Transportation

  • Crude-by-railUpdated crude oil regulation worries environmental groups, increases shipments

    Following several deadly explosions of oil-tanker railroad cars in towns across the United States and Canada in the past several years, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an emergency order that required railroads publicly to inform states of movements of 100 crude oil tanker cars or more as part of any single shipment. However, on 1 May the agency revised the order with a long-awaited rule which would require carriers to upgrade tanker cars instead of having to report the information, leading some to question the safety of the new ruling.

  • AviationHow a hacker could hijack a plane from their seat

    By Yijun Yu and Andrew Smith

    Reports that a cybersecurity expert successfully hacked into an airplane’s control system from a passenger seat raises many worrying questions for the airline industry. It was once believed that the cockpit network that allows the pilot to control the plane was fully insulated and separate from the passenger network running the in-flight entertainment system. This should make it impossible for a hacker in a passenger seat to interfere with the course of the flight. But the unfolding story of this hacker’s achievement, which has prompted further investigation by authorities and rebuttals from plane manufacturers, means that this assumption needs to be revisited.

  • Cargo inspectionNew state-of-the-art inspection facility for Port of Boston

    Passport Systems has started construction on a non-intrusive cargo inspection facility at the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), Port of Boston, Conley Container Terminal in South Boston. The facility aims to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of cargo screening at the Port. The facility will use a 3D automated cargo inspection system hat can detect, locate, and identify contraband at ports and border crossings as well as automatically clear or confirm alarms. 

  • AviationAirlines ban shipments of lithium-ion batteries following cargo fires

    Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries may soon have to be imported by other means than air shipments after at least eighteen airlines have banned shipments of the product this year following devastating cargo fires such as the one that caused a United Parcel Service (UPS) freighter to crash near Dubai in 2010. Roughly 30 percent of the 5.5 billion cell batteries produced each year are shipped by plane.

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  • Rail securityPositive train control could have prevented Amtrak derailment, but it’s not quite on track

    By Jeffrey C. Peters

    Positive train control (PTC), a safety technology for rail transportation, may have been able to prevent the 12 May 2015 accident in which a northbound Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 carrying 238 passengers to New York from Washington, D.C. derailed near Philadelphia. PTC is a system designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and the movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position. The Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA08) mandated that PTC must be implemented on about 60,000 miles of U.S. track by the end of 2015. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) estimates that the total capital cost for full PTC deployment according to law would be about $10 billion (about one year’s worth of capital investments for the major U.S. railroads) and annual maintenance costs of $850 million. The costs of implementing PTC remain a significant barrier – but not the only barrier. In addition to costs, PTC has faced barriers in technical implementation, namely system interoperability and allocation of communication spectrum.

  • RailDesigning the future of rail travel

    Increased traffic, congestion, security of energy supply, and climate change are just some of the many pressing issues that the EU currently faces. In order fully to tackle these challenges, the railway sector must modernize and take on a larger share of transport demand over the next few decades. EU-funded researchers have just begun work on three exciting projects that could very well determine the shape of rail travel in the coming years.

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  • RailStrengthening increasingly unstable rail tracks

    The big chunks of rock — crushed limestone or dolomite that engineers call ballast — which keep railroad tracks in place look like a solid footing even as freight cars rumble overhead. Temperature and vibration, however, can destabilize ballast over time, keeping it from safely transferring the weight of a loaded train to the soil below, draining water, and preventing vegetation from crowding the tracks. In some states, a booming industry of mining sand for use by oil and gas drillers in hydraulic fracturing has presented a new challenge: fine grains of sand can leak from rail cars, accumulate in rail bed ballast and, during a rainstorm, turn into mushy, track-loosening mud.

  • Crude-by-railNew oil trains safety rules short on preparedness, training regs: Critics

    New federal safety measures for oil trains announced earlier this month are being criticized by emergency responders who say the measures fail to address the issue of preparedness.The new rules, which go into effect next year, do not require railroads to notify state officials of Bakken crude oil shipments, and fire departments seeking that information will have to contact the railroads directly. Firefighter groups say 65 percent of fire departments involved in responding to hazardous materials incidents still have no formal training in that area.

  • Rail safetyCrumbling infrastructure to blame for growing number of derailments: Experts

    Transportation industry analysts say the increase in the number of derailments is due to a crumbling transportation infrastructure and a lack of interest in funding rail transportation. Amtrak, a federally subsidized for-profit corporation, has been the target of conservative legislators who want to cut government spending. “The problem that you have — and you’ve had it since 1976 and even before — is that there’s never been an investment program that would bring the infrastructure up where it belongs on existing capacity,” says Amtrak CEO. While derailments are usually due to equipment failures, human and environmental factors can contribute to train accidents.

  • AviationNew airport security technologies raise privacy concerns

    Researchers are developing surveillance technologies better to help airport security officials scan passengers and luggage for contraband and suspicious behavior. Privacy advocates say these expensive and ambitious projects, meant to increase public safety and ease air travel delays, risk intruding on passengers’ privacy.“What starts in the airport doesn’t stay there,” says a technology expert at the ACLU.

  • Rail securityNew safety rules for crude oil shipments by rail criticized by both sides

    Regulators with the Department of Transportation(DOT) last Friday unveiled new rules for transporting crude oil by rail. The measures are expected to improve rail safety and reduce the risk of oil train accidents, but both the railway industry and public safety advocates have already issued criticism. Lawmakers representing states with oil trains traffic say the regulations do not go far enough in protecting the public, while railway representatives say the rules would be costly and result in few safety benefits.

  • Oil-by-rail transportShipping oil by rail is booming. Technology can make it safer

    By Bryan W. Schlake

    Last year, trains transported more than one million barrels of oil per day in 2014 — a huge jump from 55,000 barrels per day in 2010. This increase in oil-by-rail transportation has come with a number of high-profile derailments. Can technology improve safety? Yes. While the risk associated with oil train derailments has not been eliminated, the transportation of crude oil by rail has certainly become safer through extensive research, development, and implementation of new technologies. Continued efforts by railroads, government agencies, research institutions, and universities will continue to improve the safety of crude oil transportation by rail, reducing risk and potentially alleviating public fears associated with railroad transportation.

  • Mine detectionDolphins, sea lions help Navy detect sea mines, underwater intruders

    For decades, the Pentagon has been training dolphins and sea lions to help detect underwater mines and intruding divers near U.S. military bases and along the paths of U.S. and allied ships in foreign locations. The first dolphin trained in mine detection was Notty in 1960. In San Diego, the U.S. Navy spends roughly $28 million a year to train and maintain about ninety dolphins and fifty California sea lions.In the future, Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) may replace the marine mammals in the mine-detection mission, but for now they share the assignment.

  • Oil-by-rail transportDespite disasters, oil-by-rail transport is getting safer

    By Bryan W. Schlake

    Oil production in the United States is booming. Last year, for the first time since 1987, annual U.S. field production of crude oil topped three billion barrels, a 170 percent increase since 2008. As pipelines quickly reached capacity, oil shippers turned to the railroads, which provided multiple incentives, including: flexibility in shipping options and contract timelines, shorter transit times to the refineries (five to seven days by rail compared with 40 days by pipeline), and the ability to choose which refineries to use. Oil production in the Bakken formation in North Dakota has increased from 81,000 barrels per day in 2003 to more than one million barrels by mid-2014 — with more than three-quarters of those barrels moving daily by rail out of North Dakota. With U.S. crude oil transport by rail nearing all-time highs, many are expressing fears about the potential of a crude oil spill in their community.

  • Rail security437,000 crude oil barrels carried daily by rail from North Dakota to East Coast refineries

    In the wake of recent oil train derailments in West Virginia, and Galena, Illinois, the federal government has answered calls to release oil train figures. The U.S. Energy Information Administration, taking numbers from industry and government, report that more than one million barrels of crude oil move by train across the United States every day.Federal crude-by-rail information reveals that 437,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil were shipped daily in January from North Dakota to East Coast refineries. Those shipments passed through the Chicago area, making the region the country’s hub for oil train shipments.