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EFO 2010 Conference, Day Two

Leading off the second and final day of the Engineers Foundation of Ohio Continuing Professional Development conference was two hours of a preview of the “3C” Passenger Rail Plan, which would connect Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, and other cities with high-speed passenger rail.

Stu Nicholson, public information office for the Ohio Rail Development Commission, gave what was essentially a sales case for the 3C project, even though the law authorizing the route had been passed and $400 million in federal stimulus money had been approved for the project. He made the following points:

  • The plan would benefit Ohio’s freight rail partners and improve Ohio’s position as a logistics and distribution leader.
  • “Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.” 255 construction jobs and over 8,000 indirect and spin-off jobs.
  • Safer railroad crossings
  • Economic potential at the eight station stops
  • Urban core revitalization
  • As gas prices rise, people want transportation choice.

There was a case study involving the Amtrak Downeaster, which currently runs from Boston up to Portland, Maine, and is being extended up to Brunswick. Commuters like not having to live in high-tax Massachusetts in order to work in Boston.

Union Station in Dayton would be revitalized. Columbus had already torn down its Union Station and replaced it with the Convention Center, but the Center would still have the station.  Cleveland’s station would be located near the airport and tie in to the local Amtrak operations in Cleveland.

Don Damron, who oversees ORDC’s rail planning program, drafted the successful application for the federal stimulus money. Three market analyses over 38 years had been conducted by the state, and the 3C corridor was determined to have the greatest revenue potential. The 3C “Quick Start” service predicted 478,000 annual trips, 3 trains per day, fares approximately 15 cents/mile, on-board food service, and a top speed of 79 mph. At 15 cents/mile a trip to Cleveland would cost about $20.

The audience of engineers asked an interesting question: “What would the fare/mile be without government subsidy? Over 50 cents?” Yes.

The top speed of 79 mph sounded good, but there were two slides which simulated the speed over the whole route. Dips in some places cut into the overall speed. The proposed train schedule had a passenger go from the Cleveland train station to the Columbus train station in about 3 hours, 10 minutes. The distance between the Cleveland Airport and the Columbus Convention Center along I-71 is 131 miles. The train wouldn’t follow I-71 exactly, but we’re still talking an average speed of 130 / 3.15 = 41 mph with no stops between Cleveland and Columbus.

They estimated that 6.24 million riders would take the train if the rail were FRA Class 4, 79 mph, and 9.34 million would ride if the rail were FRA Class 6, 110 mph. Forecasted economic results ran about $3 billion in station-area development and $80 million in state tourism. The estimated completion of design and construction would take about seven years.

One would think there was a reason why the state of Ohio studied this for 38 years and didn’t do it until it got $400 million from the federal government.

The last hour of the morning was presented by Neil Drobny, PhD,  from OSU’s Fisher College of Business, on “The Business Case for Going Green.” A couple of cool things:

  • Corn delivers 3-4x more energy as food than as fuel per unit of energy input.
  • “Waste is a product that we produce at a cost that cannot be sold.” Avoiding waste makes things less expensive to make.
  • More businesses are using a “triple bottom line” of economic, environmental, and social metrics in their communications with stockholders.
  • Interface Carpets has figured out how to fashion carpets that can be disassembled when a customer wants to change the carpet and reuse that material for other carpets, saving $231 million in production costs over 10 years.

After lunch, John Greenhalge, the executive director of the Ohio State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors talked about “Your Professional Registration Responsibilities.” He discussed what the board does, the Code of Ethics we must follow, and a couple of sad but humorous enforcement incidents.

The final 2½ hours were “Globalization, The New Economy, and the Future Engineer,” by Jim Hendrickson, senior VP of corporate development at Sterling Commerce. This was a good presentation with some key takeaways:

  • As technology makes the world “flatter”, governments are responding by making trade more difficult
  • Globalization is not a new phenomenon: think Marco Polo, the Silk Road, Magellan going around the world, etc.
  • “Cheap” overseas labor is now seeing the same rise in labor costs we are, and companies like India are seeking other nations to outsource labor
  • Where companies used to generate demand for their products, consumers are now information seeking with their demands to see who can fulfill them. Thanks to YouTube, Facebook, and others, reputation and word-of-mouth are more important than ever.
  • Because Stanford University does a great job commercializing patents that the university generates, it spends about $1.5 million per patent.  The Ohio State University spends about $4 million per patent.  OSU needs to do a better job commercializing its research.
  • Today’s engineer must possess not only engineering skills but “soft skills” such as managerial and communications skills
  • Lots of products and services have a small really useful component with a lot of bloat or cruft. Small businesses can focus on those activities and beat bigger competitors that have higher overhead.
  • If you need to make a decision regarding a job change, consider not only what the next job is but who your next boss is.  How your boss will work with you is extremely important.

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