Denver Saved Itself by Investing in Trains

Good Street from Streetmix

The 1970s oil crisis left an impact on the city of Denver in the forms of good public transit. The writing was on the wall that individualized transit infrastructure that favoured the automobile wouldn’t be a good long-term solution for the city so they did something. Thanks to the initiative taken decades ago Denver witnessed how good transit infrastructure built for people can positively shape a city. Since then light rail has been added to the city thus saving itself from turning into a generic, sprawling, and parking filled North American sub-urban community.

“We are talking about a culture-transforming moment,” says Denver mayor Michael Hancock. “Light rail has really moved Denver into the 21st century.”


How the $7.6 billion FasTracks project saved Denver from a dreaded fate locals call “Houstonization” is the story of regional cooperation that required the buy-in of businesspeople, elected officials, civil servants and environmentalists across a region the size of Delaware. Their ability to work collectively—and the public’s willingness to approve major taxpayer investments—has created a transit system that is already altering Denver’s perception of itself, turning an auto-centric city into a higher-density, tightly-integrated urban center that aims to outcompete the bigger, older coastal cities on the global stage.

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Birds Provide Japanese Train Design

Yesterday a Japanese train company apologized for running 20 seconds ahead of schedule. How did Japanese trains get so fast?

The answer for how their famous bullet trains move so quickly is thanks in part to biomimicry, the study of using animals as a source for design. The front of the bullet train was inspired by the beak of a kingfisher which allows for more efficient airflow and thus less of an environmental impact. This is merely one example of the interesting world of using the evolution of animals to design the world around us.

Japan’s Shinkansen doesn’t look like your typical train. With its long and pointed nose, it can reach top speeds up to 150–200 miles per hour.

It didn’t always look like this. Earlier models were rounder and louder, often suffering from the phenomenon of “tunnel boom,” where deafening compressed air would rush out of a tunnel after a train rushed in. But a moment of inspiration from engineer and birdwatcher Eiji Nakatsu led the system to be redesigned based on the aerodynamics of three species of birds.

Nakatsu’s case is a fascinating example of biomimicry, the design movement pioneered by biologist and writer Janine Benyus. She’s a co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute, a non-profit encouraging creators to discover how big challenges in design, engineering, and sustainability have often already been solved through 3.8 billion years of evolution on earth. We just have to go out and find them.

A Solar Solution on Indian Railways

solar

The largest railway system in the world runs in India and it consumes a lot of energy to run it. Back when oil was more expensive they started looking into way to lower their fuel bill from using biofuel to solar. Today, they are running one solution that will save money in the first year of operations – putting solar panels on the roof of the train carriages. The panels will collect energy and store it in batteries instead of the current approach is using an additional diesel engine to power the carriages.

The rooftop solar system was developed by Noida-based Jakson Engineers, under the direction of the Indian Railways Organisation for Alternate Fuels (IROAF). “It is not an easy task to fit solar panels on the roof of train coaches that run at a speed of 80 km per hour. Our engineering skills were put to a real test during the execution of this rooftop solar project for Indian Railways,” Sundeep Gupta, vice-chairman and managing director of Jakson Engineers told the Business Standard newspaper. Established in 2008, the IROAF initially focused on bio-diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) to help diversify Indian Railways’ fuel mix, before looking at solar.
Indian Railways has ambitious plans for solar. By 2020, the state-run transportation network plans to generate around 1,000 megawatts (MW) of solar power, which could be scaled up to 5,000 MW by 2025. These numbers are not only significant for the railways, given that it’ll help bring down the fuel bill, but will also impact India’s overall renewable energy goal of 175 gigawatt (1 GW = 1,000 MW) by 2022.

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California High Speed Rail is Green

Trains are way more efficient than cars and trucks when it comes to transporting people and goods, yet in North America, trains are often shunned for more wasteful transportation systems. This negative attitude towards sustainability is changing, notably California citizens voted for a high speed rail line in the state.

Opponents to economic and environmental efficiencies argued that the high speed rail line would be too expensive to build. It turns out, rather unsurprisingly, that California’s new rail system is better for everybody!

While several competing proposals are on the table for what the system will look like once it’s completed, high-speed rail promises to be more environmentally friendly in several ways. Cars and planes, for example, run on fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases and other pollutants. The extraction and refining process also emits pollutants. High-speed trains, however, run on electricity, which produces no greenhouse gases at the point of use. Pollutants become an issue for high-speed rail at the power plants generating the electricity. The plants may burn fossil fuels. However, the study’s authors note that the number of renewable energy plants, which produce no greenhouse gases, will continue to grow in California as the high-speed rail system is built. Hydroelectric power produces the bulk of the electricity for the Swiss High-Speed Rail network.

The new study’s findings track closely with research commissioned in 2009 by seven of Europe’s leading high-speed rail systems. “Generally, what you tend to see around the rest of the world is a similar pattern where high-speed rail does have a lower environmental footprint than the automobile or aircraft,” Chester said.

Read more here.

Solar Energy to Power Trains

Trains are a great transit solution and are efficient at moving people and goods. Trains are really a green way to travel.

In Belgium, they are taking this green form of travelling and making it even better by powering the trains using solar power.

More than 16,000 solar panels will be installed on the roof of the high-speed rail tunnel stretching just over 2 miles long. The tunnel is primarily used by the high-speed train connecting Amsterdam and Paris via Brussels.

The roof’s total surface area is 50,000 m2, roughly equivalent to 8 football fields. The installation should generate an estimated 3.3 MWh of electricity per year.

The installation commenced this summer on the tunnel’s northern side. Project completion is scheduled for December 2010. The total investment budget is $20.1 million.

Infrabel, the Belgian railway infrastructure manager, will use the green energy in the Antwerp North-South junction (including Antwerp Central Station) and to power both conventional and high-speed trains running on the Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris line. With this project Infrabel has re-emphasized its belief in renewable energy as a viable alternative, and complement, to conventional energy sources.

Read the full press release.

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