All aboard

TxDOT asks Houstonians for input on rail projects

If you have an opinion about trains, here's your chance. Rendering courtesy of Texas Central

The Texas Department of Transportation is updating a document called the Texas Rail Plan and is seeking input from the public.

The update is designed to reflect the latest rail project priorities and fulfill eligibility requirements for federal funding. Federal requirements say that states' rail plans must be updated every four years to establish policy, priorities, and implementation strategies for freight and passenger rail in the state.

The Texas Rail Plan includes a list of current and future rail projects, which are also depicted on a map. The plan keeps inventory of all rail lines; analyzes rail service goals and contributions to the economy; catalogs and assesses potential infrastructure projects; and examines finance strategies.

The update project began in summer 2018. Meetings of stakeholders were held, and now there's an opportunity for public input. (Stakeholders include citizens, neighboring states, public agencies, and the private rail industry.)

There'll be another round of meetings in the spring, and then the updated plan will be released in summer 2019.

TxDOT hosted a public meeting on December 11, when it presented the update and asked for public questions and input. After that meeting, they extended their deadline for comments to March 1, 2019.

As for now, the public can review and provide input on the plan via this website which explains the history of the Rail Plan and some of the reasons why an update is being done.

There's a survey and online form to submit public comments until January 8, 2019.

If you feel equipped to answer 10 questions such as, "What could be done in Texas to improve freight rail access, promote economic development, and enhance the state's competitiveness in national markets and the global marketplace?" — then this survey should be right up your alley. (Although it should be noted that the hardest questions are first and they get easier as you go along. Also, it's multiple choice.)

These options provide an opportunity for the public to comment on all rail-related issues in Texas, both freight and passenger, as well as existing and future projects and programs.

------

This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

The Aldine Independent School District is the first to employ a new technology focused on campus safety. Educational First Steps/Facebook

Insight Enterprises has announced a collaboration with the city of Houston, Microsoft, and BeSafe to bring the ActiveShield concept to two Houston-area schools this summer. Aldine Independent School District was selected to be the first school district in the nation to implement an IoT platform like this, a representative says.

Safe Spaces a group of tools developed by Tempe, Arizona-based Insight, a Fortune 500 global systems integrator. The safety technology focuses on emergency situations, such as sound sensors, color-coded LED lighting, and real-time information sharing that can notify first responders with pertinent information as soon as possible.

"Knowledge is power, and our mission is to save lives by providing the right information to the right people at the right time," says Kevin Harrington, CEO of BeSafe Technologies, in a release. "What we see with Insight Safe Spaces is the ability to use IoT to build on our core capabilities to further improve public safety. This creates a communication hub that instantly connects on-site security with police, fire and other emergency responders, as well as building occupants."

The schools will be equipped with several of Safe Spaces' technologies, such as:

  • Cameras, sound and motion sensors, etc. that capture data that is then integrated with third-party security systems. (This allows for real-time information sharing and emergency response.)
  • Panic buttons for teachers or staff.
  • Color-coded smart lights that automatically warn of an emergency and indicate how close you are to danger or the school's safe zones.
  • Real-time communication to on-site security and emergency services, with different alerts or action plans based on the information being shared with the central system.
  • Direct lines of communication for people involved in the crisis via a navigation-based mobile app to provide updates and safety instructions in real time.

Together, Insight Safe Spaces and Microsoft Azure IoT solution accelerators combine technological forces to enable Raleigh, North Carolina-based BeSafe to open "new doors to enhanced public safety," says Stan Lequin, vice president and general manager, Insight Digital Innovation, in the release.

"Insight is helping BeSafe expand its foundation of advanced building information technology, transforming these capabilities into interactive action plans that give emergency responders a critical advantage when every second saved potentially means a life saved," Lequin adds.

BeSafe was founded in 1999 to enhance safety in schools by providing emergency response teams advance information about the school's layout, emergency exits, and more. Now, with the new age of technology, the organization is expanding its horizons, and AISD is the first to implement the collaboration of this technology.

"Student and staff safety are a top priority. The partnership with the city of Houston and Microsoft will take our efforts to the next level," says AISD's superintendent of schools, LaTonya M. Goffney, in the release.