Keep on Trucking – PBS’ Blueprint America explores the state of the freight trucking industry and its future

September 1, 2009 at 11:51 pm

(Source: PBS’ Blueprint America)

The majority of American goods are transported by trucks, even though freight trains are greener and more fuel-efficient. Where should America be placing its bets for moving our economy and what would you personally sacrifice for it?

Blueprint America — with NOW on PBS — in a report with correspondent Miles O’Brien looks at the massive amount of freight moved throughout the country — mainly by trucks on an aging highway infrastructure that’s crumbling and bursting at the seams. With projected population growth and a rebounding economy, experts say it is only going to get worse.

So as Congress begins a major rewrite of the nation’s transportation laws, many are asking if it is time to redirect freight traffic off congested highways onto more environmentally friendly and fuel efficient railroads. Sounds good, but there is a catch. Unlike highways that receive public funding, railroads are private. Should taxpayers sink public money into a private railway system? And where should the money come from?

Blueprint America Correspondent Miles O’Brien looks at the contemporary needs, challenges, and solutions for transporting vital cargo across America, and how those decisions affect the way you live, work, and travel. explores the battle of zero-emission technologies in the automobile world

September 1, 2009 at 11:24 pm

(Source:  Time)

Q’Orianka Kilcher has never pumped a gallon of gasoline into her car. Never. Then again, she’s never owned a car that needed gasoline. You could say she is at ground zero of the ZE, or zero-emission, vehicle future.

A 19-year-old actress living in Santa Monica, Calif. (she played Pocahontas in the 2005 movie The New World), Q’Orianka (pronounced Quor-ee-anka) is on her second hydrogen-fuel-cell car, a Honda FCX Clarity, a four-door with a 200-mile range. “I don’t think I will ever buy a gas car,” she says. “I can go everywhere I want to go with this. Plus, it’s a guy magnet.”

Auto-marketing gurus take note: the brave new world of ZE cars is here, ready or not, and please make them sexy.

“ZEs are an entirely different paradigm,” says Stephen Ellis, manager of fuel-cell-vehicle marketing for American Honda Motor Co. in Torrance, Calif. Ellis manages the rare $600-a-month leases (including free hydrogen fill-ups) for the FCX Clarity. “Knowing how to integrate these new technologies into existing lifestyles and then building new infrastructures to make it work is the trick,” says Ellis. “It took a hundred years to create the gasoline infrastructure; this will be much faster.”

There are three types of zero, or near zero, emission cars: electric plug-ins, hybrid plug-ins and hydrogen fuel cells (which create power by having oxygen and hydrogen pass over electricity-generating electrodes). But each major automaker has its own take on which advanced technology will win 10 years down the road.

Nissan, for example, is pedal-to-the-metal with pure electric cars, having skipped fuel-cell technology altogether. It considers “interim hybrid technology,” like Toyota’s successful Prius, a mere passing phase. “The market-share winner will be the one that offers affordable, mass-market, zero-emission vehicles with a zero payback period for premium technologies,” says Mark Perry, director of the product planning and strategy group for Nissan North America.

In contrast to Nissan, Honda has passed up pure electrics, preferring instead to bank on lower-cost hybrids (Civic and Insight) and hydrogen fuel cells. Ellis, however, claims no distinction should be made between “FCs” and electrics, since a fuel-cell car is basically an electric car powered by hydrogen-created electricity.

Then there is Toyota, the 800-pound hybrid gorilla. Toyota has yet a third route to success: muscling up on its hybrid strength.

“We believe in not being first to market but being best to market,” says Mary Nickerson, who is in charge of advanced-vehicle marketing at Toyota Motor Sales, also in Torrance. Last year, Toyota reached the 1 million sales mark with its Prius hybrid (gas-powered with fuel-saving electric technology).

“Our strategy is to be the hybrid masters, no pure electrics, and to explore fuel-cell technology,” says Nickerson. “We feel it’s going to take a lot more than one technology to make this new market work.”

Some 21% of consumers will not consider a pure electric car because of the need to plug-in at home, according Nickerson. “We believe that 10 years out, the winners will be all new technologies, but hybrids will be the largest winner of them all.”

Then again, as Honda’s Ellis says, “It all depends on the price of gas.”

Click here to read the entire article.

German invasion in August! Audi posts 26% US sales gain to score second best August ever; Revs up 2010 action

September 1, 2009 at 10:37 pm

(Source:  Reuters,  Motor Authority)

Audi is moving from strength to strength the world over but especially here in the U.S. where for years brand prejudices has left it playing second fiddle to the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. The four-ring brand is in the midst of a transformation, however, and is set to launch a host of exciting models over the next 12 to 18 months so grab a seat and let’s look at the rundown.

Audi today reported its U.S. sales last month rose 26% to achieve its second-best August sales ever and its best month overall since June 2008. In August 2009, Audi sold 8,057 cars and SUVscompared to 6,406 vehicles sold in August 2008.  Audi posted the strong results despite offering only modest discounts toconsumers and seeing minimal impact from the federal government’s Car Allowance Rebate System. Fewer than 10% of Audi sales for the month can be attributed to the “Cash for Clunkers” incentives that were available throughout August. Audi discounts have ranked among the lowest in the luxury vehicle segment, according to third-party measurements. August was no exception to that trend.

“With each passing month it is clear that Audi is shaping the luxury vehicle conversation,” said Johan de Nysschen, President, Audi of America. “These August results are not figments of steep discounting or other sales gimmicks. They represent the reality that the performance orientation, the leading-edge styling, the attention to detail and efficiency found across the Audi lineup resonate with the priorities set by today’s luxury car buyers.”

August 2009 set a sales record for the Audi Q5 crossover vehicle, which has been met with positive critical reviews since its launch in February. For the month, Audi dealers sold 1,496 Q5 models, leaving a 21-days supply of unsold models. Typically, a 60-days supply of unsold models is considered normal.  Strong demand also tightened inventories of the Audi Q7 TDI(R) as American consumers are showing a new appreciation for the efficiency and emissions benefits of the world’s cleanest diesel technology. The inventory of unsold Q7 TDI models dipped to a mere 29-days supply.

During August 2009, Audi sold 6,167 cars and 1,890 SUVs. From January through August 2009, Audi sold 39,380 cars and 12,929 SUVs.   Audi is also optimistic about sales in the months ahead. At the end of August, dealership showroom traffic was up more than 20% from a year earlier and Internet leads were up 38.1% year-to-date from 2008 levels. What’s more, luxury consumer interest in the Audi lineup should intensify with the arrival of the Audi S4 Sedan, the S5 Cabriolet, the A5 Cabriolet and the redesigned Q7 models. Before the end of 2009, Audi will launch the new A3 TDI model, which gets a stunning 42 mpg of clean diesel fuel, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Audi recorded 2,642 Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) units sold in August, and has now achieved 21,187 CPO sales in 2009.

If this is not enough, Audi is upping the ante by introducing new models to beef up the market stake.  By the end of the year we should be seeing Audi’s awesome R8 V-10 supercar hitting the streets, as well as the S5 Convertible and S4 Sedan. However, the real action starts next year as Audi is planning to unveil a replacement for its A8 flagship sedan, the production version of its A7 four-door coupe and possibly the next-generation A6.

First comes the 2011 Audi A8. Speculation had put the world debut for the new aluminum space-frame sedan sometime this fall, but it’s now certain that the A8 will make its world debut at the 2010 Detroit auto show. The car will be “the first of a new styling language at Audi,” executives say. All-wheel drive will be teamed with dual-clutch transmissions and a range of diesel, turbocharged V-6, V-8 and possibly hybrid V-8 engines.

Next in Audi’s busy year will be the production version of the A7 concept, shown earlier this year in Detroit and expected at the 2010 Geneva auto show. The new vehicle is a four-door coupe based on the A8 architecture, and will share its aluminum space frame. The same powertrains from the A8 should cross over into the A7, while an S7 version may sport a V-10 sourced from Lamborghini.

Click here to read the entire article.

Fighting Fire from the Sky! World’s Biggest Fire Extinguisher Douses California Wild Fires

September 1, 2009 at 9:40 pm

(Source: Wired)


Image Courtesy: Evergreen via Wired

The deadly fires that have blackened more than 105,000 acres around Los Angeles prompted authorities to call in the world’s largest fire extinguisher — a Boeing 747 that can drop 20,000 gallons of retardant over a swath of land three miles long.

The plane made its first-ever drop in the continental United States when fire officials summoned it to the Oak Glen fire east of Los Angeles mid day on Monday. After the successful first drop, the Supertanker was called back into action Monday evening where it made further drops on the massive Station fire north of the city which grew to more than 164 square miles and threatened 10,000 homes. Nearly 2,600 firefighters from as far away as Montana are throwing everything they have at the blaze, and on Monday they called in the biggest tool in their inventory.

Supertanker, a 747-100 modified by Evergreen Aviation of Oregon, can deliver more than 20,000 gallons of fire retardant with considerable accuracy using its unique pressurized delivery system. Although Supertanker can’t snake through canyons like smaller aircraft, nothing can touch its payload or its ability to perform multiple controlled drops during a single flight. The Grumman S-2, a dedicated workhorse of California’s airtanker fleet, carries 1,200 gallons. That’s a thimbleful compared to the Supertanker.

Evergreen spent more than $50 million developing the Supertanker and hopes to sell it around the world as the premier aerial firefighting tool.

Besides being big, the Supertanker is persistent. The pressurized system can make several precision drops per flight. During the flight in Alaska, it dropped 17,000 gallons on its first pass over the fire, then returned to dump the rest of its payload. “If an incident commander says he wants a thousand gallons here, a thousand there and 15 thousand over there, we can do that,” Campfield says. “It’s like an aerosol can. You have much better control with a pressurized system.”

This kind of capability means Supertanker can fight several small fires, after a lightning storm for example, or cover a three-mile swath of property to protect a community. With a top speed in excess of 600 mph, Supertanker can get from its base to the fire line quickly. Currently the 747 is based at McClellan Airfield outside Sacramento. Once it’s over the fire, Supertanker can slow down to around 160 mph while making drops 300 feet above the ground. And unlike many other firefighting aircraft that are flying at or near their maximum weight, the 747 is flying well below its maximum providing an added safety margin for the pilots.

Click here to read the entire article.

Bernie’s Transportation Communications Newsletter (TCN) – September 1, 2009

September 1, 2009 at 9:09 pm


Tuesday, September 1, 2009 – ISSN 1529-1057

Join IBTTA in Chicago for the Transformation of Transportation!

IBTTA’s 77th Annual Meeting & Exhibition, September 13-16, 2009, in Chicago, Illinois, is the most significant gathering of toll industry professionals in the world. Attend this meeting and interact with the most influential experts and decision makers from around the globe and discuss ideas and solutions about transportation financing strategies, the future of tolling and paying for mobility, AET and Interoperability, new ideas for the new economy and sustainable transportation. Register by August 14 and receive a $100 discount off your registration fee. This meeting is hosted by the Illinois Tollway and will be held at the Hyatt Regency. For information on registration, hotel reservations, exhibiting or sponsorship, visit IBTTA’s website at www.ibtta.orgRegister today!


1) Wi-Fi Takes Off with Travelers

Link to column on CNET News:


2) Doubts About Scare Tactics on Drivers Who Text

Link to article in The New York Times:

3) South Carolina Transportation Cluster Launches Strategic Communications Plan

Link to article in the Charleston Regional Business Journal:


4) Parking Signage at Philadelphia Airport Causes Confusion

Link to column in The Philadelphia Inquirer:


5) Red-Light Technology Geared to Stop Collisions

Link to story and video on WKOW-TV:


6) New York MTA’s Twittering Emerges Out of Subway Station Ceiling Collapse

Link to article in The New York Times:

7) Transit TV Network Returns to Los Angeles Market

Link to article in Mediaweek:

8) Public Transport Goes Wireless in Singapore

Link to ZDNet Asia article:,39044192,62057391,00.htm

9) Real-Time Arrival Information: It Really Pays Off

Link to commentary on the Seattle Transit Blog:


10) Premium Info for Car Drivers

Link to article on PhysOrg:


11) Ford’s MyKey to Safety for Teen Drivers Controls Speed, Stereo

Link to article in USA Today:

12) Toyota Developing Anti-Drunk Driving Gadget

Link to AFP article:

News Releases

1) Smart Phones to Surpass PNDs in Navigation Market in 2014

2) Mysore Gets First Intelligent Transport System and Innovative Environment Project Under JNNURM

3) Constellation Software to Buy Public Transit Solutions Business of Continental AG

4) AA Traffic Alert Service Announced for New Zealand

Upcoming Events

RailTrends – October 6-7 – New York City

Today in Transportation History

1859 **150th anniversary** – George Pullman’s first sleeping car began service on a run on the Chicago & Alton Railroad between Bloomington, Indiana and Chicago.


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© 2009 Bernie Wagenblast