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China's investment in highways, waterways up 3.4% in Jan-Oct

Total FAI in highways and waterways reached 1.92 trillion yuan ($273 billion) during the January-October period. 

BEIJING - China's fixed-asset investment (FAI) in highways and waterways registered steady growth in the first 10 months of the year, official data showed. 

Total FAI in highways and waterways reached 1.92 trillion yuan ($273 billion) during the January-October period, a year-on-year growth of 3.4 percent, according to statistics from the Ministry of Transport. 

Specifically, investment in inland rivers expanded 1.3 percent to reach 47.51 billion yuan, while that of highway construction recorded a growth rate of 2.6 percent to 1.81 trillion yuan during the period. 

The FAI growth rate registered in central regions hit 10.4 percent year-on-year for the first 10 months, which was much higher than that of western and eastern China. 

China plans to expand infrastructure investment in 2019, with 800 billion yuan going to railway construction and 1.8 trillion yuan going to road construction and waterway projects.


The role of 5G in autonomous vehicles

When 5G connectivity emerges, it won’t just be mobile devices that benefit, but rather vehicles will be feeling the impact even more. 

5G promises to reach peak speeds 20 times faster than current 4G LTE, though that gap could widen as development continues. The additional speed and capacity would allow autonomous vehicles to become fully connected at all times, not just to the Internet itself, but also to each other. 

This is the potential that backers of Cellular-Vehicle-to-everything, better known as C-V2X, espouse. Imagine an everyday scenario where an autonomous car knows its position relative to other cars, stops for all lights and stop signs, ensures pedestrians’ safety and knows when to change lanes or pull into a driveway. 

By sending and receiving wireless signals 10 times per second, the almost limitless calculations would enable these self-driving vehicles to navigate the road because they’re presumably speaking the same language in nanoseconds. While the auto industry has yet to unanimously embrace 5G as a standard, the odds do look good, given wireless telecom carriers are already building the infrastructure for it.

When will this be available to consumers? The answer isn’t so simple.

Carriers in Canada have been quiet about their intentions or road map, but things are already on the move in other parts of the world, including the United States. Since 5G uses both the existing LTE infrastructure (600MHz to 6GHz) and higher frequency (24GHz to 86GHz) millimeter wave (mmWave) bands, the network would enable vehicles to communicate far and wide.

For example, an autonomous car would know of a traffic obstruction kilometers away because of the data it pulls in from other vehicles and the cloud. It could know which car will turn and which will go straight through a light when waiting to make a left turn. It would recognize another vehicle’s intention to change lanes in an instant, adjusting its own speed and position to compensate. Proponents of full autonomy believe these types of constant and hyper-connected scenarios would reduce, and possibly eliminate, traffic fatalities in the future.

Proponents of full autonomy believe these types of constant and hyper-connected scenarios would reduce, and possibly eliminate, traffic fatalities in the future.

With faster speed and higher capacity comes a need for better range. It’s not entirely clear how good that will be yet, but towers and repeaters will need to deploy in greater numbers to keep signals strong, both in densely-populated urban areas and sparsely-populated rural locales. mmWave bands use shorter waves, which will require extra mini-towers and cellular boxes be installed on lampposts and buildings to help propagate signals. For that reason, it’s likely the technology will mature in cities first before rural communities see it, too.

A number of automakers have already joined the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), a consortium promoting C-V2X as the one and only industry standard. Some, like Ford, have also announced they will be equipping vehicles with C-V2X, starting in 2022.

Already in action

Nokia Use Case: Safer and efficient highway ready for future mobility In 2017, Nokia was the first to use multi-access edge computing (MEC) to demonstrate how V2X would transmit safety-critical communications.  

AT&T rolled out 5G across 12 cities in December 2018, with another seven to come in the first half of 2019. Some government jurisdictions have also joined the fray, like Colorado, which is equipping some of its roads and state-owned vehicles with C-V2X.

One thing standing in the way of 5G is a competing standard called DSRC (Dedicated Short-Range Communications) that’s been in development going back to 1999. Where 5G is new and on the horizon, DSRC has already been operational to a limited degree, with Canadian and U.S. regulators already approving it well over a decade ago. 

DSRC is Wi-Fi-based with a shorter frequency range, so the distant peer-to-peer vehicle communication scenarios under 5G wouldn’t be possible. Moreover, DSRC and 5G would be incompatible in that they wouldn’t be able to speak the same language. In a world where a DSRC-enabled vehicle was on the road with a 5G-enabled one, the two would be radio silent to one another. 

A few automakers, chiefly Toyota and GM, continue to support DSRC. Ford was amongst this group until it defected when making its C-V2X announcement in January 2019. 

Traditional consumer technology companies, like Samsung, LG and Google, have also played up 5G’s role as a way to integrate vehicles into a smart home lifestyle. This could range from using voice assistants to control various aspects of the home to the vehicle itself maintaining a profile and customized settings for each driver and passenger. 

Much of this is conceptual and theoretical at the moment, but development is underway, and should 5G win out, a new era of driving will be on the road ahead.


Canada’s P3 conference showcases transportation

Transportation infrastructure was in special focus when the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships (CCPPP) held its 27th annual conference earlier this week at the Sheraton Centre Toronto hotel.

On Nov. 18, the first of the conference’s two days, CCPPP handed out its 2019 National Awards for Innovation and Excellence in Public-Private Partnerships (P3s), including two gold and three silver awards. Both gold awards honoured transportation infrastructure, with the $5.7-billion Gordie Howe International Bridge Project (team pictured above) taking a project financing award and the Northwest Territories’ 97-km Tłı̨chǫ All-Season Road earning a project development award.

The planned international bridge, which will be the longest cable-stayed crossing in North America and the first major trade link between Canada and the U.S. in 40 years (joining Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, Mich.), is the first Canadian P3 to use a non-traditional foreign exchange risk framework to balance fluctuating currency prices. Fluor, ACS Infrastructure Canada and Aecon Group form the partnership that is building it.

The gravel highway, meanwhile, which will connect the remote northern community of Whati, is among the first P3s in North America in which an Indigenous government has a cash-funded equity stake. Constructed above permafrost, the road also involves a climate change risk-sharing model for long-term operations and maintenance (O&M).

Among the silver awards, an infrastructure award went to the Stoney CNG Bus Storage and Transit Facility, North America’s largest indoor compressed natural gas (CNG) bus fuelling complex. Located near Calgary International Airport, it can hold more than 500 standard 12-m buses, uses top-down ventilation to remove air contaminants and harvests rainwater for washing vehicles.

“Congratulations to the winners of this year’s awards,” said Mark Romoff, CCPPP’s president and CEO. “It’s so exciting to see there are still new says the public and private sectors and Indigenous communities can work together to find innovative and sustainable approaches to developing, financing and maintaining infrastructure.”

Also on the conference’s first day, a breakout session discussed the challenges of developing large-scale urban transit projects, particularly when new expansions need to integrate seamlessly with decades-old systems. By way of example, a ‘market sounding’ showcased Edmonton’s proposed 27-km Valley Line West (VLW) light-rail transit (LRT) extension, which has returned to the P3 market after a pause, during which design changes were made to the original concept.

The conference’s second day began with Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford, and minister of infrastructure, Laurie Scott, using a keynote address to thank the P3 community for earlier feedback that is now informing the province’s unsolicited proposal (USP) framework and, in particular, Metrolinx’s $28.5-billion transit expansion plan for Toronto and its neighbouring suburbs.

Meanwhile, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HyperloopTT) co-founder and chair Dirk Ahlborn discussed his company’s plans to transport passengers and cargo at just below the speed of sound, by using passive magnetic-levitation (maglev) ‘capsules’ (example pictured) in systems of low-pressure tubes, with an estimated average cost of $20 to $30 million per km and the promise of profitability through energy generation.

While such technology has yet to be commercially deployed anywhere in the world, a third-party engineering firm—Hamilton-based Transportation Economics & Management Systems (TEMS)—recently helped conduct a Hyperloop feasibility study for a ‘Great Lakes’ network that would connect Cleveland, Ohio, Chicago, Ill., and Pittsburgh, Penn. The study concluded the operational costs would require no subsidies and travel times would be reduced from hours to minutes. Suggesting such a network could be extended across the border to Toronto, Ahlborn encouraged conference attendees to check out the full study when it is made public on Dec. 17.

Finally, a more immediate transportation challenge was showcased in a market sounding for the Montreal Port Authority’s (MPA’s) Contrecœur Container Terminal Project, which is supported by the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) and Transport Canada as strategic infrastructure for international trade. Arup Group is the project’s engineering firm.

Montreal’s existing port, an essential supply-chain link for both Quebec and Ontario, is rapidly reaching capacity, with railway connections posing bottlenecks. The new terminal, some 40 km downstream from Montreal, could accommodate more than one million containers per year. Expected to cost between $750 and $950 million, it would include a 675-m dock for two berths, a seven-track classification yard, a container storage and handling area, an intermodal railyard, support facilities, rail and road accesses, a truck control area and a viaduct on Route 132.

“We already offer shipping companies the shortest average dwell times in North America, at 1.8 days, but new capacity is needed now,” explained Ryan Dermody, MPA’s vice-president (VP) for Contrecœur. “A full geotechnical campaign will be done in a month and procurement is planned for the second quarter (Q2) of 2020.”

Certainly, in the new year, Canadians will see if these projects and others can stay ‘on track.’


Work begins on China's first HSR with undersea passage

The sketch map of the to-be-built rail between Ningbo and Zhoushan. 

China's first high-speed rail with an undersea segment connecting Zhoushan Islands in East China's Zhejiang province with the mainland began rolling with the launch of a full-scale survey and design, Xinhua News Agency reported on Tuesday. 

The Ningbo-Zhoushan railway, a total distance of 77 kilometers, will run through a 16.2-kilometer-long undersea tunnel from Ningbo to Jintang Island in Zhoushan, and over several sea-crossing bridges when it encounters sea waters. 

The railway is set to be a rail-road project which will facilitate high-speed trains as well as vehicles. In this project, trains and vehicles would travel across the sea via two separate tunnels. 

Notably, the undersea tunnel at a length of 16.2 kilometers will boast the world's longest undersea high-speed railway tunnel when it is completed. 

Different from the 6.7-kilometer-long immersed underwater tunnel of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, this underwater passage would be a shield tunnel and placed deeper in the seawater, which would create multiple difficulties for the construction crew. 

According to Zhang Chaoyong, the railway's chief designer, the Ningbo-Zhoushan railway will support trains operating at 250 km/h. When it is completed, it will shorten the travel time between Ningbo to Zhoushan to 30 minutes and to one hour and 20 minutes between Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, to Zhoushan. "The construction of this railway will bring China's ability to design bridges and tunnels to a new level," Zhang added.