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II. Summary - continued

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Rail Vehicles (Intercity and Transit)


Congestion and delays at major airports, as well as environmental and energy/petroleum consumption issues have stimulated interest in providing an alternative to the airplane and the motor vehicle for intercity travel in high-travel-density corridors. High-speed rail, and possibly magnetic levitation systems, are perceived to have an important future role to play in relieving congestion in short-haul intercity corridors. However, questions remain regarding the cost, environmental and other social benefits, breadth of potential applications, and commercial feasibility of high-speed ground transportation systems in the US. These technologies are a focus of research abroad. Attention has recently turned to the potential value of a high-speed, light weight, high power passenger-service locomotive for incremental introduction of improved rail service in corridors that initially are not likely to generate sufficient traffic to warrant the expense of electrification.


For heavily-traveled corridors in the Northeast, Midwest, Texas, and California, concerns about congestion and pollution have renewed interest in rail transportation as an alternative to air and highway. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 authorized a program to determine the efficiency, safety, and economic benefits of high-speed rail for intercity travel. It has the goal of improvements in intercity mobility, with energy, environmental, and economic benefits.

DOT and DOE are participants in this technology program. Goals include: (1) development of a high-speed non-electric locomotive capable of a sustained speed of 150 mph, to minimize the need for electrification of rail corridors; and (2) the development of a fuel cell powerplant for rail applications.

To achieve the non-electric locomotive goal, DOT has sponsored a program in New York to demonstrate an upgraded turbo-electric train for the New York City to Albany link. The train will be powered by two 1500 hp turbines for sustained speeds of 125 mph. The fuel cell program is to demonstrate that applying these propulsion systems to locomotives can meet railroad requirements for locomotive performance comparable or superior to conventional diesel technology_with dramatically reduced emissions and increased efficiency.

Key Finding

Improved rail vehicle technology will enhance the competitive position of the US in the global market place in which many countries rely heavily on their rail networks and are improving existing railroads or constructing new lines to serve growing economies. Advances in the propulsion and emission performance of passenger train locomotives will substantially increase the range of alternatives available to meet future transportation needs.

Major Objectives

  1. Facilitate innovation in rail vehicle design and construction by introducing advanced materials, communications and control technologies so that performance is improved and costs are reduced.

  2. Improve the propulsion and emission performances of intercity and commuter locomotives, and expand the range of alternatives available to meet future transportation needs. A specific goal is to develop a fossil-fueled high- speed locomotive or trainset capable of revenue service operations at 150 mph and which meets or exceeds the Federal emission standards of year 2010.

  3. Position the US as a world technology leader and primary exporter of rail- related equipment and services.

Challenges and New Opportunities

The potential contribution of R&D activities to improvements in safety, cost, sustainability and personal health associated with intercity rail freight and passenger and rail transit services indicate the value of Federal research directed toward achieving the following:

  • Improve Safety and Performance: Development and introduction of advanced materials and structural concepts for high-performance, light-weight vehicles, particularly for commuter rail vehicles, and to improve crashworthiness joint service in high-speed corridors, is needed R&D to accelerate the private development of advanced train control systems will improve the performance and safety of all rail services.

  • Enhance Intercity and Commuter Services: Research to accelerate improvement in the efficiency and performance of non-electric locomotives used in intercity and commuter rail services is a national need. R&D needs to be conducted to develop alternative prime power sources such as fuel cells, gas turbines and other hybrid systems for expanded rail services, particularly in high-speed intercity service.

  • Increase Reliability and Reduce Expenses: R&D focused on critical components of rail equipment will lead to safer, more reliable, and more efficient service, which will in turn attract more riders and reduce operating expenses per rider. The development of advanced engines with improved emission control devices and alternative fuels will make it possible to satisfy new Federal and state emissions standards.

Ships and Shipbuilding


The National Defense Authorization Act of 1993 required the President to develop "a comprehensive plan to enable and ensure that domestic shipyards can compete effectively in the international shipbuilding market." On October 1, 1993, President Clinton submitted a plan to Congress, a blueprint aimed at revitalizing the US shipbuilding industry.

The report states that two steps will have to be taken for US shipyards to compete successfully in the international market. First, subsidies provided by foreign governments to their shipbuilding industries must be ended to ensure a level playing field. Second, US yards must adapt to the demands of he international commercial market. US yards will have to "develop and market competitive designs; fully employ modern technology and manufacturing processes; and remain competitive in wages."

The US shipbuilding industry is unsurpassed in building the finest and most complex naval vessels in the world. With the Cold War ended, these shipyards, like many other defense firms have been facing a new challenge-- translating their skills from the military to the commercial market. Individual shipyards are preparing to meet this challenge.


A few short years ago the American shipbuilding industry was suffering greatly because of declining Naval orders and from subsidized international competition. Thousands of jobs were lost, ruining the economic health of many communities throughout the nation. Additionally, the US lost technological capability in the field crucial to National security. With the advent of President Clinton's policy to build partnerships with the private sector, this situation is being reversed. As a result, the American shipbuilding industry will be able to re-enter the international market place and enhance shipbuilding technology.

As part of the DOD/DOT MARITECH program, several cooperative agreements have been awarded. One cost-sharing (50%-50%) agreement, with a total cost of $6.5 M, is to Shipyard, Inc., of Mobile, Alabama, is to design a double-hulled tank ship. The shipyard plans to use its current facilities which will permit the construction of vessels of 40,000 deadweight-ton double-hulled product carriers by adapting a proven international commercial design. This type of tank ship will be less likely to damage the environment in the event of an accident preventing disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The new designs, production and processing techniques will permit orders for construction of quality, state-of-the-art ships at competitive prices in the international market.

Key Finding

Research and development to improve technology transfer and process changes dealing with manufacturing changes in ship design and production is critical to the Nation in terms of competitiveness, security, the environment, and the economy.

Major Objectives

Major program objectives in the ships and shipbuilding technology program include:

  1. Develop strong and competitive "world class" international ocean shipping and domestic water transportation industries.

  2. Develop a strong and competitive "world class" commercial ship design and production capability.

  3. Develop defense-relevant waterborne transportation capabilities to meet peacetime and national emergency needs.

  4. Develop a safe and environmentally prudent US waterborne transportation system.

  5. Create new jobs in the ship design, ship construction and ship operating sectors of the maritime industry.

Challenges and New Opportunities

  • Increase US Competitiveness in Ship Construction: Ship inspection and construction is a strategically and economically important area in which the Nation faces very serious challenges. Technologies involved in inspection, maintenance, repair, disposal and recycling of ships and other transportation vehicles is a priority.

  • Create Jobs in Shipbuilding: There is an urgent need to lay the technology foundation for the next generation ships and other vehicles that will minimize the use of non-renewable resources, and will be safe, secure, economically viable, suitable for use by an increasingly diverse population, and, at the same time, be producible and create manufacturing jobs in the US based on both domestic and export markets.


Transportation touches and is touched by virtually all aspects of modern life, with connections that range from direct to nearly invisible. Our transportation system plays a critical role in meeting key national goals including individual quality of life, economic vigor and sustainable development. Transportation is also central to some of the most challenging and contentious public issues we face, such as urban congestion, global warming, public safety, and mandated standards for air quality. It is critical that public and private decisions relating to transportation be based on a solid understanding of the system and its elements, operations, and societal impacts. Two areas are particularly critical in terms of achieving effective transportation investments and safe and efficient system operation: System Assessment, and Human Performance.

Transportation System Assessment Tools and Knowledge Base


A powerful tension exists between our growing technical knowledge and capabilities and our ability to apply those capabilities to meet the legitimate demands of individuals, businesses and local and national economies. On the one hand, national needs can be satisfied only by energetically pursuing growth and implementation of technology. On the other hand, exploitation of innovative concepts--even the upgrade of conventional systems sufficiently to meet current needs--can fall victim to increasingly rigorous constraints of societal acceptability, inadequate availability of resources, a focus on immediate rather than distant goals, and difficulties in articulating and developing cohesive and collaborative approaches to large- scale endeavors.

Transportation decisions, whether made in the public or private sector, must address a steadily widening range of considerations, viewed from very long-term perspectives as well as in terms of immediate concerns: environmental and safety impacts; economic effects for various segments of the population and the economy, national energy and petroleum consumption, land use and living patterns, international agreements, global competitiveness and balance of payments, and appropriate role of each involved party. Each year more and more stakeholders are involved, and the technical realities and uncertainties in each issue become more complex. National goals, embodied in Federal legislation, place heavy burdens on state and local agencies for planning and decision making in technically complicated areas. Information and tools for use in meeting these challenges are difficult to obtain or simply do not exist.

An important barrier to achieving this understanding is that the nation's transportation system is a large, highly decentralized and continually evolving complex of vehicles, physical infrastructure, information technology and support services created and used by individual travelers and shippers, private providers of services and equipment, public agencies, and governments at levels. Technological forces (such as the information and communications revolution) and economic shifts (exemplified by globalization), and rising public sensitivity to environmental concerns and long-term sustainability, are steadily increasing the rate at which change must be accommodated. While making use of extensive public infrastructure elements, transportation is largely a private-sector undertaking, particularly after the extensive deregulation that occurred during the 1980's--a change still being digested. New technologies, often little understood by decision-makers or not fully proven, compete for markets in the transportation sector.

The US transportation enterprise is thus the product of decisions and actions occurring throughout the society, driven by many forces, and based largely on near-term economic considerations and balancing of resources, often addressed on a relatively localized basis. With perceived needs often far outstripping available funds, it is difficult to assure that investment decisions will be based on a time perspective appropriate to the lifetime of transportation infrastructure--typically many decades. In order to improve the ability of all transportation stakeholders to make wise choices, the Federal government is moving to providing an enhanced framework of understanding, vision and guidance to assure that transportation-related decisions are made, and issues resolved, in a manner fully responsive to the long-term interests of the nation as a whole. Federal stewardship of the overall enterprise can encourage investment decisions and actions by all parties that contribute to seamless, efficient and effective transportation, while balancing transportation needs against social, economic, environmental and other goals, both in the present and in a manner that contributes to long- term sustainability.

Some cost and performance measures associated with the Nation's transportation system are readily obtained, but many are extremely difficult to capture. Estimation of the consequences of alternative courses of action are shrouded in uncertainty. Identification and quantification of environmental impacts are particularly difficult and contentious undertakings. Examples of the resulting dilemmas include debate over the appropriate role of high speed passenger rail systems in the US, development of acceptable strategies for dealing with air quality mandates and urban congestion, and the clash between environmental concerns and the need for transportation infrastructure renewal and expansion. The models and data available to address these issues often provide an inadequate foundation for satisfactory resolution. Further, they are often so complex or data-intensive that their use by local authorities, who have primary responsibility for many issues, is problematic. Gaps in our understanding of the workings of the national transportation system plague not only governmental agencies and businesses, but also legislative bodies trying to legislate and appropriate productively.


Almost all of the Nation's metropolitan regions face the possibility of having to take steps that inhibit personal mobility--rush hour tolls, parking taxes or limits, alternate driving days, unfamiliar fuels and vehicles. Mayors, county officials, and employers are well aware of the threats. Boston and Atlanta, for example are both designated as serious not-attainment areas for ozone. Air quality problems are also evident to a public that has become much more sensitive to environment and health issues. However, the best alternatives for solving these problems are not at all clear. The travel planning models in widest use today were developed more than 25 years ago to evaluate major highway corridor alternatives. They were adapted in the 70's for planning transit services. However, they do not take into account the major changes in suburban travel patterns that have taken place in recent years, or the effects of air pollution and congestion.

The job is too big for any one region to address and has become a critical Federal role. It requires teamwork by MPO's, state planners, EPA, DOE, and DOT highway and transit modeling experts. Fortunately, significant advancements have been made in recent years--both in modeling techniques and in computing capacity. DOT has recently initiated efforts to make significant improvements in this area, but the challenge is great. The recently- established Bureau of Transportation Statistics is actively assessing data needs, performance measures, and effective means of dissemination information. In addition, MPO's in the larger cities have expanded their capabilities to make use of sophisticated modeling tools.

Key Finding

There is an acute need for improved data, analyses and assessments of all aspects of transportation system performance, including environmental and land-use impacts, to support policy development and implementation, regulations, legislation and planning by governments at all levels and the private sector.

Major Objectives

The fundamental program objectives of a Transportation System Assessment Tools and Knowledge Base program are to:

  1. Characterize transportation system usage, future requirements, existing technologies, institutional structure and interactions, relevant domestic/international economic trends, and overall societal impacts.

  2. Assess existing and innovative transportation technologies and their potential impact.

  3. Assess other technologies of potential importance to transportation systems and operations.

  4. Develop and disseminate data concerning transportation system safety, economics, environmental impacts, and other societal concerns.

  5. Understand and characterize all types of environmental impacts of transportation, and assess alternative prevention, mitigation, and remediation strategies.

  6. Develop focused and broad models for analysis of transportation system operations, functions, and impacts.

  7. Assess trade and other industrial impacts of alternative transportation technologies, scenarios, and policies.

Challenges and New Opportunities

Improved understanding of the current transportation system and the needs and behaviors of its users will contribute to better use of existing infrastructure, guide the course of incremental and evolutionary improvements, and support wise decisions concerning initiatives and associated very large investments directed toward major improvements and innovations. Challenges and new opportunities in system assessment research include:

  • Ensure Smart American Transportation Investment Decisions: Research is needed for better and more detailed data, analyses and assessments concerning transportation system operational characteristics, performance, condition and environmental and other social impacts, as well as enhanced understanding of transportation-related behavioral sciences and human performance. This information will shape investment decisions, regulatory actions and operational strategies making effective use of advanced technologies.

  • Improve System Operations and Performance: There is a need to address not only specific modes and transportation markets, but also the system as a whole, including interactions and interconnections between modes, and institutional, regulatory and other legal factors that shape and affect the operations and performance of the system.

Human Performance in the Transportation System

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Transportation R&D - Table of Contents


Executive Summary

I. Overview

II. Summary

II. Summary - continued

II. Summary - continued

III. Conclusion


Strategic Planning Document - Transportation R&D

Department of Transportation