Are We Losing our Sense of "Plausibility"?

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Are We Losing our Sense of "Plausibility"?

Postby 2nd trick op » Fri May 16, 2014 1:46 pm

I was a very active participant in the forums here from roughly 2002-2011; I still stop by on a regular basis, but with the freight lines both restored to reasonable proftability, yet "waiting for the shore to drop" with regard to PANAMX and hemmed in by huge capital costs, a stagnant economy and political polarization, I don't find as much of interest here as was once the case.

One of the places where I now spend more of my Intenet time is city-data.com -- a social site dedicated to those who either travel and relocate frequently or hold a strong interest in the diversity and mobility characteristic to North America and now embracing the globe. But while many of the discussions are stimulating, I find that the emerging "Millennial generation" seems driven by both an unlimited faith in technology and a lack of understanding that the development and commercial adaptation of new improvments, particularly with regard to infrastructure, is both expensive and requires very long time horizons.

The present infatution with "High Speed Rail" is likely the most prominent example, but in recent weeks i've had encounters with several regulars there -- all of them male and either still in their teens or barely out of them, who have become infatuated with the prospect of a "self-driving autombile", And yet another group has larched on the recently-resurfaced proposal for a rail link between Alaska and Siberia via a tunnel beneath the Bering Strait.

My point being: I don't doubt that the world of "hard science" has edged all of these ideas a notch or two closer to feasibility during the 65 years I've been around. But just as when our old friend Davd Morgan used to lament the growing detachment between an increasingly bulk-commodity, "boxes and rocks" orientation in the freight rail industry and an increasigly sensitized and technophobic media, the problem seems to be most clearly manifested in our classrooms, and paricularly in the primary grades, where male presence has been drastically reduced, if not stigmatized outright.

Our emerging generation has an upcoming date with reality and lowering of expectations, just like every one before and every one to come. But at a time when the driving presence behind all human progress -- supply and demand -- seems to be favoring a rail renaissence, the industry risks being confronted by a demanding cadre of grown-up children who just don't understand how thoings work, and don't want to. I don't find it the least bit unusual that the most prominent literary work everto deal with economic and societal breakdown -- Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged was centered in part around a railroad.
What a revoltin' development this is! (William Bendix)
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Re: Are We Losing our Sense of "Plausibility"?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sun May 25, 2014 10:02 am

2nd trick op wrote:I was a very active participant in the forums here from roughly 2002-2011; I still stop by on a regular basis, but with the freight lines both restored to reasonable profitability, yet "waiting for the shore to drop" with regard to PANAMX and hemmed in by huge capital costs, a stagnant economy and political polarization, I don't find as much of interest here as was once the case.


Mr. 2nd Trick, allow me to concentrate a response to the portion of your material that most is relevant to the railroad industry and the environment in which it operates today.

For one who was employed in the railroad industry through the Darkest of the Dark Ages (1970-81)', it is so gratifying to see that the industry has enjoyed the renaissance that is has over the past twenty or so years (and so have my railroad securities that comprise 10.9% of my equity portfolio) . However, there remain as you infer, "dark clouds on the horizon".

I concur with your thought that "the jury is out" with a verdict regarding to what extent a post-PANAMAX shipping environment will affect the industry. No question whatever, every container that is diverted from, say, the Port of Los Angeles and instead landed, say, at Port Elizabeth NJ, represents a carload lost to either the BNSF or the UP and not necessarily one to be gained by either CSX or NS (whoops, lest we not forget the two Canadian's US operations). Most shipments consigned within a 300 mile radius of the Port will simply, in the interest of economy and efficiency, be transported over highways. Considering additional transloading and less expeditious handling time, rail simply cannot be competitive over those short distances, even though in the past some roads have tried, but regretfully without much in the way of success.

But on the other hand, as I have noted in various discussions about this site, there still remains the possibility that all too many East Coast ports are getting ready to throw a massive "Kanye and Kim" post-PANAMAX bash; but what if nobody came? Somehow, I doubt if West Coast shipping interests that certainly include BNSF and UP, are prepared to watch their high value traffic take a cruise through the jungle without a "counter" (for that matter, let us not forget KCS and the possible development of Puerto Lorenzo Cardenas depending upon political stability within Mexico). Any of these Ports will likely still prove competitive for shipments to the Midwest, and the increase in commerce from a recovering economy will offset the diversions to the East.

Now of course we address coal - the most captive commodity the railroad industry has. There is simply no reasonable and practical means to handle such over land (waterways? can't help you there if you gotta move the stuff East-West). It's never in a rush to "get there" and if there is a derailment, you just sweep it up. But coal has an environmental "Black Eye" and users of such are seeking alternative fuels such as natural gas - a commodity that simply needs railroads to ship their products about as much as does Microsoft.

However, there remains the emerging economies of the former Eastern Europe Asia Communist bloc. One thing the "worker's paradise" was not too worried about was how many toxins the workers breathed; but even if there are initiatives to use cleaner energy through this one time "bloc", they will be long time coming. The entire coal producing economy is oriented towards moving the product Eastward, be such from Powder River or the Appalachians, and that will benefit coal being handled to Eastern Europe. The two Western roads along with the maritime industry, are placing their bets that export coal can be handled to China and landed there competitively as that from other sources such as Australia. Even though as I just noted, existing infrastructure favors Eastward handling of coal, BNSF has lines in place to efficiently move coal Westward from Powder River to the Pacific NW and transloading through facilities being built along the Columbia River.

And now lets address handling of crude oil - the industry's "Bright star". I think we all know that crude has become a "PR Disaster' for the industry. One simply cannot dismiss the loss of 47 lives to "oh that was a little railroad that had no business handling the stuff so now it is deservedly out of business". But the fallout from that tragic incident has been felt compliments of the media with a really minor one (Lynchburg), but yet the media would have one believing "the River's on fire"; "it is contaminated all the way to the Coast". Will the media circus adversely affect rail handling of crude, at one time I would have said "yes", but now I say "not too much". The industry is also benefiting from the "circus" surrounding pipelines. Further, railroad handling gives the shippers one advantage that pipelines cannot readily match - the ability to divert shipments to maximize their price. Two cents a barrel one way or the other could make difference on a 100 car train or crude. When it comes to crude, "let's make it safe" and I believe the rest - pipeline competition - will take care of itself.

Finally, at first I thought Warren Buffet made a bad bet with BNSF - even though I sold my position in BNI to him with a nice gain. But somehow, I think this will be one of shrewdest bets he has ever placed.
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Re: Are We Losing our Sense of "Plausibility"?

Postby RussNelson » Mon May 26, 2014 12:57 pm

Once the environmentalists figure out that the coal is going to be burned even if it is virtually banned from being burned in the US, they're going to go mental over shipping coal anywhere in the world. Coal needs to stay in the ground or we're all going to die (from global warming or climate change or climate chaos or whatever the current catch-phrase is).

If coal burning is going to destroy the world, then so will coal mining, just one step removed.
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Re: Are We Losing our Sense of "Plausibility"?

Postby lpetrich » Sat Oct 25, 2014 9:44 am

2nd trick op wrote:I find that the emerging "Millennial generation" seems driven by both an unlimited faith in technology and a lack of understanding that the development and commercial adaptation of new improvments, particularly with regard to infrastructure, is both expensive and requires very long time horizons.

The present infatution with "High Speed Rail" is likely the most prominent example, but in recent weeks i've had encounters with several regulars there -- all of them male and either still in their teens or barely out of them, who have become infatuated with the prospect of a "self-driving autombile", And yet another group has larched on the recently-resurfaced proposal for a rail link between Alaska and Siberia via a tunnel beneath the Bering Strait.

High-speed rail has been a success, with the exception of making high-speed rail lines easier and cheaper to construct. The expense of doing so has meant that it's usually the politicians who finance high-speed lines. If the politicians are not all in support, that means trouble, as we have learned during Obama's presidency. Even in places with high-speed lines, construction has often been rather spastic.

As to a Bering-Strait tunnel, that would be useless without connections to existing lines, and such connections require thousands of mi/km of lines through thinly populated areas with lots of permafrost. Unlike most high-speed-rail lines so far, it will be a LOT of expense without much gain.

As to automatic-driving cars, that technology still has a long way to go. Google’s Self-Driving Cars Still Face Many Obstacles | MIT Technology Review
Would you buy a self-driving car that couldn’t drive itself in 99 percent of the country? Or that knew nearly nothing about parking, couldn’t be taken out in snow or heavy rain, and would drive straight over a gaping pothole?

If your answer is yes, then check out the Google Self-Driving Car, model year 2014. ...

Google often leaves the impression that, as a Google executive once wrote, the cars can “drive anywhere a car can legally drive.” However, that’s true only if intricate preparations have been made beforehand, with the car’s exact route, including driveways, extensively mapped. Data from multiple passes by a special sensor vehicle must later be pored over, meter by meter, by both computers and humans. It’s vastly more effort than what’s needed for Google Maps

The software's perception ability is not all that great. It would not recognize a traffic cop, for instance. There are also problems like navigating parking garages or driving through rain or snow.

So Google's self-driving cars aren't quite there, and I don't think that they will be unless their perceptual ability greatly improves.

But self-driving trucks may become common on highways, where some self-driving trucks would follow a truck with a human driver. Human drivers would also take over those trucks away from highways.


Self-driving vehicles have had the most success where they do not have to do much perception. Vehicles like trains, ships, airplanes, and spaceships. But even there, human drivers often take over for parts of the trips.
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