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NPR’s Ira Flatow Helped Hydrail Too

by guest blogger Stan Thompson

In my February 10, 2011, commendation of public broadcasting for its help in raising hydrail awareness, I failed to credit Ira Flatow’s excellent program, Talk of the Nation – Science Friday. On September 4, 2009, Ira ran a great segment on hydrail but never mentioned the technology by name. Web searches on the subject don’t find it. (Perhaps, if NPR’s webmaster reads this, a hydrail tag can still repair the oversight.)

While putting the segment together, the producer contacted me for experts to interview. I immediately thought of Ontario’s Dr. Alistair Miller, whom (over his strong protests) I always credit as being the “Father of Hydrail” because of his seminal 1999 paper explaining why rail and maritime hydrogen fuel cell applications are the easiest to implement.

By introducing the producer to Dr. Miller, I blew my best chance to snag the “fifteen minutes of fame” that Andy Warhol said we’re all due. If I had thought fast, I might have been on NPR!

But, being devoutly Southern, I chose to Do The Right Thing instead.

The producer did too. Given a choice between interviewing a North Carolina accent that Sheriff Andy might have heard in Mayberry barbershop or a Scottish one as articulate as Sir Walter Scott and as real-life tech savvy as “beam me up” Scotty on Star Trek, he chose the latter. It was a reasonable choice.

A less reasonable choice was omitting the word “hydrail” from the script, rendering the segment invisible to search engines. What could have been a home-run for hydrail science awareness became a bunt instead.

Still, it was a bunt heard by 1.3 million listeners—the vast majority of whom would otherwise never have guessed that fuel cells will soon power trains and streetcars (hydrolleys).

So, thanks anyway, Ira.  Maybe next time.

About Stan Thompson

For 33 years I worked as an engineer, planner and futurist for what is now AT&T in Charlotte and Atlanta. Though I have no engineering degree, I'm a Life Member of the IEEE. Other memberships are the World Affairs Council, the local chapter of the National Association of Business Economics and the American Institute of Archaeology. (I dig international business, so to speak.)

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2 comments

  1. Hi Stan,
    I am just an auto mechanic and that is why I began studying hydrogen.I feared it would put me out of work.
    I am beginning to realize that maybe fuel cell cars are not the best starting point for this tech to take root but in industrial,mass transit and commercial apps.. where costs,source and even security may be an issue can be more closely studied.
    My hopes of driving a fuel cell car any time soon are dwindling and my studies are leaning towards a hydrogen/electric rail system as being the backbone of this tech and our country.Just as building the original railway westward.

  2. John,

    Of course I especially agree with your last observation but the hydrogen economy may offer more immediate career opportunities for hands-on technologists.

    I refer to several mundane but valuable hydrogen applications avaialbe today “off the shelf” whose preventative and corrective maintenance creates specialist jobs:

    • fork lifts and pallet movers (manufactured in the Carolinas and elswhere and used by Coca-Cola and others)
    • cell tower and telephone switch power supplies
    • back-up power for emergency responder agencies
    • H2ICE conversions may come sooner that we know.

    Just as there are dispatched mechanics specializing in diesel, specialist in fuel cell installation, swap-out and repair may already be needed, though I have no contacts in that world.

    All these professions would prepare a skilled practitioner for not only H2 cars servicing but hydrolleys, H2 buses and many aspects of the interconnecting hydrogen infrastructure.

    You have the right vision at the right time!

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