Friday, June 30, 2017

Passenger Train Evacuation on Elevated Guideways

Following a major subway derailment in New York City, Michelle Matsuo asked many questions on a transit forum. I answered them below.

In Honolulu, if a train derails, will it hurtle off the guideway?  
Normally it will not and HART route alignment, unlike Chicago's L for example, does not have 90 degree turns. While unlikely, under extreme conditions a HART train can jump the tracks and fall off the guideway.

If there is a malfunction somewhere on the track, will a train get stuck between stations?
If a train breaks down, then it will be stuck. A following train may be commanded to push the broken down train to the nearest station.

If there is grid power loss, then nearby stations have generators to provide enough power to pull the train to the nearest station.

Do the windows open?  If they do, is it enough to keep people from cooking in the train?  
Typically windows do not open. There may be vents that can be opened.  Unless there's loss of grid power, the train may break down mechanically, but the a/c should still be functional. If the a/c dies, then people will need to be removed within a few minutes during hot conditions.

If they open, then will people be tempted to walk along the guideway, and will they get electrocuted by the third rail? 
There is an emergency walkway in the middle as shown in the picture below. In an emergency with smoke, extreme heat or other need to abandon the cab, people should be advised to exit on the narrow walkway, walk a short distance away from danger, then sit down and wait for rescue. In such extreme conditions, walking on the track may be necessary and can be safe as long as people stay well clear of the third rail (see gray line on the left side of the picture.) Given the design of HART guideway, if evacuation of the passengers is needed along the guideway, then the situation will be risky for several reasons.

What is the repair protocol for the trains and the tracks?
At frequent intervals there are switches (see sample train track switch below) so trains can go from the left track to the right track (and vice versa) and in effect "overtake" the disabled train. Eventually the control room has to decide the best time and method to deal with the problem, such as sending crew for on-site repair or pulling the broken down train to the yard.  A disablement that cannot be fixed quickly on site will cause delays to the operations.

The tracks should be inspected and maintained on a schedule so that they do not generate failures during operations. These are usually done off peak or at night.

If the track is neglected, as at the Washington Metro, then multi-day closures of the line may be needed if the condition is deemed unsafe or difficult to fix at night. It may be still be possible for HART to run trains on a single track while the other track is being repaired, but intervals between trains will be long.

Apparently this is an area that is lacking sufficient attention, as federal guidelines seem to date back to 1985: Recommended Emergency Preparedness Guidelines for Rail Transit Systems.

A 2014 technical article A new approach for modelling passenger trains evacuation
procedures states: "In most emergency situations, a successful evacuation and rescue can mean the difference between life and death. In passenger trains, the crew are responsible for passenger safety." HART trains have no crew on board.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Honolulu Driverless Car Poll 2017

Given how little is actually known about driverless cars, more so in Hawaii where there are no autonomous vehicle pilots or any major funded research, it is surprising that so many newspaper subscribers who answered the poll have a specific opinion.... 41% opposed; problematic, 32% very positive; great potential, and 27% mixed.

I'd speculate that this is almost purely based on information about Teslas. East Honolulu probably has more Teslas than any other comparable high income community in the US.

At the present time, the correct answer is: Problematic 100% and Great potential 100%.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Super-long Commutes in Hawaii?

Recently I received this question from a The Pew Charitable Trusts investigating journalist: "I noticed that Hawaii had a big increase – an almost 40% in increase in commutes of 90 minutes or more between 2010 and 2015 (American Community Survey) – I saw you quoted in a business journal on a similar issue, how driving is on the upswing in Hawaii, and wondered if you could comment on why this would be a bigger issue now in Hawaii, and growing so fast."

I replied as follows:

Tourists and tourism jobs generate a lot of travel.  In Hawaii tourism roughly accounts for one third of the local economy. Travel was down mostly due to the recession... in 2008-2010 tourism and all related sectors of the economy were hit hard; see linked report for some numbers:  A major recovery was observed in 2015-2016 and this came with a strong growth in travel.

Another large contributor was gas price. In 2010 gas prices jumped from approximately $3.50 to $4.50 (in Hawaii). Sharp increases in trip cost resulted in sharp changes in trip making (curtailed trips and more car pooling). The price in 2015 was "normal" at $3.25 or under. See link.

Indeed, hotel pay is modest and these workers tend to live far from Waikiki and downtown Honolulu (in more affordable, remote towns) which come with 75+ minute commutes.

The 90 minute cutoff creates a "definitional" problem by itself.  During recession times, traffic is lighter and fewer trips take 90+ minutes, even from far out locales. When the economy is booming and traffic is heavy, even suburbs that are closer to Waikiki will experience occasional 90+ minute trips, thus in good times the 90+ count goes up much more.

Progress on Autonomous Vehicles

By Baruch Feigenbaum, as reported in the June 2017 issue no 164 of Robert Poole's SURFACE TRANSPORTATION INNOVATIONS

Last month I attended an automated vehicle conference at Princeton and read the Eno Center for Transportation's new AV policy paper. Both make excellent contributions.

The 2017 Smart Driving Car Summit in Princeton was created and organized by AV researcher and professor Alain Kornhauser. Kornhauser has been researching the intersection between technology and transportation for 50 years; he also writes a useful and amusing weekly AV newsletter. The summit was divided into two days. The first day featured presentations on AV technology, safety, and insurance while the second consisted of workshops on AV planning, insurance and artificial intelligence.

On the first day, AV researcher Bern Grush gave a very good presentation on how AVs could affect communities, highlighting that while most experts expect AVs to increase VMT, uncertainty about a transformative technology makes planning challenging. Adriano Allesandrini from the University of Rome gave a forceful presentation on how automated vehicles are available and on the road today; they are called buses. CityMobil 2 has demonstrated automated slow-speed buses in many European cities. The challenge is that buses traveling at 8 mph have limited ridership potential, so the technology needs to be improved before these buses are viable. He also challenged conference attendees to think about what is best for urban areas rather than what is best for car companies.

Danny Shapiro from NVIDIA presented a fascinating discussion of machine learning. He discussed how, using CAD simulation software and a graphics processing unit, researchers have been able to build a car's brain. It is the same technology used for facial recognition software, and the improvement in machine learning over the past five years has been revolutionary.

In the afternoon we had several presentations on the availability/effectiveness of AV features. Auto dealer Sheldon Sandler revealed that the two most valued AV features are a rearview camera and blind-spot warning. They are the only features that more than 60% of buyers request. Manufacturers offer advanced AV features on a limited number of models only, and they often require customers to buy a package of features that they don't want. For example, the Hyundai Sonata offers a safety package. But it costs more than $5,000 because in order to get the safety features, customers have to order the Limited Tech package with a premium audio system and heated rear seats. Manufacturers offer these packages because most consumers don't put a high value on safety features. So despite what buyers claim in stated preference surveys, car buyers are not willing to pay much for advanced technology. More depressing was a presentation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that showed many of today's Level 2 AV features, such as automatic braking, don't work in many real-world situations. In almost 50% of cases, automated braking did not engage fast enough to avoid hitting a car or a pedestrian.

The Eno policy paper, "Adopting and Adapting: States and Automated Vehicle Policy," is a 30-page report worth reading. It provides an overview of AVs and offers recommendations to states. My focus here is on the recommendations section that is broken into three parts: Regulations, Infrastructure Investment and Funding, and Research and Workforce Training.

The paper suggests relatively relaxed regulations, including not overdoing reporting requirements, and creating non-binding statements or principles. It recommends states work with NHTSA on liability and safety issues. I believe this means that NHTSA should stick primarily to federal issues such as safety standards, and states should control licensing. Federalism suggests a certain balance between federal and state-level rules. I generally agree with these recommendations, as nothing that I have seen so far in AVs suggests that balance should be upset.

For state AV infrastructure investment, the report recommends focusing on keeping highways in a state of good repair. The report also recommends that automated vehicles pay mileage based user fees (MBUFs) instead of a gas tax. So far, MBUF acceptance has been slow due to the development of the technology and the political resistance to paying by the mile. Eno believes that MBUFs can be implemented more easily using vehicles with new features such as AVs.

The document also recommends funding research to explore how AVs may affect the broader economy. One recommendation suggests revising procurement processes so research keeps up with innovation. Governments seldom keep up with new technology because internal processes are designed to be slow and conservative. For research to be useful it cannot be developed at the typical government pace. Finally, Eno recommends investing in programs to train people for AV repair. Today's colleges and technical schools need to think about the skills tomorrow's workers need. And those are not the skills needed to fix a 2005 Dodge.

The Eno report has two weaknesses. The first is that it examines states only; it does not look at metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) or cities. MPOs are the federally designated planning entity for regions; they are interested in AV guidance as well.

The second is the suggestion of digital short-range communications (DSRC) pilot projects. DSRC has a host of problems: it's outdated and inferior to 5G, it takes up valuable wireless spectrum, and it is really expensive to build the needed infrastructure. For the past 18 years, part of the 5.9 Ghz band has been reserved for DSRC, but the technology is still not ready. With the advent of 5G and the need for connected vehicles still some years off, there is simply no point to pursuing DSRC.

April 2017 Poll: No More Willingness to Pay for HART Rail.

Middle Street Rail Station Will Be Built Over Water

Hawaii News Now reporter Rick Daysog investigated the odd choice of building the Middle Street station of HART rail over the flood prone Kalihi stream. I opined as follows:

  • “At a minimum, the foundation problem will double in cost. And I'm talking minimum compared to dry land,” said rail critic and University of Hawaii civil engineering professor Panos Prevedouros.
  • Prevedouros said he expects the costs to be in the $60 to $70 million range due to the complexity of building over water.
  • He said HART could have located the station further east on what is now a parking lot at First Hawaiian Bank's data center, but chose not to.
  • First Hawaiian's former CEO was chairman of HART for years. Prevedouros and community activists question whether that influenced the decision to leave most of the First Hawaiian parking alone.
  • "I don't know if it's taking care of their own or some other sensitivity to the property. Or it could be some malfeasance there,” Prevedouros said.
  • Prevedouros and other rail critics said that a proposed forensic audit of HART’s operations would have shed more light on HART's decision to build the Middle Street station at its current location.
  • Prevedouros and other rail critics said that a proposed forensic audit of HART’s operations would have shed more light on HART's decision to build the Middle Street station at its current location.
  • “People who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. If you don’t learn from your mistake, how can you possibly improve in the future,” Prevedouros said.