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A train ticket to America, please

Karl Sabbagh, The Guardian
Last week, the idea of a high-speed rail link between north and south was raised yet again by the Department of Transport as a way of bridging the regional divide in the UK. Journey times of two hours between London and Edinburgh on trains running at 300mph were brandished as if these were somehow the ultimate limit of future rail technology.

But this will cut no ice with Frank Davidson, a pioneer of what is called macroengineering, the art and science of huge engineering projects. For the past two decades, Davidson and a small group of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been advocating a transatlantic rail line, running in a tube under the ocean from, say, Bristol to Boston, using “maglev” trains. The technology involved in both ideas – magnetic levitation – uses the repulsion between magnets on train and rail to create a frictionless cushion for the carriages to ride on, and there is a test track in Japan showing that the system can reach speeds of 300mph.

Davidson’s “Atlantic Tube” would have one extra characteristic: there would be no air in it. This would mean the train would run in a vacuum, saving the energy wasted in a conventional maglev system and making it possible for the trains to travel much faster.
(18 Sept 2006)

Amtrak fares up; ridership adapts

Larry King, Phildadelphia Inquirer
With monthly commuter pass increases as high as 59 percent, some commuters have sought alternatives.
…Despite the defections, Amtrak has managed to rake in more money along its heavily traveled Northeast Corridor, which stretches between Boston and Washington.

From October through July, monthly pass sales along the corridor declined by 20 percent, but revenue rose by 3 percent, according to Amtrak figures.

To Amtrak officials, squeezing out holders of discounted monthly passes to open more seats for full-fare occasional riders is smart business – especially when it is under pressure to cut its deficits and lacks the cash to add more trains.

“Amtrak is not primarily a commuter railroad. Ultimately, our goal is to produce the most revenue we can from the equipment and services that we provide,” Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said.

For commuters, this strategy has created bleak choices. Many have swallowed the increase, paying hundreds of dollars more per month. Others have moved, changed jobs, or switched to other means of getting to work.
(18 Sept 2006)

Air Force to Try Out a New Kind of Jet Fuel

Peter Pae, LA Times
A synthetic alternative could help cut costs for both the Pentagon and the nation’s airlines.
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE – If you think your fuel bill has skyrocketed, pity the people who operate the eight-engine B-52 bomber.

The lumbering aircraft, built in the 1950s when jet fuel cost a quarter a gallon, guzzles 47,000 gallons in a single mission. Today, that’s $100,000 a fill-up.

Tally in the gas hogs in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere – fighter jets, bombers and cargo planes – and you can understand why the American taxpayer got a $5-billion fuel bill last year for the Air Force alone.

On Tuesday, the Air Force will begin test flights here that could represent a major step in the Pentagon’s plan to find less costly sources of fuel. A B-52 will take off with two of its engines burning a new blend that may eventually replace the oil-based kerosene formula that has powered jet engines since they were invented.

The test flight, which will be observed by top military officials and airline executives, will mark the first time a U.S. aircraft will attempt to fly using fuel not refined from oil.

The Pentagon’s initiative is drawing significant interest from U.S. airlines that have been hammered by steep oil prices.
(15 Sept 2006)
One of the most under-reported stories has been that the military is taking seriously the threat of energy crisis and has been pushing forward with renewables and alternate sources of energy. The military press has run several articleson the subject, and now the LA Times has picked up the story. -BA