Transportation

  • HazmatCost of derailments of oil-carrying trains over the next two decades: $4.5 billion

    A 2014 CSX derailment led to roughly 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilling in and around the James River, West Virginia. Another CSX train derailed last week in the West Virginia town of Mount Carbon. The explosion that followed forced about 1,000 people to evacuate from their homes. The United States will likely experience more oil train derailments as long as Bakken crude oil is transported via rail from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region to U.S. refineries. Oil train accidents often lead to pipeline advocates pushing for more pipelines, but data from PHMSA shows that while oil trains have more frequent accidents, pipelines accidents cause much larger spills.

  • Infrastructure protectionScanning technology detects early signs of potholes

    Researchers are developing smart scanning technology using existing cameras to detect the early signs of potholes and determine their severity. a computer vision algorithm, combined with 2D and 3D scanners on a pavement monitoring vehicle, can examine the road with accuracy at traffic speed during day or night. The system works by detecting different textures of the road to identify raveling and distinguishes it from shadows and blemishes such as tire marks, oil spills, and recent pothole repairs.

  • HazmatCalls for improving safety of oil-carrying trains grow in wake of this week’s accidents

    Oil trains transporting crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Canada to refineries in the Northeast have suffered several derailments in the past few years. The U.S.Department of Transportation(DOT) has since urged rail companies to adopt new train cars which could better survive derailments, and to retrofit current cars by 2017. Still, railway safety advocates say companies need to do more to ensure the safety of their tracks and cars. Two separate oil train accidents this week support their concerns.

  • Rail securityRailway stations should adopt some of the security strategies deployed by airports: Experts

    A 2013 study by the U.K. Home Officerecorded crime rates across every postcode in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and found that four of the top ten U.K. crime hot spots are major railway stations. Railway stations experience large volume of crime due to their highly congested environments, which gives pickpockets and thieves opportunities to find a target. Large stations are also introducing more retail outlets, which increases the likelihood of more shoplifting offenses. Experts note that airports have many of those same characteristics, but they fare far better in crime rates. These experts argue that rail stations should adopt some of the strategies deployed by airports around the world.

  • HazmatMore crude-oil trains means more accidents, spills

    In 2013 U.S. railroads carried more than 400,000 car loads of crude oil, a sharp increase from the 9,500 they carried in 2008. Crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale region has fueled most of the surge, and this surge has increased the potential for rail accidents. Each train carrying more than a million gallons of Bakken crude could cause damage similar to what occurred in July 2013, when a runaway train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing forty-seven people. Another derailment near Lynchburg, Virginia in April 2014, spilled about 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil into the James River.

  • Visa Waiver ProgramLawmakers want more security features to be added to Visa Waiver Program

    The recent attacks in Paris have led U.S. lawmakers to propose restrictions on, or adding more security to, the U.S. Visa Waiver Program(VWP), which allows citizens from thirty-eight countries to travel to the United States for up to ninety days without obtaining a traditional visa. Concerns now revolve around the threat that some of the roughly 3,000 European nationals who have traveled to Syria to fight alongside Islamic extremist groups, and are now equipped with skills to launch an attack, may return to Europe and then book a flight to the United States to launch an attack.

  • HazmatSimulations help make transport of explosives safer

    In 2005, a semi-truck hauling 35,000 pounds of explosives through the Spanish Fork Canyon in Utah crashed and caught fire, causing a dramatic explosion that left a 30- by-70-foot crater in the highway. The cause of the massive blast on the Utah highway, brought on by a process called deflagration-to-detonation transition (DDT), posed something of a mystery. The semi-truck was transporting 8,400 cylinders of explosives intended for blasting operations in the mining industry. Despite the cargo’s volatile nature, it was not supposed to detonate violently as it did. Such accidents are extremely rare but can obviously have devastating results. So understanding better exactly how such explosions occur can be an important step to learning how better to prevent them.

  • Aviation securityEU Parliament considers reviving uniform air-passenger information legislation

    The European Parliament is considering reviving draft legislation which would force airline companies to give EU member governments a cohesive and uniform set of passenger information, following heightened security concerns in the wake of the 7 January Paris attacks. The legislation, first proposed in 2011, was rejected bu the EU Parliament in 2013.

  • Rail securityConcerns grow about attacks on rail systems by domestic terrorists

    Between September 2001 and December 2011, at least838 attacks on passenger rail systems have killed more than 1,370 people. As DHS officials focus on assuring the American public that security agencies remain on high alert, last week’s incidents on two of the nation’s major metropolitan rail systems raised more concerns about public safety and preparedness.

  • HazmatSurge in shipment of oil by rail comes at a high cost: deadly accidents, derailments, and oil-spills

    In 2008 American railroads carried 9,500 cars of crude oil. By year end 2013, that number reached 415,000 cars loads. America’s energy boom, made possible by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the surge in oil output in North Dakota’s Bakken region, have made crude by rail tremendously profitable for the nation’s top railroad companies. The surge in crude by rail has come at a high cost: a growing number of deadly accidents, derailments, and oil-spills. Experts say that these accidents demonstrate the limited ability of government and railroads to manage the hidden risks of a sudden shift in energy production. “It may not happen today or tomorrow, but one day a town or a city is going to get wiped out,” says one expert.

  • Butt bombsBuilding better butt bombs: Al Qaeda’s instructions to followers

    Five years after using a “bum bomb” for the first time – on 28 August 2009, against the Saudi deputy interior minister – al Qaeda bomb makers are at it again. Having actively searched for new and better ways to take advantage of privacy (“don’t touch my junk”) considerations which govern airport security checks, one of the organization’s bomb makers goes public. The latest issue of Inspire, the organization’s English-language magazine, contains a detailed 22-page article on how to construct a butt bomb and conceal it in one’s anal cavity. The article alsoadvises would-be suicide bombers on where to sit on the airplane to ensure the most destruction, and also recommends using the hidden bomb for assassination attempts.

  • DetectionThe science of airport bomb detection: chromatography

    By Martin Boland

    As the holidays draw near, many of us will hop on a plane to visit friends and family — or just get away from it all. Some will be subjected to a swab at the airport to test clothes and baggage for explosives. So how does this process work? The answer is chromatography — a branch of separation chemistry — along with mass spectrometry. Although instrumental chromatography is a mature technology (the first instruments were produced just after WWII), new applications frequently pop up. Some are a matter of scale. Pharmaceutical companies that produce monoclonal antibodies (often used in cancer treatments) make use of capture chromatography to purify their products. On an industrial scale these can be tens of centimeters in diameter and meters in length (typical lab scale systems are a few millimeters diameter and 5-30cm long). Other uses can either be in a specific new application, such as detecting cocaine on bank notes using the gas chromatography systems often seen at airports as bomb and drug detectors.

  • Personal aerial vehiclesHelicopter steering innovation could herald new era for aerial transport

    For decades, flying cars have featured in our visions of what futuristic cities might look like. Now EU-funded researchers with the MYCOPTER project have developed a steering system that makes helicopters as easy to control as cars. While having your own personal aerial vehicle (PAV) may still be some way off, the success of the project opens up the possibility that one day flying vehicles could indeed be an integral part of the urban transportation network.

  • DronesFAA caught between commercial pressures, safety concerns in regulating drone use

    Law enforcement agencies in major U.S. cities have expressed concerns about the possible use of drones by terrorists to launch bombs against key U.S. targets, including shopping malls, stadiums, and even banks. The FAA is in a tough spot, says one expert.”If they come out with rules that are not protective enough and then there’s some sort of an accident then they will be criticized for not having been more careful with this technology,” he says. “On the other hand, if they come out with rules that are viewed as overly restrictive in the name of safety then they are going to be criticized as impeding the growth of the industry, so it’s a very difficult balancing act that they have to navigate.”

  • SurveillanceSmaller lidars could be mounted on UAVs for underwater scans

    Bathymetric lidars — devices which employ powerful lasers to scan beneath the water’s surface — are used today primarily to map coastal waters. At nearly 600 pounds, the systems are large and heavy, and they require costly, piloted aircraft to carry them. Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) researchers have designed a new approach that could lead to bathymetric lidars that are much smaller and more efficient than the current full-size systems. The new technology would let modest-sized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) carry bathymetric lidars, lowering costs substantially. These advanced capabilities could support a range of military uses such as anti-mine and anti-submarine intelligence and nautical charting, as well as civilian mapping tasks. In addition, the new lidar could probe forested areas to detect objects under thick canopies.