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!

Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: Long Beach, California

The fifth in this series.

Home to the permanently docked RMS Queen Mary and the Long Beach Grand Prix in April, Long Beach, California in Orange County, sits to the south of Los Angeles in Los Angeles County.

320px Los Angeles Basin JPLLandsat1 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Long Beach, CaliforniaSo, why profile Long Beach for this “Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour” series and not the bigger and more famous and more air-pollution infamous Los Angeles? Well, I don’t think I’ve ever spent 24 solid hours in L.A., the major southern California metropolis that it is. Close – I’ve spent nearly that much time there but it wasn’t quite 24 hours, which, happens to be the criteria I selected for being included in this series. But, this wasn’t the only reason why I picked the Orange County community.

From 1987 to 1988, I resided in both Long Beach and its neighbor Seal Beach. I landed a part-time teaching position at the university – California State University, Long Beach as an adjunct instructor in the Engineering and Industrial Technology Department. I must admit, it was hands down the best teaching assignment I’ve ever had, even if only lasting a year. I taught classes in Direct Current principles and practices (laboratory experience), Alternating Current principles and practices and Digital principles and practices. I would be totally remiss if I failed to mention I had, by far, the best students of all academic teaching assignments I have ever had. So, you see, how could I have a “Great Western Cities ‘On-the-air’ tour” entry (post) and not include Long Beach? It’d be like having cereal without milk, bread minus the butter or cake that’s missing the icing.

For those of you familiar, you are already aware Long Beach has a harbor; a huge harbor – part of the sprawling Port of Long Beach and Port of Los Angeles ports complex. The area has plenty of industry – much of it heavy, freight rail traffic, lots of freeways and a section of the famed Pacific Coast Highway otherwise known as PCH or California Highway 1, Long Beach Airport, and an alternative to vehicle travel in the form of a light rail line (the Blue Line) which terminates there, it opening its doors to the public in 1990. And, as I already mentioned, there is the university, Signal Hill replete with oil derricks, and unfortunately, smog. With the traffic, port-related activity and an oil refinery located nearby, it is completely understandable.

Working at Cal State Long Beach and living partly in the South Land community and partly in Fresno in California’s San Joaquin Valley and commuting between the two week in and week out, the four-and-a-hour to five-hour drive to and from was laborious. If I did not time it just right, it was traffic city. The 405 freeway was a virtual parking lot, from the 405/101 interchange all the way to right about where the airport in Long Beach was located. That four-and-a-half to five-hour trip when freeways weren’t jammed packed with traffic could easily turn into a six-to-seven-hour commute when it was. Remember, this was in the late ‘80s. I can’t imagine it being much different today.

To get away from the “hustle and bustle” of city life, I once boarded a ferryboat to Santa Catalina Island; about a 25-mile trip west off the mainland. When I arrived there, you could tell the atmosphere was way more relaxed and there wasn’t the smog I had grown used to onshore. Another day trip took me to Cajon Pass situated between San Bernardino and Victorville, probably about a 50-mile trip on Interstate 15/215. The time that I went, the region was enveloped in smog until ascending the pass where the polluted skies opened up to clear ones which made for a welcome sight. It was like a breath of fresh air. What am I talking about?! It was a breath of fresh air – in fact, many breaths! What does one do in Cajon Pass? Watch trains, of course! Those who know the area know exactly what I’m talking about. These side trips made for nice breaks from what would otherwise be considered routine.

Oh, and one more point regarding one of the approximately 250-mile drives I made in traveling between the Central Valley and South Coast regions: Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) forced a lengthy detour once: I took Highway 41 and 41/46 between Fresno and Paso Robles (El Paso De Robles, to be more precise), four-wheeling it down Highway 101 where it connected with the 405 and on into Long Beach that way. Yes, it was out of the way and took an extra two hours. Even though I made it to one of my classes late, a fellow employee and good friend was there to administer the test I had prepared ahead of time.

This 828-word narrative, if not exactly the “long and short” of Long Beach air and the Great Western City of 462,257 people strong (as of 2010) this city is, it’s close.

Image above: NASA

San Joaquin Valley air quality improvement reflected in annual report

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (District) has rolled out its “Annual Report to the Community 2013-14 Edition” (Report).

From the Report on page 3, there is this: “For the first time in recorded history, the San Joaquin Valley in 2013 had zero violations of the hourly ozone standard established under the federal Clean Air Act, down from 281 violations in 1996. In 2004, EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] classified the Valley as ‘Extreme’ non-attainment for this standard, meaning that reaching the standard, at that time, was deemed impossible. San Joaquin Valley is the first and only region in the nation with ‘Extreme’ classification to attain the standard.”

As encouraging as this news appears, there is more to this than that which is presented above.

For example, “The District’s request for an attainment finding by EPA will include extensive technical support information. 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,” the District added.

What all this tells me is that the San Joaquin Valley has only “unofficially” attained the standard meaning the extra $12 added to my yearly vehicle registration fee I pay as a result of Valley 1-hour standard ozone non-attainment, will remain in effect, that is, until such time it is “officially” declared said standard attainment has been realized. In all, Valley motorists are responsible for coughing up $25 million yearly all due to non-attainment of the standard.

For more perspective on this, see: “No end in sight to Valley, fed old ozone standard fight.”

Okay, that’s just regarding the 1-hour standard. What about the 8-hour national ozone health standard? How is the Valley faring in this regard?

In this case there are two different standards to consider: the 1997 standard of 84 parts per billion of ozone and the 2008 standard of 75 parts per billion of ozone, the latter of course being the more healthful or more stringent of the two standards.

According to Report data, the Valley had about 400 what are called “County Days” exceeding the 1997 federal 8-hour ozone standard in 2002 and dropped to approximately 240 such exceedances in year 2008. Hence, there has been improvement.

As it has to do with the 2008 federal 8-hour ozone standard, that year in the Valley there were around 425 such exceedances, decreasing to right around 275 “County Days” exceedances in 2013.

In both cases, the decline has not been linear. Between 2002 and 2013, regarding “County Days” exceedances in ozone pertaining to both the 1997 and 2008 standards for the Valley, it’s been an up-and-down trend. For more on this, see “Ozone Trends” on page 7 of the Report.

Ozone is one thing. Now keep in mind that the problematic pollutant of note during winter is fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). Wood-smoke from fireplaces and woodstoves and farming activities are two primary PM 2.5 sources. Other inputs according to the Air District include road and fugitive wind-blown dust, heavy-duty diesel truck and other mobile source exhaust, smoke from the burning of agricultural waste as well as that produced from other stationary sources. For more, see: “Sources of Pollution” in the Report on page 43. Other pollutants and their listed sources are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

On particulate matter, the “PM2.5 Trends” to pay particularly close attention to in my view are: “Annual PM2.5 Design Value Trend” and the “County Days over Federal 24-hr PM2.5 Standard (Nov – Feb).”

Regarding the former, between 2002 and 2013, the overall trend is negative. In 2002, the “Annual PM2.5 Design Value Trend” reading was roughly 23 micrograms per cubic meter of air. This declined to approximately 19 micrograms per cubic meter in 2005 and then remained that way again in 2006 before peaking at about 22.5 micrograms per cubic meter in 2009 before falling to roughly 16 micrograms per cubic meter in 2012. However, due to meteorological factors in 2013 (read: “many, many days where the air was stagnant”) apparently, the “Annual PM2.5 Design Value Trend” reading for that year was just above 18 micrograms per cubic meter. Not at one time between 2002 and 2013 did the readings drop below the 1997 PM 2.5 standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The standard for 2013 is even more stringent: 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Meanwhile, for the “County Days over Federal 24-hr PM2.5 Standard (Nov – Feb),” in 2002-2003, there were almost 50 days where that standard was exceeded while in 2005-2006, there were easily over 60 days where the 1997 standard of 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air was breached, and this is between the months of November and February only (Nov. 1 to Feb. 28). With a more stringent standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air in effect in 2006, the up-and-down story was repeated. In 2006-2007, the number of “County Days over Federal 24-hr PM2.5 Standard (Nov – Feb)” was roughly 340. This dropped to around 155 in 2010-2011, rising to just above 250 in 2011-2012 and then sharply retreated to about 140 such days in 2012-2013. For more on this, see: “PM2.5 Trends” in the Report on page 8.

640px Californias Central Valley San Joaquin Valley air quality improvement reflected in annual report

Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: San Luis Obispo, California

The fourth in this series.

For California cities, I can think of no better example than San Luis Obispo for inclusion in the “Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour” series. Reason being, San Luis Obispo – “Spanish for St. Louis, the Bishop [of Toulouse]” – is one of this nation’s most environmentally conscious towns – in my opinion, of course. As far as I’m concerned, in this sense SLO (short for San Luis Obispo) has few equals – in California or anywhere else in the U.S. for that matter.

320px Cal Poly performing arts center1 300x199 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: San Luis Obispo, California
Performing Arts Center, Cal Poly

Situated roughly midway between the sprawling Los Angeles and the no-less-so San Francisco Bay Area Metroplexes, my first introduction to the California Central Coast region and San Luis Obispo specifically was in September 1973. What I was doing there then was to attend college at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). Arriving by plane and upon alighting, for a young man all of 20 years old, it was one of those “love-at-first-sight” experiences.

In painting a more accurate picture, today SLO is an idyllic town, and just so happens to be surrounded by foothills on all sides with a population as of 2010 of 45,119 people, that is, according to Wikipedia.

Anyone who has a love of the outdoors would be right at home in SLO. Quite comfortable in terms of temperatures and humidity levels and located just a short distance from Pacific Ocean-abutted communities such as Cayucos and Morro Bay (Morro Strand, actually) to the north and Avila Beach and Pismo Beach to the south, to name but four, San Luis Obispo is a running, biking and hiking paradise.

There are shopping centers, sure, but there is also a flourishing, inviting, welcoming downtown; what I would call easy-going or laid-back that just happens to be teeming with pedestrian activity much of the time. It doesn’t hurt that running through it all is a meandering water course known as San Luis Creek – an attraction in its own right. Besides Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (one of 21 California Missions scattered along both the coast and Highway 101 – a highway variously named as “Ventura Highway” and “El Camino Real” or “The Kings Highway”), there is another downtown people magnet of note: the famed “gum wall.”

Now, not only has the buzzword notion of sustainability become a hit with town residents with practices like bike-sharing, car-sharing, and businesses sans drive-through windows at local eateries, pharmacies and what-not, surcharges on grocery-store-provided plastic and paper shopping bags, and sustainable development approaches with regard to in-town residential and commercial building and construction, but the university has caught the “green fever” also. Cal Poly is one of the more green campuses in my opinion with its methane digester system for an on-site dairy and its adoption of and participation in community supported agriculture (CSA) and algae-to-biofuel conversion programs, these, of course, in the company of other related programs and practices.

Meanwhile, back on May 28, 2014 in “Helping improve air, land, water the SLO Chamber way,” I wrote: “The building the Chamber occupies is LEED Certified,” referring, of course, to San Luis Obispo’s quite aesthetically-pleasing-looking Chamber of Commerce building.

Desiring to gain a better understanding of just what LEED Certification is about, I contacted U.S. Green Building Council Media Specialist Jacob Kriss who, in an email, wrote: “LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the world’s foremost program guiding the design, construction, operations and maintenance of healthy, high-performing green buildings. To date, there are more than 22,000 LEED-certified commercial and institutional projects, and there are nearly 58,000 housing units certified under the LEED for Homes rating system. Every day, 1.7 million square feet of real estate is LEED certified, and there are LEED projects in 153 countries and territories worldwide. LEED buildings provide healthier indoor environments for students, workers, homeowners and community members; save money for building owners through reduced energy and water bills; and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.”1

Oh, and as for air quality, while not for San Luis Obispo per se, the American Lung Association did, however, provide air quality data for all of San Luis Obispo County. In regard to “High Ozone Days,” the county was given a failing grade, F, and in which it recorded 33 days where air was “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” With respect to the “Particle Pollution – 24 Hour” category, the outcome was better; the county received a grade of C whereby only three exceedances were recorded. And, for “Particle Pollution – Annual,” the county earned a passing grade. For more on this, go here.

All in all, quite admirable if I do say so myself!


  1. Jacob Kriss, Media Specialist, U.S. Green Building Council, personal communication, Jul. 8, 2014.

Image above: Gregg Erickson

July 4th fireworks cause spike in San Joaquin Valley PM levels

In a Jul. 2, 2014 San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (Air District) two-page news release, on page 2 there is a graph. This graph shows July 4th – Independence Day – fine particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5) levels over a 24-hour period.

More specifically, the illustration shows the concentration in fine particle pollution on Jul. 4, 2011 in Turlock, California, a community located in the northern San Joaquin Valley (Valley). Normally, PM 2.5 is not the pollutant of concern in the Valley during summer months, but ozone is. Measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air, the national health standard for fine particulate matter is 35 micrograms per meter cubed (ug/m3).

Also from the graph, PM 2.5 readings between zero and approximately 15 micrograms per cubic meter correspond to an air quality index of 50 and below or air quality that is in the “good” range.

Well, to provide some perspective, at midnight (between Jul. 3rd and Jul. 4th) PM 2.5 was at roughly 20 micrograms per cubic meter or in the “moderate” range. By 6 a.m., air quality in this sense had improved with PM 2.5 dipping below 15 ug/m3, the corresponding quality of air being good. Between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., air quality oscillated between good and moderate, the air being more good than it was moderate over that span of time.

450px San Diego Fireworks 225x300 July 4th fireworks cause spike in San Joaquin Valley PM levels
Photo courtesy

By 10 p.m., PM 2.5 had reached levels that were very near 140 ug/m3 of air: or in the “very unhealthy” category, with a corresponding Air Quality Index Value of what appears to be in excess of 200. One hour later, at 11 p.m. that pollution peaked at a level greater than or equal to 150 ug/m3 with a corresponding Air Quality Index Value of at least 214. At midnight, PM 2.5 pollution levels slid back into the “unhealthy” range to right around 115 micrograms per cubic meter and a corresponding Air Quality Index Value of what looks to be right around 182. The title above the graph in question reads: “Typical PM pattern on July 4.”

Here are some of the harsh realities regarding July 4th fireworks activity in the Valley:

“Fireworks emit large quantities of PM, including soot, ash and metals, which cause serious health impacts, especially to people with existing respiratory conditions, elderly people and small children,” the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District notes.

The Air District further states, “Fine particulate matter – PM 2.5 – can invade the bloodstream and has been linked to heart attacks and stroke.”

And, depending on meteorological conditions and other factors, the spike in PM levels in Valley communities on account of Jul. 4 pyrotechnics displays could very well be adding to an already precarious area air condition so typical during summer months. We’re talking smog.

Meanwhile, in a Bakersfield Californian editorial, op-ed writer Lois Henry seems to have no qualms at all about sharing her perspective on the matter.

In “Lower the boom on this idiotic practice,” Henry outwardly, openly and quite publicly decried: “Fireworks = bad. They are dirty, costly and pose needless danger to our community.

“They need to be banned.”

The ban, though, that Henry alludes to is conditional.

Case in point: She wrote: “Professional shows, hey, I’m totally cool with those. But any kind of personal firework, ‘safe and sane’ or otherwise, needs to go.”

Henry goes on to state her reasons why, air pollution being among them.

“The soot from these Chinese- and Mexican-made smoke bombs routinely takes us over – way over – allowable limits for particulate matter (PM2.5). The allowable standard, per the EPA, is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air over a 24-hour average. Last year’s Independence Day ‘celebration’ put us at 129 micrograms per cubic meter. In 2010, we were at 675 micrograms per cubic meter.”

Six-seventy-five: I can’t imagine.

With those kinds of exceedances, one would think this individual would flat-out be against all pyrotechnic activity, not just on the Fourth of July, but New Years, Chinese New Year and whenever else fireworks rocket skyward such as at baseball games, for example.

Again, Henry expressed why she feels the way she does.

“Limiting celebrations to professional shows would clear the field, so to speak, so enforcement teams would have an easier time going after offenders.”

That’s a far cry, or so it would seem, from her editorial’s third sentence, that “They need to be banned.”

Your thoughts?

The big cleanup dustup that need not be

Whether home or away it is impossible to not notice leaf-blowing activity. Leaf-blowing activity: no big deal, right? Think again.

For starters, I just don’t see where the area supposedly being leaf-blower cleaned is actually being ridded of debris and/or dirt and/or dust. It is my observation that debris and/or dirt and/or dust gets airborne and is sent elsewhere making it someone else’s problem.

I mean who uses a leaf blower when doing interior cleaning? No one I can think of. And, if this is the case, why leaf-blow: period?

Would you believe for convenience and/or time-saving purposes?

Next, what is the leaf-blowing activity doing to the air and people’s health? It can’t be helping matters; that’s for sure. What this activity does do is make air dirtier. The way I see it: it’s a double whammy. The blowing activity not only enables debris and/or dirt and/or dust plume development, but if the device itself is gasoline powered, then corresponding exhaust emissions become airborne and if inhaled, need I say more?

At the end of the day or even during it, for me, a broom with dustpan and rake suffice just fine. The key here is debris, dirt, dust removal. The exact reason behind my sweeping up grass and other yard cuttings when such finds its way into street gutters or on sidewalks, which is then placed into the green-waste bin for pickup and removal.

But, that’s just the half of it. The other half, of course, is that there are fewer particles being kicked up as a result of sweeping compared to leaf blowing.

Of ‘law’ and dis-‘order’

So, speaking of sweeping, I had made it a practice of placing my trash, recycle and green waste bins on the sidewalk by the street curb until such time that I was approached by an area sanitation worker advising me that I would need to start placing the bins in the street instead. Apparently, sidewalk-based bin placement resulted in bin damage being incurred from waste-pickup-haulage trucks during the container-pickup-and-emptying process. This is how I understand it. So, I now comply.

What I don’t get, however, is why city street sweepers sweep streets the day before the waste gets picked up. If anything, shouldn’t said street-sweeping activity occur the day after pickup? It just seems the logical thing to do.

I can’t help but believe others too have noticed this, what I will refer to as a “scheduling misstep.” If ever there were a “cart-before-the-horse” case, this would be it. I think so.

Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: Salt Lake City, Utah

The third in this series.

The “Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour” moves west to Salt Lake City, Utah. I can’t remember the exact first time I traveled to the Beehive State and the Great Salt Lake region in particular, but I’ve been to the city bearing the same name about four times now.

320px Salt Lake City panorama1 300x207 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Salt Lake City, UtahWhen I think of Salt Lake City I think of railroading and trains and for good reason. Located not far from there – Promontory Summit – is where on May 10, 1869 the Golden Spike was driven ceremoniously marking the joining of Central Pacific and Union Pacific rails, signifying completion of America’s first transcontinental railroad. The Golden Spike, however, is now housed on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Also notable in the region are the Great Salt Lake, Great Salt Lake Desert and Bonneville Salt Flats where many a land speed record were set and broken. The area is also well known as a place for winter- or snow-related recreational activities and it is where the Mormon Church also has its headquarters. Salt Lake City in Salt Lake County is also the State Capital.

I remember being there in late summer and late winter during different years, of course. And, speaking of winter, it was then and there in 2002 that the Olympic Winter Games were held.

Incidentally, Salt Lake City is no stranger to the Air Quality Matters blog. There are a number of blog posts mentioning the western U.S. metropolis.

The Wasatch and Oquirrh ranges of mountains are quite prominent and sit off to the east and southwest of the city proper, respectively. Interestingly, the street grid consists primarily of easterly-westerly and northerly-southerly running streets. The town is 110.4 square miles in area and as of 2010, had a population of 186,440 people.

The city itself is home to one of this country’s most prolific public transit networks going. Two systems of note are FrontRunner and TRAX. In fact, of these in “Leading from the Front” in the Fall 2011 edition of RAIL, editor Rich Sampson wrote: “As many communities and regions navigate the challenging economic conditions facing the entire country over the past several years, and others questioning their commitment to any forms of new mobility infrastructure, the metropolitan region along Utah’s Wasatch Front mountain range is all the more dedicated to consistently improving its transit network, with its TRAX light-rail and FrontRunner commuter rail systems leading the charge.”

Salt Lake City Utah1 300x204 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Salt Lake City, UtahAs a matter of fact, two other areas with this same kind of enthusiasm regarding momentum or movement on the transit-building front in the U.S. west immediately coming to mind, are: Denver, Colorado and Los Angeles, California.

Just so you are aware, each time I paid a visit the air was clean and visibilities good though I understand that during winters, air pollution can and has a tendency to build. (See: “Updated approach to warn of unhealthy particulate levels draws fire”).

Of the several times that I visited, one of my more memorable recollections is when, during the 1980s, I was driving west on what I am sure was highway 40 near Heber City, Utah. While driving at the posted speed mind you, I was overtaken by not one, not two, but three speeding motorists, and soon thereafter a Utah law enforcement official, sped past who, obviously, was in pursuit of the offending scofflaws. Farther on all three in their cars were stopped. Each had pulled off to the side of the road, all of whom being handed citations – I’m certain not the kind given for meritorious driving, that is, if there is such a thing, but of the traffic variety, all by you know who: the one law enforcement officer who had been in pursuit. Not one to want to make the same error in judgment, by the time I passed them by, I made sure it was at the posted speed.

In case there is a question as to why I recount the specifics of this chance encounter here, it is these sorts of experiences you just don’t forget and for good reason.

Lower image: NASA

CATS: Is it time for ePRT or ‘elevated’ personal rapid transit?

Number 30 in the Clean Air Technologies Series.

There is personal rapid transit or PRT, so why not “elevated” personal rapid transit or ePRT? That’s right: Why not ePRT?

Skytran ThruBuilding 0011 300x225 CATS: Is it time for ePRT or ‘elevated’ personal rapid transit?
Image courtesy of:

When I think rapid transit, I typically think of something along the lines of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) service in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. But, now there appears to be an up-and-coming personal rapid transit system that is gaining ground and looking quite promising. Known as skyTran, could this be the ticket?

First of all, what is skyTran? The platform is described in a Jun. 23, 2014 skyTran, Inc. press release.

“skyTran is the developer of the patented high-speed, elevated, levitating, energy-efficient, skyTran transportation system,” as it is explained in the release in question. “The skyTran system is a network of computer-controlled, 2-person, ‘jet-like’ vehicles employing state-of-the-art passive, magnetic levitation (maglev) technology. skyTran systems will transport passengers in a fast, safe, green, and economic manner. skyTran intends to revolutionize public transportation and, with it, urban and suburban commuting.”

And passive maglev, what is this?

From my book: “The Departure Track: Railways of Tomorrow,” company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jerry Sanders describes passive maglev thusly: “Passive MagLev requires one magnet traveling within a field of coils, the motion of the magnet generates its own magnetic field and thus causing levitation; very inexpensive, low energy use, versatile, efficient and effective.”1

Meanwhile, Christopher Perkins, company Executive Vice President, Government Affairs, in the same source explains the difference between passive and active maglev.

“Active maglev requires external electrical power to induce levitation. Passive maglev requires no external power to levitate vehicles. Rather, the magnetic repulsion is produced by the movement of the vehicle over shorted wire coils in the track. Essentially, a linear motor that provides vehicle locomotion does double duty by inducing the levitation effect.”2

Will skyTran be the next generation in railway technology? If the company has anything to do with it, then this could very well be the case.

And related to this in the same Jun. 23, 2014 press release mentioned above, skyTran, Inc. announced that it and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) “entered into an agreement today for the construction of a skyTran Technology Demonstration System (TDS) on the grounds of IAI’s corporate campus.”

So, what does the TDS entail?

The TDS “will provide a platform for skyTran vehicles to travel at high speeds, with full payloads while levitating. The TDS will enable testing, refinement, and validation of skyTran’s technology in a controlled environment.”

The “testing, refinement, and validation” aspect is preparatory to planned installation and operation of an actual service also in Israel, in Tel Aviv, this, of course, based on what I understand information printed in said release to mean.

If this comes to pass, the environmental benefit of this type of system should be obvious: moving passengers sans any harmful emissions being introduced into the air.

skyTran to take personal passenger rail transit to new heights via an elevated personal rapid transit or ePRT platform? This time with emphasis: Why not?!

Skytran Cityscape 0071 300x225 CATS: Is it time for ePRT or ‘elevated’ personal rapid transit?
Image courtesy of:

To learn more, see:


  1. Alan Kandel, “The Departure Track: Railways of Tomorrow,” Dec. 8, 2013.
  2. Ibid.

Putting into context air-pollution-statistical ‘estimates’

When it comes to polluted air, there is the abstract part: pollution-related illness and death.

The Earth seen from Apollo 171 Putting into context air pollution statistical ‘estimates’On Mar. 25, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) in the “7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution” news release states: “In new estimates released today, WHO reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.”

So, keeping it all in context, here’s a question: If the 7 million is only an estimate, how can it then be confirmed that polluted air is the world’s biggest risk to health from environmental causes? Add to this information that the estimates are at least twice those of previous ones, apparently.

Making sense of the estimates

Because there are those who are exposed to polluted air from both indoor and outdoor sources, the WHO acknowledges that, “Due to this overlap, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together, hence the total estimate of around 7 million deaths in 2012.”

The WHO further explained, “The new estimates are not only based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution, but also upon better assessment of human exposure to air pollutants through the use of improved measurements and technologies. This has enabled scientists to make a more detailed analysis of health risks from a wider demographic spread that now includes rural as well as urban areas.”

The WHO then went on to point out that there were an estimated 3.3 million premature deaths associated with polluted air from indoor sources and 2.6 million early deaths connected with air pollution from out of doors in WHO regions in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia, for a grand total of 5.9 million, as I understand things. To me, this means that 1.1 million or the remainder of the 7 million worldwide total have occurred elsewhere. That’s a 6-to-1 ratio.

The WHO identifies specific linked diseases such as acute lower respiratory infections in children, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), ischaemic heart disease, lung cancer and stroke with the following breakdowns for both indoor and outdoor pollution:

Indoor air pollution-caused deaths (in percent):

  • Acute lower respiratory infections in children – 12
  • COPD – 22
  • Ischaemic heart disease – 26
  • Lung cancer – 6
  • Stroke – 34

Outdoor air pollution-caused deaths (in percent):

  • Acute lower respiratory infections in children – 3
  • COPD – 11
  • Ischaemic heart disease – 40
  • Lung cancer – 6
  • Stroke – 40

(Source: “7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution,” news release, The World Health Organization, Mar. 25, 2014,

From the above data (statistics), while the incidence of early death seems higher with respect to the acute lower respiratory infections in children and COPD categories related to indoor air pollution, and a higher incidence of early death in regards to the ischaemic heart disease and stroke categories related to outdoor air pollution, the incidence of premature death as it has to do with lung cancer appears to be equal for air pollution that is both indoor- and outdoor-sourced.

“After analysing the risk factors and taking into account revisions in methodology, WHO estimates indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves,” the WHO notes.

Adds the WHO, “In the case of outdoor air pollution, WHO estimates there were 3.7 million deaths in 2012 from urban and rural sources worldwide.”

These numbers can be significantly reduced, but how?

Education can have a huge impact. And consensus-building on the importance of cleaning the air is needed.

In the area of energy production, a far greater reliance on renewable energy sources and far lower dependence on fossil fuel combustion should make a considerable difference as far as further cleansing the air is concerned.

Moreover, from transportation, less dependence on gasoline- and diesel-propelled motor vehicles with greater reliance on hybrid and zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV) should also go a longs ways in helping improve air quality.

For more related to indoor air pollution, see: “Indoor air pollution far more problematic than previously suspected” and “Airing (and sharing) some thoughts about indoor air quality.”

Out of a worldwide population of 7 billion people, 1.78 billion or 25.4 percent – roughly a quarter – are regularly exposed to air deemed poor and that globally attributable to unhealthful air, somewhere in the area of 7 million are dying early yearly, to me, this is just unacceptable.

We can and must do better!

Image above: NASA

Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: Vail, Colorado

The second in this series.

It was years ago – in the mid-‘80s in fact – that I made a car/bus/train trip to Baltimore, Maryland. I drove as far as Vail, Colorado. It was there that I boarded a bus to Denver. From the Mile High City to all mid-West and East Coast stops, traveling accommodations were via Amtrak. I remember it being a delightful, albeit lengthy journey.

Vail is what sticks. It is remarkable from the standpoint that when I was there, the environment was pristine in the sense that the air was clean and there was not a billboard in sight – for miles. If I had to hazard a guess, town-folk, friendly town-folk, mind you, wanted it this way. And add to this, mountains that just wouldn’t quit. Also standing out in my mind are two automobile brands, more so than others. Sorry, I’m not going to name names. But I will say this: I believe one of those brands is no longer being manufactured.

Located along U.S. Interstate 70 in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, in Eagle County, Vail sits at an altitude of 8,022 feet, a little over a half-mile higher in elevation than Denver.

So, what is it about Vail besides mountains, clean air and general high-elevation ambiance that warrant such mention here?

Well, for openers, to visit Vail is like setting foot in the European Alps. So, it has this distinctive alpine appearance to or character about it. In fact, its climate is alpine-like. Vail, first and foremost, sits at the base of the Vail Ski Resort on Vail Mountain. With a population in 2010 of 5,305 people the town is not that old. It was incorporated in 1966. So, that should give you some idea of what the area is like.

The time of the year of my visit was May, so spring – but no snow – was in the air. Though, a quick side trip to the Tennessee Pass summit at 10,424 feet, near the town of Leadville, afforded breathtaking westward-looking views of both Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. It had been argued which was higher, but the dispute was finally resolved. Mt. Elbert was declared victor, towering at 14,439 feet over its sibling Mt. Massive, which you would think, based on its name, it would be taller, but peaks at a lofty 14,429 feet. Incidentally, in chatting with one of the locals, it was pointed out that mean air temperatures were warmer, compared to what he had been used to. Keep in mind this was but one person’s observation. That may very well have been the case, but, regardless, them thar mountains were draped in snow during my appearance. Just so you know it’s not like that was the only point that came up in conversation. That there was a lake at that location and that the man was there to fish, the idle chit-chat, I’m guessing, helped him pass the time – between catches.

Okay, so you may be asking yourselves: Why would anyone travel to Vail (by car), just to board a bus to Denver only to then get on an Amtrak train to journey to the East Coast?

Would you believe because I wanted to?

What you need to know is that this was during a time when I was doing research for my Master’s thesis. In doing such I visited a professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah in this regard.

So, why not travel the entire way by train instead? That Amtrak doesn’t go to Provo it made more sense to just drive there. Also, being that a friend of a family member owned a cabin in Vail, I had permission to leave my car in the parking lot of the cabin complex while I was “training” it the rest of the way to Baltimore, though it did mean walking with luggage in hand from cabin to bus stop. Remember: this is in the mid-‘80s and I am 30-something and am totally enjoying the exercise benefit and challenge the walk provides, not to mention taking in the spectacular panoramic views in the process.

Georgetown Loop c. 18851 300x242 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Vail, ColoradoAnd, speaking of trains, situated between Vail and Denver and also along I-70 is the famed Georgetown Loop Railroad. (See photo at left).

I think it all comes down to this: Vail is a clean-air community with unsullied scenery. There is a lot to do there. And not too distant is Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado.

In that general area and particularly in warmer climes are opportunities for white water rafting. In fact, recreational opportunities abound, probably even more so when it snows. Interestingly, Vail is not off the beaten path. It sits right along U.S. Interstate 70 west of Denver which makes getting there by car or bus a relative snap.

Just so you know, from California in getting to Vail, I drove via Reno, Nevada with an overnight stay there, venturing forth the following day on what is probably the loneliest stretch of highway in all of America – Nevada State Route 50 – which, by the way, becomes SR 6 in Utah. On day-2 it was on into Provo, where I spent my second night. I had arrived at Vail by day-3.

For me, the high point of the entire mid-‘80s trip was the drive passing through such well-known places like Yosemite National Park, Reno, Nevada (“The Biggest Little City in the World”), Salt Lake City, Utah, and not to be overlooked, of course, was Vail.

Vail, Colorado: I may have just been passing through, that I stopped by for a visit, I’m really glad I did!

Image above: Louis Charles McClure