Reinventing The Wheel

Place your hand on a steel rail after a 100-car train has just passed and feel the lack of heat. Friction is low when a hard steel wheel rolls over a hard steel rail. Consequently, the wheels last for hundreds of thousands of miles and the rail lasts for decades. Low friction means that hauling heavy weight and people over rails uses 1/2 to 1/6 the amount of energy while producing fewer emissions than moving comparable weight over roads.

Overusing the wheel under single vehicle cars and trucks on rubber tires over rough concrete and asphalt wastes fuel, pollutes air, and diminishes available space. Apply the simple principles of friction efficiency to the task of moving heavy weight and people over land and we take a major step in the direction of creating a sustainable, resilient society.

Hyperloop transit, autonomous vehicles, and flying hotel pods are all exciting possibilities. But let’s not allow the spectacle of high-tech to blind us to the positive immediate impact that could be produced by intelligent use of a steel wheel rolling on a steel track.

Our landing page says it all: “Nothing is more important to our future than our use of the wheel.”

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The (Only) Path to a World-Class Transportation System is to Design it Sustainably

by Michael Sussmanrail-cropped

Building productive transportation systems can only be accomplished by designing them sustainably. We can’t overcome unavoidable limits on clean air, stable climate, and land by just spending more money. Our new imperative must be moving freight while minimizing its impact on the environment, open space, highway capacity, and the overall costs of building and maintaining infrastructure. Given the differential between trucks and trains in the space they require for moving goods, the environmental impact of their relative fuel usage, and the efficiency of steel versus concrete and asphalt, it is critical that we shift into designing systems that optimize use of these two modes.

The market can only support this if business, government, and community cooperate. This can be accomplished by aligning around whole-system lifecycle measures and sustainable investment strategies.

Considering the pressures of increasing population on land use, transportation congestion, and the environment, three significant evolutions must occur: 1) include shorter supply chain options in planning, 2) ship as much as sensible by rail to benefit from its energy and space efficiency, and 3) proactively think and plan for reduced dependence on fossil fuels. Accomplishing these transformations must include win-win approaches that support existing transportation providers through this transition. Our existing truck, rail, water, and pipeline infrastructure is too vital to strand assets.
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OnTrackNorthAmerica & Impact Infrastructure, Inc. Form Strategic Partnership

MS PICNonprofit transportation consultancy OnTrackNorthAmerica (OTNA) has entered a strategic partnership agreement with Impact Infrastructure, Inc. “to bring triple bottom line (financial, environmental, and social) cost-benefit analysis and software to transportation planning and investment in North America.”

“Continued population growth, congestion, and environmental disruptions necessitates that we make best use of capital, resources, and land for moving goods and people,” says OTNA founder and CEO Michael Sussman. “The best way to do that is to apply full lifecycle cost-benefit analysis to transportation investments by business, government and communities. Impact Infrastructure’s expertise in triple bottom line analysis for transportation systems and cost-benefit analysis software greatly enhances our ability to advise businesses and government agencies on whole-systems planning and investment. Particularly given our shared commitment to commercial activity that supports businesses and communities, this partnership represents an important development for the sustainable future of the United States, Canada and Mexico.”

Screenshot iiSteph Larocque, Senior Vice President of Impact Infrastructure’s Consulting Practice, said, “We are eager to apply our hands-on experience in making the case for value associated with infrastructure projects on behalf of transportation investments across the North America.”

Added John Williams, Chairman and CEO of Impact Infrastructure, “Working with OTNA we expect to shine a bright light on the value of public benefit associated with infrastructure investments.”

Philadelphia-based OTNA is described as having “conducted 21 years of research and dialogue with stakeholders throughout industry, government, and academia. It promotes a bold, yet pragmatic vision for advancing transportation profitability, productivity, and efficiency through its consulting and educational activities in the public and private sectors.”

Impact Infrastructure, Inc., with offices in New York City and Toronto, is a SAAS (software as a service) company “focused on bringing affordable economic analysis to the infrastructure industry. The company has a $20 billion track record for assessments of infrastructure and building projects of all kinds. Its cloud-based AutoCASE solution is an automated cost-benefit analysis tool designed to harvest data from building information modeling technology.”

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People are Naturally Community-Oriented

Collaboration Will Take Us Where Competition Can’t

by Michael Sussmanpeople_network-672x372

Across the world at any moment, on any given day, billions of people go about their business looking out for each other’s best interests. The world would not work as well as it does if that wasn’t true. Cooperation and thoughtfulness abound, while selfish, antagonistic acts pale in numbers.

“Are people inherently compassionate or self-centered?” has remained an oft-posed question because of the difference in impact between acts of cooperation or love and acts of aggression or thoughtlessness.

Hug someone today and the feeling of love can fade by tomorrow. You almost have to hug them over and over again, and we do. Shoot or knife someone, drive drunk and crash, or meanly criticize another person and the memory and consequence can last a lifetime. It is this severe and often lasting impact of violence and negativity that muddles our appreciation for the overwhelming amount of cooperation and consideration all around us.

So why did we orient the modern world’s commerce and governance on competition and mistrust, rather than cooperation and trust? What would have us think that we must pit individuals, companies, organizations, political parties, and countries in an endless competition for success?
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It’s Time to Embrace Collaboration

By Michael Sussman

”Preserving competition in the marketplace,” by itself, is an incomplete regulatory principle that must be augmented with thoughtful collaboration if we are to produce an optimal, sustainable transportation system. When we saw the need for paving muddy roads to and from the railroads in the early 20th century, we missed the opportunity to thoughtfully integrate the newly developing freight highway system with the highly developed rail system. The resulting competition in commerce and public policy triggered a disastrous long-term shrinkage of the geographic footprint of the rail network leading to a suboptimal transportation system.

Coordinating across industries, companies, agencies, and indeed political parties requires respect, collaboration, and consensus-based decision-making processes. Our governing system, however, is structured to manage competing “factions” instead. Competition in the marketplace, competition for government attention, and competitive debate, rather than thoughtful deliberation, have stifled our collective ability to address the thornier issues of our day.
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Decreasing Transportation Impacts on Land Use and Environment in California

By Michael Sussman

In July, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Executive Order B-32-15 directing numerous state agencies to collaborate on and develop an “integrated action plan” by July 2016 that establishes clear targets to improve freight efficiency, transition to zero-emission technologies, and increase the competitiveness of California’s freight system. Caltrans and other state agencies have already solicited comments and are now fully engaged in the development of the action plan. OnTrackNorthAmerica’s intention is that the action plan implement strategies that better deploy freight rail’s economic and environmental benefits.

OnTrackNorthAmerica (OTNA) has been working throughout 2015 to contribute its expertise in freight transportation land use planning to the state’s progress. In light of the significant projected increases in the state’s freight traffic over the next 25 years, California must focus on the optimal integration of freight transportation and land use. Lower emission truck and locomotive engines alone will not be enough. Conserving highway capacity and road maintenance expenses requires an optimal modal balance between truck and rail modes.
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An Open Letter to Warren Buffett

pen_writingMr. Buffett, congratulations on your purchase of the BNSF Railway. It is a welcome investment in North America’s transportation system. It also provides a timely opening to address a systemic, long-standing problem—the incongruence between the inherent value of railroads to any well-functioning modern society and the shortfall in our investment of capital, energy, and land for rail freight and passenger transportation.

Only by understanding this shortcoming and seizing the opportunity to transform its causes can we bring North America out of its economic malaise and environmental jeopardy.

If we act wisely, your acquisition will become a watershed moment. However, to make the most of it, decision-making must evolve beyond moving money simply to where the investor receives the highest return on investment, and adopting a new principle that puts capital into industries and regions in a way that maximizes the benefit of those resources to those systems. From that shared benefit, investors receive their return.

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