Archive for January, 2010

Turn it Down!

Friday, January 29th, 2010

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I’m often asked what it must be like to be the child of a two-parent noise family (my husband is a member of the Acoustics Facility within the Environmental Measurement and Modeling Division at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Research, and Innovative Technology Administration, John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.  Here’s a sample.

We had ‘science weekend’ in our house (this, based on the theory that we did not ‘push’ science hard enough with the 12-year old when she was young – no time like the present to work on the 5-year old!).  Most of the afternoon was devoted to making slime and other forms of goo, but we spent the evening doing a family hearing test (why, of course we have all the equipment in our house to do that!).  Here are the findings:

  • David needs hearing aids.  The years of flying and too much rock and roll have taken their toll.  I now have scientific data (which he collected himself) to justify my increasing frustration at simple requests to take out the garbage (though that can also be ascribed to ‘selective hearing’, but that’s the subject of another post).
  • I have lost some hearing, typical of a middle-aged woman (who perhaps listened to too much rock and roll in an earlier – and more fun – stage of my life).
  • Molly has a gap in her hearing at 100 Hertz.  As in, there’s nothing there.  Apparently her iPod has been tuned too loud for too long.  There must be something about the Lady Gagabeat.  In any case, her iPod has been taken away for three months, to see if she can restore the hearing in that frequency.  Here’s a good articledetailing the hazards of listening to your iPod, if you want to learn more. 
  • And Greta seems to be able to hear pure tones at frequencies as high as 60,000 Hertz.  Which makes her a dog.  Or perhaps a cat.  We’re going to double-check on it (and now David wants to test all the kids in the neighborhood), but suffice it to say it was pretty incredible.

Moral of the story:  Turn your iPod down, and tell your kids to do so, too.

Report from TRB 2010 Annual Meeting

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

by Mary Ellen Eagan

At long last, a report from the 2010 Annual TRB Conference.  My focus is on the workshop, committee meetings, and sessions that were sponsored or co-sponsored by the Committee on the Environmental Impacts of Aviation (AV030).  Here’s my three days at TRB, in chronological order:

Sunday’s Workshop The Costs of Cleaner: Aviation’s Emissions Inventories and Economic Consequences of Their Reduction included three presentations with very different lenses on the climate change issue:

The Committee on Environmental Impacts of Aviation (AV030) held its meeting Monday morning (yours truly presiding – please let me know if you’re interested in joining our mailing list).  In addition to discussion of committee business, there were two student paper presentations:  Analysis and Control of Airport Departure Processes to Mitigate Congestion Impacts by Ioannis Simaiakis of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Lung Deposition of Jet Engine Exhaust Particulate Matter by Elizabeth A. Black of Missouri University of Science and Technology.  The Sustainability Subcommittee also met on Monday, and included a third paper presentation, Mitigating Aviation Carbon Dioxide Emissions: An Analysis for Europe by Lynnette Dray of the University of Cambridge.  The Noise Subcommittee meeting (a joint subcommittee with the Committee on Transportation Noise, ADC40) included presentations by Raquel Girvin on Noise Effects Characterization and Mitigation Research and Lynn Engelman on the DOD Aviation Noise Program.  We also announced the formation of a new Water Resources Subcommittee, which will be ably led by Thomas Klin of CH2M Hill.

AV030 sponsored or co-sponsored three technical sessions:

As you can probably infer from this recitation of meetings and papers, attending TRB’s annual meeting can be a bit like drinking from a fire hose.  My advice to newcomers is pacing (those 9 pm sessions can really do you in), but I have always found the sessions to be informative and stimulating.  And I usually find that something about one (or more) of the sessions finally sinks in sometime later.  I’ll check back in then.

Complacency

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

by Mary Ellen Eagan

Ted Kennedy is rolling in his grave.

I will do my very best to not make this a political post (although my political views are rather transparent).  Over the last couple of days, I’ve mostly been thinking about complacency and arrogance.  And a fair amount about marketing.  I’ve been thinking about how they apply to our industry, our public process, and the importance of communication.

A colleague in China commented on the latest obstruction to the Cape Wind project by stating that it’s a whole lot easier to get things built there; i.e., the American consultative model (NEPA) is an impediment to progress.  As consultants, we sometimes struggle to find value in public meetings, and I have certainly seen the process dismissed as meaningless (but I’ve blogged about this before).  I’m hoping yesterday’s election is a reminder to us all that it’s not necessarily the smartest, most logical, or fairest person/idea/project that succeeds in this democracy.  It’s the one that has meaning for people.  And each vote counts the same.

I promise to get to TRB soon. 

A Long Week

Friday, January 15th, 2010

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I’m supposed to be blogging about TRB’s Annual Meeting, and the exciting and informative workshops, committee meetings, and sessions I attended.

Instead, I find myself contemplating the situation in Haiti.  I’m thinking not just about the logistical and operational challenge of operating an airport that has been decimated, but mostly about the collapse of an entire country – one analogy I read was that it’s as if everyone in New Orleans had drowned in Katrina.  I’m also thinking about the poverty, colonialism, and neglect that are the real causes of this tragedy and struggling with what the US should (and can) do about it.

So I will return to TRB after the weekend.  In the interim, if you’re interested in contributing, please consider Partners in Health, a physician-led organization that has been on the ground in Haiti for more than 20 years.

Japanese High Speed Trains

Monday, January 4th, 2010

by Lance Meister

I just got back from a trip to Japan, Thailand and Cambodia with one of my good friends.  Of all the things we saw and did on the trip, one of the highlights for me was riding the Shinkansen (Japanese high speed train) from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

We were already planning to go to Tokyo for a few days, but I have a friend living in Kyoto, and we decided that going to see her would be a great idea, and an excellent excuse to ride the Shinkansen (at least for me).

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

There’s been a lot of talk about high speed rail in the US, and we even have a version of it in the Acela, but I was blown away by the Japanese system.  I’ve ridden high speed trains in Europe, but this was something else entirely.

The highest speed trains on the Tokyo to Kyoto line are the Nozomi Shinkansen, the N700 series.  These only stop at a few stations, and are the fastest trains from Tokyo to Kyoto.  The trip is 476 km (296 miles) and takes only 2:15!  The trains regularly exceed 300 km/hr (186 mph) and average 210km/hr (130 mph), including all stops! 

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

To put that into context, the distance between Boston and Philadelphia is roughly the same as the distance between Tokyo and Kyoto.  Based on the Acela timetable, that trip takes 4:52!  The Acela exceeds 150 mph (240 km/hr) on two short sections of track and averages 60 mph (98 km/hr), including all stops!  And that’s our fastest train.  But there is hope that we will have real HSR in this country soon.

While the speed of the Shinkansen was really amazing, that’s not what impressed me the most.  What impressed me was the schedule.  In the US, and even to an extent in Europe, you decide on the train you are going to take, you buy a ticket and then you make sure you get on that train.  For the ride from Tokyo to Kyoto, you just buy a ticket and go to the platform.  The Nozomi Shinkansen trains were running every 10 minutes or so!  It was like a subway, and not a high speed rail system.  It was unbelievable how many trains there were running on the line.  And yes, you could set your watch to them.

In Japan, there is a lot of effort at controlling noise from HSR trains.  The Japanese take great care in designing the shape of the trains, including the nose, shown in the pictures above, and also in designing the pantograph structure to minimize noise.  At high speeds, aerodynamic noise is a significant portion of the noise from the train.  The Japanese work very hard at controlling the noise at the source as the primary mitigation measure.

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

They also utilize noise barriers to reduce the noise generated by the trains, primarily from the wheel/rail interface.

Noise Barriers

Noise Barriers

Finally, I’ll leave you with a great travel tip that was given to me.  If you take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, be sure to sit on the right side of the train so you can get a view of Mt. Fuji.  I’m told that you can only see it about 1 in 10 times due to clouds and fog, but I had a great view of the mountain on the way down.  Here’s hoping that this is the decade of HSR in the US!

Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji