There's a gross over-simplification of chaos theory that goes: a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa, the monsoons run late in India, and we get tornadoes in Joplin.
We assume that the butterflies are benign, just like the birds are.
The National Gateway railroad project shows similar inter-dependencies and conditional sensitivity, and to me it carries interesting points about the NextGen aviation proposal and project management.
The Panama Canal is a money-maker. As shipping between Asia/China and the United States has increased, the number of ships trying to move materiel to the US East Coast has exceeded the capacity of the Panama Canal (which is fixed in terms of ship size, ships per hour, etc). Demand exceeds supply, costs go up, schedules slip, China looks for another path and starts sending more and more ships to the West Coast.
As the shipping business and the money moved away from the Panama Canal and toward West Coast docks and transcontinental train lines, the Canal people said 'Wait we want that money! We're going to widen the Canal, so really big ships can come through.'
When the train people found out that the Canal people were going lateral, they looked at their capability to handle the new volume and realized that the train structure can't handle it. The railroad solution was to go vertical and run double-height trains on the legacy tracks, doubling the railroad capacity.
But wait; the railroads have a problem. It's easy to run double-height trains in the open air, but it's impossible to run double-height trains through some of the oldest legacy tunnels, which were built in difficult situations to single-height train specs.
The railroads have embarked on a program to make their tunnels taller. Sometimes they raise the roof, sometimes they lower the floor. It's a huge effort called the National Gateway.
This summer in Pittsburgh's Southside Works, the "tunnel park" shown in the photo above (where the CSX train tunnel runs under the grass) will be excavated, raised, and rebuilt, as explained by the Post-Gazette's most excellent Larry Walsh:
The Panama Canal is nearly 2,200 miles from Pittsburgh, but ripples from a $5.25 billion canal expansion will be felt here... when construction crews are expected to excavate the grassy strip in SouthSide Works known as Tunnel Park. There's a railroad tunnel down there, and CSX Transportation wants to raise the roof on it.
They hope to finish the work by 2015, when bigger ships that will be able to use the expanded Panama Canal will start plying East Coast ports, including Philadelphia, generating more demand for trains to move goods in the East and Midwest.
I found another unexpected impact of the Panama Canal project last week when I was riding the bicycle trail from Confluence to Rockwood, near a place called Pinkerton PA. Let's look at the Pinkerton Horn, and the train tracks and tunnels that run through the mountain there.
This map shows the curve of the Cassellman River, which gives the Pinkerton Horn its shape, and the path of the original train line and tunnel:
This map shows the location of the current CSX train tracks and tunnel, which allowed the railroad to abandon the old tracks and problematic tunnel.
This map shows how the original train bed was used for the GAP bike trail, and how the trail circumnavigates the Pinkerton Horn because of the tremendous expense of rehabilitating the closed, legacy tunnel:
Daylighting the Pinkerton TunnelThe double-height trains won't be able to fit in the Pinkerton Tunnel. Because of the geology, the railroad has decided to "daylight" the train tracks that run through the mountain, which means they'll remove all the earth above the tracks until daylight shines down upon them. (click for project details) It's a huge amount of material. In order to accomplish this, the railroad has chosen to cut down all the trees above the bike trail.
This map shows where the mountain will be cut away over the new train line, "daylighting" the tracks and permitting double-height train cars. It also shows the central area in which the trees are being cut down along the top of the ridge.
This photo from last week shows the bike trail at the west portal of the old closed tunnel, and the deforestation above the trail detour.
A Project Management PerspectiveFrom a project management perspective, I think about all the times I've tried to get something done and run into "You can't do that, because yada yada yada". These transportation engineers run into constraints and say, hey let's just remove that mountain. Wow, just wow. I'd like to have some of that mojo.
A NextGen PerspectiveNextGen is industry's proposed satellite-based aviation system.
The Panama Canal:
- From a Theory of Constraints perspective, the Panama Canal is the constraining factor in shipping between Asia and the East Coast.
- In a curious NextGen analogy, once again we see that capacity is about the constraint, and the constraint is concrete.
- You could give all those ships brand new GPS units, but it wouldn't increase capacity at all.
- The capacity constraint was the tunnels (concrete)
- giving those trains updated satellite links won't do a thing to increase capacity
It's all about the concrete.