Thursday, March 24, 2016

Professor Joe Sussman of MIT Speaks on High Speed Rail at UMass Amherst

Today, after hosting Lt Col James Bishop of the Westover Air Reserve base in my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class, meeting with collaborators, and having such pleasant office hours that they ran over by an hour, I managed to head to the UMass Mullins Center where a special event was taking place.

The event was organized to celebrate Transportation Professor John Collura's illustrious career at UMass Amherst. The program, featured below, which continue tomorrow morning is wonderful.

And at 3PM today I had the pleasure of hearing Professor Joe Sussman of MIT give the plenary talk which was on High Speed Rail. Professor Sussman had met with me and came to my talk last December at MIT so, of course, I had to return the favor.
Professor Sussman began his presentation by  introducing CSTSs, complex socio technical systems. He noted both nested complexity as well as evaluative complexity, where different stakeholders may measure performance of a system differently. For example, some may care about environmental justice, whereas others may care about social justice. His presentation was very clear, interesting, and well-done.

He emphasized that high speed rail is a CSTS and economic, environmental, and equity criteria all come to bear in this. He noted, which I liked very much, that "sustainability should be the overall design principle" in complex systems. He spoke of the concept of sustainable mega regions supported by high speed rail and brought out that when he received his chaired professorship at MIT in 1991 it was funded by Japanese Railways. When a group from JR landed in JFK and then took the "high speed" Acela from NY to Boston, he knew that their experience was not quite like the Japanese truly high speed rail, the Shinkansen.

He emphasized the importance of high speed rail connecting urban centers and noted that the sweet spot was for distances between 200 and 600 miles. For distances greater than 600 miles it was preferable to fly and for distances less than 200 miles it would be better to use road transport.

He brought out high speed rail in France (I have had the pleasure of riding the TGV there) and  in Germany,   He noted that the Japanese built their first high speed rail in 1964! They needed the capacity and then innovated accordingly and continue to do so.

He mentioned the political gridlock in the US as well as the capital costs associated with high speed rail although projects are under discussion in Florida, Texas, and with Chinese involvement, a link between LA and Las Vegas.

The audience very much enjoyed his presentation.
I had the opportunity to have a photo taken with Professor Sussman and with Professor John Collura, which was a special highlight for me.

I plan on attending the session tomorrow morning with speakers from Virginia Tech and Purdue. The focus will be on critical infrastructure. Thanks to my colleagues in the Transportation program for a special tribute to Professor John Collura, who is now, unbelievably, a Professor Emeritus, but still very active and busy with exciting new professional endeavors, including a big project on aviation in Westover.