High Speed Rail gathering speed – Op-ed

News in the USA and UK over the last few days has been humming about High Speed Rail initiatives in both countries.

In the USA news is reaching fever pitch over High Speed Rail as the details of submissions for the US Government’s $8 billion high speed rail initiative start to appear.

Routes currently being reported are the $830 million route between Chicago and Detroit a new 110 M.P.H. train that will cut the travel time from Detroit to Chicago from 6 hours to 4 hour.
California  applied for
$1.1 bullion for including San Jose to San Francisco line (Bizjournals),
New York State applied for $565 million of stimulus funds for 38 passenger rail projects (NYDOT),
Pennsylvania submitted applications to the federal government for $28.2 million(PR-USA)
NJ seeks $38.5M in high-speed rail funding (NJBiz)

Virginia wants $75M for high-speed rail (Washington Business Journal)
Maryland seeks $360 million for rail upgrades (The Baltimore Sun)
Texas Requests $1.8 Billion For High Speed Rail Project (KWTX)

Florida asks feds for $270 million for commuter rail (Orlando Sentinel)

These are just some of the submissions for the stimulus. I find it an amazing about of money to spend on commuters across such a vast country. One has to hope that this is not all just spent on high-speed trains between cities but also improving of city suburban rail systems. I look forward to the next round of submissions for more rail stimulus funds in October.

Today in the UK, a report was released by Network Rail for plans of a £34 billion, 200m.p.h. high speed rail line running along the west coast on the UK from London to Scotland. The interesting thing is that the train is not only being seen as a commuter train but also as the low carbon option to cutting emissions from domestic flights, cars, trucks. The train will run from central London to Manchester with a diverging line to Birmingham. The line will then continue to Preston with lines diverging to Warrington and Liverpool after which the main line will continue to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The plans in the USA and the UK are very impressive, however I have wonder how much is achievable with so many projects being submitted at the same time with large monetary figures for high speed rail weighted against the demand over the next 5-10 years for expertise, skilled technicians and engineers. Will there be a shortage or will this put more people back to work?

I think these projects will take a long time to implement as there are a limited number of train companies Bombardier, Alstom, Siemens, etc who only have so much capacity within their factories. This factor is critical as currently there is a large demand from China, India, and Brazil for high speed trains and expertise.

I hope that governments will achieve these ambitions not just because it will stimulate the economy of the cities and companies building the networks, but will also have some impact on reducing emissions. Lets’ hope these projects are fulfilled and they don’t get lost inside the bureaucracy of governments.

SOURCES:
Freep.com, BizjournalsNYDOT,, PR-USA NJBiz, Washington Business Journal, The Baltimore Sun, KWTX , Orlando Sentinel, Network Rail (UK)

By Damian Holmes – 26 August 2009

NASA launches ‘Sustainability Base’

Yesterday, NASA’s Ames Research Center held a ground breaking ceremony for its new ‘Sustainability Base’ – a high performance Platinum LEED Rated building in Moffett Field California. The building will feature near zero net energy consumption, use 90 percent less potable water than conventionally built buildings of equivalent size and reduce building maintenance costs.

To help achieve the building’s sustainability objectives, the company will install approximately 72 geothermal wells featuring ground-source heat pumps, and will provide parking and landscaping with California-native plants.

The $20.6 million building  is designed by AECOM and William McDonough + Partners and Landscape Architects – Siteworks.

You can also watch a video about NASA’s Sustainability Base

SOURCE: NASA
IMAGE SOURCE: NASA

Governors Island – Useless Beauty – The New Yorker

Wondering what’s happening to Governors Island after the International Design competition was won by the design group led by WEST 8. Well, the August 31, 2009 edition of the New Yorker (subscription only) on p. 56 has an article titled Useless Beauty’ by local correspondent Nick Paumgarten, who discusses plans for a park on the island designed by the Dutch architecture firm West 8. A section of the abstract(shown below) gives a hint of the discussion that takes place with Adriaan Geuze.

Writer discusses the proposed park area with Adriaan Geuze of West 8. Briefly compares the Governors Island to the development of the High Line. A risk of a project like the High Line or Governors Island is that the place may pass from one kind of elitism, in which virtually nobody is allowed, to another, in which ambitious restoration introduces esoteric or refined tasted and uses. (SOURCE:THE  NEW YORKER)

Sounds like an interesting read for those lucky enough to have a subscription or able to buy a copy.

Another incentive to buy a copy is the article by Ian Frazier Ian Frazier, Parks Dept., “Treepocalypse,” The New Yorker, August 31, 2009, p. 26 which looks at the about trees in Central Park destroyed by a recent severe thunderstorm.

The New Yorker has also posted a video – Tour of Governors Island.

In this video, Paumgarten tours the island with Leslie Koch, the president of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, who explains how this former military base is being converted into parks and other public spaces. (SOURCE: THE NEW YORKER)


SOURCE: The New Yorker

Seeing the tree from the forest

SERA Simulation of Tree Canopies - Credit: Sean T. Hammond

Sean Hammond and Karl Niklas have published a paper in the August 2009 edition of  American Journal of Botany presenting an algorithm that could be used to predict plant communities. The algorithm known as spatially explicit, reiterative algorithm, or SERA explores whether changes occurring in plant communities, such as self-thinning and the competitive displacement of one species by another, can be attributed to the characteristics of the individual plants that comprise the community.

“Remarkably, our model predicts the behavior of real plant populations, and thus suggests to us that many ‘complex’ ecological interactions emerge as a result of a few very ‘simple’ processes,” commented Dr. Niklas. SERA may be very useful in predicting changes in community development and composition as environmental and climatic variability increases.

The full article is available for until the 20 September 2009 at www.amjbot.org/cgi/content/full/96/8/1430. The SERA program can be accessed at www.botany.org/downloads/HammondandNiklas.zip.

UNM Dean to step down in 2010

UNM Today announced that Dean and Professor Roger Schluntz, FAIA, will resign as dean of UNM’s School of Architecture and Planning on June 30, 2010.

UNM Today
quoted Schluntz as saying

“a number of truly remarkable accomplishments as well as many critical incremental transformations” at the School.

A national search will begin this fall and intends for a new dean to be hired when Schluntz steps down.

SOURCE: UNM Today

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