Archive for the ‘ Infrastructure ’ Category

Fuel Economy Run

Today I had to drive from my home in Antwerp, Belgium up to Bennekom in the Netherlands to visit my Citroën which is being repaired there. This is a round trip of 315kms and I thought, just for fun, that I might try an economy run to see what figures I could achieve in the BMW 123d. Those of you that know me or have read my previous posts about driving round the Nürburgring and on German autobahns might think it strange that I would want to drive slowly and economically. But I like a challenge and I’m also a little bit cheap so saving some fuel money is never a bad thing.

My goal was to beat the manufacturer’s claim of 5.2litres/100km (54MPG Imperial/45MPG US). This is a combined cycle claim so beating it on a trip consisting of 95% motorway should be easy but these claims are generally wildly optimistic and recorded under optimal conditions in a lab and therefore I wasn’t sure it would be possible. My average combined fuel consumption before I set off was 7.9litres/100km, a far cry from 5.2litres, and an indication that I had my work cut out for me. However it is worth noting that I drive everywhere at warp 5 with little or no regard for fuel consumption and, as this blog post will show, the most important factor in fuel economy is driving style.

I initially planned to brim my fuel tank with diesel so I could do a more accurate calculation but the service station near my house had a queue and I don’t queue. So instead I just zeroed the trip computer and headed off with less than half a tank of diesel and the trip computer showing a remaining range of just 220kms, a figure based on recent driving history. It looked like I would need to fill up enroute pending a miracle. As it was after 10am traffic on the Antwerp Ring was light and I eased out into the middle lane trying to resist the urge to mash the accelerator into the floor. Initially things weren’t looking good with a figure of around 5.5l/100km showing on the display. However, once I settled down to a comfortable 110kph that figure started to drop slowly but surely until it dropped under 5.0l/100km. Maybe it was going to be possible after all.

The thing about driving super-economically is that it requires a lot of concentration. The thing you absolutely want to avoid is braking as this just wastes your kinetic energy away in the form of heat (in most cars anyway) and this means that you need to plan far ahead, watching for trucks that might pull into your path, watching for slowing traffic up ahead, and trying to avoid having to stop quickly for a red light. It is much better to take your foot off the accelerator and coast in gear if you notice slowing traffic up ahead than it is to brake at the last second. Modern petrol and diesel engines use precisely zero fuel when they are in overrun i.e. when you are coasting in gear and using the engine resistance to decelerate. It is much better to let the engine slow you down than to put your foot on the clutch and use the brakes.

The other enemy of the economical driver is the hill. Fuel consumption when climbing a hill is understandably much higher than driving on the flat. Happily for me, I was driving in the Netherlands which is completely and utterly flat. So flat that the altimeter in my car showed 0 metres above sea level for almost the entire trip. The highest we got was 10 metres above sea level and that was while crossing a huge bridge over a canal. Methinks that real estate purchases in the Netherlands won’t be such a great investment in the event of sea level rises. Although there were no hills on my journey, there were a lot of bridges so I would gradually build up some extra speed before the bridge then allow the speed to decrease slightly as I went up the incline. Trying to maintain a constant speed up an incline will double your fuel consumption. And any speed that you have lost on the way up can be regained on the way down without penalty.

After an hour or so I had worked out that around 110kph was the sweet spot for economy. I could maintain that speed with an instantaneous fuel consumption figure of 3.5l/100km. Going even 10kph faster would push that figure above 4.5l/100km and going slower would start to hold up traffic and that is not practical. My combined figure after an hour was 4.6l/100km and I really wasn’t doing anything special other than driving with a very sensitive foot on the accelerator. I experimented with using the cruise control but found I could get the figures lower myself. Cruise control can’t anticipate traffic conditions or changes in elevation and is a bit of a blunt instrument. I should note that I did make one concession to fuel economy. As it was not a particularly hot day I turned off the A/C and just left the vents open to fresh air. This can make a big difference.

When it comes to economy, the BMW has a few tricks up its sleeve. It has a gear change indicator which shows the optimal point to change up and down and tells you which gear you should be in. It also has an alternator which disconnects from the engine except when you are decelerating so that it never uses fuel to charge the battery. It uses regenerative braking as well to capture some of that kinetic energy which would normally be lost as heat when braking. When you are driving in town it also automatically stops and starts the engine at traffic lights. The standard tyres are low rolling resistance tyres which also aids in fuel economy but I actually replaced mine with regular performance tyres as I didn’t like them so I might have reduced my fuel economy chances there slightly. And instead of using hydraulic power steering which uses a pump running off the engine it has electric power steering which is powered by the battery. All these things, plus the fact that it is an incredibly efficient diesel, add up to a noticeable improvement in fuel economy. Bravo.

I arrived at my destination with the display showing 4.5l/100km and feeling relaxed on account of the fact that I had been taking it easy just cruising along and I didn’t need to be constantly on the lookout for speed cameras. Maybe I don’t always need to drive like my hair’s on fire…

4.4l/100km

My trip home was similarly uneventful although traffic was a little heavier resulting in a few annoying stops and the resulting increase in consumption as I accelerate again. However, by the time I arrived back in Antwerp, the trip computer was proudly displaying a combined figure of 4.4litres/100km (64MPG Imperial/53MPG US). This is not bad for a car that has 204 horsepower and 400Nm of torque, can accelerate to 100kph in 7 seconds and will hit 250kph on the nearest available autobahn. In my opinion it could be a lot better too were it not for the fact that it is a relatively heavy car for its size. My biggest hope for the next generation 1 series is that BMW will invest in weight-saving.

I achieved these figures simply by driving conservatively and turning off the A/C. I imagine it would be possible to drastically slash the consumption even more if one employed hardcore hypermiling techniques like slipstreaming trucks but I’m more interested in the practical everyday possibilities.

High-speed double-decker Mercury train

Mercury train

This is awesome. Don’t just talk about it. Build it. Immediately. I will come to Britain just to ride on it. Thank you.

http://gizmodo.com/5587918/britains-train-expert-unveils-his-next-transportation-icon

Clean energy research lags behind military research

US Air Force Experimental Fighter Jet

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5559874/bill-gates-and-friends-urge-us-government-to-triple-energy-research-spend

This is a scandalous discrepancy when, as mentioned in the article, you consider that there will be nothing worth protecting in a few decades if our addiction to fossil fuels is not curbed.

Instead such funding should be diverted to investigating technology like cloud-seeding, solar-power generation, renewable energy grids or even beaming energy from the Moon. All of these options have to be more constructive than designing new and more effective ways of blowing things up. It seems to me that we already have so many effective and proven options for generating enough energy in a clean and sustainable way but the political will and ability to organise ourselves is what is lacking.

Cloud seeding ship

Why Street Signs Make Traffic More Dangerous

This is an interesting article which outlines how the proliferation of street furniture, signs, and attempts to separate pedestrians and traffic do not actually result in safer streets. Removing the barriers between pedestrian and motorist can help. I’ve experienced this in Belgium and the Netherlands and it definitely has merit. I believe that such measures to remove the clutter and distractions from city streets needs to take place, particularly in countries like the UK which have ridiculous amounts of signage and “safety” barriers. See this article.

Not only are barriers, cones, signs, and road markings ugly, but they unduly increase the motorists’ feeling of security so that they pay less attention to their actual surroundings and focus solely on “following the rules”. In situations where there are no clearly defined rules, such as denuded streets without roadmarkings or signs, motorists feel less secure and are naturally inclined to drive more cautiously.

Read the full article. It gives a compelling argument for clutter-free shared spaces for motorists and pedestrians.

http://jalopnik.com/5533260/why-street-signs-make-traffic-more-dangerous

Solar power beamed from the Moon

I’ve written recently about the potential to generate electricity via solar power generation in the deserts of northern Africa that can then be transmitted to and consumed by Europe. Now there is a new, somewhat less realistic but nonetheless intriguing, proposal by Shimizu Corporation in japan to generate electricity on the Moon and then beam it back to Earth. The Luna Ring.

The proposal would be to establish a band of solar cells around the Equator of the Moon, the area which, like on Earth, is exposed to the most sunlight throughout the year. Such a band would need to be 11,000kms long to completely circumnavigate our nearest neighbour and the proposal is for it to be up to 400km wide.

The electricity generated would be transmitted to a point on the near side of the Moon (the Moon is in synchronous rotation around Earth, always showing the same face to us) where it could be converted to microwave or laser before being beamed back to Earth. These beams would be aimed at collectors on Earth which would convert it back to electricity and feed it into the grid. Obviously the Moon does not stay above the same part of the Earth at all times so the collectors would need to be distributed around the planet. In addition, a guidance beacon would ensure the laser/microwaves are hitting their intended target otherwise the power would be cut. It is not difficult to imagine scenes of a giant space laser cutting a swathe through New York City (it’s always NYC in the movies) without such a safety device.

A solar belt around the Moon would theoretically provide more than enough clean energy for all of humanity.

You might wonder why we don’t just build solar farms all around the Earth’s Equator instead as surely that would be simpler than trying to do it on the Moon. There are several reasons.

  1. The Earth has a thick atmosphere which significantly reduces the amount of the Sun’s energy reaching the surface (luckily for us) whereas the Moon does not. Solar generation on the Moon would thus be vastly more efficient.
  2. 70% of the Earth is covered with water and at the Equator that figure is actually 78.7% water. This makes for a fairly intermittent solar belt.
  3. The Equatorial land is largely all in use already. Countries in Central America and South-East Asia are densely populated. The northern African deserts are about the only options.

The plan is that most of the infrastructure on the Moon could be built by robots using materials sourced there such as silica to avoid the cost and difficulty of shipping materials from Earth. It’s likely that such an endeavour will not be undertaken in the next 100 years but I applaud the concept and feel that we should always be looking ahead to future solutions even while we work on current solutions with the technology at our disposal.

There have already been concepts involving large solar energy collecting satellites that would also beam the energy back to Earth and these could perhaps be implemented in the shorter term. Meanwhile we must persist with finding more terrestrial solutions for clean energy generation. Certainly don’t dismiss any of these ideas as crazy as people from 100 years ago would never have been able to imagine the technology we have today.

Source: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/06/luna-ring-solar-power-plant-on-the-moon.php

Source: http://www.shimz.co.jp/english/theme/dream/lunaring.html

Train travel in Europe

I’ve recently advocated the building of a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Sydney in Australia, currently one of the busiest air routes in the world. I feel that I should qualify this a little more by sharing some of my own experiences of rail travel around Europe, both high-speed and standard.

High-speed rail has become very popular in Europe and on some routes has virtually wiped out the competing air traffic. There are no flights from Brussels to Paris anymore for example. In fact, if you are flying on Air France out of Charles de Gaulle Airport your plane ticket includes the high-speed train trip from Brussels and you can check in your bags at Brussels South Station. C’est incroyable!

The first high-speed rail lines in Europe were built in the 1980’s beginning in France. In 1981 the LGV Sud-Est line from Paris to Lyon opened and the famous TGV started running. France now has the most extensive high-speed network in Europe with lines radiating out in every direction from Paris. The TGV network now extends into Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK and in 2007 a TGV test train set the record for the fastest wheeled train with a speed of 574.8 km/h!

I have had the pleasure of quite a few different train trips whilst living in Belgium, mostly to London but also to other destinations. My main experience is with the Eurostar service from Brussels to London which is slightly different than other train trips around continental Europe so I’ll comment on this first.

Eurostar

Eurostar

Eurostar began operating in 1994 following the completion of the Channel Tunnel. I have used it many times to travel between Brussels and London and find it very convenient and generally hassle-free. I’m not known for my patience and the idea of queuing for anything, particularly airport security, fills me with horror. Because the UK has not signed up to the Schengen Agreement there is still passport control which you pass through at your departure point. There is also security similar to airports due, I suspect, to the Channel Tunnel being a likely terrorist target. However, unlike at airports, this check goes very quickly and I’ve never taken more than 15 minutes from arrival at the station to boarding my train. That I can live with.

The trains themselves are very comfortable and quiet and they travel at up to 300kph once they are out of Brussels. This is particularly noticeable when another train passes going 300kph in the opposite direction!

St Pancras International

Now that High Speed 1 line in Southern England is complete the trip takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes and you arrive at the recently refurbished St Pancras Station which is amazing. The interiors of the trains are a little dated but they are clean and comfortable with plenty of legroom and big windows. On a couple of occasions when I have caught a special deal I’ve travelled “Leisure Select” which is what they call first class. Even bigger seats and a decent 3 course meal served at your seat with wine for only 15€ extra! If I book far enough in advance I’ve usually managed to get fares for between 60 and 90€ each way. I don’t believe I could fly for that little and regardless, I would rather pay more for the point-to-point convenience.

Thalys

Thalys

I’ve also travelled between Brussels and Paris several times on Thalys, an international joint venture between the French SNCF, Belgian NMBS, and German Deutsche Bahn. This hasn’t always gone quite so smoothly, mostly due to the belligerence of French railway staff and their propensity to go on strike. However, aside from a particularly bad experience last Christmas, partly due to bad weather, the experience has been good. The Thalys trains are newer than Eurostar and also travel around 300kph. One bonus is the availability of WiFi at a reasonable cost so you can work if you’re not on holiday. The train from Brussels arrives at Paris-Nord which is right in the heart of Paris and connects you to everywhere easily via the Metro. It only takes 1 hour and 20 minutes from Brussels. I drove to Paris once and that took over 3 hours and I was faced with the horror of driving my new BMW amongst crazed Parisian drivers and the impossible task of finding a parking space. Never again.

ICE

ICE

German trains are the coolest, mostly because they are sleek and white and called ICE (InterCityExpress). I had the pleasure of travelling on one of these a couple of years ago from Köln to Brussels. These trains travel at up to 320kph and, like the Eurostar and Thalys they are very quiet, smooth and comfortable. The other bonus with travelling within continental Europe is that there is zero security so you just turn up at the station and get on the train. The trains have a dining car so you can purchase snacks if you get hungry.

ICE

Whilst most of Western Europe uses the systems developed for TGV, Germany is slightly different which limits the trains that can cross their international borders. For this reason there are two types of TGV train, domestic and international. The international (ICE 3M) trains are able to cope with changes in voltage experienced on different networks. ICE trains are also the only ones able to run on the Köln-Frankfurt high-speed line because of the steep 4% incline.

There are still differences between the various high-speed systems used across Europe but these are slowly being resolved as a Trans-European high-speed rail network is being realised. Railteam is an alliance of 7 European high-speed rail operators whose aim is to offer integrated rail travel between major European cities in different countries. The aim is that services will be better co-ordinated to offer shorter connection times and more integrated booking. For a great overview of high-speed rail across Europe check out Wikipedia.

Deutsche Bahn

BMW on train (DB Autozug)

In addition to high-speed rail there are of course still plenty of slow trains. In 2009 we decided to go on a driving holiday around the northern half of Italy. However, because it is 1,000kms from Belgium to Italy we weren’t so keen on driving there. It would have used up 4 days of our holiday, cost us 4 nights accommodation, and put 2,000 unnecessary kms on my new car. But we wanted to drive my car when we were in Italy as a rental car would have been expensive and probably not very exciting for zooming through Italian mountain passes. So we booked ourselves on the Deutsche Bahn Autozug, a sleeper train with a car carrier at the back, the perfect solution. The Autozug leaves from Düsseldorf (which is only an hours drive from Antwerp) in the late afternoon, travels overnight down the Rhine Valley, through Austria and the Alps and arrives at 9am in Verona, Italy. Because it was summer it didn’t get dark till after 10pm so we had some very picturesque views of the Rhine Valley out the window of our sleeper.

The train was certainly not fast and it was pretty rattly but with the help of a sleeping tablet I got a good nights sleep while we meandered across the continent. This meant that the first day of our holiday started in Verona and no time was wasted driving there. Two weeks later we were back in Verona for the same trip in reverse. I highly recommend it.

NMBS

NMBS

Nationale Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen (National Railway Company of Belgium) is the Belgian National rail operator and, given that I live in Belgium, I’ve spent a fair bit of time on their trains. I’m inclined to believe that they are fairly typical of a continental European train operator in that they are very good. Belgians will complain about their trains but then I think complaining about the trains is a national past-time in every country. My experience has been that they are clean, mostly modern, and generally on-time. Of course there have been occasions when I’ve been inconvenienced by a cancelled train or late one but those have been the exception to the rule. Certainly if you want to travel between Antwerp and Brussels the train is the fastest way. A lot of the trains even have power outlets by the seats for your laptop.

Antwerp Railway Station

By far the best aspect of Belgium’s rail network is not the trains however, but Antwerp railway station. Constructed between 1895 and 1905 it has a vast dome above the foyer with an enormous iron and glass trainshed covering the platforms. According to Wikipedia it was voted the 4th most beautiful station in the world in 2009.

Antwerpen Centraal

It was originally a terminus but has recently been renovated and extended underground so that now a new tunnel continues right under the station and emerges north of Antwerp City. This will allow future high-speed trains to continue through to Amsterdam. So even if you don’t arrive in Antwerp by train, I highly recommend checking out the train station.

Metros/The Tube

The Tube

In addition to overland trains I’ve also experienced the underground system in a few cities, namely London, Paris and Barcelona. They certainly have their flaws but for getting around these big cities quickly, they can’t be beaten. The Tube in London is often crowded, very hot, and some of the stations have endless stairs. Also, for some reason your snot always ends up black after 5 minutes down there… But there is no better way to move across London due to the congestion above ground. The Paris Metro is more modern than the Tube and the stations seem to be better designed as a result. Again, it is the fastest and most efficient way of getting around. The Metro in Barcelona is not as extensive as the other two cities which means you have to walk a bit further to the stations but it is still a good way of getting around. Beware pickpockets though!

So there you have it. As you might have guessed, I quite like trains, particularly the fast ones.

Highspeed Rail – Melbourne to Sydney

Air routes worldwide

Which air routes do you think would be amongst the busiest in the world? London to Paris? NYC to LA? Atlanta (world’s busiest airport) to Philadelphia? Nope, wrong. It’s Sydney to Melbourne in Australia with 950 flights per week, beaten only by Barcelona to Madrid and Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. Interestingly, Sydney to Brisbane is only slightly further down the list in 9th place with 590 flights per week. This is impressive for a country with a total population of only 20 million people but can be largely explained by geography. Australia is a country of vast distances with the population almost entirely focussed on 5 major cities around the circumference.

Wikipedia states that “The busiest air routes in the world appear to involve pairs of large cities in close proximity, but which rely more on air transport due to a lack of viable transport infrastructure for other modes, and the distance is large enough to discourage car driving.

Melbourne

Well Melbourne and Sydney are certainly too far apart for driving on any regular basis. Not only is it a good 10 hour drive but there is next to nothing in between, such is the nature of the Australian Outback. So, you might think, at least you would be able to drive fast given the emptiness of the surroundings and the straightness of the highways? Ah no, not recommended. The speed limit of 100 or occasionally 110kph is rigorously enforced and penalties are harsh.

Both cities are certainly large at between 4 and 5 million people each and there is an enormous amount of interaction between them, both business and tourist. This explains why 9 million people made the trip in 2009 and why that number is expected to rise 70% by 2020. The populations of both cities and Australia as a whole are predicted to increase dramatically in the next couple of decades.

Sydney

As for the lack of viable public transport… well, you can take a train but it takes about 11 hours and stops dozens of times. Or a bus. Which isn’t any quicker. Needless to say those options aren’t very popular when the flying time is only 1 hour.

But what is wrong with flying you might ask? You’re kidding right? Setting aside the environmental impact (shifting most passengers on the route from air to rail would save at least 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year), flying has become a harried, stressful, and often-times, inconvenient means of transportation. Anyone who thinks otherwise is obviously glancing nostalgically back to aviation’s romantic past, not the present (or they can afford to fly business class…). A quick analysis of the benefits of high-speed rail over flying is needed:

  1. Melbourne & Sydney airports are far outside their city centres. In Sydney this means an expensive taxi ride or metro ride. In Melbourne it’s an expensive taxi ride or a cheaper but still not inexpensive bus ride. Due to the lack of foresight of the Kennett government there isn’t, and likely never will be, a train link to the airport. High-speed rail as experienced in cities like London or Paris on the other hand, will take you directly into the heart of the city. No need for a separate transfer.
  2. Long queues to check in at airports, generally not at train stations.
  3. Long queues at security. There often isn’t any security for trains or it’s a lot less stringent.
  4. Don’t forget to remove your laptop from your bag at the airport. Not at the train station.
  5. You need to be at the airport early to guarantee you can check in, go through security, and make it to the gate lounge in time to wait the obligatory half hour or so. In my experience with high-speed rail in Europe it has been more of a case of turning up and getting on the train, usually not earlier than half an hour before departure.
  6. On a train you can leave your electronics turned on all the time including your mobile phone.
  7. You have more room on a train than you do in economy class on a plane and more freedom to move around.
  8. Trains cannot be delayed by fog, volcanic ash or other weather-related events (except fluffy snow – I’m looking at you Eurostar).
  9. Travelling by train you can watch the scenery out the window as it whizzes by. From an aeroplane you aren’t likely to see much at all.
  10. And, for most travellers, the most important aspect is the time taken, probably the reason not many people endure the current 11 hour trip. In Europe, Japan and China journeys of up to 800kms city centre to city centre are faster than air travel. Up to 1,000kms remain competitive. It’s 713kms as the crow flies between Melbourne and Sydney.

Bombardier High-Speed Train

The reasons for travelling by high-speed train instead of flying seem compelling so why hasn’t the infrastructure already been built? Obviously this would require a sizeable investment in infrastructure, around $15 billion for the line and the initial trains based on the French experience. But even at this cost a one-way economy fare of less than $150 and a business class fare of less than $300 should be possible. This compares very favourably with airfares, particularly when you take into account taxi rides to the airport or the cost of parking your car there.

Based on existing train technology a centre to centre journey time of less than 3 hours is possible. This could certainly not be matched by flying. And a single train can carry 900 passengers compared to around 160 passengers in a typical short-haul jet such as a Boeing 737. High-speed rail lines can safely accommodate 1 train in each direction every 15 minutes. So there is ample capacity for present and future demand.

In other cases where cities have been connected by high-speed rail the air services have virtually disappeared which demonstrates that passengers really prefer the hassle-free, point-to-point nature of rail travel. For example, since the Eurostar between Paris and London opened more than 70% of travel between them is by train, even though Heathrow is a European airline hub. So this is certainly a case of “build it and they will come”. All we need to do now is find the political will to make it happen.

Source article: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/very-fast-rail-travel-figures-add-up-20100521-w1n2.html