Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Sarcastic Look at Transport Infrastructure Best Sums Up Threat to Multimodal Freight (and Lives)

When Will America Realise One Must Invest to Retrieve the Most Dangerous of Situations?
Shipping News Feature

US – One of the most urgent problems facing the country today is the lamentable state of much of the vital infrastructure on which transport systems, including multimodal freight methods, depend. This week Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has been viewing a system which may contribute in some way to assisting in identifying faults, which if left to decay, have the potential to cause fatal incidents. Meanwhile, in the same month, an English comedian has probably best summed up the roots of a very serious situation.

For haulage operators, and other road and rail users, one of the most frightening scenarios is the state of the nation’s 600,000 or so bridges. On a visit to the Arlington Memorial Bridge, between Virginia and Washington D.C., Foxx saw a demonstration of RABIT™, a robotic bridge inspection unit which has the ability to combine several different types of scanning tools in just one sweep. The system employs everything from high definition cameras to GPS, electrical resistance tests (to check corrosion), ground penetrating radar, ultrasonic and echo technology etc. By utilising the robot’s advanced imaging technologies bridge inspectors can see through the decking of a bridge and produce useable data for analysis of the overall condition of the structure.

Furthermore the data produced is more reliable than that taken by traditional methods and is instantly available rather than taking weeks to prepare in a workable form. The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) has been charged with deploying the system countrywide starting with 24 bridges in Washington, DC, and six Mid-Atlantic states; Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Despite the roll out, the target is only to inspect up to 1,000 bridges in the next five years, hardly an ambitious aspiration.

The authorities are so desperate to come up with ideas to resolve the infrastructure problem, multiple faults with no funding available to resolve them, that the latest scheme is to appeal for public assistance through the ‘Beyond Traffic: Trends and Choices’ draft framework which Transportation has come up with.

However with states such as Alabama employing NO bridge inspectors and all manner of politicians shying away from the small matter of funding a programme that lacks ‘sex appeal’ and terrified of pointing out the ‘Gas Tax’ which is supposed to raise the money yet hasn’t been increased since 1993 should have doubled, there is little or no hope that it will take nothing less than one, or possibly a series, of horrendous accidents to concentrate the minds of public and politicians alike.

To understand how deep this problem runs (whilst having the opportunity to laugh and be educated simultaneously) take a look at the video of HBO’s ‘Last Week Tonight – Infrastructure’ with English satirist John Oliver for an eye opening, sideways look at what is potentially a uniquely serious problem.

Photo: RABIT.