The freight rail industry has a unique opportunity to address and overcome the systemic challenges that keep our immense contributions out of the spotlight and stifle significant capital investment waiting on the sidelines. Click to watch the video and read the transcript of Michael Sussman’s powerful address at Railway Interchange 2019.
by Lex Frazier
A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists has confirmed a fact that is common knowledge to affected neighborhoods: communities of color in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions are disproportionately exposed to air pollution from vehicles. The study, which utilized EPA and Census data, found that communities of color in those regions experience, on average, 66 percent more air pollution from cars, trucks, and buses than white communities.
When the researchers separated their sample by race, they determined that the average Latino resident experienced 75 percent more air pollution than the average white resident, while the average Asian American resident experienced 73 percent more and the average African American resident experienced 61 percent more. Additionally, 85 percent of people who live in the least vehicle-polluted areas are white.
This disparity is especially problematic because of its health implications. The type of pollution highlighted in this report, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, has been linked to heart and lung disease, among other illnesses. It is responsible for most of the three to four million deaths that occur worldwide as a result of air pollution.
How did such a catastrophe happen? It comes from decades of policy at all government levels that placed highways in communities of color while refusing to provide them with public transportation. While we may not be able to remove the massive amount of infrastructure that is causing this problem, we must try to mitigate air pollution in other ways and encourage better policy for the future.
One of the report’s key suggestions was that “regional, state, and local governments must target actions to reduce emissions in overburdened communities.” We at OTNA are advocating one way of accomplishing this goal: making more efficient use of freight transportation methods. If we can be smarter about how we transport goods, we can reduce vehicle air pollution in these affected areas.
To that end, we have started several projects to enable more environmentally conscious freight projects. We are creating the Triple Bottom Line Freight Data Bank to compile the environmental data that will facilitate green planning across the freight industry. We are also providing Triple Bottom Line Freight Benefit Cost Analysis, which will encourage individual infrastructure projects to be more intentional about their environmental impact.
While we cannot make centuries of discrimination disappear overnight, we can and will do our part to lessen the burden of air pollution on these communities for future generations.
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.”
When we consider the complex mechanism that is “infrastructure investment,” and ask ourselves the big questions: Are we moving in the right direction? Are we answering the needs of industry and community? Are we truly investing? Or are we just stemming the tide? It then proves worthwhile to shine a light on the process by which such decisions are made.
OTNA Freight Transportation Lifecycle Project is all about shining that light.
One of the tools central to transportation and land-use planning is benefit/cost analysis (BCA). In the coming months we’ll be showcasing the thoughts, papers and works of the people who have watched, studied and applied BCAs themselves. We’ll be bringing together their perspectives and experience to share with their colleagues in the transportation sector.
From where we stand, the BCA needs replacement. We’ve begun gathering the intelligence and expertise it will take to develop an alternative —a logical, comprehensive tool that could drastically affect a positive and unprecedented outcome in the very near future.
But first things first. Realizing that job #1 is to prove to you, along with the transportation brother and sisterhood of our entire continent, that the BCA, as it has traditionally been applied, stands as a major impediment to a transportation system capable of answering the very robust set of 21st century societal needs.
Let’s start here: From A FEDERAL ROLE IN FREIGHT PLANNING AND FINANCE by the RAND Corporation, (Sandra Rosenbloom and Martin Wachs).
Even if they (public sector agencies) hire outside analysts, agency staff may not fully grasp what costs and benefits have been included—and which have been left out. They may not realize how nonmonetary costs have been monetized (or not). In addition, it is not clear that federal agencies reviewing project proposals based on BCAs and related economic analyses currently have the skill to understand the intricacies of these approaches.
That’s just one piece of a set of BCA weakness spotlighted in the monograph. And given that the RAND Corporation is considered by many to be one of the cradles of modern system analysis, it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate source to challenge the use of BCAs from the standpoint of pure logic.
Nonprofit 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.”
Steph 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.”
Influential Rail Transportation Scholars to Provide Program and Development Resources
Philadelphia, PA, November 13, 2015
OnTrackNorthAmerica (OTNA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit action think tank, today announced new working relationships with Dr. Pasi Lautala from Michigan Tech University and Dr. Mingzhou Jin, Director of the Logistics, Transportation, and Supply Chain Engineering lab at the University of Tennessee. “We are fulfilling our mission by facilitating intellectual collaboration” said Michael Sussman, OTNA President and Founder. “With our academic partners we are extending the boundaries of knowledge in the field of transportation planning and investment strategy while leveraging our industry experience to guide in-the-field application.”
Dr. Jin’s efforts focus on the formulation of OTNA’s National Transportation Lifecycle Costs and Benefits Project. Dr. Jin summarizes his efforts: “As an author of several papers about transportation performance measurement development and a principal investigator who has conducted more than a dozen projects for US DOT and several state DOTs, I still observe that measures used in practice are very different across transportation modes and government agencies. There is a need to conduct a comprehensive study to provide a unified life-cycle costs and benefits analysis framework for evaluating transportation systems and facilitating performance-based decision making.”
OTNA and Dr. Lautala’s collaboration is based on recognition that for capital investment in infrastructure to be productive and profitable, it is necessary to develop and agree on a set of measures and values to guide these major investments public and private purposes. As yet, the measures, data, and analytical method have not been gathered and agreed on across agency, community, and sector lines. Therefore, system-level as well as individual transportation project investments are challenging to evaluate in cases where researchers, consultants, and decision-makers are unable to agree on a full set of lifecycle costs and benefits. “It’s OTNA’s mission to bridge these gaps and enable us to make better decisions, with broader positive social impact, in a timelier manner” noted Mr. Sussman.
Founded in 2007, OnTrackNorthAmerica is an action think tank for expanding the capacity and footprint of rail transportation within an optimal system in service to the environment, economy, and quality of life. In partnership with industry, academia, and government, it develops programs for more intelligent, sustainable, and resilient transportation systems
OnTrackNorthAmerica (OTNA) and Cisco Systems, Inc. (Cisco) announce their partnership to build the next generation of transportation life-cycle cost and benefit measurement tools. The purpose of this project is to develop clear, functional measures for future planning and investing in transportation infrastructure. Once established, OTNA and Cisco will make the dataset and analytical framework available for wide adoption. The co-leaders will present their draft list of measures for stakeholders to expand and fine tune during a series of “Intelliconferences” this fall.
Barry Einsig, Cisco’s Global Transportation Executive, says, “We are pleased to join OTNA in addressing the timely need for agreement on what we want transportation investments to produce for us as a nation and a continent.”
According to OTNA’s president, Michael Sussman, “Applying a rational approach to measuring the life-cycle costs and benefits of transport systems, rail will finally be valued appropriately for its long-term return on investment. Cisco brings a wealth of intellectual resources to this important endeavor. By inviting stakeholders from business, government, and community, we intend to generate collective intelligence toward policies, plans, and investments that serve the country.”
To date, the development of measures and cost-benefit analysis in the transportation field has focused on the individual project level, not the whole system level. In a world of limited resources (i.e. natural, environmental, spatial, and financial), individual projects can only be analyzed and conceived coherently if we know what they are meant to accomplish as part of a complete system. For capital investment in infrastructure to be productive and profitable for public and private purposes, we have to develop and agree on a set of measures and values to guide policies, planning, and investments. Achieving goals requires metrics so that baselines and targets can be set and action plans can be implemented. Once these national level measures are established, they can be applied to regional and local investment plans, so that individual projects can be developed more purposefully and productively.
OnTrackNorthAmerica is a 501c3 nonprofit transportation policy development organization based in Philadelphia, PA. Cisco Systems focuses on the transportation industry through its Internet of Everything Vertical Solutions Group. OTNA’s board members, Ron Batory, Bob VanderClute, and Mike Koontz have been serving on the National Transportation Life-Cycle Costs and Benefits Project development team, along with OTNA founder Sussman and Cisco’s Einsig.
Mike Koontz managed the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program from 2001 until 2014. As program manager, he oversaw an annual investment of more than $2 billion over three transportation authorizations. Mike’s focus on mobile source emissions reduction and highway congestion relief included grant review and assessment for intermodal transfer facilities, port infrastructure projects, and numerous applications for diesel retrofit acquisitions. He also authored detailed program guidance and a number of legislative interpretations involving the $30-billion, 20-year program. Prior to his role as CMAQ manager, Mike was a transportation planner in a number of field offices for the FHWA and served for six years as a transportation network capacity analyst. Since retirement from public service, Mike has been working on transportation network and congestion management/performance issues, including a number of aerial photography analyses throughout the U.S.
Phil Mortimer has been awarded the freight sector Global Achievement Award by the International Rail Research Board. Mortimer got the award December 3rd in Paris during the special International Union of Railways Award ceremonies held as a part of the UIC General Assembly where high ranking members of all 6 UIC global regions were gathered.
Phil Mortimer has been the lead on the TruckTrain concept (shown), developed initially in the UK as a means of making rail a more attractive option for shippers whose traffic profile is less than train load and also intermittent. The TruckTrain is a short, fast, bi-directional self-propelled fixed formation of 5-7 cars aimed at the inter-modal market for logistics traffic. The trains are able to compete at shorter sector lengths and are designed to be “Truck Competitive”.
Phil is a Research Associate at Newcastle University’s School of Mechanical and Systems Engineering.
Written by Michael Sussman, OnTrackNorthAmerica President and Founder
North America has yet to achieve the full extent of railroads’ potential contribution to the economy, environment, and land use. In spite of the good work of railroad developers, investors and staff, as well as significant public sector support, railroads remain underutilized for moving goods and people.
Our freight rail system is already so robust that it is easy to miss the possibility of a continental surge in capacity and reach. But railroads are energy-, capital-, and space-efficient, and these benefits are key to our future. It is time to get working on the rail system that a growing, modern society ultimately needs to be successful and sustainable.