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Overview of the CEETI Study

Texas DOT in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration contracted CEETI to conduct a study entitled: "Alternatives Analysis for Initial and Future TxDOT Deployment of a Dual Mode, Automated Transportation System". They describe such a system in part as follows: "A proposed new national network uses single and dual mode vehicles to provide mobility for freight, private cars, and mass transit vehicles. Single mode applications could include fully automated (driverless) terminal-to-terminal freight transport and personal rapid transit. In dual mode operation, driver-controlled vehicles will be able to travel the first and last miles off-guideway using onboard energy storage as one mode and then enter the guideway in a second mode for high speed automated travel." (p. 1)

As part of the study the team evaluated existing automated transportation technologies for the purpose of identifying the best solutions through a series of steps, beginning with a literature review. From the report:

"The purpose of the literature review was to identify the critical issues and metrics that might be used in the technology screening, workshop review, and stakeholder discussions. A list of operational requirements was developed for a national dual mode transportation system. Based on this list of requirements, knowledge of the reference literature reviewed, and a review of available information from the technology vendors, researchers identified 14 systems to be reviewed in greater detail in the workshop.

Representatives across a number of technical disciplines including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, transportation engineering, freight logistics, power systems engineering, transportation policy, and energy were engaged for a review process. The personnel included members of Texas A&M University Dwight Look College of Engineering, Texas Transportation Institute, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory…" (p. 5)

"The system concepts outlined in Appendix B [101 different system concepts are listed in this appendix] were reviewed with this list of system requirements in mind to identify 14 systems for further review by a cross-disciplinary team. The 14 selected systems… identities… are omitted to avoid commercialization of the project results. A workbook with literature, patent information, and a summary of each system was prepared and provided to attendees of a workshop. Claims by the vendors regarding speed, capacity, efficiency, and cost were not verified at this stage of review. The systems were reviewed briefly in the workshop, and attendees down-selected 5 of the 14 systems based on a list of system ranking elements. There was a clear break between the top tier concepts and the others in the view of the cross-disciplinary workshop attendees. [Emphasis added.]" (p. 32)

Dual Mode Design Principals and CEETI Criteria

Historically the provision of adequate vehicle infrastructure has had an enormous beneficial impact on economic growth rates. However, a number of problems have grown along with this infrastructure: traffic congestion, accidents (and attendant deaths, injuries and property damages), pollution (including greenhouse gas emissions) and petroleum dependency. There are two separate strategies common to the solution sets for these problems: vehicle automation and alternative power. Vehicle automation reduces congestion by increasing capacity per lane per hour and increases safety by removing the human factor in driving; automation also delivers incidental (though substantial) reduction in emissions and petroleum fuel dependency. Alternative power directly addresses emissions and petroleum dependency, but has negligible effect on congestion or driving safety.

All dual mode systems include vehicle automation. The CEETI study further stipulates that this system also support alternative power, specifically an electrified guideway. Not all dual mode systems require an alternative power solution; among those that do, not all require an electrified guideway. Moreover, it is unclear whether any synergy exists between vehicle automation and alternative power. CEETI's motivation for incorporating both strategies may derive from their mission. The acronym stands for the Center for the Environment, Energy and Transportation Innovation: addressing only the transportation component would ignore the Environment (emissions) and Energy (fossil fuel dependency). CEETI argues that any shift in the vehicle transportation paradigm will be difficult because of the entrenched nature of the current paradigm. From this viewpoint the combination of vehicle automation and alternative power provide a more compelling overall case for undertaking the shift. Conversely, a failure to undertake both automation and alternative power simultaneously could lead to a suboptimal solution that precludes the ability to later address the remaining transportation problems.

CEETI's insistence that guideway electrification is the preferred alternative power source is problematic, especially given the rapid evolution in hybrid engines and related battery technologies that may make electric energy carried on-board the vehicle a more attractive solution. Toyota, GM and Renault-Nissan have announced plug-in electric hybrids for release in the 2010 model year; other manufacturers will likely follow suit. Hydrogen fuel cell technology remains an alternative possibility for on-board fuel. As crude oil prices rise electric power alternatives will become more attractive. However, whether electric power from a guideway or from an on-board source will be preferable is unclear and unknown. The guideway-provided electricity solution solves the range problem associated with on-vehicle battery or fuel cell systems. However, an electrified guideway infrastructure would require a considerable expansion of electric power generating capacity to handle peak period demand. By contrast, on-board systems can recharge at night when existing electric power generating capacity is underutilized, requiring less net new power plant capability and allowing better overall utilization of the grid. On-board systems would not be subject to failure on the guideway because of blackouts or brownouts. And while on-board power limits the range of the vehicles between charges, it is currently adequate to address the daily driving needs of the vast majority of drivers. Considerable private investment is now directed to both improving battery charge capacity and providing rapid battery recharge. In sum, the source of power for a future dual mode transportation system remains open to debate. Given CEETI's position on the matter, it is unsurprising that four of the Top Tier dual mode system designs incorporate an electrified guideway; QwikLane, the lone exception, allows for on-board power at this time, without precluding a possible shift to guideway electrification at some point in the future.