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12th International Hydrail Conference: 27-28 June, 2017

Graz, Austria — 27-28 June, 2017

by guest blogger, Stan Thompson

It’s been a dozen years since former Mooresville, NC, USA, Mayor Bill Thunberg, Appalachian State University Research Anaylst, Jason W. Hoyle and I first undertook to midwife hydrogen fuel cell based railway traction into being.  Our goal was mostly environmental but we also had a couple of economic objectives in mind:  (1) to lure hydrail manufacturers to North Carolina and (2) to avert public and private capital loss from continued investment in 19th Century external (overhead) railway electrification.

Today hydrail is not as widely deployed as I expected back then but it’s catching up with a vengeance!  To fill our program in 2005, we had to scan the world for everyone, everywhere, familiar with hydrail.  (We even had to name the new technology!)  Now countries and companies contact the Conference, offering to share their hydrail knowledge.

One of our most loyal colleagues over the years has been Herbert Wancura of Graz, Austria—proprietor of the engineering firm, synergesis.  This year Herbert has graciously become the Conference host, for which Jason, Bill and I are most grateful!

While the program agenda will be refined, as always, between now and the late-June Conference, a glance at it shows that hydrail is moving from the innovation stage of technology life into the integrative, just as diesel and external electric are aging-out into the transition stage for climate and cost reasons.  To the extent this is so, the International Hydrail Conferences are serving their strategic purpose.

We organizers of the ’05 International Hydrail Conference series believe we’re the first handful of private individuals to set out to modernize, internationally, a major technology sector for societal, non-profit reasons—or, at least, the first to succeed in doing so.

If any of the readers of this blog know of another such instance, please write about it—and include the search word, hydrail.  Here’s why that’s important:

It’s in the legitimate nature of industries like rail, with very long-lived capital plant, to be conservative and not foment change.  To a great extent, media—having thinned the ranks of science and business writers due to loss of advertising revenues to their online successors (like the one you’re reading)—tend to rely on industry as as quotable sources and handers-out of press releases. They harken to the usual suspects while suspecting the unusual; that way, if they’re wrong, they have a known name to blame.

Without meaning to, such media tend to block change in non-retail, long-life plant industries—like railroads and their suppliers.

In long-lived plant industries, change (like climate protection;  greater energy price stability;  pollution abatement;  and reduced infrastructure expense) benefits the public as a whole more than day-traders. But when, in spite of the media, knowledge of the new leaks out, members of the public soon self-select and aggregate into interest groups—investors, suppliers, regulators—that even the slowest industries can’t ignore indefinitely.

That’s been the story of hydrail’s emergence.  We sought out the knowledgable and introduced them to each other at the Conferences. Eight years in, like a neutron finding a nucleus, a fuel cell maker met a railway vehicle manufacturer and the resulting reaction is proving sustainable.

The advent of hydrail has been Mooresville’s and App State’s showcase product. But if we have been able to encourage other non-commercial change agents to use the same technique in launching changes that advantage long term public good over quarterly results, then that will have been the most valuable legacy of the Mooresville Hydrail Initiative and the Conferences we’ve employed as instruments of change.

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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