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Hydrail: Powered by Public Broadcasting

by guest blogger, Stan Thompson

There is a natural affinity between the emergence of hydrogen fuel cell railway technology (hydrail) and public broadcasting—though I’ve only just noticed it. Both worlds fall within the province of early adopters and other folks driven to scratch below the surface to see how things work and how they come to be.

With listener input and support, national and community public broadcasting can fill the great void in accurate hydrogen economy reporting—a gap that commercial media have been unwilling to address.

With this in mind, I recently dropped-in at one of my local public television stations to enlist their aid in calling hydrail to the attention of The News Hour and Nova. As I’d expected, the reception was cordial.

My family lives in the Greater Charlotte NC area—a community served by four excellent public broadcasting stations, two radio and two television. Though we’re retired and watch our money, we are members and enthusiastic contributors to all four stations because they offer access to information that is both interesting and unavailable elsewhere.

Hydrail is a case in point.

Mooresville, NC, near Charlotte, is my home. Over the years, the former Mayor—Bill Thunberg—has been my closest ally in the advancement of hydrail technology. It all began around 2003 with our quest to have the planned commuter rail line from Charlotte to Mooresville introduce hydrail technology as a US DOT new-technology demonstration site.

That quest is very much alive, though it’s overshadowed a bit by the success of the international collaboration our initiative has since become.

Locally, and nationally, public television and radio could do much to help move hydrail into the public conversation and out of the narrow world of scholars and agencies.

Charlotte has had its own public television service since August 27, 1965, when WTVI was originally licensed to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. Today its expanded vision is to highlight and address issues and needs that will enhance lives and improve its served communities. In the city that’s most mentioned internationally as an ideal “alpha site” for hydrogen streetcar (hydrolley) introduction, that vision implies a station role in hydrail education.

Charlotte is also served by WUNG, a university-related station. NC is nearly 500 miles across and the State’s 17-campus University has created a twelve-transmitter network so that the widely-separated mountain, Piedmont and coastal regions can monitor State issues as well as each other’s news.

Since 2005, both the University and its public broadcasting network have played a central role in introducing hydrail (and its Green manufacturing job creation potential) to the public and the world.

A major element in unifying State awareness is a program called “North Carolina Now,” hosted and produced by Shannon Vickery and news-anchored by Mitchell Lewis. “NC Now” has already broadcast two hydrail segments with Mayor Thunberg and me as guests. There is probably no other way the entire State can be informed about hydrail all at once.

Local public radio has also been a valuable portal in introducing hydrail to Greater Charlotte.  WFAE, whose 1981 origin was linked to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has since expanded its mission the be “the station of record for community leaders.”

A flagship program of WFAE is “Charlotte Talks,” hosted by Mike Collins. Twice I’ve had the pleasure of discussing hydrail on “Charlotte Talks.” Mike’s other hydrail guests have included:  Former mayor Bill Thunberg; Dr. Barry Burks, formerly with the US DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratories and now Assistant Director of the Charlotte Research Institute at UNC-Charlotte;  Dale Hill, founder of the high-tech transit vehicle manufacturer, Proterra Inc., whom I wrote about here recently; and Dr. Jan Brecht-Clark, Associate Administrator of RITA, the US DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

Our fourth station, WDAV, is a superb classical music station with few ways to support a technology issue. That’s unfortunate; our prospective hydrail debut line runs within a few hundred feet of their studio!

Sadly, public broadcasting’s Federal funding component may be on the new Congress’s hit-list. If that axe falls, chances grow slimmer that the public can access reliable information about the hydrogen economy, hydrail or other hydrogen issues the pop media don’t see fit to embrace.

Therefore I’m writing this blog to suggest that those of us who do see how important hydrogen will be for a clean-energy future should join, upgrade memberships, and otherwise support our local public broadcasting stations—and also let them know that we appreciate hydrogen-related programs and news coverage.

Especially just now, we need to let our Representatives in Washington know that lopping-off funding for one of the best mechanisms for directing future generations of engineers and researchers into their professions would be a short-sighted economic gesture—calamitous for the future of science and high-tech job creation in the USA.

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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