Monday, August 04, 2008

"This year we will start a demonstration site at a location to be announced.”

New ‘long haul’ transportation technology on the horizon

zachry ttc
A slide from the presentation shows the 2,000 mile stretches of guideways connecting Laredo, Corpus Christi, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio with the innovative freight transportation system. The plan is to have the system in place to take advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal.


They Dayton News (Dayton, TX)
Copyright 2008

Readers recently read about new freight technology in the July 9 edition of Dayton News entitled “Freight shuttles can take the ‘long haul’ out of shipping.” That technology was further explained by senior project manager Gary Kuhn of Zachry American Infrastructure of San Antonio and Stephen S. Roop, Ph.D. and assistant agency director of the Texas Transportation Institute of The Texas A&M University System in College Station.

The two men were addressing the Liberty County Toll Road Authority (LCTRA) Board of Directors as well as an audience of interested persons and invited media. Members present included President Charlotte Warner, Vice President Dwayne B. Stovall, Asst. Secretary R.N. Smart, Director N. Dale Brown, Jr., Joe B. Allen and Jessica Jones, attorney and attorney assistant for LCTRA from the firm of Allen, Boone, Humphries, Robinson, LLP. Secretary Clifton Wilridge was not present.

Being discussed was a multimodal freight transportation device that moves freight up and down two-way guideways via linear induction motors powered electrically. The transports are unmanned, as was explained in the previous article.

“We all owe a lot to freight because it creates our opportunities to have goods and creates opportunities for economic development,” said Kuhn.

Kuhn began the presentation by explaining that normally three individuals would make the presentation but that one of their members was unavoidably detained.

“We’re one short on our normal ‘three musketeers’ as Ken Allen, who is the executive vice-president for H.E.B. and really wanted to be here, but a lady named ‘Dolly’ kind of messed everything up,” commented Kuhn. “And Charles Butt is real funny about making sure that there is milk on the table for the babies. So Ken sends his apologies and regrets that he can’t be here, and I will attempt to do his portion of the presentation.”

The presentation was broken down into three parts – Lemons, The New Juicer and Lemonade. Kuhn delivered parts one and three, while Roop took care of part two.

Kuhn spoke about transportation issues in that they had inefficiencies, public funding restraints, public focus on environmental issues and what he called a growing “psunami” of freight.

One of the more staggering statistics brought out by Kuhn dealt with the result of a company such as H.E.B. being able to reduce annual transportation freight miles from 60 million to 40 million. The 20 million miles saved would result in 3 million gallons less diesel being burned, 5,000 quarts less motor oil burned, 43,000 less quarts of motor oil that have to be managed, 125 lbs less rubber on highways to be washed into waterways and 2,000 less tires that do not have to be disposed of. The savings were staggering.

Kuhn also explained that the new technology was not competitive against the current trucking or rail industry, but supplemental. He explained how rail roads best service transportation needs to destinations greater than 600 miles. He also spoke of what he called Generation Y, or new truck drivers that don’t work to work nights, weekends or holidays and how the new technology would take the long haul out of the picture allowing this new generation of drivers the ability to be home each night while making shorter, but more numerous daily deliveries.

Safety and environmental issues served by having fewer trucks on the highways were also included.

The second part of the presentation, delivered by Stephen Roop detailed the history and development behind the new universal freight shuttle technology. Roop has been at Texas A&M for 20 years. He basically introduced the system by calling it a hybrid between trucking and railroading.

After laying out a lengthy history beginning in 1999 with federal funding for the study of a Texas Freight Tunnel with an underground rail for 450 miles from Dallas to Larado, to the Governor’s vision for the Trans Texas Corridor to 2008 when they plan to start construction of a demonstration project on donated land located in South Liberty County, to a target date of 2015 when they hope to have the proposed 2,000 miles of guideways connecting Dallas to San Antonio, Laredo, Corpus Christi and Houston with another line from Houston to San Antonio up and the network operational. The historical process was all about finding ways to ship more goods at less cost. The ill-fated beginning ideas formulated around underground transportation took a turn topside, coinciding with the Governor’s approach to major grade-separated corridors between markets in Texas, as the study group took a new approach.

“Wouldn’t this allow us to reconfigure this underground system that was never going to go anywhere,” explained Roop. “We could resize it, reshape it and put it up on the surface and begin operating it as a surface system. When we checked the economics of that, we found out they went from poor or marginally negative to almost investment grade returns and it would be very inexpensive to move freight in the system we’re talking about.”

Patents on some concepts were filed and Texas A&M created an entity through license agreements called The Freight Shuttle Development Corporation, formed in 2005. A year later, in Houston, Kuhn and Roop met for the first time at a railroad conference and began working towards the same goals.

Roop also showed conceptual artist productions of the system that would be 16 feet above ground and travel both ways in the median of the state’s interstate highways. He also spoke of a late development that had both he and the organization very excited.

“I-69 Master Development was awarded to Zachry this past month,” stated Roop. “It puts us at a new level in Texas with a tremendous amount of opportunity to capitalize and push forward the fact that Texas has been named the nation’s leading state for business. Part of that is the transportation system, the economy and the diversification of industry in the state. We think this is a very fertile area for what we are doing. And this year we will start a demonstration site at a location to be announced.”

Kuhn finished the presentation speaking to the tremendous capacity of the system, how it will be constructed using existing rights of way of the current highways system that is already in place, and how the goal to have everything up and running is by sometime in the year 2015.

© 2008, The Dayton

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