TagWhite House

Rep. Mica of Florida is confused about how best to support high-speed rail

From Associated Press writer Joan Lowy’s article, “White House doles out $8 billion for fast trains,”

Rep. John Mica of Florida, the senior Republican on the House transportation committee, complained that the Midwest lines awarded grants will achieve top speeds of only 110 mph and were “selected more for political reasons than for high-speed service.”

No, John, the Midwest was selected because it had a comprehensive plan with a regional approach, and with all Midwest states on board a collaborative effort to make Chicago the hub of an expansive network of fast trains that go to many, desirable destinations.

The Midwest was also selected because many of the Amtrak routes showed increased ridership over the past three years (2006-2009), and the ones that received a higher state subsidy or targeted improvements (with funding from the states) that reduced travel time and increased reliability showed an especially high increase in ridership.

And excuse me, Florida received a lot of money for a high-speed train between Tampa, Orlando, and Miami.

View more of my articles on this expanding topic.

High-speed rail stimulus awards coverage and summary

President Barack Obama was in Tampa, Florida, Thursday morning to announce the winners of the high-speed intercity passenger rail funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). The best coverage of this topic is on The Transport Politic.

View a spreadsheet summarizing all of the high-speed rail corridors, their award amount, and investment projects. I prepared this document based on the press releases from the White House Press Office. With these press releases, I also created the construction summary below.

The Acela, a train traveling from Washington, D.C., to Boston via Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, is the country’s only high-speed rail, achieving a top speed of 150 miles per hour for only a few minutes. Photo by Jonathan Rissmeyer.

Construction Summary

Construction will occur in the following corridors*:

  • Northeast
    • New track and signals on the New York – Albany – Buffalo corridor.
    • New track on the New York – Montreal corridor.
    • Track will be restored/repaired on the Boston – Portland – Brunswick corridor.
    • A station will be built in Greenfield, MA, a station restored in Northampton, MA, and 11 new miles of track in CT, on the New Haven – Springfield – Burlington – St. Albans corridor.
  • Midwest
    • Two stations will be renovated in Troy and Battle Creek, MI, and a new station built in downtown Dearborn, MI, on the Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago corridor.
    • Also on the Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago corridor, a flyover, approach bridges, embankment and retaining walls will be built in Indiana.
    • Construction in Illinois on the Pontiac – Detroit – Chicago corridor includes the relocation, reconfiguration, and addition of high-speed crossovers and related signal system improvements, rail line additions at two locations, and the creation of a new passing tracks.
    • In Iowa, find four, new, remotely controlled powered crossovers on the BNSF Ottumwa subdivision.
    • Cities in Ohio will see various construction projects on the Cleveland – Columbus – Dayton – Cincinnati corridor, including new stations and upgraded track.
    • Illinois becomes the center of attention again on the Chicago – Milwaukee corridor, with various track and station improvements.
    • New stations will be built along the Milwaukee – Madison corridor, which will also see various track upgrades.
    • Illinois is the center of the Midwest rail network. The third largest award in this grant program goes to the Chicago – St. Louis corridor, for upgraded track, signals, and stations, installation of positive train control, and some CREATE projects to reduce congestion in and outside of Chicago.**
    • The St. Louis – Kansas City corridor will see upgraded bridges, crossovers, and improved grade crossings.
  • Pacific Northwest
    • On the Seattle – Portland corridor, expect construction of a bypass track, grade separations, the addition of Positive Train Control, and seismic retrofits to King Station in Seattle, WA.
    • The Portland Union Station will be upgraded.
  • South and Southeast
    • Between Fort Worth and Austin, new signals at grade crossings will be installed.
    • The Charlotte – Raleigh corridor will receive track upgrades.
    • Four new crossovers will be constructed in the Raleigh – Richmond corridor.
    • Between Richmond – Washington, D.C., trains will travel over 11 new miles of high-speed track
  • California
    • The California High Speed Rail Authority receives the largest chunk to construct track, signals, and stations.
    • On the Pacific Surfliner Corridor (San Luis Obispo – Los Angeles – San Diego), new track and crossovers will be constructed.

View on Google Docs or download an Excel file.

*This construction summary is about as complete as the press releases from the White House. I reviewed each press release and copied the information that indicated where construction or upgrades of new or existing project components would actually occur. I excluded planning, environmental impact statements, engineering, and design components of the above projects. I compiled the most important information from the White House press releases into a spreadsheet.

**UPDATED: For more CREATE and Englewood Flyover information, which was funded at $133 million, see page 2 of the Federal Railroad Administration’s summary handout (PDF) and this discussion on Railroad.net.

How GIS helps earthquake relief efforts for Haiti

While Geographic Information systems software can definitely produce pretty maps, its power lies in analyzing data and plotting or comparing sensory or observed data to spatial data (like roads or terrain). The earthquake in Haiti rocked the capital city, Port-au-Prince with a shock of magnitude 7.0 on Tuesday, January 12, 2010.

A photo from a United States military flyover shows damage in the Port of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo taken by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sondra-Kay Kneen and uploaded by Chuck Simmins.

There are several applications for GIS to help with earthquake response, and two blog posts that appeared this morning shed light on how.

The first article came from ESRI, the California-based makers of ArcGIS, the most used GIS application. The article linked to a user-built map on their ArcGIS Online service showing on Bing maps where the earthquake and its aftershocks struck (the map sits behind a registration wall). ESRI even has a disaster response team that helps organizations get their response projects off the ground quickly.

Infrastructurist posted the second article, showing some before and after satellite imagery of Haiti, provided by Google and GeoEye.

So what can GIS do? From ESRI’s list, “GIS for Disaster Response“:

  • Rapid identification of potential shelter/housing locations (schools, libraries, churches, public buildings) appropriate for supporting affected populations.
  • Determine how many tents will be needed based on the location of populations affected by the disaster.
  • Analyze areas where large numbers of refugees can establish camps out of harm’s way that are accessible for supply delivery and have access to water and other resources necessary to support large numbers of people.
  • Many more examples.

Want more information? Here’s where to get it:

Obama’s promise for open government

I’m excited about Obama’s memorandum he wrote in his first week of office, on January 21st, 2009. In it, he calls for federal agencies to stop looking for legal ways to say no to requests for data, or in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

He will help usher in a new American government, where “[a]ll agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure.” 

And the agencies shouldn’t be so passive about the distribution of their data. President Barack Obama continues with:

“…agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.”

The United States Government is probably the world’s largest collector and holder of data. It probably stores more data and information than the internet (minus what the government publishes there). I hope I can expect an onslaught of data, but it must be accessible in multiple formats and in ways we can use. Saving spreadsheets is NOT distributing data. That’s protecting it and trying to make it harder to manipulate. It means providing raw access to tables and databases, providing APIs for custom queries, and XML feeds for simple and broad presentation.

Perhaps we’ll need a White House Office of Data to coordinate with agencies about the formats and presentation and distribution methods they choose or will choose.

I’m glad Obama’s transition team took the advice from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on this one – they fight for, among many things, the rights of the internet and information and how access to both should be equalized and open. Read the EFF’s news article about this about-face from George Bush’s archaic information policies.

To Obama: When you create that office, please consult the geniuses at EveryBlock for the Office’s “Public Consumption” division. They know how to package data for quick and informative understanding.

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