Transportation

August 14, 2013

California Dreaming: The Hyperloop

The world would have probably dismissed it as the rantings of a lunatic had it not been its source. Billionaire inventor Elon Musk Musk – the founder of Tesla Motors Inc.and visionary leader of SpaceX – the world’s first private space company. No one could question his credentials like that, or even say with complete certainty “it will never be built”.

It caused a media frenzy. First, because it was one of those “made for the Internet” kind of stories. Cool technology, a legendary entrepreneurial inventor, a futuristic vision – who wouldn’t want to write about that? First there was the leaking of the mysterious name “hyperloop” – and it was hinted that fantastic speeds would be possible. Then the actual announcement – promoted like a media campaign complete with beautiful artists renderings of the hyperloop vehicles.

As described in a plan he posted online the technology would feature a tube suspended above ground on pylons. Inside the tube there are pods with electric compressor fans. They would move back and forth in a low pressure environment, gliding atop a cushion of air. Something like those phonetic tubes they used to use in banks, but for people.

Musk has been describing it as “equal parts Concorde, rail gun and air hockey table”. He estimated that it could travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 30 minutes and would cost about $6 billion to $10 billion to build.

After this exploded on social media, there was a second wave of “it will never be built” pundits but even they seemed to have fun with the idea. That’s ok, it probably will never be built but we all had fun with it, and we all got inspired by this crazy idea.

Mr. Must reportedly got the idea because he must currently commute between his job as head of Tesla in the Bay Area, and of SpaceX in the Los Angeles area. Well that is what startup founders often do right – find an area of personal “pain” or a problem in their own lives that needs to be solved. Most of us don’t need to commute between Los Angeles that often or that quickly. Still, it is fun to imagine what California would be like if that was possible. Would this unite the State? Would this make us more dynamic?

This gave of all a chance to pause for a minute from all the bad news, and ponder a crazy dream. Even if will never happen, it is nice to be reminded that there are still California dreamers.

Filed under Transportation by

April 7, 2010

Will the Chinese again build our railroads?

That is the gist of an article in today’s New York Times – that nearly 150 years after American railroad companies imported thousands of Chinese laborers to build rail lines across the West, China may once again to play a role in American rail construction. This time, however, they will have a much different role: supplying the technology and engineers to build high-speed rail lines.

The Chinese government has signed cooperation agreements with the state of California and General Electric to help build such lines. The agreements, both of which are preliminary, show China’s desire to become a big exporter and licenser of bullet trains traveling 350 kilometers, or about 215 miles, an hour, an environmentally friendly technology in which China has raced past the United States in the past few years.

“We are the most advanced in many fields, and we are willing to share with the United States,” said Zheng Jian, the chief planner and director of high-speed rail at the Chinese Railroad Ministry.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has closely followed progress in the discussions and hopes to return to China this year for talks with rail ministry officials, said David Crane, the governor’s special adviser for jobs and economic growth and a board member for the California High Speed Rail Authority. China is offering not just to build a railroad in California but to help finance its construction, and Chinese officials have already been shuttling from Beijing to Sacramento to make presentations, Mr. Crane said by telephone.

China is not the only country interested in selling high-speed rail equipment to the United States. Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain, France and Italy have also approached the state of California.

The state’s high-speed rail authority has made no decisions on whose technology to choose. But Mr. Crane said that there were no apparent weaknesses in the Chinese offer and that Mr. Schwarzenegger particularly wanted to visit China this year for high-speed rail discussions.

Filed under China, Transportation by

January 2, 2008

California Ports trying to get trucking companies to hire independent drivers

California Ports are trying to encourage trucking companies to hire independent drivers as a way to cut pollution, but the trucking companies say they cannot afford it. As reported in Inside Bay Area:

At the Port of Oakland, as well as ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, a cornerstone of that effort entails persuading trucking companies to hire drivers — rather than continue to use them as independent contractors. Port officials, as well as several community and environmental groups, say this plan will cut pollution because trucking companies can afford to run cleaner trucks than the independent drivers can.

The trucking companies, however, say they cannot shoulder the additional economic burdens of hiring drivers and acquiring trucks. Nevertheless, trucking companies are being pushed to embrace some measures to improve drivers’ conditions and help reduce pollution. More than 50 percent of the truck drivers who serve California ports earn no more than $30,000 a year after expenses, according to a report by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports. On such wages, drivers cannot buy and maintain the most fuel-efficient rigs, the organizations argue.

Port of Oakland officials presented a proposal to its board June 7 that would encourage trucking companies to hire drivers and assume ownership and maintenance of hauling equipment. Such a plan would reduce pollution from poorly maintained old trucks and employers would provide better wages for the drivers, officials said…

New trucks can cost upward of $120,000. Used ones cost what the market will bear, depending, like automobiles, on make, year and condition. Mohammed Asif bought his last truck used in 2006 for $6,000. But Vereket Waldegorgis, another independent, spent $20,000 for his second-hand equipment. Several trucking company owners, such as Jerry Phillips of IMPACT Transload and Rail, based in Richmond, said drivers want to remain independent.

But this belief does not jibe with the petition 1,250 of the port’s 1,500 drivers signed, saying they would prefer to be employed by trucking companies. The Teamsters union and community action group Change to Win, which organized the petition drive, presented the document to the port Board of Commissioners in July.

The Port of Oakland has been waiting to implement its clean truck program until officials see how similar plans work at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles… Meanwhile, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters — which has tried for years to unionize port drivers — awaits the day when independent contractors will become employees. Chuck Mack, director of ports for the Teamsters union, said, “We’re comfortable we’re going to change the model in Oakland and Los Angeles-Long Beach.”

Filed under California Ports, Transportation by

October 16, 2007

Mercedes introduces clean diesel to California

Mercedes-Benz USA has unveiled a version of its E320 BLUETEC, a diesel sedan that will immediately be available in limited numbers to California customers through a special two- year/24,000-mile lease. California’s stringent emissions requirements have kept new diesel automobiles models off the California market for the better part of a decade. “In order to be able to provide the power and economy of diesel technology throughout the world, we had to make the diesel version as clean as the gasoline model,” said Dr. Leopold Mikulic, head of powertrain development at Mercedes-Benz Cars. According to Tom Cackette, executive director for the California Air Resources Board (CARB), “This vehicle has shed the reputation of diesel as a dirty technology. And we hope California has shed its anti-diesel reputation by certifying this vehicle as the first diesel passenger car to meet the most stringent smog emission standards in the world.”

Filed under Environment and Climate, Germany, Transportation by

September 20, 2007

California’s lawsuit against auto makers is dismissed

The courts do not have the authority or the expertise to decide injury lawsuits concerning global warming, a judge in San Francisco ruled in dismissing a suit brought by the State of California against six auto companies. The State of California claimed that these companies produced vehicles that accounted for more than 20 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and more than 30 percent of those emitted in California, and sought billions of dollars in damages. Judge Martin Jenkins, however, did not believe this was an appropriate role for the courts: “The adjudication of plaintiff’s claim would require the court to balance the competing interests of reducing global warming emissions and the interests of advancing and preserving economic and industrial development,” Jenkins wrote.

Filed under Legal and Criminal Issues, Transportation by

May 15, 2007

Tesla Motors announces $45 million in venture capital

Mercury News reports:

Tesla Motors Inc., the San Carlos electric-car startup, announced Friday that it has raised an additional $45 million — from a venture capital firm as well as its chairman. The company will start producing its first vehicle, a zero-emissions, two-seat roadster, later this year. Technology Partners, a Palo Alto VC firm that focuses on clean technology and life sciences, co-led the round with Elon Musk, Tesla’s chairman. Musk, chief executive of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is a former PayPal and Zip2 executive. Capricorn Investment Group, a private firm in Palo Alto, also invested in Tesla. The breakdown of the investment wasn’t provided by a Tesla spokesman. The company did say that all major investors from prior rounds participated this time, too. In addition, Technology Partners’ Ira Ehrenpreis and Antonio Gracias, founder and CEO of Valor Equity Partners, a Chicago-based investor in Tesla, both will join the company’s board. Simon Rothman, a former eBay Inc. executive, will leave Tesla’s board of directors but join the company’s advisory board. The company has taken more than 400 deposits for its $90,000 roadster, which it says will be able to go from 0 to 60 mph in about four seconds and travel about 200 miles on a full charge. Tesla said the new money will help it continue to develop its second vehicle, the White Star, a four-door, five-passenger electric sedan expected to go on sale in 2009 with a price tag of $50,000 to $65,000. While the roadster will be assembled by Lotus in England, Tesla has broken ground in New Mexico for a factory to build the sedan. Founded in 2003, the 200-employee company previously had raised $60 million, with about half from Musk. Symbolic of Silicon Valley’s move toward green technologies, Tesla has attracted investors such as Google Inc. co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Celebrities such as actor George Clooney, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas are among those who have made deposits for the roadster.

Filed under Transportation, Venture Capital by

February 14, 2007

California bullet train project struggles to survive

“Despite an occasional frustrated outburst, the state High Speed Rail Authority outlined a determined but non-confrontational strategy Monday to press for survival of a state bullet train. The agency is trying to counter recommendations by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to give it only a fraction of its proposed budget next year and to drop permanently a $10 billion bond for the train from the ballot. ‘That’s not good news for high speed rail,’ Visalia Mayor Jesus Gamboa said of the governor’s proposals after testifying in favor of the train that would run through the San Joaquin Valley. HSRA board member Rod Diridon had a stronger reaction about the plan to jettison the bond to fund the first phase of the train linking Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. ‘That is obnoxious,’ he said.”

Filed under California Government, Infrastructure and Construction, Transportation by

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