May 2, 2007

Last Tram(scam) To Troutdale

As far as I'm concerned, Mass Tram America's proposal for a tram in Troutdale is DOA. It will never be built. Here's why.

Mass Tram America Inc is the brainchild of Ben Missler, a (according to Willamette Week) "self-described veteran of the alternative energy movement". Missler and his PR rep Julie Mikalson gave the company's pitch to the Troutdale city council.

Here's how it's supposed to work:
De-commissioned Boeing 737's are stripped of their wings, engines and tails. Power is provided by solar electricity, wind power and fuel cells.The system of single rails are hung from suspension cables. Towers from 50 to 100 feet high to support the rail system are erected every 1000 feet and fitted with solar panels or wind turbines.

Mass Tram America claims these tram cars will travel between 100-200 mph.

Where It Is Supposed To Go:

Mass Tram America proposed a Troutdale-Mt. Hood resort area system. But there's a big problem.

A tram from Troutdale to Mt. Hood would have to go through the Columbia River Gorge Scenic area, which is adjacent to Troutdale. As most everyone is aware, the Columbia Gorge Commission won't allow so much as a sno-cone stand in the gorge, so I don't think they'll allow a goofy tram with 300 foot towers.

Troutdale residents tolerate the wind, but I'm positive they wouldn't appreciate 200mph trams flying between 50 foot-high towers above their neighborhoods. Can you see it? You're in your quiet backyard, enjoying nature, when WHOOSH, the tram screams by at 200 mph a mere 50 feet above your previously private yard.

The Portland Tram generated at least one "F*** the TRAM" banner displayed by an unhappy homeowner below that tram's route. I don't think Troutdale residents would be so polite!

What They Say It Will Cost:

$4 million per mile, not including rights of way. Mass Tram America claims they can build this system above existing highway and rail rights-of-way, or leased from farmers and landowners. That's where BIG problem lies with their estimate of $4 million per mile. It is totally unrealistic. Costs would run of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars PER MILE for right of way acquisition.

What's the benefit for Troutdale:

According to Mass Tram America, the tram's benefit to Troutdale would be " free publicity, clean power, solar/wind farms."

We got the free publicity. Willamette Week, KGW TV, Gresham Outlook. I was interviewed twice on KPAM 860's Victoria Taft Show. Not because this tram proposal was a great idea, but because of its goofy LARRY LIGHTBULB concept.

Clean Power? We already have that about 30 miles up I-84. It's called Bonneville Dam, The Dalles Dam, etc. haven't they heard of hydroelectric? Sure, the dams kill fish. But wind farms kill birds by the thousands. Which way would the animal rights activists sway? Is it ok to kill the ugly fish, but not the cute birdies? Too close to call?

What about wind power generation in Troutdale? The city has studied this. According to experts, Troutdale doesn't supply enough wind in the summer. In the winter, our high winds would trigger automatic shut-down of current technology wind generators. They don't operate at higher wind speeds that typically blow through Troutdale for weeks at a time in the winter.

The Reason I Know It Will Never Be Built

If you can't explain what your basic concept is in 30 seconds, you'll never turn your tram dream into reality.

Mass Tram America's presentation to the Troutdale City Council was a long, slightly incoherent ramble of jargon. PR rep Mikalson talked non-stop for 45 minutes. During this entire long monologue, they couldn't elucidate what they wanted, who was supposed to pay for it, how it was going to be financed, or who was going to build it. Even when we asked direct questions on cost and financing methods, we got nothing but generalizations and more jargon.

Instead, we got 45 minutes of rambling on the following items (Taken from my notes)
Complex financial strategy
Business energy tax credit 35% of upfront costs financing
Green tag currency to avoid diesel/Co2 emission
Create green tag currency market now
Collective desire
Climate Trust- greenhouse gas facilitator
High quality carbon offset proposal
Infrastructure would be same as wind towers
Proposal to build megawatts of community based power

Were you bored reading all that jargon? Could you decipher anything about a tram in there? Neither could I.

With all due respect to Mass Tram America, my gut tells me this tram idea is less about alternative transportation and more about finding ways to spend the free money given away by Greeniac scams such as the Energy Trust. The source of the free money: arbitrary Co2 standards set by Global Warming high priests and priestesses as a way to redistribute carbon emission penalties of perceived Co2 pollution.

What They Didn't Disclose To The City Council

I am disappointed in a lack of disclosure by Mikalson. There was nothing in Mass Tram America's written materials or her presentation to the city council declaring that apparently she's also selling solar systems for a solar energy company. At the same time she was encouraging Troutdale to buy into the wonders of this marvelous solar powered tram, she apparently had a dog in the fight as a sales representative of a solar energy company.

According to her own web site, and her MySpace site here, Mikalson appears to be a manufacturers rep for CitizenRe SOLAR equipment.
Also of some interest is CitizenRe's business model. CitizenRe is a multilevel marketing organization. According to a recent WIRED magazine article, "Citizenrē's offer is generating a furor in renewable energy circles, fueled by the company's own secrecy and an unusual business plan that combines serious technological expertise with an exuberant multilevel marketing campaign in the style of Amway, Mary Kay and Tupperware."

Regardless of Mikalson's interests, I'm not inclined to do business with pyramid schemes.


Mass Tram America didn't do their homework.

A tram in Troutdale is a Larry Lightbulb solution without a problem.

Costs are inaccurate without considering right of way acquisition costs.

Wind power won't work in Troutdale

Columbia Gorge commission and Troutdale residents would never accept tram or its 50 to 300 foot high towers

If they can't communicate what they're doing in 45 minutes, they can't build anything.

Finally, if you're pitching a solar energy- based transportation system to a city, you need to disclose that you sell solar energy systems for a solar energy manufacturer.


Anonymous said...

I believe that full disclosure is a good thing. I am a Senior Sales Manager with Citizenre and I agree that Ms. Mikalson might have mentioned her connection in her presentation.

However, the implication that she would profit from the relationship is unfounded. Citizenre's focus is the residential solar market. As an independent rep, she may only participate in residential sales.

And the implication that Citizenre is somehow a scammy company is, again, unfounded. Discovering that someone has negatively blogged about it, and it actually being true are vastly different things.

Tony Cecala

Troutdale Canfield said...

I didn't suggest that CitizenRe is a "scammy company". My use of the word "scam" refers not to CitizenRe but to the general concept of carbon credits, greentag markets, and financing of questionable and inefficient energy projects from funds collected from alleged "carbon polluters".

Other than the multi-level marketing approach, which I have a low opinion of, and which we will have to agree to disagree on its effectiveness, I haven't researched CitizenRe enough to have an opinion one way or the other regarding the legitimacy of your company.

There are varying opinions of CitizenRe around the blogosphere. One site for alternate opinions is at

Tony said...

Thanks for the reply. I guess I read into it.

I disapprove of Citizenre's name being associated with a project that wasn't ever reviewed by senior management.

I will, however, give Ms. Mikalson the benefit of the doubt, and hope that she wasn't making any connection between the two.

I also think that this won't be the last "green project" that will be proposed. We're living in interesting times!


Anonymous said...

The Mass Tram version of the semi-suspended monorail has always struck me as a cheap knock-off version of AirTrain's proposal, with lots of green power sources junked in on top to make it more attractive.

If you look at the original concept you can see it's meant for 200+ mile loops. Basically, the flying tram is a way to run airline style transportation at a lower cost per planeload, and at a much higher turnaround for vehicles. It makes very little sense as a scenic excursion from one modest-sized community, to a low-traffic ski resort.

Oh, and the AirTrain people, who plan to actually build their cabins specifically for tram use, estimate $16M per car, with a 275 mile loop costing a shade over $2B. I think they're a bit more realistic than these Mass Tram folks.

Any transit system should be specific to the needs of a community... and this one definitely isn't.

For a really good overview of what options are floating around, most by much more reliable companies than that one, you might check out by far the best aggregation of innovative transportation development world-wide.

commenteur said...

TRAM TRAM TRAM..I think they should have thought it through more the idea sounds good but the background reseach with cost estimates,prototype feasibilty designs work/engineering need to be far more advanced before approaching small cities.

Anonymous said...

No one EVER has proposed running a tram at 200 per hour near an urban area. That idea is silly - and should be put to rest...although I don't know if he has raised a similar objection to airplanes running overhead - carrying Jet Fuel. Anyway, that intentional distortion - (and others) began with the person who owns this Blog...who has chosen to dramatize possible objections - for whatever purpose. In this column he states there's no problem...when on the very evening the Tram dialogue was proposed, e had just head that the Gas Tax and RTP process would not cover Troutdale's transportation project needs. (Mr Canfield himself listed several possible Tram benefits in the same meeting before he adopted the _Solution without a problem_ line. A million people coming to the metro area may cause him to change that tune. Freight will more than double.

In my opinion, some statements here could be viewed as Unfair Business Interference, and should end here. I don't care if he thinks I'm long-winded and full of jargon when I try to use accurate terms for Transportation Planning and Renewable Energy scenarios. It's not about me, or his desire to ad some sort of shock jock flavor to Victoria Taft's program. It's about helping to clean the air, and meeting city to city transporation needs for the long-term future. Long after the next election.

The West Side took 10 years to talk and plan the Commuter Rail.

One would think that a proposal for public/private partnershi to collaboratively review routes, alternative funding, and ways to meet growing transportation needs in a safer and a enviromentally friendly way would get a more fair listen. Especially when it could help cause significant renvenue and bring quality jobs to the Northwest.

Folks have just begun to learn about city to city Tram concepts.
It is early in the conversation. We have begun meeting with Designers of other overhead rail systems, and there are many potential routes under consideration. Many inquiries have been recieved, and several more former BOEING employees have recently stepped forward, who want ot help.

I'm not a Green Tag fan either and it is silly to give the impressions that I'm somehow to blame for creating a complex currency system (that preserves to protect monopolies) instead of direct penalties for polluting. But it turns out the Green Tag system will be a GREAT way to help leverage development funds for clean travel...when renewable power is used. Tag Revenue is a working model, and it makes no sense to rail against it further, except to help ennsure fairness for emerging and small business - who face real challenges when the majors control the game.

The Councilor may be glad to hear that Mass Tram advocates have decided not to pursue the Climate Trust process this Season for advance Green Tag funding.

It's still on the horizon however, along with other options like FTA Innovation partnership, which would be more feasible in the context of a Community-based review process.

BTW, it was disclosed prior to April 10 that I am a Consultant on the Tram project. I wrote the letter to Council that you quoted prior to the meeting.

For years I have advocated for dozens of emerging solutions, with the consistent purpose to help accelerate the transformation of the energy and transformation industries. Just as was true when I was a leading advocate for the homelesss, in most cases I am unpaid for doing so. Each current project on which I am currently working has a separate market niche. None of the Solar solutions I'm now involved with, whether commercial or residential, has a direct relationship to the Tram. As you could learn if we entered reasonable dialogue, they involve different technologies.

I do hope to help develop options that can further reduce cost to everyone. My house is paid off and I do not wait for offers of money to get involved in a good project. I just do it.

Reducing the need for car and Tram batteries, is one high potential goal area. Others are doing the research. I am helping prepare the way, by doing unpaid policy and community awareness - for inevitable implementation phases.

I have *never* done my mission-oriented work because of personal financial interest. My friends and former Seminary prfessors would have a good laugh at that one. But they might become discretely curious about a person who would say such a you may want to prepare your own disclosures.
(heh! what goes around...)

I do protect Intellectual Poperty, and also consistently disclose the nature of projects I'm working on, even as you discovered when snooping my informal web sites. I'm very open on discussion lists too.

Consultanrs generally have numerous projects. I do also.

I hope to help even more components manufacturing businesses get going - to bring more quality jobs to our area - as electric vehicles, better batteries and automotive generators, and the Tram are implemented. Again, I am a public interest advocate, and rarely have asked for ANY compensation for doing the right thing, for heaven's sake.

Conflict? I think not.

Others - who are less motivated by altruistic objectives - might even learn from it.

Working to grow Oregon sustainability businesses,

Julie M.

Anonymous said...

PS: Please forgive my verbosity - and dyslexic typos. Many issues raised, little time.

(no Spell checker on this system yet...)

Julie M.

Troutdale Canfield said...

I'm just one vote on the city council and I only speak for myself on this blog. But I stand by my opinion.

Once the ideological rhetoric of carbon credits, alternative energy, global warming etc is stripped away, what we're really talking about here is just another construction proposal.

You stated, "some statements here could be viewed as Unfair Business Interference, and should end here."

That's a stretch. A Big one. To make the accusation that this tiny blog intentionally interfered with Mass Tram America's prospective contractual relations with the city or other entity is offensive and not based on the facts, which is what my opinion was based upon.

You might recall that at the city council meeting you made your presentation at, the entire city council suggested that because of the vague and unclear content of your presentation, you should come back to us with verifiable facts, a real proposal, and some real financial numbers.

You've replied twice to the blog entry regarding Mass Tram America's tram proposal,and you still haven't responded to the main obstacles pointed out here:

-Lack of right of way acquisition estimates. A tower every 1000 feet plus overhead right of way for miles and miles? This cost wasn't included in your proposal.

-Troutdale's high winter winds/low summer winds are not suitable for wind power with today's technology.

-Resolving the conflict between an intrusive transportation method (50-300 ft towers, unsightly wires, 200mph speeds, visual pollution) and the Columbia Gorge Commission's likely concerns with protection of a Federally protected scenic area.

-How to overcome view/safety/privacy issues within the city.

-Proof that this technology DOES, not CAN work (show us a working prototype).

-Actual project budget, timelines, financing method, construction impact mitigation, environmental impacts, etc.

Instead of making thinly veiled threats of "Unfair Business Interference", your project would be better served getting facts on the table regarding how these issues will be answered/overcome.

Having said that, if Mass Tram America truly believes in this product, then I encourage you to stop talking about it and just do it- build the thing. With your own money. Not with tax dollars. Not with greentag money. And, with all due respect, not in Troutdale.