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    Amtrak’s Grand Plan for Profitability
    Articles, Blog

    Amtrak’s Grand Plan for Profitability

    December 4, 2019

    This video was made possible by Away. Get the perfect suitcase for $20 off by going
    to and using the promo code, “wendover20.” On July 12, 2017, Amtrak got a new CEO. The American government-owned railroad company
    would now be helmed by Richard Anderson. Anderson was no stranger to the American transport
    industry. He had previously worked for nine years as
    the CEO of Delta Airlines—leading it from bankruptcy to prosperity. This job, of turning around a struggling company,
    is rarely a popular one. It requires making difficult decisions that
    plenty will not agree with, but it’s a job that some leaders have a knack for. Having succeeded with this at Delta, there
    was at least some evidence that Richard Anderson could complete the same task elsewhere. That’s why he was brought to Amtrak. Amtrak is certainly a company in need of turnaround. While it is government owned, it is intended
    to operate as a for-profit company. Despite that, however, it has never turned
    a profit since its inception in 1971. Each year, the difference between what it
    makes from running its trains and what it costs to run those trains is made up by government
    subsidies, grants, and debt. The company’s primary purpose, beyond making
    money, is, of course, to carry passengers, and they don’t even do that all that well. In 2018, only 73% of their trains arrived
    on time. In the case of their long-distance trains,
    just 43% got to their destination on time. In fairness, the majority of the company’s
    delays are the fault of the freight rail companies that own the tracks that carry their trains,
    but still, it’s sure that the company could use some work. So, Richard Anderson has been getting to work. To understand how Amtrak works as a company,
    you have to understand the types of trains it operates. There are essentially three categories. The first are the Northeast Corridor trains. This route, connecting Boston, New York, DC,
    and a number of smaller cities up and down the east coast, is operated by both higher
    speed Acela and slower Northeast Regional trains, and overall, the Northeast Corridor
    is by far Amtrak’s most profitable route. The slower, regional trains they operate earn
    them a profit of almost $25 per passenger. On the higher-speed Acela, they profit more
    than $80 per passenger. Without this route, Amtrak would be in a far
    poorer financial state. The second type of trains are the state-supported
    ones. Essentially, what these are are shorter routes
    supported by the subsidies offered by state governments. Every single short-distance train outside
    the northeast corridor is state-supported, and this type includes routes like Charlotte
    to Raleigh, North Carolina; Chicago to Quincy, Illinois; or Vancouver, Canada to Portland,
    Oregon. These routes range in profitability. The DC to Lynchburg train, for example, earns
    the company almost $40 in profit per passenger. Meanwhile, the Fort Worth, Texas, to Oklahoma
    City, Oklahoma one loses more than $30 per passenger. Overall, though, the state-supported routes
    as a grouping are unprofitable, but not by that much. They are somewhat close to break-even. The third type of trains is the long-distance
    ones. Ranging from 13 hours to 65, these routes
    connect big cities to small towns all across the US. Many of these routes have storied histories
    and strong fanbases of those who prefer the more relaxed method of travel, however, these
    routes certainly do not help Amtrak’s financial performance. Every single one of Amtrak’s long-distance
    routes lose money. How much money they lose ranges anywhere from
    $12 per passenger in the case of the Palmetto between New York City and Savannah, Georgia
    all the way to $456 per passenger in the case of the Sunset Limited from New Orleans, Louisiana
    to Los Angeles. Overall, Amtrak loses more than a half billion
    dollars a year operating these long-distance routes. Part of what makes Richard Anderson the perfect
    figure to turn around Amtrak is that he does not care about trains. That’s to say, he has no sense of sentimentality
    about the history or the grandeur or the allure of particular storied routes. His passion is for profitability and that’s
    his goal, seemingly no matter the cost. Therefore, three core parts to Anderson’s
    Amtrak plan have emerged—expanding the Northeast Corridor services, optimizing the state-supported
    services, and cutting back the long-distance services. Starting with the Northeast Corridor, this
    is clearly Amtrak’s greatest asset. The company owns most of the tracks between
    DC and Boston meaning that they don’t run into the same problems of using freight railroad’s
    tracks like with almost all their other services. This means they can run these services relatively
    reliably, and therefore have a clear advantage over planes or buses when traveling between
    New York and DC or Boston. Consequently, they have cornered the market
    between Boston, New York, and DC. The first part of Amtrak’s plan to double-down
    on this route was initiated before Anderson even joined the company. Amtrak is receiving new, faster, and larger
    train sets for their higher-speed Acela Express service on the route in 2021. With the introduction of these, Amtrak has
    teased plans to create four tiers of transport for the corridor. The lowest would be a new, local train operating
    all the way from Richmond, Virginia to Portland, Maine making most all stops along the way. This idea for this sort of, “super-local,”
    train would be to connect additional smaller communities to the Amtrak Network, as this
    service could be used to connect to other higher-speed trains. The next tier up would be the existing Northeast
    Regional service, operating between Boston and DC, with some continuing on into Virginia. Above that would be the current Acela Express,
    operating limited-stop service between Boston and DC, then above that would be new, nonstop
    services from DC and Boston to New York. The company launched the first of these in
    September, 2019, with a travel time of 2 hours and 35 minutes—shaving about 15 minutes
    off the travel time of the stopping Acelas. In the future, the addition of nonstop services
    from Boston and additional frequencies from DC will cement this as the most premium option
    in the Northeast Corridor, and the idea is that these four tiered options together will
    help capture more of every customer segment—thereby squeezing more revenue out of Amtrak’s most
    profitable route. The fact that some of Amtrak’s state-supported
    trains break even is a fantastic sign because it means, with optimization, that Amtrak can
    turn this grouping profitable. Anderson has made noise about expanding Amtrak’s
    short-distance network across the US. The company has not announced any specific
    new routes as part of a major short-distance expansion, but it’s clear that there are
    opportunities. Trains tend to be competitive in time and
    cost to flights under a distance of about 300 miles or 500 kilometers. That means there are plenty of likely profitable
    routes that Amtrak could set up, like Dallas to Houston or Los Angeles to Las Vegas. While it’s unlikely that Amtrak would set
    up any additional short-distance routes without state funding, the company does have potential
    future competition. Two private companies are fairly serious about
    starting up high-speed train service on these routes. Between Dallas and Houston, a company called
    Texas Central Railway is months away from starting construction on a high-speed line
    connecting the cities in just 90 minutes. Elsewhere, Virgin Trains USA—the company
    that owns what is currently the only privately-owned inter-city railroad in the US between Miami,
    Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach—recently acquired a company that had begun planning
    and permitting work for a Los Angeles area to Las Vegas high-speed line, and is looking
    to start construction in 2020. If these projects are completed, which seems
    quite possible, two of Amtrak’s most potentially profitable routes would be snapped up and,
    if successful, it would open the door to future private rail projects in the US. While significant rail investment and development
    would no doubt prove quite beneficial for the country and help solve many of its transport
    problems, to Amtrak, it would get in the way of their ability to cherry-pick the most profitable
    short-haul routes in order to offset the loss of long-distance routes. That brings us to those long-distance routes. This is where things get tricky for Amtrak. As a publicly-owned company enjoying quite
    sizable amounts of public funding, Amtrak relies on keeping in the good graces of the
    US Congress. Their long-distance routes pass through more
    than 40 states and cutting them would be politically unpopular anywhere. Not only do they serve as economic stimulus
    by providing jobs to rural areas, but many of the company’s 500 stops represent the
    only public transport link to the outside world from the small towns they’re in. Congresspeople are well aware that the loss
    of a route that their constituents use would not help with their popularity. At the very same time, Congress has been putting
    the pressure on Amtrak to cut its losses, even though the very thing loosing all their
    money are these long-distance routes. Therefore, for now, the company has started
    making efforts to cut cost on these trains. As one example, they’ve started to move
    their long-distance trains away from serving fresh meals from their onboard kitchen towards
    stocking pre-packaged, pre-prepared foods. This, undoubtably, did not go down well with
    Amtrak loyalists, but the whole long-distance mess gets even messier. The company has been accused of, essentially,
    misleading accounting practices. This would presumably be in order to make
    the long-distance routes seem like bigger money losers than they truly are in order
    to help the case for their discontinuation. The company attributes different costs to
    different lines to give a sense of which make money and which don’t, but this isn’t
    always done well. For example, it apparently cost $3 million
    a year to maintain the company’s electric train equipment outside the northeast corridor
    even though, aside from a small branch line to Harrisburg, there are no Amtrak electric
    train routes outside the northeast corridor—only diesel. It also attributed all the cost of its baggage
    handling services to its long-distance trains, even though these are used on many short-distance
    services as well. The biggest highlight of their cost attribution,
    though, is what they marked down as the cost they bore for their station in Miami—the
    terminus of some of the long-distance routes—to be cleaned of snow. The last time it snowed anywhere close to
    Miami was 1977. What’s likely to happen, in the near future,
    is that Amtrak will cut the most egregious losers in its long-distance portfolio while
    keeping those that are closer to break-even in order to appease Congress. The termination of any route would be a huge
    loss to many. They each provide hundreds or thousands of
    jobs and connect many of the country’s smallest towns to bigger cities, but its likely a necessity
    given the pressure from DC. The new leader of Amtrak, Richard Anderson,
    has, though, helped lead the company towards the goal that long seemed impossible. In the company’s last fiscal year, it lost
    just $30 million. In Amtrak terms, that is nothing, and it puts
    them on track to break-even in 2020—an achievement that the company has never reached since its
    inception 50 years ago. This will occur during what is clearly a time
    of great change for Amtrak. It is reinventing itself at the beginning
    of a period of reinvention for the American rail industry as a whole. What many are worried about, though, is that
    it and the Congresspeople behind it will forget the difference between a private company and
    a government-owned one. If Amtrak was a true for-profit company, it
    would have long ago made the quite easy decision to cut every single long-distance route. Doing so would immediately turn them into
    a quite profitable corporation, but the company’s purpose is to connect America, and there’s
    a whole lot more to America than a four-hour radius around the largest cities. Anyone who’s travelled a lot, and possibly
    experienced the ups and downs of Amtrak, knows that not all suitcases are created equal. You can get really cheap and flimsy suitcases
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    Storeton Quarry Light Railway – Wirral
    Articles, Blog

    Storeton Quarry Light Railway – Wirral

    November 29, 2019

    Storeton Quarry light railway Lever Brothers quarry road, station furniture cross Cross lane map of route track and stone Quarry was present in roman occupation, Stone transported to the quay side at Brombrough

    World’s Future MEGAPROJECTS
    Articles, Blog

    World’s Future MEGAPROJECTS

    November 12, 2019

    Welcome to TDC. This is our mini-documentary
    on the most ambitious, fascinating infrastructure Megaprojects of the near future. The rulers of the United Arab Emirates have
    insane amounts of money to spend. Thanks to everyone’s thirst for oil, they’ve been
    on a construction spree unlike any the world has ever seen for such a small country, investing
    in one ambitious infrastructure project after another. At one point, 24 percent of all the
    world’s construction cranes we in Dubai. Unfortunately, that was before the 2008-2009
    global financial meltdown, which led to much of the investment in the city drying up faster
    than the water on somebody who just got out of the pool at the Burj Khalifa. But the government
    insists that many of these projects have simply been delayed, and are putting their money
    where their mouth is with the recent approval of a $32 billion expansion of Dubai’s Al
    Maktoum International Airport that will break ground by the end of 2014. When complete,
    it’ll suddenly have the capacity to become the busiest airport in the world in both total
    passengers – at 220 million a year – and total cargo of 12 million annual tonnes of goods
    that can move through it–that’s almost 3 times more than what takes off from the
    runways of the world’s current leader, Hong Kong’s International Airport. It’s terminals
    will able to hold 100 of the massive new Airbus A380’s that are over 2/3ds of a football
    field long and cost $300 million a pop. The UAE’s Emirates airline already owns more
    of those planes than anyone else in the world. It’s the largest airline in the Middle East
    and will eventually move into the Al Maktoum airport to help jump start activity. The government’s
    plan is for the airfield to be the heartbeat of a city within the larger city of Dubai
    called World Central, which the UAE thinks will be home to 900,000 residents in the near
    future. The airport also hopes to be the central hub for the emerging Middle East, North African,
    and South Asian economic bloc known as MENASA. But time will tell whether the Shaikh’s
    vision for Dubai actually becomes a reality, or fades like some vicious mirage. This is Songdo International Business District,
    the world’s most futuristic urban area. It’s being built 40 miles southwest of the
    second-most populated city in the world, Seoul, South Korea. The $40 billion project is along
    the waterfront in the city of Incheon and is embracing two key concepts that urban planners
    are in love with: The first is Aerotropolis, which means the airport is integrated into
    the urban center instead of banishing it far outside of the city. This allows for shorter
    trips to and from the place that’s going to get you out of town–this’ll be an emerging
    pattern in 21st century planning as air travel continues to become accessible to more and
    more people in our increasingly interconnected world. Songdo is brilliantly directly connected
    to the airport via the 7-mile long Incheon bridge so you’ve just got a straight shot
    that gets you there in like 10 minutes that’s also got these incredible views and is the
    first thing visitors see coming into the city. The other key theme is Ubiquitous City, which
    is a uniquely Korean concept where every device, component, service is linked to an informational
    network through wireless computing technology, allowing for greater coordination and a more
    efficient and synchronized city than has ever been possible before. An example of this is
    Songdo’s trash system, which won’t rely on garbage trucks, because a network of tubes
    will suck in the garbage straight from the can and through a system of pipes, transport
    it efficiently to treatment facilities. Songdo’s so dedicated to being a model for sustainability
    that it has set aside 40% of its land area to be outdoor spaces like parks and it’ll
    become the first city in the world outside of the United States to achieve LEED certification,
    which is the highest energy consumption and waste standards possible with currently available
    technology. As a tip-of-the-hat to other great cities, Songdo will also incorporate replicas
    of New York’s Central Park and Venice’s historic canals. Overall, construction is
    currently half done. It already has 67,000 people living there studying and working at
    its many schools, including the foreign campuses of four American universities, but it’s
    struggled to attract Korean businesses as the government is refusing to give tax incentives
    for relocation, because that would create an unfair playing field favoring Songdo over
    other cities in the country. Still, if it stays squarely focused on the future, Songdo’s
    a long-term investment that’s likely to pay off. Nicaragua is about to embark on what may be
    the boldest and riskiest Megaproject in the history of the world. One that will change
    it forever. It’s going to build the biggest canal in the world . The $50 billion Nicaragua
    Grand Canal will cut the country in half to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific,
    running through the biggest lake in Central America. At 173-miles-long, it’ll dwarf
    the 120 mile-long Suez Canal in Egypt and directly compete with the Panama Canal 250
    miles to the south, through which more than 15,000 ships already pass each year. But in
    the coming years, many more ships full of goods and raw materials are going to try and
    pass back and forth from the Pacific to the Atlantic to connect Europe, Brazil and the
    Eastern Coast of the United States, with China and the rest of Asia. The story of how little six-million-man Nicaragua,
    the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is able to afford such an expensive
    project is a fascinating case study of globalization, and how capitalism is increasingly driving
    geopolitical decision-making. In June of last year, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s
    Sandanista party also controlled parliament and – without any real debate – gave a 50-year,
    no-bid contract to Chinese telecommunications magnate Wang Jing to build and manage the
    proposed canal. And, it just so happens that, also last year, according to a report in the
    LA Times, Wang hosted a number of Nicaraguan officials and businessmen on a trip to China,
    where the powerful and connected Wang supposedly flaunted his extreme wealth and was accompanied
    at all times by Chinese military officers and other high-ranking governmental officials.
    So, it’s tough to believe him when he insists that the Chinese government is not financially
    backing the project, especially when we already know that China is using state financed companies
    to buy more and more assets in the West. The opportunity to own the world’s most valuable
    shipping lane seems too tempting for the Chinese government to pass up. The supposedly democratic government of Nicaragua
    is using a page out of China’s playbook, by refusing to release any of the studies
    about the impacts of the canal until December 2014, the same month construction will begin.
    That’s because there is a loooong list of environmental and humanitarian concerns. The
    project will tear through countless ecosystems and communities, and rip into the source of
    much of the country’s fresh water, Lake Nicaragua. The residents whose land is on
    the canal route have received no word on what the government plans to do for them in terms
    of compensation and relocation. But, as easy as it is to criticize the way
    the project is being handled, it’s also fairly hypocritical of me, as an American,
    to mount a very convincing argument against the plan. Afterall, about a hundred years
    ago, US President Theodore Roosevelt basically took control of Panama and pushed through
    the canal there, a project that’s benefitted America time and time again, and has made
    Panama economically better off in the long run. But we’re not living in 1914… Now is the time of social media-fueled revolution,
    where images and video fly around the world instantly, empowering even the poorest locals
    to use the power of the global community to rally support for their cause and exert political
    pressure in unpredictable ways. So, what I’m saying is that it may have been easy for President
    Ortega see all that money flying around and secretly, singlehandedly approve a massively
    disruptive project like this, but when those bulldozers start tearing apart the countryside
    – and people’s homes – there’s probably going to be hell to pay for not consulting
    the voters at all. This could be shaping up to be another one of those important moments
    of struggle in world history between the powerful have’s and the have nots. On the one hand, you have the limitless funding
    of the Chinese who want that flag-in-the-dirt, statement-making moment for their country
    of staking a claim in the Americas. We know the canal would benefit corporations in the
    west through the shipping and trade benefits I outlined earlier. And with construction
    set to begin in Nicaragua next month – there doesn’t seem to be any stopping it from
    starting. But on the other hand, this thing is going
    to take six years at a minimum to finish, and if we’ve learned anything from recent
    history, it’s that a lot can happen in six weeks or six months, let alone six years. On a person-to-person basis, the United Arab
    Emirates has the biggest Ecological Footprint in the world thanks to its prolific oil production
    and the massive construction boom that’s been going on there for the last decade. So
    it’s surprising to learn that the UAE is home to Masdar–the world’s first zero-carbon,
    zero-waste city. To meet this ambitious goal, it’s powered only by renewable energy, like
    a 54-acre 88,000 panel solar farm beyond the cities’ walls. That’s right, I said walls.
    The designers studied ancient cities to learn the most effective planning methods to reduce
    energy consumption. One of the key things are walls that helps to keep the high, hot
    desert winds away from its inhabitants. They also raised the entire foundation of the site
    a few feet above the surrounding land to keep Masdar cooler and spaced the buildings much
    closer together to keep the streets and walkways narrow, and mostly in the shade. These techniques
    – combined with 130-foot wind towers that suck air from above and convert it into a
    cool breeze blowing on the street – mean Masdar is a comfortable 70 degrees fahrenheit when
    just a few meters away, the thermostat rises well above 100. Plus, there’s no driving
    in the city and any car that enters is parked at the outskirts. A system of driverless electric
    vehicles then ferry people from place to place underground, and a light rail system is also
    available above ground, which means there’s no need for streets. And in a move that cuts
    both water and electricity consumption more than half, there are no light switches or
    water taps–everything is controlled by movement sensors. This unprecedented level of environmental
    consciousness has won it hard-earned endorsements from environmental conservation groups like
    Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. The German engineering giant Siemens has located
    its Middle East headquarters there, as has the International Renewable Energy Agency.
    The Masdar Institute for Science and Technology – a small postgraduate university that was
    founded through a collaboration with MIT – occupies one of Masdar’s first completed buildings
    and is already producing great work and first-class researchers. So the city undeniably has a
    solid foundation, but it’s got a lot to do still if it’s going to meet its ambitious
    goal of housing 50,000 residents and hosting offices for 60,000 more commuters. The city’s
    co-founder admits that Masdar is “a fraction of what it was supposed to be back in 2006
    when we announced it. At the beginning of the project, nobody really anticipated how
    difficult it is to build a city.” This underscores the point many urban planners around the world
    have made: that we should be focused on making our existing cities more sustainable instead
    of building brand new ones. But even if Masdar only teaches us one or two major things about
    what’s possible when it comes to sustainable urban design – and it does seem like it’s
    already done that – then it’ll have been worth it, even if it takes much longer to
    achieve its overall vision, or if it ultimately fails. Because let’s be honest, the UAE
    was going to spend that $20 billion in oil revenue on something, so it’s better for
    everyone that its going to an important experiment like Masdar rather than another row of gold
    and marble crusted hotel skyscrapers or an electricity-sucking indoor snow park. This is the future–maglev trains. Japan’s
    all aboard. They’re spending a staggering $85 billion over the next 30 years to connect
    the island’s three largest cities: Tokyo to Nagoya to Osaka. That’s over three hundred
    miles that you’ll be able to cover in about 67 minutes by racing through the countryside
    at over 300 miles per hour. Maglev technology uses powerful magnetic charges to move rail
    cars that float several inches above a concrete guideway, rather than riding on steel wheels.
    This frictionless system allows for a smoother ride at significantly higher speeds than traditional
    high speed rail. In contrast, California’s planned high speed rail system that’ll eventually
    connect San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, will only be able to travel at top
    speeds of 220 mph, but its estimated overall cost is ten billion dollars less than the
    Japanese system and will cover a distance two and a half times as long. The Chinese
    city of Shanghai has had a short maglev line in operation since 2004, but the Japanese
    line is the world’s first intercity link to gain public approval. The project’s called
    Chuo Shinkansen – or as the Japanese refer to it, Rinia Mota Ka – and is a culmination
    of 40 years of Japanese maglev development that began with an unlikely partnership between
    Japan Airlines and Japanese National Railways. What’s really impressive about this project
    is that JR Central – the company that’s building the line – will finance the project
    without public money, thanks largely to the success of the bullet train it’s run from
    Tokyo to Osaka since the mid 1960’s. The company’s also pushing hard to construct
    a maglev line between the American capital city of Washington DC and New York, which
    would showcase the technology to the American market and the rest of the western world.
    The Japanese government has even offered to fully finance the 40 mile first leg of the
    US project from Baltimore to DC, a proposal Prime Minister Shinzo Abe directly pitched
    to President Barack Obama during a meeting last year. But critics of Maglev say the costs
    outweigh the benefits. Opponents have raised questions about the sheer monetary cost of
    the project, its environmental impact, and whether it is really needed. Tunnels will
    be blasted through some of Japan’s highest mountains to build the Chuo Shinkansen line.
    But regardless of what the critics say, something had to change. When the Maglev system is done
    it will help alleviate the overcrowding on Japan’s existing rail system and make it
    feasible for commuters into Tokyo to live further outside of the city than they can
    now. Many of the projects that we’ve profiled
    in our Megaprojects series have a real purpose for advancing society, or at least meeting
    the needs of a growing world economy. Then there’s Azerbaijan’s ridiculous Khazar
    Islands, a project that – despite all the progress in the world – is the perfect example
    of everything that’s still wrong with its power structure, but more on that in a moment.
    The creatively named Azerbaijan Tower will be the world’s tallest building, about 800
    feet taller than the current leader, the Burj Khalifa, and, insanely, twice as tall as the
    tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, New York’s One World Trade Center. The Freudian
    showpiece of the $100 billion project, Azerbaijan Tower will rise above the capital city, Baku,
    and will be surrounded by 55 artificial islands built in the Caspian Sea with land gathered
    by completely destroying a nearby mountain. There will also be at least eight hotels,
    a Formula One racetrack, a yacht club, and an airport. So basically, we’re talking
    about Donald Trump’s fantasy. Now, it’s one thing to build an over-the-top city like
    Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which is one of the most-developed places in the world,
    and a completely different thing for it to rise in Azerbaijan, which has a per capita
    GDP that’s not even ⅕ as much as the UAE. This madness is the brainchild of the billionaire
    developer Ibrahim Ibrahimov, who has extremely cozy ties with the corrupt government of the
    newly oil rich nation of Azerbaijan. Just how corrupt is Azerbaijan? In a 2012 report
    by watchdog group Transparency International that declared 2/3rds of the world’s countries
    “highly corrupt,” Azerbaijan’s Prez Ilham Aliyev stood out from the pack as the
    report’s infamous, “person of the year,” with untold amounts of money stashed in various
    locations around the world. But back to President Aliyev’s good buddy, Ibrahimov, who lazily
    came up with the tacky idea for the megaproject that’s basically a copy of Dubai’s island
    development and mega-tower while on a flight home from, you guessed it, Dubai. He argues
    that Khazer Islands will be home to 800,000 people, but doesn’t explain how those people
    will afford its expensive apartments. Instead of investing in the future by maybe funding
    a network of world class universities – which Azerbaijan isn’t even close to having – in
    a country that borders no ocean and produces no product that the rest of the world wants,
    besides oil, the government thinks its a good idea to build this. I doubt many of the nine
    million people of Azerbaijan think it’s a very good idea. In fact, in a possible sign
    of things to come, last year, Azerbaijanis in a city across the country, got so fed up
    with the corrupt regime, they rioted for two entire days. But look, the capital is doing
    some things right, Baku made Lonely Planet’s top ten ranking of the best nightlife spots
    in the world. I just wonder how much they paid to get on the list. No list of Megaprojects would be complete
    without including the largest-ever science project. The International Thermonuclear Experimental
    Reactor (or, ITER) is a collaboration between China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia,
    South Korea, and the United States that is under construction in Southern France where
    researchers will attempt to see if they can, essentially, recreate the power of the Sun
    and harness it in a steel bottle. Gas will be heated to over 150 million degrees in a
    massive steel frame using giant magnets that will force some atoms together. In this experimental
    reactor, the hope is to produce 10 times more energy than what is used to initiate the reaction,
    or the equivalent of 500 megawatts of power for 1,000 seconds. Although electricity won’t
    be generated at the ITER facility, a fusion power plant would use the heat generated to
    drive turbines and produce power. Unlike nuclear fission, which are what all nuclear power
    plants are today, fusion reactors should be completely safe, with no risk of a producing
    a runaway chain reaction and no dangerous long-living radioactive waste. The fact that
    nations who are competing in nearly every area of geopolitics and economics are coming
    together to collaborate on a $50 billion project is a sign that the science is incredibly promising
    and the potential benefits to humanity are profoundly game-changing. That’s why countries
    that represent half of the world’s population and account for 2/3ds of the global economy
    are participating: because solving fusion would mean prosperity for all, the closest
    thing to limitless energy we can fathom. This month, after the completion of the ground
    support structure which took four years to finish, the second phase of construction began:
    the walls of the seven-story building where the experiment will take place. But we’re
    still several years away from turning the thing on. The complex will make its first
    attempt to produce plasma in a fusion reaction in 2020, with regular operations beginning
    in 2027, 11 years behind schedule and over 40 years after the program was first initiated
    in 1985. But no matter how long, or how many tries it takes to get it right, the prospect,
    the hope of living in a world powered by this type of energy that we wouldn’t need to
    fight over, or pump out of the ground, that we wouldn’t need to burn, that wouldn’t
    harm our precious planet, that’s probably one of the most optimistic, hopeful ideas
    I’ve ever heard, and it’s definitely one worth waiting for. China is about halfway done building the largest
    expressway system in the world, and it’s done so at a feverish pace over the last 25
    years to keep up with the rise of the automobile as the country – and the world – has shifted
    away from a rail-based transportation system. The first expressway within the National Trunk
    Highway System, as it’s called, opened in 1988 and today, just 26 years later, the system
    is over 65,000 miles long. In the ten years since 2004, the network has tripled in length.
    Each year, China’s now building new expressways equivalent in length to the distance of going
    coast-to-coast and back in the United States. The Chinese system exceeded the total length
    of the US interstate highway system back in 2011. This crazy expansion has happened because
    the Chinese have embraced the car at a staggering pace. This next mind-blowing fact pretty much
    sums up this entire video: as the country’s middle class boomed and tens of millions of
    people suddenly could afford to buy cars, in the 20 years from 1985 to 2005, the number
    of passenger vehicles in China increased from 19,000 to 62 million cars on the road, that’s
    a mind-blowing increase of 323,000%. And that 62 million number is more than tripling to
    200 million by 2020. That’s why we’ve seen those stories that I thought were a joke
    the first time I read them, of traffic jams around Beijing stretching over 60 miles and
    lasting for 11 days. So this project is sorely needed simply for the country to function.
    When it’s finished, it will have cut total travel times between cities throughout the
    country, by half, on average. Overall the total cost of building the entire system is
    $240 billion dollars, that’s easily the biggest infrastructure project in human history,
    with $12 billion a year being invested through 2020. It’s been able to afford to do this
    without adding a national fuel tax because 95% of the system are toll roads owned by
    private, for-profit companies. This is a problem, as tolls are expensive at over 10 cents per
    mile…which is more than the cost of fuel itself. But regardless of how the roads are
    paid for, or whether, you drive on them in your gas or electric car, or ride in a self-driving
    car. The Chinese economy and quality of life of its people will be significantly better
    thanks to this ambitious project. It seems the whole country is embracing the Chinese
    saying, “Lutong Caiton,” wealth follows the extension of motorways. India faces one of the most challenging situations
    in the world. It has 1.2 billion people spread over a vast country. More than 350 million
    of whom will move into cities in the coming decade, which means some 500 new urban centers
    will need to be built from scratch. And even though India’s sheer size means that its
    economy ranks third in the world in purchasing power, overall, it’s relatively poor and
    underdeveloped. It’s also young. The average Indian is just 27 years old, compared to the
    average American, who’s a decade older. This means that most of the population is
    about to hit their prime working years—these are all people who need jobs to be created
    now. That’s why the government is embarking on the largest infrastructure project in Indian
    history: the $90 billion Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor, whose backbone will be a 920 mile
    long dedicated freight corridor, basically a set of multiple rail lines that will exist
    solely to move goods from the factories where they are produced to the sea and airports
    where they can be exported to market. It’s designed to cut the logistical costs of manufacturing
    goods to make India the cheapest place in the world for a company to build its stuff
    and – in turn – triple the amount of merchandise it exports from 2010 levels by 2017. Japan
    is the major partner behind the project because the Japanese economy is based on a technology
    industry that needs to build its products at the most competitive rates in the world.
    The overall effort will include a 4,000 MW power plant, and at least three brand new
    seaports and six airports. And all along the route, 24 new cities will spring up with each
    aiming to be superior to any existing Indian city in terms of the quality of infrastructure,
    planning, management, and services offered. With natural resources scarce – and climate
    change a concern of any good urban planner – the use of technology has been stressed
    to make sure this boom will be as clean and sustainable as possible. Roads are also a
    major part of the plan with thousands of miles of expressways planned to ease congestion.
    The project is a priority of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who entered office in 2014
    after leading his BJP party to a dominating win in the 2014 election, giving him a mandate
    to enact his vision for making India a global manufacturing superpower. It seems the Indians
    are attempting to follow a similar blueprint for success the Chinese put into action over
    the last 40 years. With a population nearly as big, Indians are rightly asking, why not
    us? If you were playing Sim City, you’d want
    to go about building your metropolis the same way the Saudi’s have with King Abdullah
    Economic City. And just like other great leaders of men, you’d probably name it after yourself
    too, which is exactly what King Abdullah did. You’d also focus on job-creating infrastructure
    and a dream university to attract the best and brightest. Saudi Arabia is the world’s
    dominant oil producer, and is a country that knows how to play the game. While its flashier
    neighbors like Abu Dhabi and Dubai get all the publicity for their megaprojects, the
    Kingdom is embarking on a far more ambitious project that’s focused squarely on creating
    the most cohesive, well-planned city in the Arab world. The $100 billion enterprise on
    the coast of the Red Sea is about an hour’s drive north of Jeddah, the second-largest
    city in Saudi Arabia, and plans to expand into an area about the size of Washington
    DC. That location is no coincidence, says Fahd Al Rasheed, the man who’s in charge
    of growing King Abdullah Economic City – which we’re going to shorten to just its initials,
    KAEC – “you’re talking about 24 percent of global trade going through the Red Sea,
    and this is a trend that’s never been addressed by a Red Sea port.” That’s why KAEC’s
    port is going to be massive, with an annual capacity of over ten million shipping containers,
    which would make it one of the busiest ports in the world. So cargo is KAEC’s first major
    transportation hub. The second is Haramain station, one of four stops on Saudi Arabia’s
    planned high speed rail network that will connect the new megacity to Jeddah, Makkah,
    and Madinah. This will bring thousands of visitors to KAEC right from it’s inception,
    with officials hoping that some will naturally take jobs and stay there, fueling its expansion.
    At first, the whole plan struggled to gain much traction with investors, “but,” says
    Al Rasheed, “then we reoriented ourselves towards building that demand, creating that
    support and it’s completely shifted. Now we have captive demand — all our apartments
    are full and we have waiting lists for hundreds of people, literally.”
    Part of that shift focused on KAEC’s Industrial Valley which is centered on a large petrochemical
    plant and has more than 70 companies lining up to set up bases there.
    And then there’s the cornerstone of any thriving city: a great university. Enter,
    King Abdullah University of Science and Technology – which began instruction in 2009 with a staggering
    $20 billion endowment, making it the third best-funded university in the world behind
    Harvard and Yale. This capital injection has allowed it to lift off like a rocket in its
    first five years. It’s recruited some of the best talent from over 60 countries around
    the world–scientists who’ve carried the school to an eye-opening 99.9% research record
    score. The research teams at King Tech are advancing many important fields like solar
    cell technology and cancer therapy. It teaches in English and is the first mixed-gender university
    in the Kingdom. Plus, with just 1200 postgraduates on an 8,900 acre campus, there’s plenty
    of room to expand in every direction. With forty percent of Saudi Arabia’s citizens
    under 15 years old, the plan is for the megacity – by itself – to create upwards of a million
    jobs for all of those young people to grow into.
    In the end, it may be true that Saudi Arabia would be a bone-dry desert wasteland without
    it’s exploitation of the vast fields of black gold underneath it, but at least – in
    the twilight of his life – King Abdullah is doing all he can to set his people – and the
    rest of the world – on a slightly better path than the one they were on when he took over
    just nine years ago in 2005. And if that’s his legacy, he deserves to have a city named
    after him. Thanks for watching. I hope you enjoyed this
    video, and if you did, you’ll love our video profiling 10 promising renewable energy sources
    of the future or our mini-doc on robotic armies and the militaries of the future. Make sure
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