meet local funding (e.g., in California, they have voted $10 billion of state funds), it may kick start something more than the studies I've seen over the last 2 decades.
  3. Portions of the Empire Corridor (near Albany, NY) and the Chicago-Detroit corridor have segments already at 110 mph, so this funding can incrementally piggy-back on existing improvements.
  4. Though not listed as one of the 10 corridors, the Northeast Corridor (Boston-Washington) can compete for funds.
  5. The funding still depends on local initiatives. This is working in California, but has been a start-stop process in Florida (depending on who the Governor is) and here in New England, the failure of New Hampshire to provide modest funding for the Boston-Montreal corridor has crippled the efforts. This intercity rail is really interstate commerce, and last time I looked, the Federal government was responsible for that!
  6. Bottom line: other than California (where they may actually build a high speed line), don't count on much. Despite what the President's rhetoric, I say "Make no grand plans!"

Start of a New Transportation Blog

Having worked as a civil engineer in the transportation field for over 30 years, I've developed a perspective on current transportation issues, locally in the Boston and New England areas, nationally and internationally. Having tested the patience of collegues and friends as I go on about this and that, I thought I'd start my own blog. This way, those interested can read on, and those not, can pass it up.

Actually, I'm planning on 2 blogs:
  1. Transportation Issues Today: news and comments on current events, etc.
  2. New Initiatives in Transportation: this will contain practical proposals for improving transportation, focusing on the more "sustainable" modes: walking, bicycling, public transit, and other rail transporation.

If anyone out there is reading these posts, please leave your comments.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Failing Grade for the Nation's Infrastructure

Today, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report card on the nation's infrastructure. And it failed, miserably, with a D.

As a civil engineer myself, I’ve seen government on all levels fail to keep up with the needs to maintain infrastructure including roads and bridges, parks, municipal buildings, water and wastewater, and transit.

Well, there’s the report card on the right.

What’s most inexcusable is the situation with roads and bridges, where there is a dedicated user fee (the gas tax) on both the federal and state levels.

How did we get here? Is it underfunding? Is it incompetence in the agencies that manage infrastructure? Or is it the way infrastructure is owned, funded and managed in our nation?

Well, it’s a little of all of the above. Generally, the agencies blame the funding; the politicians blame the agencies. But, in the end, our national infrastructure ownership and management system is dysfunctional.

Part of the problem can be blamed on the complex nature of infrastructure ownership and management. If we listen to all the talk about the stimulus finding for infrastructure, from politicians, the media, the public, pundits, and the like, you might think it was all government-owned and funded, right?


Much of it is privately owned and operated. See the table below for some of the complexities of ownership, funding, maintenance and operation of our public infrastructure:

Take electrical power from generation to transmission lines to the distribution wires that feed your home and businesses. Almost all of the nation’s power system is privately owned. There are exceptions, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and some local municipal power companies, but chances are those power lines are owned by a private utility.

We frequently hear of the failure of the power system (e.g., lines down in storms), but it’s not just something that the federal government can throw money at. Most of it is privately owned and funded, with the government’s role as regulator. And with the levels of regulation, constructing a new power plant or transmission lines is typically at least a 10-year long project!

In the end, there are no simple answers. I will address some of these issues in future blogs.