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National News Roundup – April 2, 2024

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

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Abandoned Rail Beds Become Hiking, Biking Trails

Unused city tracks becoming outdoor activity spots nationwide.

As cities grew and prospered in past years, railroad lines took up a lot of prime real estate to provide transportation of the goods of daily life. As cities have morphed to fit a digital economy and a work-from-home business environment, many old municipal rail lines have fallen into disuse.

“Nationwide, there are hundreds of trail and active transportation networks under development and they are in every state,” said Kevin Mills of the Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC), a nonprofit advocacy organization.

The idea of converting old railroad lines into trails is decades old. It began to flourish in the 1980s as railroads abandoned thousands of miles of track following deregulation that allowed unprofitable routes to be discontinued. Congress provided for “railbanking,” seeking to preserve rail corridors while allowing for interim use as trails. Today, there are nearly 26,000 miles of rail-trails in the U.S., according to RTC.

More than $830 million in U.S. Department of Transportation funds under the Infrastructure initiative recently went to trails, walking and biking infrastructure.

(Source: Smart Cities Dive)

Drones Become More Prevalent in Firefighting

Speed, accuracy, and other benefits in helping combat wildfires.

They don’t dump thousands of gallons of water or fire retardant, but drones do something almost as important: providing human firefighters with real-time “eye-in-the-sky” intelligence on the scope and direction of a fast-moving blaze, particularly wildfires.

Drones can fly when traditional aircraft cannot. They are not hampered by darkness, high winds, or thick smoke. They have multiple sensors on board, giving fire crews on the ground intelligence that is crucial to combatting massive flames.

A drone specialist for the US Forest Service notes the unmanned aerial systems can detect an overlooked 2-by-2-inch “spot” fire from half a mile away. Spot fires can grow quickly, changing the landscape of the firefighting effort. Researchers in several countries, including the United States, are working to adapt drones to carry limited fire-retardant payloads in addition to surveillance systems.

Wildfires have become a global problem. In India, firefighting researchers are working to “teach” drones to work in multiple swarms, to increase their capabilities in firefighting.

Suresh Sundaram, a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the Indian Institute of Science, says he and his team are working on an algorithm that would allow the swarm of drones to communicate with each other, as well as make independent decisions. In a hypothetical scenario, when an alarm is raised about a potential fire, the swarms can be sent in, each drone armed with cameras, thermal and infrared sensors, and temperature detectors, to identify the fires.

Once the fire is discovered, the drone closest to it becomes the center of the swarm and attracts others towards it. Interestingly, each drone will also have autonomy to calculate the fire’s size and potential spread, and decide how many drones are needed to suppress the fire.

“These decisions are made by the drones,” says Sundaram. “They figure out which cluster of fire is going to spread faster, and allocate the required number of drones to put out that fire while the others look for other fire clusters.”

(Sources: Homeland Security Newswire, U.S. Forest Service)

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The above news items are provided for informational purposes and are not intended to reflect MMRMA opinions, coverage, or risk management recommendations.

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