Cutting delay on track: Enhanced safety system could improve railway operations, air quality

Railway and train operating environment: Background and basics

At this juncture, there is just a glut of train traffic moving over America’s approximately 140,000-route-mile rail network and the system has gotten bogged down.

Congestion? We don’t often associate that idea with railroads. But like on motor vehicle platforms, railroads are not immune either. Capacity is the operative word here and finding the correct solution to increase it sufficiently is one of the challenges.

And then there is the safety aspect. And relatedly, just this past Aug. 17th at 3 a.m. two freight trains collided head-on in Hoxie, Arkansas. It could be months before a cause or causes are determined and a corresponding statement released. A similar incident happened in June 2012 in the Oklahoma panhandle region. While in the former two of four crewmembers total lost their lives (the other two sustained injuries but survived), in the latter, again, of four crewmembers total, only one survived. Railroads could be made safer in my opinion and in so doing this could be far-reaching in terms of improving overall system functionality.

So, first question: How can all this rail traffic be moved more safely, efficiently and cleanly than what is the case already? Next: Does all of this traffic traversing the rails really need to be moved more safely, fluidly and cleanly than what is the case already? I believe it does.

In “CATS: In ‘passing’: On ‘track’ to trim emissions” I penned: “One of the strategies railroads employ to mitigate air pollution is to cut delay. And, I am not just talking about so-affected motorists delayed while waiting for trains to pass at highway-level crossings (railroad crossings), but those operational inefficiencies within the industry itself; operational inefficiencies such as that which can occur at interlocking plants (junctions) whereby one railroad’s trains might be delayed by another’s in going through and past such interlocking until such time that the waiting train can proceed through such itself.

Is Two over one Railroad Fare1 340x209 300x184 Cutting delay on track: Enhanced safety system could improve railway operations, air quality
Triple Crossing, Richmond, Virginia

“Another would be that which is created by conflicting train movements as is common-place in single-track territory that incorporate passing sidings used as a means to get trains traveling in opposite directions past each other.”

It is the latter condition on which I will focus as it has to do with Positive Train Control or PTC. I earlier discussed other air-pollution mitigation strategies.

PTC: What is it?

From the Federal Railroad Administration document: “Quantification of the Business Benefits of Positive Train Control,” prepared for the Federal Railroad Administration by ZETA-TECH Associates, Mar. 15, 2004 revision, as presented in the “APPENDIX A: Acronyms and Abbreviations” section, PTC is described as follows:

Positive Train Control (PTC) – A generic term (and acronym) used to describe any processor-based system of train control that will: (1) Prevent train-to-train collisions (positive train separation); (2) enforce speed restrictions, including civil engineering restrictions and temporary slow orders; and (3) provide protection for roadway workers and their equipment operating under specific authorities.”1

Meanwhile, more on PTC is found earlier in the document in the “Executive Summary,” Definition of Positive Train Control subsection beginning on page 5.

For purposes of this discussion, PTC and what effect this could have on line capacity is what is being explored.

Line Capacity: How is it determined?

Line capacity is affected by such factors that are both route- and location-specific, such as line curvature and gradient, train speed, signal-control type and the mix of rail-borne traffic.2

In the FRA document, line capacity, it is further stated, can be increased in either of two ways: by adding track or through signal system improvement.3

It is important to note that by incorporating a system of preventing train collisions and at the same time reducing the distance between trains and maintaining system integrity meaning the safe operation of trains is maintained, the opportunity exists to increase railway track capacity and PTC can assist in helping to bring this about.

Elaborating further, the FRA in the document noted: “Dynamic headways can increase line capacity by permitting shorter and lighter trains to operate on closer headways, rather than constraining all trains to the separation by the longest and heaviest trains. … Dynamic headways can also, in conjunction with a local tactical planner reduce average running times. For instance, a 20% reduction in run time means that a train which used to take five hours for a trip will now take four hours. This provides an extra hour when the track is free to run another train. Any reduction in run time produces an equal increase in track availability.”4

From what I understand, a federal mandate is in place for the nation’s railroads to have between 70,000 and 80,000 route-miles of the industry’s total 140,000-route-mile network of track outfitted with PTC and be operational by December 31, 2015. Unless, subsequent to its enactment, this mandate has been amended, that is the deadline. Prompting the legislation was a 2008 head-on collision between a freight train and passenger train in Chatsworth, California; a crash that claimed 25 lives and left scores injured. It was one of the worst train-to-train collisions in modern times.


  1. “Quantification of the Business Benefits of Positive Train Control,” prepared for the Federal Railroad Administration by ZETA-TECH Associates, Inc., rev. Mar. 15, 2004, “APPENDIX A: Acronyms and Abbreviations,” p. 128.
  2. Ibid, p. 58: (“IV. PTC B Benefits,” A. Line Capacity)
  3. Ibid, p. 60: (“IV. PTC B Benefits,” A. Line Capacity: “2. Cost of Increasing Capacity”)
  4. Ibid, p. 57: (“IV. PTC B Benefits,” A. Line Capacity)

TIFFS: Freight train interference on shared-use trackage and what can be done about it

Number 10 in the Transport in a Fine Fix Series.

“Because of the 1970 Rail Passenger Service Act whereby the federal government allowed private railroads to shed their money-losing passenger services and created Amtrak, the national passenger carrier has exclusive domain to operate passenger trains over their tracks. And while most freight railroads tolerate Amtrak as a nuisance which occasionally occupies their rails, they would have an even lower appetite for private entities with access to their rail lines,” Potomac Express blogger Rich Sampson resolutely wrote on Feb. 11, 2011 in his blog post: “The True Story of High-Speed Rail in the U.S.

DSCN4436 340x255 300x225 TIFFS: Freight train interference on shared use trackage and what can be done about it
Separated freight and passenger tracks (in foreground).

As it relates, I already made it abundantly clear in: “Should American freight/passenger rail go their separate ways?” on the Air Quality Matters blog on Jul. 19th, that “… it was half-a-century ago that the U.S. freight railroad industry by and large begged to be relieved of its passenger carrying responsibility.”

I also expressed: “I’ve been reading where Amtrak – America’s national passenger rail carrier – has been suffering delays, resulting, in fact, in a 74 percent on-time performance rating overall, that is, during fiscal year 2014 which began Oct. 1, 2013.

“I can say unequivocally that much of the delay is outside of Amtrak’s direct control. Keep in mind that a good number of Amtrak trains are dispatched by non-Amtrak railroad personnel. The reason for this is that on lines where the national passenger rail carrier is the tenant these trains fall under the dispatching jurisdiction of host railroad dispatch employees.”

Sampson, moreover, readily acknowledged: “[Amtrak’s] … long-distance trains are chronically late and infrequent.” And this was back in Feb. 2011.

So, short of having dedicated railroad rights-of-way to support a domestic passenger train network and if limited to a shared-use freight/passenger rail operating arrangement, what then is the solution to on-time performance metrics improvement consistently in the 90 percent or higher range, that is, on corridors hosting both passenger and freight train movements?

I see four possibilities: Passenger trains always being granted highest priority status over all other train movements or passenger-carrier-owned railroad tracks with the tenant freight rail concern in question granted operating rights (in place of freight-carrier-owned railroad tracks with the tenant passenger rail concern in question granted operating rights) and/or more multiple-tracking (double-tracking, triple-tracking) under the existing arrangement and/or the implementation on the line of Positive Train Control or PTC.

Writer Michael Grunwald, in Time magazine, in “The truth About Obama’s High-Speed Rail Program,” offers the following:

“Bridge and tunnel repairs, projects to upgrade and straighten tracks, sidings and double-tracking to help passenger trains pass freight cars, and other incremental improvements can all make rail travel more attractive.”

Grunwald further adding: “The Department of Transportation says it has already sliced off a half-hour between Springfield, Mass., and St. Albans, Vt., while also completing projects to reduce delays around San Jose, San Diego, Fort Worth and Oklahoma City.”

amtrak train kandel 300x203 TIFFS: Freight train interference on shared use trackage and what can be done about itMeanwhile, on Amtrak’s 457-mile Northeast Corridor (NEC) connecting Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., begun is an $850 million upgrading program on a 23-mile section of track in the state of New Jersey which will increase speeds of trains to 160 miles per hour and cut delays, according to Grunwald, this being the very first such project of its kind; part of a long-term program of similar upgrading on Amtrak’s NEC.

I’ll be exploring PTC in a third, later article devoted to this topic.

Partnership to advance Asia-Pacific region air-cleanup underway

Carbon Monoxide concentrations in spring.1 300x225 Partnership to advance Asia Pacific region air cleanup underway
“CO mixing ratio (ppbv) @ 850 hPa”

Joining in the fight to make world air right is a new multi-agency partnership.

Official word of the endeavor and launch came on Friday, Aug. 8th via a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) news release. Here is some of what the federal agency offered in its “Asia-Pacific Clean Air Partnership Launched to Fight Global Air Pollution” release.

“The Cities Clean Air Partnership, the first major clean air certification and partnership program to encourage air quality protection in cities across the Asia-Pacific region, was launched today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration, Clean Air Asia, and the Bay Area and South Coast Air Districts.

“‘The EPA, California and cities from L.A. [Los Angeles] to Fresno have decades of experience in reducing harmful air pollution,’ said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. ‘But air pollution is still causing more than 3.7 million deaths a year and costing the global economy over $3.5 trillion a year in sickness and premature deaths. This partnership is taking a huge step forward to reduce global air pollution and achieve more livable, healthier cities for all.’

“‘The Cities Clean Air Partnership will greatly accelerate air quality improvement in Asian cities and Taiwan is proud to help initiate this program with the U.S. EPA,’ said Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration Minister Kuo-Yen Wei. ‘We are looking forward to forming ties with other city partners in Asia under this program and International Environmental Partnership framework.’”

This comes on the heels of the World Health Organization’s own announcement that, worldwide, in 2012, an estimated seven million people passed away prematurely from air pollution’s effects.

According to information in the EPA release, it is the partnership’s mission to strengthen Asian cities’ air quality management, encourage progress and lend Asia a helping hand as a further means to reduce impacts to human health caused by both polluted air and climate change. Added to that, is fighting to lower air pollution levels and grow economies that are clean-energy based. “The program includes: a certification and scoring system that encourages a city to take clean air actions by earning certifications as it achieves milestones and progresses towards better air quality; empowering cities through training, financial incentives and other partnership and collaboration support; and fostering cooperation and peer-to-peer learning among cities through a cities partnering program,” noted the EPA.

“With today’s Cities Clean Air Partnership launch, cities in California and around the U.S. will be able to collaborate with cities in the Asia-Pacific to share experiences and innovations to reduce and control air pollution.”

The EPA further pointed out, “Clean Air Asia, a non-governmental organization based in the Philippines working on air quality issues in Asia, is developing the partnership, which will drive progress for participating cities, helping them make targeted decisions about the best way to deploy resources to improve air quality.”

As far as I’m concerned, a program such as this is long overdue.

More importantly, I hope the effort is tremendously successful and more and more cities and nations also become similarly involved in time.

Find out more about Clean Air Asia at:

Find out more about the EPA’s work in the Asia-Pacific region at:

Image above: NASA

Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: Reno, Nevada

The eighth in this series.

Reno renown

Yeah, I’ve been to Reno on occasion, the northwest Nevada town also known by another name: “The biggest little city in the world.” In fact, I even traveled on through by train once, on my way back to California. Interesting that Nevada (the Silver State) and California (the Golden State) are neighbors.

The Reno I know

For example, in 2003 the city in cooperation with the Union Pacific Railroad embarked on a three-year trenching project as a means to separate UP’s mainline tracks (in that locale) and cross streets through town for a distance of 2.25 miles. It was a monumental project in scope to be sure and today motor vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic crossing above the trench zone via provided overcrossings, do so without any interference whatsoever from either stopped trains or those passing through below, thereby completely eliminating the opportunity for motor vehicle idling and associated emissions releases stemming from delay related to that. The way I see it, there was a quadruple benefit regarding the undertaking and completion of this massive infrastructure improvement project. Progressive and forward-thinking? You bet!

Reno with mountains1 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Reno, Nevada

On the subject of wagers, if I were to make one, which I wouldn’t, but if I were, my bet would be Reno’s two biggest industries are tourism and gambling. And, you would be correct to conclude my visits were tourism and not gambling related.

Golden through and through

Besides what is in town there’s a wealth of nearby attractions. For example, west of town Lake Tahoe is close; it having, of course, its own appeal with its many recreational opportunities such as wintertime skiing and snowboarding and summertime boating out on the lake itself. Then, there to the east is Virginia City with its virtually right in its backyard gold and silver mines, the mines themselves being the town’s main claim to fame. Virginia City being a quite historic venue, complementing this attribute, is a mid-19th-century-themed Virginia and Truckee Railroad. As it happens, the very first stop once departing Virginia City and not surprisingly is Gold Hill.

And, if that isn’t quite enough to whet your gold appetite, located west-northwest of Reno is Gold Lake, in Plumas County in California. Not surprisingly, close to the lake itself, there is this abandoned mine. What I can’t say for sure is if it was for the extraction of gold but it would make sense that it was.

Far closer to Reno itself, meanwhile, and not far off the beaten trail and maybe even on it, is Carson City, the Nevada State Capitol. In addition, Carson City which owes its name to Kit Carson, a mountain man, houses the Nevada State Railroad Museum among other interesting attractions.

In coming full circle, Reno is home to the National Automobile Museum with its collection of classic cars and included among them is the Golden DeLorean automobile, probably the facility’s most popular attraction. Moreover, and in the museum category is the Nevada Museum of Art. And certainly by no means least is the Reno Whitewater Park.

For what it is worth, I found myself spending the overnight one night back in the late 1970s in the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which happens to be the second biggest of all of the Silver State’s airports.

My Reno, Nevada experiences: golden and then some.

Image above: U.S. Geological Survey

Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: Mt. View, California

The seventh in this series.

If at any time during the life of this site (now 21 months young) you have dropped on by and read all or a portion of any of the now 365 Air Quality Matters posts, by now you no doubt know, Fresno, in the middle of California’s 24,000-square-mile San Joaquin Valley, is where I reside. And, the “Valley” is just one of many … Golden State (California) – and right now golden – valleys.

363px San Francisco Landsat7 Lg1 181x300 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Mt. View, California
Aerial view of San Francisco taken from space

It’s another valley – Silicon Valley, mostly centered around the San Francisco Bay Area’s southern third on both sides and south of the Bay bearing the same name and which encompasses an area roughly the size of the Santa Clara Valley – that I am going to concentrate on today, focusing on the community of Mountain View in particular. Flanked by both San Francisco and San Jose, Mountain View lies far closer to the latter than it does to the former.

It just so happens, Mountain View is where I made my home if only for a brief period of time. It was for just about a year that I was there, working in neighboring Sunnyvale. That was in the late 1970s. Though others might disagree, to me in this place there is little if anything out of place. And, by that, I mean, I didn’t notice anything that really, really stood out with the possible exception of Moffett Federal Airfield, with an on-site ginormous airship hanger.

Don’t say a word. I know what you might be thinking: if not extraordinary, why write about the community, especially after I’ve already covered two other California cities in this series – Long Beach and San Luis Obispo? Truth is, there is some extraordinary-ness about Mountain View.

Being a San Francisco peninsula-based city, Mountain View is what’s called a conurbation, meaning it is part of a cluster of contiguous or side-by-side communities. Perhaps uncommon at one time, this is no longer the case.

But this is not what makes this city – sandwiched between the Bay on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west – different or special.

Steeped in high-tech history

If you remember earlier my mentioning of Silicon Valley, well, Mountain View has a high-tech tradition and as such a storied past. This is where in 1956, as a matter of fact, the very first semiconductor devices, the transistor among them, were created.

In fact, some of the world’s most recognizable names in the high-tech sector are headquartered here. And speaking of high-tech and history, the two come together under one roof in the Computer History Museum.

The three T’s: Traffic, trains, trolleys

Traffic on the California 101 freeway at times can be considerable; to the point of being backed-up even, and on an alternate route, Central Expressway, it can be more of the same.

320px FLV California train1 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Mt. View, CaliforniaIf every cloud has a silver lining, the good news is that there are a number of transportation options to choose from; everything from the Caltrain commuter rail and Santa Clara Valley (there’s that “valley” word again) Transportation Authority light rail to the soon-to-be-arriving or should I say “soon-to-be-passing-through” statewide high-speed rail system, that is, if all goes as planned.

Cleaner air, more comfortable climate

If there is one thing that really shines here besides the sun, it is air. And the climate, well, it shines too in that there is not much variation between temperature extremes as the yearly average high and low temps, according to Wikipedia, are 69.6 degrees and 48.7 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.

What’s in a name

Last but by no means least, is the Mountain View name. Just in case you’re wondering, it is none other than the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains from which the town name is derived.

Upper image: NASA

Why reporting accurately air quality information is crucial (cont’d.)

When it comes to reporting on air quality the mission should be to get that reporting right the first time and every time. In reality, though, that doesn’t always happen. Reference “Why reporting accurately air quality information is crucial” and below.

Today the discussion continues.

Nearly nine months ago, I wrote: “In a nutshell: The good and bad of Valley air-pollution reduction.”

Toward the end of that piece I wrote:

“An 80 percent reduction in [San Joaquin] Valley air pollution levels overall sounds impressive. And, not a single exceedance of the federal one-hour standard of 125 parts per billion of ozone anywhere in the Valley this year to boot? Awesome! But the more stringent federal and state [California] – eight-hour ozone standards – ones that are more protective of human health – have yet to be met and meeting these standards seems years away at best, decades away at worst.

“Add to this that Valley fine particulate matter pollution also persists.

“And what this means is the Valley is not out of the air-pollution woods just yet and what that sounds like is in getting that additional 20 percent air-pollution reduction is not going to be easy.”

Complicating matters is when numbers, from one year to the next, don’t jibe.

What I am getting at exactly is in making comparisons between the separate 2012-13 and 2013-14 editions of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s “Report to the Community,” there appears to be disagreement regarding certain aspects.

For instance, in the 2012-13 Report, in the “County Days over Federal 8-hr Ozone Standards” graph over the 1997 standard (blue plot) of 84 parts per billion (ppb) and over the 2008 standard (red plot) of 75 ppb, for year 2012 the corresponding numbers are roughly 105 (blue plot) and 320 (red plot), respectively. Meanwhile, in regards to the like graph in the 2013-14 edition, for year 2012 and also for the “County Days over Federal 8-hr Ozone Standard,” the numbers are right around 150 (blue plot) and 375 (red plot), respectively. It’d be one thing if this was the only conflict, but it’s not.

In the same two reports and graphs, such is the case again. In the 2012-13 Report as it pertains to the “County Days over Federal 8-hr Ozone Standards” graph and as it has to do with the 2008 ozone standard of 75 ppb (red plot), 320 is the number of “County Days over Federal 8-hr Ozone Standards;” in fact, the number of such days (320) is the same for years 2011 and 2012. Not so in the 2013-14 Report regarding those same two years (2011 and 2012). The number of “County Days over Federal 8-hr Ozone Standard” for year 2011 is 320, but for year 2012, on the other hand, the “County Days” number is 375. A similar situation exists with respect to the two reports concerning the blue plots, also for years 2011 and 2012. So, why the above discrepancies? I’m not even going to speculate.

Meanwhile, another curiosity and a seeming inconsistency, this time related to “PM2.5 Trends,” the Report (2012-13) for both the “24-hour PM2.5 Design Value Trend” and “Annual PM2.5 Design Value Trend” graphs show the last year as being 2011. But, in the Report (2013-14) regarding the same two graphs, like graphs show the last year as being 2013. Again, I do not care to speculate as to why the difference. It seems to me, though, regarding the two said graphs, that if the latter Report has year 2013 as the last, logic would have it that the former Report should have shown as its last year, year 2012.

The bottom line is that when there are inconsistencies it is difficult to know just what information is accurate and what isn’t and leading one to question the accuracy of all information.

Remember: These being annually-released “Report to the Community” reports, every attempt at accurate reporting and corresponding information dissemination should be maintained. If such is not strived for, why report at all? All of which supports the whole premise of this dialog that it is crucial to report air quality reporting information accurately regardless of location and who is reporting.

640px Californias Central Valley Why reporting accurately air quality information is crucial (cont’d.)

Why reporting accurately air quality information is crucial

Exhibit A

In the Fresno Bee article: “Valley air officials aim to cool down decades-old smog problem,” environmental reporter Mark Grossi wrote: “In sweltering September 2011, Fresno could have used more trees. Temperatures climbed, winds died and lung-searing ozone spiked the season’s highest readings on three days.

“Worse yet, all three peaks broke the one-hour federal ozone standard between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays when children were outside after school.”

Exhibit B

Meanwhile, in the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (District) document: “Report to the Community 2013-14 Edition” (Report), I found this:

SMOG   NARA   542581.tif1  200x300 Why reporting accurately air quality information is crucial“The attainment test for the 1-hour ozone standard of 0.12 parts per million is based on the number of exceedance days per year, averaged over a three-year period. In other words, if an air monitoring site has three or fewer exceedance days in a three-year period, then it meets the standard. If a single site violates the standard, the entire San Joaquin Valley is then in violation of the 1-hour ozone standard.”

To this the District in the Report added: “Special issues such as transboundary ozone from Asia, the District’s ozone saturation study to address the Arvin monitoring station relocation, and an exceptional event whereby the Valley experienced an exceedance of the 1-hour ozone standard due to a large industrial fire and wildfires will also be addressed.”

Exhibit C

So, on Feb. 5, 2013 in “A California air quality progress report” I wrote: “The two regions with the highest concentrations of ozone and particle pollution are the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley air basins.

“CAPCOA [California Air Pollution Control Officers Association] in its [April] 2012 [‘California’s Progress Toward Clean Air’] report, provides summary data regarding each of the state’s 35 air districts.

“In the San Joaquin Valley, for example, during summer 2011, there were far fewer ozone exceedance days of the federal one-hour standard (a total of three) than there were in both 1996 when there were 56 and in 2002 when the Valley experienced 30.”

It should be noted and to reiterate, this is according to CAPCOA in its April 2012 report.

Exhibit D

Now enter the District document on August 15, 2013 titled: “Item #7: Update on Ozone Air Quality Progress and Air Alert Initiative.” This document appears to be number 7 of a series.

On page 7 which is titled: “1-hour Ozone Progress,” there are three bullet points, the middle one worded as such: “2012: 3 days over standard, 7 hours over standard.” On the following page (page 8) the title of which is: “1-hour Ozone Progress (cont’d)” displayed is a graph and at the top of the graph there is this notation: “# of Days with Exceedances Somewhere in Valley.”

From the bar graph (the bars themselves colored blue), the relationship is such that the bar for year 2012 (the last year shown) is shorter than the bar for year 2011. If the bar for year 2012 represents 3 exceedance days of the 1-hour ozone standard, then by the process of deductive reasoning the bar for year 2011 would be greater than 3 exceedance days. How much greater in my opinion cannot be determined because no numerical values are assigned to the bars themselves, but it is clearly less than 5 exceedances. For what it is worth, the length of the bar for year 2011 appears to match exactly the length of the bar for year 2007.

Then there is the supporting data on page 11 in the form of a table, the page heading reading: “County 1-Hour Ozone Exceedances.”

The number of “County-Days” exceeding the one-hour ozone standard for the years given are as follows:

  • 2007 – 3
  • 2011 – 3
  • 2012 – 2

However, as it has to do with Fresno County, in the 2012 column there is an asterisk next to the number 2. And under the table in question there is this explanation: “*Exceptional Event pending for exceedance day.”

Closing statement

All of this seems more than a little confusing. As I see it, there is, based on the information presented, some disagreement regarding the referenced reporting of one-hour ozone standard air quality data for the San Joaquin Valley for years 2011 and 2012.

It goes without saying agreement in this respect is crucial.

Finally, for some additional perspective, since 2010, Valley motorists and Valley-based business owners have been on the hook to pay an annual $29 million penalty as per federal law all on account of violation of the one-hour ozone health standard. The fine is lifted if the standard is met. More importantly, meeting the standard is a reflection of area air improving. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with making the determination that the Valley is or is not in attainment.

Image above: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: Flagstaff, Arizona

The sixth in this series.

Flagstaff, Arizona is one “amazing” city. I say that because each and every time I visit I continue to be awed. There is just something about Flagstaff.

A mountain community where two major highways cross (Interstates 17 and 40), Flagstaff is situated south of the Grand Canyon’s south rim at an elevation of 6,910 feet above sea level.

Home to Northern Arizona University, the town and its environs have a real “down-home” or “homey” and rustic feel. San Francisco Peaks loom in the background. Ponderosa Pine trees blanket the area and there is the unmistakable scent of pine wafting in the air, seemingly ever-present no matter where in town one might be. I’m not saying other places noted for their pine trees don’t likewise share this same characteristic but, frankly, Flagstaff wouldn’t be Flagstaff without it, if you get my drift.

DSCN2761 340x255 300x225 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Flagstaff, Arizona
San Francisco Peaks seen from east of Flagstaff, Arizona

And speaking of drifts, I was driving in the area once right after it had snowed and I distinctly remember how the wind-blown drifts had kept me very vigilant. It got scary at times never knowing from one moment to the next if I was going to be caught in one, of the drifts, that is. One of those white-knuckle moments if ever there was one.

Interestingly, a sound I associate with the town itself is that of an Amtrak train whistle as it was during one of my earlier visits and right around sun up that I could hear that quite distinctive, yet melodic- and easy-on-the-ears-sounding train horn which seemed just to permeate through town.

Located not far away and to the south is an area known for its red rock cliffs and, well, rock outcroppings: Sedona. Majestic would be the way I would describe it, a magnet for both artist and art lover alike. And, if you are into bridges, just outside of town there is a high one spanning the popular Oak Creek. The whole area is where in my opinion the rugged beauty of the American West is displayed in all its glory.

With such unparalleled and captivating scenery, there is only one thing I can think of to top even that, that is, if such could be topped: the local air. Personally, I am hard-pressed to think of other places where air is better.

Along the route of the former Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway) and, of course, on a now famous Route 66 (immortalized in song and popularized in a made-for-T.V. hit series of the same name), in many, make that, most respects Flagstaff, Arizona is terra haute to the hilt.

Calif. air cleaner despite more people, more miles driven, more gas burned. The road ahead?

Fact: California has some of the worst air pollution in all of North America. Add to this that population and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) have grown. There would seem a connection. Meanwhile, the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) projects the growth in both population and VMT will continue.

From the ARB’s “California Almanac of Emissions and Air Quality – 2013 Edition,” data in Appendix C-1 shows both California population and total vehicle travel miles. For year 2010, state population is 37,309,382 people while average daily vehicle miles traveled (ADVMT) is 953,029,000. This compares to a state population in 1990 of 29,828,496 people and ADVMT of 655,348,000. Projections are such that by 2015, state population will swell to 38,801,063 and ADVMT will increase to 1,013,538,000, close to double the 1990 ADVMT.

Analysis: Based on year 1990 and 2010 comparisons, state population grew 25 percent in 20 years’ time while ADVMT had risen by more than 45 percent. This clearly shows that ADVMT outgrew population growth by a factor of almost 2 to 1 in the span of just two decades.

If you recall, in “Annual per-capita California driving 1.5 times the national average,” I noted there are 22 million licensed motorists statewide logging over 300 billion yearly miles, 15 billion gallons of gasoline being consumed in the process by 27.5 million “cars and light trucks.”

As I pointed out also, per capita, California drivers are registering 13,636 miles per year. Assuming that holds steady and at an average per-person gasoline consumption amount of 681.81 gallons of gas and at an-average-miles-per-gallon rating of 20, at 1,013,538,000 average daily vehicle miles traveled, this would result in an average daily vehicle fuel consumption rate of 50,676,900 gallons. Over the entire year, this amounts to 18,497,068,500 gallons of fuel being consumed. Up from 15 billion gallons of fuel consumed, this represents a 23.3 percent increase.

Hydrogen station pump1 Calif. air cleaner despite more people, more miles driven, more gas burned. The road ahead?There is a mandate in place via the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32) and the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (Senate Bill 375), to help California clean up its air act. At the same time, it is important to note that if vehicle mileage is going up, then motor vehicles must become cleaner burning and far more fuel efficient through the use of cleaner-burning fuels and/or through technological improvement, this coupled with increased numbers of zero emissions vehicles plying roadways and/or a significant shift in the way land and resources are used as it has to do with sustainability and/or a greater reliance on walking, biking and public transportation, that is, in order for those bills’ emissions targets to be met. Improvement progress needs to be ongoing.

As it relates, elaborating on the present and in terms of what could be on the horizon, the ARB in “Background Material: Almanac of Emissions and Air Quality 2013 Edition - Chapter 4 Regional Trends and Forecasts,” goes into far greater air-basin detail concerning the five named regions outlined in “Chapter 1: Introduction.”

Can we Californians continue to do what is necessary to effect further progress? We can. The other question is: Will we?

Should American freight/passenger rail go their separate ways?

Calling for separate if not equal passenger- and freight-train-operating platforms

amtrak train kandel Should American freight/passenger rail go their separate ways?As a person who pays close attention to railroad happenings, in particular to those in the U.S. and those proposed or planned high-speed-rail systems here as well as those under consideration, those under construction and those built and operating systems elsewhere, I know when I smell a rat.

I’ve been reading where Amtrak – America’s national passenger rail carrier – has been suffering delays, resulting, in fact, in a 74 percent on-time performance rating overall, that is, during fiscal year 2014 which began Oct. 1, 2013.

I can say unequivocally that much of the delay is outside of Amtrak’s direct control. Keep in mind that a good number of Amtrak trains are dispatched by non-Amtrak railroad personnel. The reason for this is that on lines where the national passenger rail carrier is the tenant these trains fall under the dispatching jurisdiction of host railroad dispatch employees. Amtrak trains, I would presume to be the case, were once given operating priority over freight trains on freight rail lines where America’s passenger train operates. But, according to what I read in one source, a recent court ruling has resulted in this no longer being true.

The delay itself can have a ripple effect: lower ridership and consequently lower revenue, not to mention, potentially, a scaling back of passenger train service at best, and outright annulment of such service at worst. I hold firm and fast to the notion that this is not what Amtrak or America needs or wants, especially right now when the company has been experiencing record ridership volumes.

To be fair, some of the delay can be attributed to inclement winter weather. But winter is long gone and the chronic less-than-stellar on-time performance rating remains.

Delay affecting Amtrak trains can be found both on and off its own network of rails. In fact, on Amtrak’s very own Northeast Corridor – the Boston to D.C. service lane – the story is much the same, according to the same unnamed source referenced above.

Train 300x207 Should American freight/passenger rail go their separate ways?Now, y’all may be asking yourselves what any of this has to do with air quality. Think of it this way: when a diesel-locomotive-hauled train in single-track territory is dispatcher-directed into, say, for example, a passing siding to allow a higher-priority train roll on past, the locomotive(s) on the stopped train in question are typically not shut off during times of waiting. The locomotive(s), even in idle mode, still produce exhaust. The longer the wait, the more exhaust emitted into the air. Therefore, the key to reducing that “added” and, yes, “unnecessary” pollution is in minimizing the “unwanted” delay which means optimizing operations.

So you know, nowhere in my reading related to this issue lately has anyone suggested dedicated railroad rights-of-way as a means to fill the bill, the sole purpose of which would be to provide passenger trains an unencumbered platform on which to operate. Maybe I’m expecting a lot considering that in this and most countries private passenger- and goods-movement vehicles share roadway space. Maybe a rethink of this approach is in order, and not just as applied to roadway use but in terms of railroad usage too.

Oh, and incidentally, I mentioned in chatting with friends just this week in fact, that, if anything, one would think the freight railroads would, to use railroad jargon, be all aboard.

train 2 kandel Should American freight/passenger rail go their separate ways?What’s more, and as it relates, you’d think freight railroads that host passenger trains would prefer not to have to deal with them. After all, it was half-a-century ago that the U.S. freight railroad industry by and large begged to be relieved of its passenger-carrying responsibility. In so doing, freed-up track space would enable freight railroads to concentrate on the thing they do best – run freight trains.

America deserves better: separate if not equal passenger- and freight-train-operating platforms. Not only is it high time, it’s about time!