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Hydrail provenance: Thanks, James Neal !

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by guest blogger, Stan Thompson

The Twelfth International Hydrail Conference next week (27-28 June 2017) in Graz, Austria, will be very different from the first of its kind in Charlotte NC, back in 2005. To begin with, our secondary objective now is to integrate the efforts of companies like Alstom Transport and China Railway Rolling-stock Corporation—who are already  manufacturing hydrail vehicles—in order to encourage expansion as fast and far as possible.

In 2005, our grand scheme was to connect Mooresville with Charlotte (25 miles) using fuel cell electric propulsion. Today the primary objectives are environmental: to reduce the world-wide contribution of rail operations to greenhouse gas accumulation and to reduce other railway emissions, especially fine particulates.

A third objective is to avoid sinking public funds into external electric rail technology. It debuted in 1879—before the massacre at Wounded Knee, fourteen years after Booth shot Lincoln and a decade before the President of the the Confederacy died. True, it’s been wonderfully refined since the 19th century. Wood/coal/steam rail was wonderfully refined too when it died of old age at 110. Diesel-electric is over 90. Overhead electric rail is pushing 140.

Over the last ten years, the Charlotte and Atlanta papers seem to have doubted the existence of hydrail technology or at least failed to grasp its environmental and economic significance. That’s why the depth of reporting by James Neal in the Statesville Record and Landmark last Sunday seems so remarkable (“Iredell-born hydrail concept goes international”).

Statesville—in Iredell County, NC—has a population of around 27,000 but it boasts a daily paper about the size of Charlotte’s, whose metropolitan population is some 2.4 million. Picture it this way;  if Charlotte’s paper had content in proportion to Statesville’s, it would need wheels.

(Fair disclosure requires me to admit that the online edition of the Record and Landmark often carries my unpaid, op-ed essays on history and economics.)

Someday the same CATS (Charlotte Area Transit System) line that inspired the Mooresville Hydrail Initiative and the International Hydrail Conferences will probably extend north to Statesville. Thanks to James Neal and the R&L, I’m confident that the electric power running it will be carried onboard as hydrogen—not strung along the track in a tacky tangle of overhead wires, like the ones defacing downtown Charlotte.


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