Skip to content

Archive for

Elon Musk: Tesla Will Have Level 5 Self-Driving Cars This Year

Forbes, 09/07/20

Tesla will have essentially fully autonomous self-driving vehicles this year, CEO Elon Musk said in a video recorded for a Chinese AI conference. And it can be achieved with the existing technology inside Teslas shipping today.

“I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level five autonomy complete this year,” he said. “I think there are no fundamental challenges remaining for level five autonomy.”

There are many small problems, Musk acknowledged, and there’s the challenge of not just solving them but putting the whole system together. And even when almost complete, there could be challenges.

“You’re able to handle the vast majority of situations,” he told the World AI Conference in Shanghai. “But then there will be something very odd.”

Level zero self-driving is complete human control. Level five is completely autonomous is any situation: no human driver is required. Currently shipping systems are typically thought to be level two or three. Level four is self-driving, but generally only in select conditions and on certain roads.

Of course, having level five autonomy in the lab is not the same as delivering it to customers. And there’s the whole matter of regulatory approval as well. So Musk’s declaration that Tesla has is extremely close to solving full autonomy and self-driving for cars should not necessarily be taken as a commitment to delivering that capability to customers in 2020.

However, as I’ve argued in the past, Tesla is the car maker most capable of both quickly learning from an incomparable amount of data and rapidly releasing those learnings to its customers. The company’s self-driving technology is the best currently shipping in the world, and improving at a faster rate than any other automotive manufacturer. (Friends of mine have used the company’s Autopilot technology for tens of thousands of miles. One let his Tesla drive him from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, using a fruit wedged in the steering wheel to simulate a human touch.)

While not perfect — and while Musk has probably been too aggressive in promoting it — Tesla’s Autopilot technology is simply learning faster from more miles driven than any other competitor.

Those real-world situations that its millions of cars face every day are critical, Musk says.

“You need a kind of a real-world situation,” Musk said. “Nothing is more complex and weird than the real world. Any simulation we create is necessarily a subset of the complexity of the real world.”

Musk has said that Autopilot technology was basically the “entire expense structure” at Tesla, highlighting that it’s a core driver of Tesla’s value proposition. That’s why the company charges thousands of dollars for Autopilot technology — and has since 2016 — that cannot yet be fully used by customers.

But customers of Teslas today won’t need technology upgrades to use full autonomy when it ships, Musk said.

“I’m absolutely confident that this can be accomplished with the hardware that is in the Tesla today,” he told attendees. “And simply by making software improvements we can achieve level five autonomy.”

New Study Shows That SUVs Remain ‘Disproportionately Likely To Kill’

So why is Ford introducing a new Bronco now, in the middle of a climate and a safety crisis?

Treehugger, 16/07/20

Ford has just proudly introduced a new, updated version of the Bronco, the company’s Jeep-like off-road capable SUV that was killed in the late 90s. It might seem like an odd time, in the middle of a climate crisis; as Aaron Gordon notes in Vice, “every driver who ‘upgrades’ from a sedan to an SUV is a net-negative for the environment, undoing all of the gains in fuel efficiency since they last bought a vehicle. And over the last several decades, that transition has been the single largest and most significant trend in American transportation.”

Coincidentally, its release comes at a time when the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released a brief report, Pedestrian injuries from cars and SUVs: updated crash outcomes from the Vulnerable Road User Injury Prevention Alliance (VIPA), that looks again at the question of the safety of these vehicles. We have noted before that the high flat front of SUVs and pickups is deadly, killing pedestrians at significantly higher rates than a car, as has the IIHS:

Past research has found that SUVs, pickup trucks, and passenger vans pose an outsize risk to pedestrians. Compared with cars, these vehicles (collectively known as LTVs) are 2-3 times more likely to kill the pedestrian in a crash. The elevated injury risk associated with LTVs seems to stem from their higher leading edge, which tends to impart greater injury to the middle and upper body (including the thorax and abdomen) than cars, which instead tend to cause injury to the lower extremities.

This is because there are no standards or regulations for pedestrian safety in the USA, which is the way the manufacturers like it because it would mess up the manly grills, and make every pickup truck look like the wimpy European-designed Ford Transit.

In the EU, cars have to be designed to absorb the force of the pedestrian hitting it, usually by having a space between the hood (bonnet over there) and the engine. Where they don’t have enough room, they actually have an “active bonnet” with explosives that push the hood up to absorb the shock. The Tesla Model S, when sold in Europe, has an active hood that raises three inches; of course, it isn’t sold in North America because pedestrian safety is not a priority.

The IIHS update shows how bad SUVs are for people who walk. Interestingly, they find that the danger varies with speed:

SUVs remain disproportionately likely to injure and kill pedestrians compared with cars, but these differences emerged primarily at crashes of intermediate speed. Crashes at low speeds and high speeds tend to produce similar injury outcomes independent of striking vehicle type (mild and fatal, respectively) The data suggest that the elevated danger to pedestrians from SUVs in these crashes may be largely related to injuries caused by impacts with the vehicles’ leading edge: the bumper, grille, and headlights. 

Below 19 miles per hour, the IIHS says SUVs do not seem to cause more injury than cars. This is surprising since cars are generally designed to European NCAP standards (American companies like to sell them there) where the victim is thrown on to the hood instead of flattened on the grille. “Low-speed crashes tend to be benign enough that pedestrians emerge with only minor injuries regardless of vehicle type.” The data in figure 2 don’t make low-speed crashes look so negligible or benign to me, with 8% of those hit by SUVs dying, not to mention all those upper body injuries versus broken legs (they don’t provide those statistics); perhaps they consider 8% statistically insignificant.

At intermediate speeds (20 to 39 miles per hour) 30% of those hit by SUVs died, compared to 23% of those hit by cars. Where the IIHS gets weird is at high speeds; they say that “crashes at low speeds and high speeds tend to produce similar injury outcomes independent of striking vehicle type” but look at the difference: 100% die when hit by SUVs compared to 54% of those hit by cars. And the injuries are different too:

At intermediate speeds (20 to 39 miles per hour) 30% of those hit by SUVs died, compared to 23% of those hit by cars. Where the IIHS gets weird is at high speeds; they say that “crashes at low speeds and high speeds tend to produce similar injury outcomes independent of striking vehicle type” but look at the difference: 100% die when hit by SUVs compared to 54% of those hit by cars. And the injuries are different too:

This IIHS study also didn’t take into account the fact that people driving SUVs and pickups tend to drive faster; evidently being so high off the road makes a difference in perception. According to another study, The effect of driver eye height on speed choice, lane-keeping, and car-following behavior, “when viewing the road from a high eye height, drivers drove faster, with more variability, and were less able to maintain a consistent position within the lane than when viewing the road from a low eye height…. drivers choose to drive faster when they view the road from an eye height that is representative of a large SUV compared to that of a small sports car.” This is one reason why I said goodbye to my Miata. The IIHS study concludes:

Despite the changes in vehicle design over the past two decades, SUVs remain disproportionately likely to injure pedestrians compared with cars. Interestingly, the danger that SUVs pose to pedestrians seems to be most pronounced in crashes where the striking vehicle was traveling faster than 19 mph The data suggest that crash characteristics tend to overpower vehicle characteristics for low-speed crashes. That is, low-speed crashes tend to be benign enough that pedestrians emerge with only minor injuries regardless of vehicle type. Crashes at faster speeds are where vehicle design differences begin to predict injury outcomes. 

Safety activists around the world will no doubt point to this as more evidence for Twenty is Plenty speed limiting campaigns.

Here comes the Bronco

So here we are in 2020, admiring the new Ford Bronco, designed for exciting, high-speed off-road driving, with “the toughness and smarts to help turn off-road novices into 4×4 pros.” It is introduced in a time of climate crisis, and in a time when people are demanding that the dramatic rise in the rate of deaths of people who walk or cycle be dealt with. Yet in the face of rising carbon emissions and rising death and injury counts, here comes the Bronco. Many call for regulation; I have been saying for years that they should Make SUVs and Light Trucks as Safe as Cars or Get Rid of Them. Aaron Gordon writes that “American automakers have long argued that regulations are an ineffective way to enact positive change, that the free market is the best way to produce progress.” But the fact that a Ford Bronco can be introduced in 2020 proves this to be a fantasy.

EV sales triple in Germany, disrupting market with 11% share

The Driven, 25/08/20

Germany – the home of the combustion engine – has now had its auto market “officially” disrupted by plug-in electric cars, which in July accounted for a record 11% of all car sales.

Auto sales in general are still depressed due to economic downturn amid Coronavirus in Germany, but increased purchasing incentives that have in some instances meant drivers can more or less get an electric car for free has seen a massive boost in electric vehicle (EV) sales.

According to Jose Pontes from EV Sales, battery electric car sales are up an impressive 182% compared to July 2019, with near 17,000 EVs sold. But it is the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) arena that really shone, with sales up by 485% compared to the same time the year before.

All in all, it equates to a tripling of sales from a year before, meaning that for the entire year, 8.5% of all new car sales in Germany were plug-in electric, with almost half of that (4%) accounted for by battery electric vehicles.

As this is a record for a usually slow July, Pontes notes that “we may have already reached the tipping point in Germany, where disruption is visible and the status quo is changed forever, so we could see this market reach the 10% plugin share already this year, which would mean 2021 would see this market surf the steepest part of the S-Curve during that whole year.”

The new sales record also underpins the observation made by auto analyst Matthias Schmidt, and as reported by The Driven earlier in August that European EV sales are now pushing past those of China, historically the leader of electric car sales in terms of market share.

Surprisingly, it is the Volkswagen e-Golf that remains at the top of battery-electric sales in Germany, despite the fact that the German carmaker is about to unleash its ID.3 electric hatches on the country, backed by a clever low-key marketing campaign that has involved VW CEO Herbert Diess swanning around the country in one.

However, with 2,633 registrations compared to the Renault Zoe’s 2,851, it took the back seat in second place for the month’s sales. Paired with sales in France, Renault sold more than 25,000 Zoes in the first half of 2020 – it is no wonder that with a paltry nine sold in Australia for the same period, the French carmaker decided to pull it locally.

The Tesla Model 3 performed well despite a very small number of registrations in the month of July, presumably due to a slow down in shipping due to the pandemic. With just 154 registered in the month of July, it stayed in the top 3 with 4,521 units.

Pontes says he thinks that September, typically a big month for the German auto industry, will show even better results, with a market share for plug-ins as high as 13%.

As the Volkswagen starts deliveries of the ID.3 and Tesla ramps up shipping as the quarter comes to an end, expect to see some serious EV push and shove.

Four new electric cars are now available for Australia – as grey imports

The Driven, 01/09/20

Four more electric vehicles are now available to Australian drivers, including the longer range Nissan Leaf, the Kia e-Soul, the Fiat 500e and Peugeot E208.

The long range Nissan Leaf e+ with 62kWh battery has been available overseas but, to date, the Japanese car maker has only seen fit to introduce the shorter range version with a 40kWh battery.

A release of the Kia e-Soul electric urban car was expected in 2020 along with its stablemate, the e-Niro, but both have been delayed with Kia citing lack of government support for electric vehicles.

Neither the Fiat e500 nor the Peugeot E208 have been eyed for the Australian market before – presumably taking cues from the dismal sales record of the Renault Zoe, now pulled due to lack of government support, which they would compete against.

But now, all four vehicles will be available to Australian drivers.

There’s a small catch – they are only available via the Special & Enthusiasts Vehicle (SEV) scheme, otherwise known as “grey imports”, which allows the import of vehicles that have been passed over by local car maker arms.

The four vehicles were added in August to the SEV list, which is currently under interim arrangements until new laws are passed.

As flagged by The Driven in November 2019, a change to SEV scheme laws means that there is only a 3 month wait required instead of the previous 18 months from when a vehicle to launched to when it can be added to the register if a car maker chooses not to import it to Australia.

A similar grey import scheme has driven Nissan Leaf sales in New Zealand, which has a fifth of the population of Australia but around the same number of electric cars.

The auto industry in Australia argues there are issues in using the SEV scheme to bring in electric cars that are not otherwise available here, citing safety and battery warranty issues.

But a recent report from Evenergi highlighted that there is an opportunity in Australia for an organisation to overcome these hurdles by providing servicing agreements and battery warranties, and other related services, thereby accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles in Australia.

It is understood that there is at least one long range Nissan Leaf e+ already being imported into the country, for Canberra couple Shane and Karen Maher.

UK rides the wave of micromobility by embracing e-scooters

The Guardian, 25/08/20

Lime launches service in Milton Keynes with other schemes set for Northampton and Cambridge

The UK’s journey to legally embrace e-scooters has taken another zip forward with the start of a full-scale ride-sharing service in Milton Keynes, and further schemes announced for Northampton, Norwich and Cambridge.

More cities around the country are expected to follow suit with year-long trials, as potential operators unveiled new technology in the race to tap into Britain’s new micromobility market.

Lime, which operates the e-bike sharing scheme in Milton Keynes, will from Wednesday provide up to 500 e-scooters on the same app, and claims it will be the first UK service on a par with other cities worldwide.

The government amended the law in summer, with the first pilot scheme starting in Teesside last month – to be extended this week – after measures to address initial misuse that included two teenage riders stopped by police on the A19 dual carriageway.

Alan Clarke, the director of UK policy at Lime, said the scale would allow people to have confidence in scooters as a genuine transport mode when planning their journey: “In some of the smaller schemes, it’s a novelty thing and that’s what we want to avoid.”

Apart from designated local trials, e-scooters remain illegal on public streets, despite their apparent widespread use. Britain has tighter laws than most countries on scooters, which it classes as motorised vehicles, and only those hired on a rental scheme can be used on roads in the trial zones.

Coronavirus has accelerated demand for reform in the UK, but also deterred people from using shared schemes. In the early stages of lockdown, Lime and Bird closed down scooter operations in cities around Europe and North America.

Lime, and the Swedish firm Voi, which will run the Northampton and Cambridge schemes starting in September, say every scooter will be disinfected on a daily basis, while Voi is covering its handlebars with antiviral copper tape.

Firms vaunt the technology’s green credentials and appear to be going the extra mile to cut emissions, as well as addressing concerns over the lifespan of scooters. The European startups Voi and Tier have pledged to use electric cargo bikes rather than vans in the daily servicing of the networks – redistributing scooters, charging batteries, doing repairs and disinfecting.

Tier, a German firm yet to launch operations in the UK, but bidding to land at least one of the bigger city schemes, hopes to go further. It has introduced swappable batteries in around 90% of its fleets in Europe, reducing the need to transport entire scooters for charging. It says it will not employ gig economy workers – but also hopes to incentivise users to help themselves, via charging hubs that can be placed in stores and public buildings. Users can earn a free ride by taking out the depleted battery and swapping it for a recharged one.

This system is to be the first, and imminently launched in Tampere, Finland, but could it work here? In a London launch on Tuesday, Tier’s chief executive and co-founder, Lawrence Leuschner, unveiled a further pièce de résistance – a bespoke foldable helmet, stored in a box on the scooter frame, and surely destined for pillaging in the UK. Leuschner admits he is aware of the fate of Mobike, the Chinese bikeshare that retreated from Manchester after pulling battered bikes from canals.

But, he says: “It’s important that we drive innovation and educate people – and if we do it in a sustainable and responsible way, rather than flooding the market with lots of different vehicles in lots of colours all over the pavements, I hope people will treat them responsibly.” He adds there is always an element of trouble, “not just in the UK”.

Geofencing has improved to the point where firms say they can pinpoint the e-scooters’ location within a couple of metres, allowing them to know whether they are returned to specified bays where cities demand. Lime’s scheme will allow users to park at night almost anywhere within Milton Keynes, but they must take a picture to show it has been left appropriately, without blocking pavements.

Electric scooters to get green light to go on Britain’s public roads

 Read more

At £1 to unlock the scooter and 20p per minute, a prolonged ride quickly goes beyond bus fare territory, but Lime is hoping to entice riders with initial discounts and free rides for key workers. Clarke says the e-bike has already proved financially sustainable and scooters could be a bigger hit: “We believe there is going to be really high demand … We’re in for the long haul.”

Lime and others hope to have learned from teething problems abroad – as well as running potentially more highly regulated services in the UK. “How you engage with the city, police and community – disability organisations, residents and environmental groups – is really important.”

London remains a prize target – although its authorities, scarred by the experience with Uber, are perhaps more reluctant to embrace firms promising technology solutions at the possible expense of existing systems. Transport for Londonsays it is open to “safe and sustainable” solutions but wants a coordinated trial across the capital, designed with all its communities and infrastructure in mind, adding its “viability and any geographical scope is yet to be determined”.

The firms vying to get Britain scooting

Lime: A Silicon Valley startup that was notionally valued at $1bn within a year of launching in 2017, backed by Chinese capital. Started in bikes – bought out Uber’s Jump – and operates across US, Europe and Asia.

Bird: Californian close rival, founded by ex-Uber executives and another “unicorn”. Operates in more than 100 cities in the US and Europe. Ran first UK scheme, in private land in Stratford’s Olympic park.

Voi: Fast-growing Swedish startup, pioneering Europe’s dockless scooters in Stockholm in 2018 and now operating in 11 countries.

Tier: European rival, growing from Berlin to 70 cities in nine countries.

Beryl: London-based bike share firm, established 2012, now set to operate the first bike, e-bike and e-scooter multimodal trial in Norwich from September.

Ginger: UK startup running the Teesside trials.,par%20with%20other%20cities%20worldwide.

What Australia can learn from bicycle-friendly cities overseas

The Conversation, 28/08/20

Walking and cycling are in the spotlight given the need to keep fit, get about and keep a social distance from others during the pandemic.

We have pop-up cyclewaysenlarged footpaths and even whole streets closed to traffic.

But even if the new cycleways stay in place after the COVID-19 crisis, we’ll still be far from being as bicycle-friendly as Copenhagen or Amsterdam, over in Europe.

CBDs and city suburbs

The reason lies in how Australian cities are shaped and how they work. Copenhagen is a compact city, so most trips are relatively short, an average 3km a day. People can walk or cycle all the way to work, to the shops, to school or to a restaurant.

Any attempt to emulate Copenhagen’s active transport modes in Australia is only really a feasible option for our CBDs and inner-city suburbs.

For the rest we already have some cycleways mostly following transport corridors. Sometimes these are literally a bicycle lane on the shoulder of the motorway.

There are some people who use those, but even the most committed of cyclists would think twice before a 20km one-way commute under a scorching sun or in heavy rain.

Go the ‘first mile’

Only if cycling becomes an option for almost everyone, any day, can it truly make a difference.

That is, for most of us cycling cannot be an alternative, but a complement, to public transport. Cycling has the potential to solve what is often referred to as the “first mile” problem, the challenge of getting people to a public transport hub.

For people who live up to 1km away from a railway station, they should have a comfortable walk.

Many more, living up to 3km away, could benefit from cycling. They could ride to the station, leave their bike securely parked, and catch a train to their final destination.

Access derailed

But the way things are, cycling or walking to the station can be a dangerous ordeal, or at least rather unpleasant, for most of us.

Footpaths may disappear on one or both sides of the road, pedestrian crossings may be scarce, heavy traffic on arterial roads creates toxic fumes and noise, and the lack of trees greatly reduces amenity.

If you do not see other people walking or cycling, then even a short trip can be unsettling or feel unsafe.

The conditions can be worse for cyclists, who may have no options other than to ride illegally on the narrow footpath or risk it on the road.

Turning Japanese

Improving active transport access to suburban stations is a low-cost endeavour with many benefits. First of all, we need to look at examples that work and find out why, then adapt them to our needs.

We believe the best examples applicable to suburban Australia are not just in great European cycling cities but include the humble mamachari bicycles found in the suburbs of Japan’s big cities.

We have written about what makes Japanese city planning and transportation so bicycle-friendly in our most recent book, City Form, Economics and Culture: For the Architecture of Public Space.

Note that Greater Tokyo (known as the Kanto region) is not an incredibly dense behemoth but a sea of single-family detached houses in which most of the population live.

Suburban Kanto is built around railway stations, much like many parts of Sydney or Melbourne. Large shops, schools and offices are located around the station so most local transport is on foot or bike. Longer trips are done by train.

Most people in Greater Tokyo walk or ride their bicycles to the station. This is possible because most streets carry very little traffic. Arterial roads and motorways are congested with commercial traffic, but can be easily avoided for local trips.

So you won’t often find cycle lanes or even footpaths at all in Japan. They are not necessary.

What Australia can learn

In Australia the overall goal, or strategy, should be to make it easier for people to cycle and walk to and from their local public transport station.

The ways to achieve this, the tactics, need to be different and tailored for each suburb.

For instance, some of our suburbs have very wide streets with little traffic so a row of trees could be planted in the middle and on-street car parking moved there, making it easier for cyclists on the road.

A wide bicycle lane could then be accommodated next to the footpath, away from opening car doors.

Sometimes there is an existing network of lanes that could be easily adapted as a route for cyclists. In any case, paths should be clearly marked and continuous, so no-one rides all of sudden in heavy traffic.

Increasing walking and cycling also generates opportunities for local business. Little and mid-size shops should be allowed to flourish around stations.

All in all, the suburbs would be a bit less dependent on the CBD and the shopping centre without losing much of their charm and character, and we will all lose a couple of kilos.

Italy Offers €500 Subsidy for Bicycles and E-Scooters

Treehugger, 19/08/20

As part of its post-coronavirus recovery plan, Italy announced earlier this summer that it would offer a hefty subsidy to anyone wanting to buy a bicycle. People living in cities of more than 50,000 inhabitants are eligible to receive €500 ($600) toward the purchase of a new bicycle or e-scooter. 

This announcement, made at the end of May by transport minister Paola Micheli, is part of the country’s €55 billion support package designed to boost Italy’s economy after its devastation by COVID-19. Italy was one of the first countries outside of China to be hit hard by COVID-19 and to enforce extensive lockdown rules in an effort to control the pandemic. 

Shaken by the experience, many Italians (along with others around the world) have expressed reluctance to use public transit as normal life slowly resumes. And with its cramped, historic cities and narrow cobblestone streets already jammed full of traffic, having even more Italians commute by car would be a recipe for disaster.

The new subsidy is accompanied by an initiative to expand bicycle lanes throughout Italian cities, which is smart. The Brussels Times reported, “City representatives of the country’s capital, Rome, announced on Monday that it would create 150 kilometres [93 miles] of new cycling paths by September.” A similar project in Milan called “Strade Aperte” (or Open Roads) has been switching 35 kilometres [22 miles] of urban streets to temporary bicycle lanes and widened sidewalks. Hopefully these will become permanent, once residents realize how helpful they are.

But subsidies alone are unlikely to convince Italians that it’s worth hopping on a bike. Residents of Rome, in particular, are wary of bikes, as described in New Mobility:

“Previous bicycle projects in the city failed because Romans showed no interest at all. They found bicycles too heavy, too dangerous, too hot, too slow, or too unhandy so that the scarce cycle paths that were built became parking places again in no time at all. Companies that had been running loan bike programs in recent years also pulled out in record time because their bikes were almost exclusively loved by thieves who sold the loose parts to hardware stores.”

Furthermore, it’s estimated that there are over “50,000 holes in Roman roads,” which is why only 1% of all journeys in the city are made by bicycle, according to a 2017 report by Greenpeace (via New Mobility).

As Gianluca Santili, president of the study center Osservatorio Bikeconomy, explained, there needs to be a major cultural shift. “150 km of cycle paths is not enough to get Romans on their bikes.” They will need campaigns showing that life is better on a bike, that with a bicycle, “you no longer have parking problems and, therefore, less stress. That cycling is healthier than the car and the scooter, and above all: that they can save up to €3,000 [$3,580] a year on gasoline, road tax, and insurances.”

Some Italians also need to believe that it doesn’t look bad to ride a bicycle. Fifteen years later, I’m still mildly bitter about the fact that my Italian host parents refused to let me ride a bike to school because they worried what the neighbors would think, “that we’re not taking care of you properly. Non si fa. It just isn’t done.” The old-world hang-ups about appearance were endearing only until they started to jeopardize my health and sanity.

Change can happen quickly, however, especially when a country has emerged from a traumatic event like the coronavirus pandemic. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it did burn in nine, so there’s really no telling what’s possible.

MÁV-Start seeks up to 50 battery-electric trainsets

HUNGARY: National passenger operator MÁV-Start has called tenders for an initial 20 bi-mode multiple-units with an option for 30 more. The trains will have to be able to operate in 25 kV 50 Hz electric mode and be capable of using battery power for up to 80 km at a speed of 100 km/h.

The winning bidder will be expected to supply 20 trainsets with 200 seats; the optional 30 sets would have 150 seats. The tender stipulates that if the options are exercise, at least five trains would be ordered.

Of the initial batch of 20, the operator intends to use 10 on the Budapest – Balatonfüred – Tapolca route, serving the popular tourist region around the northern shore of Lake Balaton. The route is currently undergoing electrification between Székesfehérvár and Balatonfüred.

MÁV-Start envisages using the other 10 trainsets on the Budapest – Lajosmizse suburban route, upgrading and electrification of which was announced by the government on August 14.

The first bi-mode trainsets are expected to enter service during 2023–24. The optional 30 could enter traffic by 2029 on longer distance routes including Győr – Szombathely and Győr – Pécs.

The introduction of a bi-mode fleet would also enable MÁV-Start to redeploy its Siemens Desiro DMUs, the only low-floor vehicles in its diesel fleet.

This is MÁV-Start’s second attempt to call tenders for the fleet, having first launched procurement in May. Updated tender notices were called on August 10. One notable aspect of the evaluation of the bids is that extra marks are to be awarded for designs able to operate coupled with MÁV-Start’s existing 123 Stadler Flirt EMUs.

HUNGARY: National passenger operator MÁV-Start has called tenders for an initial 20 bi-mode multiple-units with an option for 30 more. The trains will have to be able to operate in 25 kV 50 Hz electric mode and be capable of using battery power for up to 80 km at a speed of 100 km/h.

The winning bidder will be expected to supply 20 trainsets with 200 seats; the optional 30 sets would have 150 seats. The tender stipulates that if the options are exercise, at least five trains would be ordered.

Of the initial batch of 20, the operator intends to use 10 on the Budapest – Balatonfüred – Tapolca route, serving the popular tourist region around the northern shore of Lake Balaton. The route is currently undergoing electrification between Székesfehérvár and Balatonfüred.

MÁV-Start envisages using the other 10 trainsets on the Budapest – Lajosmizse suburban route, upgrading and electrification of which was announced by the government on August 14.

The first bi-mode trainsets are expected to enter service during 2023–24. The optional 30 could enter traffic by 2029 on longer distance routes including Győr – Szombathely and Győr – Pécs.

The introduction of a bi-mode fleet would also enable MÁV-Start to redeploy its Siemens Desiro DMUs, the only low-floor vehicles in its diesel fleet.

This is MÁV-Start’s second attempt to call tenders for the fleet, having first launched procurement in May. Updated tender notices were called on August 10. One notable aspect of the evaluation of the bids is that extra marks are to be awarded for designs able to operate coupled with MÁV-Start’s existing 123 Stadler Flirt EMUs.

Battery Powered Trains will be 35% Cheaper Than Hydrogen, Study Concludes

Treehugger, 27/08/20

The price of batteries keeps dropping, so why do people keep talking about hydrogen?

Just about everyone agrees that the best way to power a train is with electricity from overhead wires; the only problem is that it is really expensive to install. Even in Europe, which is pretty dense and has a great rail system, as much as 40% of the 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) of track is not electrified, and on many of these lines, the demand isn’t high enough to ever justify the cost, which can be huge. There isn’t only the wiring, but often all the bridges have to be rebuilt higher to handle the height of the catenary wires and pantographs on the roofs of the trains.

European governments want to get rid of diesel-powered trains as part of the fight against global heating, so they have been buyinghydrogen-electric multiple units (HEMU),which are electric trains powered by fuel cells running on hydrogen.

But there is another player in the game: battery electric multiple units (BEMU) –trains powered directly from giant batteries, which are getting better and cheaper by the day. They are now pushing 75 miles (120 kilometers) in range; Rail Journal quotes Brahim Soua of Alstom, who says “This was not the case several years ago where the level of autonomy was close to 40km. This is thanks to an improvement in the battery’s capability to store more energy for the same mass of battery.” This is good enough range to skip through many non-electrified sections of Europe. The Alstom press release explains how it works in these sections:

The Coradia Continental BEMU has a range of up to 120 kilometres and can be operated under catenary as well as on non-electrified sections. The three-car-trains will be 56 metres long and equipped with 150 seats. They will have a top speed of 160 km/h in battery mode. The capacity of the batteries (high-power lithium-ion) is calculated to ensure catenary-free operation of the line Chemnitz-Leipzig without any sacrifice in performance or comfort.

Now Oliver Cuenca of International Railway Journal reports that the battery-powered trains cost 35% less to buy and operate than hydrogen trains. The batteries don’t have to be replaced as often as fuel cells, either, so maintenance costs will be lower. Cuenca notes some caveats:

However, the study assumes that only ‘green’ hydrogen made by electrolysis using electricity from renewable sources will be used. In reality, the cheaper so-called ‘grey hydrogen,’ made as a by-product of the chemical and oil industry, will be used in some cases.

This is likely true. The problem is, there is no point in replacing the diesel trains if they run on gray hydrogen, which is made from natural gas and emits 9.3 kg of CO2 for every kg of H2 in the process. The hydrogen-hype people say this is just an intermediate step, that “The plan is that hydrogen will be produced on site via electrolysis and wind energy at a later stage of the project.” But as we noted before, “while Germany’s renewable electricity supply has grown dramatically, they still get half their power from coal and are closing their nuclear reactors. It will be a very long time before they are making hydrogen from electrolysis.”

Unless it was made at night…

The study also assumes that hydrogen will be more expensive than electricity because electricity is needed to produce the hydrogen in the first place. This may not be true, as electricity used to produce hydrogen generated at night will likely be significantly cheaper due to much lower demand compared with the daytime electricity used when most electric regional trains operate.

Except that if the trains operate during the daytime, they can be charged at night with the same cheap electricity, just like people do with their electric cars. And it will store a lot more of that electricity. Hydrogen is a lousy battery; the efficiency of splitting it from the oxygen is now up to about 80%. Then there are losses compressing and cooling it, and then the fuel cell is only about 50% efficient, giving an overall efficiency at the wheels of about 35%. This all might get better with improved technology, but batteries are running at 80% efficiency now and they are getting better too. As energy expert Paul Martin notes,

A technology which uses 3x as much energy as its competitor, at bare minimum, will have a hard time competing- if they share the same energy source. So if H2 is going to be competitive, beware- it won’t be “green” hydrogen they reach for. It’ll be the only kind you can currently buy- BLACK hydrogen made from fossils without carbon capture. And that’s a highly questionable way to “green” a diesel.

Here at Treehugger we have done quite a few posts about hydrogen trains and this is the first discussing electric trains; hydrogen is a lot sexier. But even the people who buy the trains are voting with their wallets:

The report also found that the adoption of BEMUs for regular operation is increasing rapidly, with 31.2 million km of German railway now exclusively contracted or tendered for BEMU operation. By contrast, hydrogen trains represent only 5.2 million km, limited to two contracts in Lower Saxony and Hessen which both use Alstom iLINT trains.

The hydrogen hype will continue; the fossil fuel giants and gas distribution companies have so much invested in pipes and infrastructure and have vast quantities of cheap natural gas that they can strip the hydrogen out of. They will keep promising that it will someday be green or blue so that they can keep control of the system. But really, electric systems, whether in houses, cars or trains, just keep getting better and better. So let’s just electrify everything and be done with the hydrogen hype.

Next stop Ellenbrook: Will the train line solve the growing town’s isolation woes?

ABC News 27/08/20

For Ellenbrook commuters like Aisha Sulemana-Cave, a long-awaited passenger train to Perth could not come soon enough.

It has been more than a decade since the Morley-Ellenbrook line was promised, connecting the sprawling region of almost 50,000 residents to the CBD, 30 kilometres away.

And now, construction is expected to get underway soon with the contract for works to be awarded later this year.

Ms Sulemana-Cave spends up to three hours a day making her trek to and from the city for TAFE — a trip that would take just over an hour return in a car — and the journey can get nerve-wracking for the 16-year-old.

“Usually when I get home I’m one of the last people on the bus, then it’s really dark,” she said.

“In the park there’s not many street lights — so having to use my flashlight to walk home in the dark is not fun.”

The journey from the new train station, which is expected to be completed in 2023-24, is set to take commuters from Ellenbrook’s town centre to the Perth CBD in half an hour with no need to transfer.

“It will be so much faster — I won’t have to worry about getting in late or traffic or anything,” Ms Sulemana-Cave said.

“I think it’ll be easier for everybody, especially families — I see a lot of people with children, the hassle of getting on the bus everyday with babies and prams and everything.”

The 21-kilometre line will see new stations built in Ellenbrook, Whiteman Park, Malaga, Noranda and Morley, with the State Government expecting over 11,700 passenger boardings on the line from its first day of operation.

Geographically isolated from services

But while the train line — touted as WA’s biggest public transport project since opening of the 70-kilometre Mandurah line in 2007 — will ease many commuters’ struggles dramatically, Ellenbrook’s isolation has impacts beyond public transport.

The City of Swan’s Local Area Plan from 2017 found the area’s disconnection caused “community-wide social issues”, with major gaps in local access to services, employment and training opportunities, and opportunities for young people.

Ms Sulemana-Cave said there was not a lot for young people to do.

“Most of the kids here, they all go out to Joondalup or Midland and the city,” she said.

The plan also found Ellenbrook’s medical services might not be adequate for its ageing population.

Ellenbrook resident Vaughn McGuire said the missing services had been particularly clear when he was injured in a house fire and had ongoing care appointments.

His injuries meant he could hardly walk let alone drive, and the bus timetable was not frequent enough to fit his appointments.

“The services I needed at the time were all based in Midland and Morley and the city,” he said.

“You name it, it needs to be out here — I mean we’ve got thousands of people living out here, I think it’s time we had all those facilities here.”

Mr McGuire said he would like to see increased medical services for the Ellenbrook community, more mental health assistance, a TAFE, and government service offices like Centrelink.

‘Build it and they will come’

Urban planner Paul Maginn from the University of Western Australia said the initial impact from the train line would increase property prices and accessibility to the city.

He said more services were likely on the way as Ellenbrook continued to evolve.

“It’s a case of build it and they will come,” he said.

“I think all the outer suburban areas go through an evolution process in terms of establishing populations and the services that come with them.

“[Ellenbrook] is an interesting place — it’s just getting to maturity, I think.

“It’s coming out of its teenage years and it’s moving into adulthood.”

With next year’s state election drawing closer, Dr Maginn said outer-metropolitan areas like Ellenbrook would be a focal point for parties.

“I think we’ll see both major parties offering all kinds of goodies … in terms of upgrades to schools, upgrades to health facilities, upgrades to public open spaces and things like this,” he said.

“When an outer suburban area gets to a critical mass in terms of population then it becomes politically vital.”

What’s being done about it?

City of Swan chief executive Mike Foley said there had been significant progress towards closing the service gaps identified in Ellenbrook’s Local Area Plan.

That included an interim youth space developed ahead of a dedicated youth centre, grants for community groups, and a $63-million expansion of the local shopping centre.

Mr Foley said the City was also advocating for more funding for an Ellenbrook recreation and aquatic facility and was calling for $5 million for social and family services including counselling, case management and drop-in activities.

Swan Hills MLA Jessica Shaw said the State Government had been focused on improving transport links, with the new NorthLink freeway now open to traffic as well as the New Lord Street road link to Brabham and Caversham.

Ms Shaw said the state had also delivered new services including urgent care clinics, a child and parent centre, and an education support centre. 

“There’s always more to do,” she said.

“The train line is going to be a game changer for Ellenbrook.

“It will deliver local jobs during construction, complete our town centre, create a new commercial and retail precinct with a range of forms of housing, and facilitate our community’s access to employment, higher education, Perth Airport, entertainment and community services right through the Perth region.”

Pearce MP Christian Porter said the train line would make a significant difference to the everyday lives of residents who had been waiting for it, and unlock more opportunities for the region.

Country town to metropolitan hotspot

For locals like Mr McGuire, there’s been a lot of change over the past couple of decades in Ellenbrook.

Ellenbrook’s population is predicted to swell to over 70,000 people by 2036, with significant growth in its young and aged population, many culturally and linguistically diverse families, and many FIFO families needing more support services and playgroups.

While he wants to see services catch up to the population, he also wants to see a strong sense of community grow.

“Initially I moved out here because I thought it would be like my home town that I came from, Kellerberrin,” he said.

“I didn’t realise it was going to be this big, it’s grown tremendously.

“The isolation part was a good thing at the time — having more people out here now, residential, it’s woken Ellenbrook up to the world.

“[I want to see] more people uniting and the community getting together.”