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Falcon Dam :: Rio Grande

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Falcon Dam on Rio Bravo Norte (Rio Grande) forming Falcon Lake, on the border of Texas and the Estados Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States) Image from National Archives and Records Administration NARA.gov

Falcon Dam on Rio Bravo Norte (Rio Grande) forming Falcon Lake, on the border of Texas and the Estados Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States)
Image from National Archives and Records Administration NARA.gov

The 1953 dedication of Falcon Dam created a massive reservoir on the Rio Bravo del Norte, aka Rio Grande. Farmers and villagers were displaced on both sides of the river.

A city on the Mexican side was flooded, the inhabitants relocated to new homes built for them by the Mexican government.

Map of Falcon International Reservoir bordering Zapata County, Texas

Map of Falcon International Reservoir bordering Zapata County, Texas

Towns and farms on the U.S. side were also flooded, the inhabitants had to sue for relocation assistance and compensation, resolved — perhaps not equitably — years afterwards.

Reference: U.S. Congressional hearings on the dam.

 

 

Written by patwa

29/12/2015 at 8:27 am

Caribbean Island Hopes to Use Steam for Electric Power

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Will There be Geothermal Electricity for Nevis?

On April 28, 2009,  the St. Kitts and Nevis Democrat, a newspaper published in Nevis at that time, reported that the West Indies Power (Nevis) Ltd. was issued a Geothermal Resource Concession  by the Nevis Island Administration (NIA) and signed a 25 year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the Nevis Electricity Company Ltd.  The Geothermal Resource Concession is for a renewable 25 year term and grants West Indies Power (Nevis) Ltd. (WIPN) the right to develop and produce electricity from the geothermal resources on (or under) Nevis.
Geothermal power generation in volcanic areas. Image from www.mhi-global.com

Geothermal power generation in volcanic areas. Image from http://www.mhi-global.com

In that 2009 article, it was reported that Kerry McDonald, CEO of West Indies Power (Nevis) Ltd., said  “West Indies Power will now be able to start building the geothermal power plants that will supply Nevis and the other islands in the northern Caribbean with low cost, reliable, renewable, clean energy for the foreseeable future.”

 

They were off to a great start, but the momentum failed. In 2012, Time Magazine reported the project was stalled. By 2015, geothermal resources development for Nevis had advanced to the point that the Caribbean Development Bank was considering financial support.

Nevis plans to use its geothermal resources to generate electricity which could power air conditioning systems.  Hot water could fuel cool air in resort hotels. As the IADB reported in 2013, tourism is the reliable artery that feeds the Nevis economy and hotels on the island consume a stunning amount of electricity powered mostly by oil with limited wind-generated power.

Hot Water :: Cool Air

People have been tapping into geothermal energy for cooking and heating forever. Settlements near geyser fields made good sense to Stone Age ancestors. Think of geothermal as steam power sourced from Earth’s interior.  The thermal energy is drawn from beneath Earth’s crust, at various distances below the surface.  Jules Verne’s novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth” spins a story about traveling on the hot rivers of the surface deep into the earth’s molten rivers called magma.

Geothermal springs in the Zhupanova River area of Kamchatka. Image from en.kamchatka.info

Geothermal springs in the Zhupanova River area of Kamchatka. Image from en.kamchatka.info

Volcanic areas produce reservoirs of steam and hot water.  In Iceland, steam is tapped for residential heat and hot water.  Steam geysers are for visitors to enjoy in remote areas of Iceland, as at Yellowstone National Park in the USA and the Valley of the Geysers north of Zhupanovo on the Pacific coast of the Kamchatka peninsula in Siberia.  

 

 

 

Written by patwa

01/11/2015 at 12:27 pm

People Met on the Road

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One of my an indelible travel memories is listening to a guy on the beach at Playa Manuel Antonio, in Quepos, Costa Rica in late December, 1981.  Travelers from France, Canada, Asia, the USA and locals from San Jose were gathered at the nightly campfire and sipping on Heineken green stubbies.  He told our spellbound group about working in [somewhere in the Middle East] assembling grenades that would be shipped to Iraq via Israel.  This was during the Iran-Iraq War. The work was through a sub-contractor and well paid, enough to fund his flight to San Jose from [that factory place] and months of living on $10 a day which, at the time,  covered beachside rustic lodging, excellent meals, beverages and even bus rides to the capital city.

 

Playa Samara, Costa Rica

Playa Samara, Costa Rica

At another beach in Costa Rica, I believe it was Playa Samara,  there was a Canadian fellow who worked as a gold miner during the warm season up in the Yukon or NWT and spent his winters in Central America.  He said gold mining was one of the worst jobs in the world, coughed violently to prove it, then tapped another Marlboro from the red pack.  The villas, cabanas, swimming pools and restaurants depicted on tourism websites in 2016 did not exist at Playa Samara in 1981-1982.

And who could forget Max, the French-Canadian chopping every day at  a massive tree stump on the shoreline which he shaped into a throne facing the water?

Playa Manuel Antonio

Other folks enjoying the low-key, sustainable lifestyle in Costa Rica back before the tourist masses changed Costa Rica’s coasts forever financed  their Winter travel by working in Alaska’s salmon canning factories.  They headed down the Pacific Plate to trade savings gleaned during double-shift work all summer for relaxing months of winter sunshine on the Pacific Coast of Mexico or Costa Rica.  At the time, many of the other Central American countries were too dangerous for nomads because of civil wars and external paramilitary interventions like the illegal activities paid for by American taxpayers through the nefarious acts by US government officials and their myrmidons in the  Iran-Contra scandal.

Another memorable encounter was the terrifying hostel owner at Simanindo on Samosir Island  in Lake Toba, Sumatra.  He tried to imprison my friend and I in his very scary hostel. As a precaution, I always ask to see the room before agreeing to rent a room.  As we walked through the dim rabbit warren of dirty cement-floored stall-like spaces,  I noticed the rooms had peep-holes and spotted English phrases scratched on the walls that indicated previous “guests” had been prisoners.  We beat a determined path to the exit and chatted tensely with the owner until he reluctantly moved aside and let us leave.   Was this guy renting rooms in the town jail or extorting money from hapless backpackers?

We hiked at top speed for more than an hour. In the dark, we set up the tent in a cow  pasture. In the morning, the kind lady-farmer invited us to have coffee and bananas at her airy house.

Local map of Lake Toba and Samosir Island.  Simanindo is on the north-east coast of Samosir Is.

Written by patwa

28/10/2015 at 8:52 pm

Rail Link from China to Germany :: Silk Road Revived

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In 2013, Zhengzhou, a business and logistics center in Central China, became the starting point for rail transport service to Hamburg, Germany and other European ports.  The trip is a 6,436 mile (10,214-kilometer) run taking 15 to 18 days — twice as fast as shipping goods by sea.

China manufactures products for the world.  We know that.  And it imports tons of materials and resources. Trade connections between China and the major markets of Europe and North America are essential for global economic prosperity.

National Rail Networks :: Look Back in Time

No one can overlook the importance of railroad infrastructure and the challenges of distance in historical economic advancement. If a country can’t get its goods to a robust marketplace with money, the economy doesn’t grow. Ship, truck and airplane transport are all part of the modern trade and transport equation, but rail is often the cheapest way to ship goods overland.

The world’s first national rail networks began in Britain, with the first inter-city line connecting the industrial midland city Manchester with the port of Liverpool in 1830.

So which country forged a national rail network next?  Seems like it was Egypt.  Other countries like France may have had short rail lines in place, but not an network that could move goods for long distances overland. Egypt’s rail system connected ports on the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea until the Suez Canal was opened in 1869.

I recently visited Cairo and hoped to visit the Egyptian Railway Museum which occupies a large area adjacent to track #1 at the main railway station.  In front of the station sits an antique locomotive, part of the Egyptian rail network built by Robert Stephenson.    The Stephenson family produced notable civil engineers, designers of railroads and bridges. The Stevenson family (writer Robert Louis Stevenson) were lighthouse engineers.

The locomotive designed and built by Robert Stephenson holds a place of honor in front of Cairo’s train station and nearby signs pointed to the museum inside the station.  As I walked closer, I saw the railway museum was in a state of deplorable ruin with massive piles of rubble outside, windows broken out, and an abandoned dozer tilting on piles of broken stones and tile.   The museum building was a wrecked shell.  Was a renovation project placed on hold because of the disruption caused by deep-seated unrest back in early 2011? Or was the building destroyed as a byproduct of cultural editing and property destruction undertaken during the “Year of Morsi” ?   I could only wonder.

2016 UPDATE:  The Railway Museum in Cairo has reopened.

The petition with millions of signatures pleading to remove Morsi was delivered to the high court on May 30, 2013, the afternoon I left Cairo.  About thirty days later, massive popular demonstrations were underway in Tahir Square,  early July 2013.   Subsequent to the citizen petition, the Egyptian army removed Mr. Morsi from office.  But that’s another story.

Historical Background on Railroads

The first section between Cairo and Alexandria was built in 1854.  By 1856-1858, Egypt had a functioning railway network, which fitted the British interest in keeping the region stable and  to secure faster communications and transport routes to India, the crown of British colonial resources.

Britain’s main interest centered on stabilizing the region, so the government tended to support the Ottoman Empire (theoretically sovereign over Egypt at the time) against all challengers, while British merchants tried to find business opportunities in the Nile Valley and Suez.  An “overland route” opened between the port of Alexandria and the Gulf of Suez in the 1840s and Robert Stephenson’s railroad, completed in the 1856, improved the route.

American continental railroads were instrumental in opening the western wilderness to travel and trade.  Russia, with distances far greater than the U.S.,  opened a single line from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1851. With more land distance than the U.S. to cover, and few or no western and southern ports, Russia understood the value of connecting the capital and to ports in the Far East. Russia had 36,000 miles of rail by 1900 and opened the Trans-Siberian RR in 1903. Japan built rail connections between Tokyo and Yokohama in 1872.

China was slow to build its rail system, but it is now third largest in the world.  During the past few decades, China has made lightening strides to improve its rail networks for passengers and freight. Some analysts believe the extensive new rail infrastructure may have been built too fast, given the problems along the Beijing to Tibet line.

The Mag-Lev rail connecter from Shanghai airport to the city’s terrific subway is a marvel, priced for tourists from the western hemisphere and wealthy Chinese. I also traveled on other Chinese railroads promoted as high speed, which were not.

Why Ship by Rail? Why Now?

Global Shipping Routes by GPS. Map: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/smart-takes/infographic-global-shipping-routes-mapped-using-gps-data/3605

Global Shipping Routes by GPS.
Map: Smart Planet.com

Maritime routes from Central China to Northern Europe go through the Suez Canal, because despite global warming and climate change, shipping on a great circle route over the North Pole isn’t a viable option yet. According to the information graphic, the China to Northern Europe sea route is one of the heaviest travelled routes in the world. It also goes right through pirate zone near the Horn of Africa. The Suez Canal and eastern Mediterranean, last time I checked, have issues of potential instability.

20130802_chinazug_karte

Rail link between China and Germany.
Map: DB Schenker

This land route from China to Northern Europe saves potentially 80 % of the cost compared with air shipments, and it’s about $489 cheaper on average, compared with road transportation. DB Schenker manages the transportation and logistics.

Nicknamed the New Silk Road, the route goes through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland. Zhengzhou International Inland Port Development Co Ltd is responsible for cooperating with partner rail companies in each country.

Variables affecting international rail transport include:
1) Rail loading gauge — how much weight can be tolerated on given carriers and track.
2) Track gauge — the width between the tracks.

There is broad gauge, standard or international gauge and narrow gauge. Further complicated by an array of different widths for broad gauge.

Loading gauges, couplings, container markings, and much more are encoded by the International Union of Railways, an organization created in 1922 to standardize rail transport industry practices. There are 82 active members including from Europe, Russia, China, Kazakhstan and others. The U.S. is an associate member.

With a route that travels through five or more countries, there are challenges along the route. The railroad containers have to be shifted by crane twice:

  • From Chinese rolling stock to the Russian style broad gauge line at the Kazakhstan-China border at Alashankou, in northeastern China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
  • Second transfer to standard gauge at the Polish-Belarusian border.

US Customers

Hewlett Packard was an early customer of the new rail connection. They booked the route for a major shipment of H-P computers manufactured in China destined to ship from Holland across the Atlantic Ocean to the US.

Here is a video of train route that the H-P computers traveled to Rotterdam, including crane transfer of containers from one railway track to a different gauge rail track.

I’m looking forward to the day passenger trains tun on the route!

Written by patwa

02/10/2013 at 1:29 am

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