The United States is faced with a unique challenge. No other country in the world is competing and winning with machines or technologies that are even one-third the age of our national infrastructure. Right now, the U.S. is equipped with roads, bridges and ports from more than 100 years ago and pipes and rail lines from the 19th century. However, there is enormous opportunity to make much-needed improvements to our existing transportation and power infrastructure that can more effectively move people and goods, provide more efficient power distribution in urban cores and enhance the mobility and productivity of entire regions.
By leveraging new software and technologies to help bolster our current, physical infrastructure, we're helping to create a competitive advantage in the 21st century global market and to increase economic growth in America’s cities. The Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of leading U.S. companies, is calling this concept “hybrid” infrastructure, or the integration of IT with traditional infrastructure. Integrating the use of software into a city transportation system or automating a city’s power grid can simplify modernization without requiring cities to completely rebuild.
In this year’s American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card, no mode of transportation in the U.S. was graded better than a “C+.” Transit earned a “D,” rail garnered a “C+,” and roads were given a “D.” This means our transportation systems have a long way to go and clearly there are significant opportunities for improvement.
As world population expands and urban areas become more dense — 2008 marked the first time more people lived in cities than rural areas — it's not feasible to build our way out of public transportation challenges. Some systems, like the subway in New York, already run beyond capacity and it's physically impossible and extremely expensive to lay additional lines in the city.
This is where the Business Roundtable’s notion of “hybrid” infrastructure comes into play. Without having to completely rebuild transportation systems, technology can help address some of our nation’s more complex transportation challenges.
Big Systems Making Big Strides
While making some progress, the transportation sector must continue to leverage technology to help improve existing infrastructure. Other industries like telecom surge ahead, yet few transportation systems are fully automated. Already, U.S. cities and mobility providers are seeking out new technology to improve their systems without expensive installations or complete physical overhauls. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York recently upgraded the world’s largest train control system which supports NYC subways using Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) technology. ATS provides fully automated traffic control, wayside signaling, automatic vehicle identification and integrated voice and data communication. This is the largest ATS project in the world controlling 172 stations, 50 interlockings, 49 Central Instrument Rooms (CIRs), 108 miles and track and 220 simultaneous trains in rush hour.
And passenger rail operators are also leveraging software to deliver improved service along heavily-traveled routes. Amtrak, the largest passenger rail operator in North America, has commissioned 70 new electric locomotives for the Northeast and Keystone Corridor fleet. These advanced technology locomotives will be manufactured by Siemens in Sacramento, Calif., and are designed for easier maintenance, will improve energy efficiency through a regenerative braking system that will feed energy back into the power grid and will enhance mobility for the people, businesses and economy of the entire Northeast region.
Size Doesn’t Matter