Sunday, December 12, 2010

From High Speed Rail in the US to the Beijing Traffic Jam to the Chunnel and Rotaries

One of my favorite parts of my semester took place last week, when the students in my Transportation & Logistics class gave their team project presentations.

The team projects this year were on: High Speed Rail in America, The Chunnel, The Beijing Traffic Jam, Dublin Transportation, Nightlife Involving College Transit Systems, and Rotaries.

Many of these terrific team presentations can be accessed and downloaded here.

I was very impressed by the project teams' professional deliveries, their deep and thoughtful analyses, their elegant and very effective visuals, and by how much these undergraduate students enjoyed working with one another on their projects. I invited several graduate students to listen to the presentations and they were also very impressed by these terrific Operations Management students. The students selected their topics, which reflected both their interests and the timeliness and relevance of the topics to the course and to what is happening in the real world.

The group that studied high speed rail in the US brought the latest political issues to bear on this subject (post the recent elections) and emphasized how the US is losing in terms of technological know-how and application in this area. Frankly, I wish that we had had some politicians in the audience, but I hope they do learn from the wisdom of these students (and benefit from their project presentation, which I have posted).

The chunnel group provided a fascinating historical perspective on this relatively new link that connects mainland Europe with England and also discussed recent disruptions (from the Icelandic volcanic eruption to the cold and snow of last winter) as well as the cost tradeoffs associated with using the chunnel as compared to different modes of transportation (such as ferries or air). This project team presented engineering design aspects of the chunnel and the challenges faced in its construction.

The traffic jam group researched the possible causes (and future solutions) to what has been considered the longest traffic jam ever -- on the Beijing-Tibet "expressway." The presentation even included a video of the straddling bus! I very much appreciated how the students noted the mixing of freight with private cars on this expressway with the freight being primarily in the form of trucks shuttling coal. They even noted that if the power generation stations were closer to the coal mining operations, then traffic would be reduced. I mentioned that if there was a greater focus on renewables for electric power generation in China and a greater emphasis on the design of sustainable supply chain networks then some of the congestion (and pollution) could be greatly reduced.

The Dublin transportation group team included one student who has lived in Dublin, so a personal perspective was also provided and a wonderful presentation with multiple levels of transit layers showing in a graphical way the transit network topologies (and which regions are accessible and connects and which are not).

The rotary project was also so very interesting and something we who live in Amherst could very much relate to since not only at UMass was there a rotary completed just recently (which took about a year to construct) but there are several other rotaries under construction in our town and another one completed in Northampton. The students even provided estimates for user link cost functions in a rotary and contrasted the travel time with a typical intersection (even with traffic lights). They also discussed the differences between roundabouts and rotaries and the advantages of rotaries, which are more popular in England than in the US (and after the presentation, it was clear to everyone in the audience as to why rotaries are safer).

The college night life and alternative transportation modes project provided possible solutions to a transportation problem for college students in Boston with a focus of those who attend and/or live close to Northeastern University. With many of the "attractive" night life student destinations being located a distance away (in the Government Center area) and with public transit stopping operation for the night an hour before many of these social outlets close, how should students make it back? This group analyzed different options (including walking) and discussed time/cost/safety issues. They even provided an overview of the evolution of public transit in Boston, beginning with carriage drawn horses which ran on "schedules."

The students will still be handing in papers on their presentations.

Corporations and other organizations are seeking employees who possess problem-solving skills, who can communicate well, and who can work well in teams. The students in my Transportation & Logistics class are role models.