Amtrak, U.S. transit agencies step up security after Brussels terrorist attacks

ISIS 1 over Metro Car 0

Following yesterday’s terrorist attacks at a Brussels airport and subway station, Amtrak and several major U.S. transit agencies increased their security efforts.

In response to the attacks — which left more than 30 people dead and injured hundreds more — Amtrak deployed extra officers at its stations. Additionally, the national passenger railroad’s police force is working with state, local and federal law enforcement partners to gather and share intelligence, according to a statement posted on Amtrak’s blog.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City is working with the New York State Police and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) to elevate police presence at subway and rail stations, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release.

Additionally, PANYNJ increased its police presence at all of its airports, bridges, tunnels and the World Trade Center, as well as the PATH and Port Authority Bus Terminal.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority also beefed up police presence at three rail stations, including L.A.’s Union Station.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced it is deploying additional security to major U.S. airports and at various rail and transit stations, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said in a prepared statement.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) encouraged riders to remain vigilant and report any unattended bags or suspicious behavior.

“We all need to work together to make sure that our public transit systems are as safe and secure as possible,” said APTA President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy.

Yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Belgium left 31 people dead and more than 200 others wounded. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks, which were carried out by two suicide bombers.

One of the bombers targeted Brussels’ Maalbeek subway station.

Vegas Analysts: Build high-speed rail, not more lanes for I-15

Don’t expect local transportation officials to get on the bandwagon to build additional lanes on Interstate 15 between Primm and Barstow, Calif., to improve traffic flow between Las Vegas and Southern California.

They’ll more likely get behind efforts to expand modes of transportation, such as high-speed rail and even hyperloop technology.

Tom Skancke, a ground transportation consultant to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, told authority board members Tuesday that the cost of adding new lanes in each direction for the 113 miles between the Nevada-California border and the first major freeway interchange in California would cost about $879 million in today’s dollars.

But Skancke said the project would require an extensive environmental impact study that could take as long as 10 years to complete. By the time a project could be started, the estimated cost would balloon to about $1.5 billion, Skancke said.

“We have to ask ourselves if we need more highways or more modes,” Skancke said.

He said he would recommend providing the funding needed to repair but not expand highway infrastructure along the route, but also to support efforts to develop high-speed rail.

Skancke noted that environmental approvals for a proposed highway known as the High Desert Corridor between Victorville and Palmdale, Calif., would be completed by summer. The significance of that 50-mile highway, advocated by Skancke a decade ago, is that includes a high-speed rail corridor.

Las Vegas-based XpressWest, planning a high-speed rail system connecting Las Vegas with Southern California, would use the High Desert Corridor to link its system from Victorville to the California High-Speed system that will pass through Palmdale on its way south to Los Angeles’ Union Station.

XpressWest is not seeking public funding for the project, but has considered applying for loans through a Federal Railroad Administration program.

Skancke also updated the board on the Interstate 11, a new four-lane highway project linking Mexico and Nevada. Crews already have begun a key portion of the project, a 15-mile bypass around Boulder City. Skancke said the project leaped forward when federal officials encouraged state leaders to begin developing I-11 routes between Las Vegas and Northern Nevada.

He also alerted board members of an upcoming highway closure that could affect weekend traffic beginning Friday. California crews will close the interchange of California highways 71 and 91 for 55 hours for construction Feb. 19-22.

The closure could affect Orange County traffic heading to and from Las Vegas for the three-day holiday weekend. Skancke said the alternative was to close the interchange over 10 weekends.

In other business, the board received a report from Rick Arpin, senior vice president of entertainment for MGM Resorts International, about April’s opening of the T-Mobile Arena just west of New York-New York.

The arena, which will hold between 16,000 and 20,000 people, depending on how seats are configured, has been designed to draw major special events that previously couldn’t be accommodated in existing Las Vegas venues.

Arpin said no gaming company sponsorships have been sold at the arena, but several casino companies have embraced the arena by purchasing their own luxury boxes for high-roller guests.

Arpin said the arena itself is expected to result in at least 500,000 visitors who would plan a trip to Las Vegas just to see an event there. He said the arena has produced 1,500 construction jobs, 640 jobs for arena workers and 1,055 support jobs from vendors. It is expected to produce $850 million in recurring economic impact each year and $50 million annually in new tax revenue.

The arena will be opened by The Killers, a Las Vegas-based band, and Wayne Newton on April 6. Future dates include performances by George Strait, Garth Brooks, and Guns ‘n Roses. The UNLV Rebels basketball team will also square off against Duke there in December and Arpin said he believes the NCAA is ready to amend its policies to enable collegiate sports events to be staged in Las Vegas. That means the potential of hosting early rounds of the March Madness tournament as well as the NCAA wrestling championships, usually held in the Midwest, collegiate hockey’s Frozen Four, usually scheduled on the East Coast, and a variety of collegiate gymnastics and volleyball events as well.

14 reasons you really shouldn’t ignore DuckDuckGo

Another startup with a silly name? Sounds like something I’d like to get my teeth into. 

For the uninitiated among you (where have you been?), DuckDuckGo (DDG) is a private search engine that has seen exponential growth since its inception a few years ago.

So why should you care?

Because an increasing chunk of your target audience may well be heading to DDG in the coming years.

Don’t believe me? Rand Fishkin of Moz fame said it will be “the fastest growing search engine of 2016.”

If you’re still not convinced, here are some enlightening stats about DDG that might make you pay attention.

1) It averages 10m queries a day

According to its own traffic stats, DDG averages around 10m queries a day.

DuckDuckGo traffic stats

This might not be up there with the likes of Google, but it means DDG is definitely a significant player in the search market.

2) 12m queries in a single day last December

While average search queries are at 10m, DDG managed a 12m-query day back in December.

3) 350m queries last month

DDG achieved an impressive 350m search queries for December 2015.

4) 3.41bn queries last year

For the whole of 2015, DDG achieved 3.41bn search queries.

Again, this might not seem much next to Google, but for a relatively young search engine it’s pretty significant.

5) 73% growth in 2015

Part of the reason these numbers are so significant is the pace at which DDG is growing.

The 3.41bn 2015 number was up from 1.97bn in 2014 – a 73% YoY increase in search queries.

6) 22% increase in traffic from January to December 2015

Over the course of 2015, DDG’s monthly traffic grew by 22%.

In December the site had 108m visits.

DuckDuckGo traffic stats

7) Tech fans love it

DDG users show a strong affinity toward tech news sites, according to a report by SimilarWeb.

Comparatively, Bing users show affinity to typical websites you would expect of average internet browser (Reddit, Amazon, Google, etc).

8) Average bounce rate is 31%

The average bounce rate for DDG users is 31%, according to the same SimilarWeb report.

This is significantly better than Bing users’ average bounce rate of 43%.

duckduckgo bounce rate stats

9) Average time on site is 9.5 minutes

DDG users spend an average of 9.5 minutes on sites they visit through the search engine.

By contrast, Bing users spend an average of just 7.5 minutes on each site.

duckduckgo time on site stats

10) It offers people what Google can’t (and won’t): true privacy

This infographic from Tech.co and Optilocal has a pretty good run-down of the privacy differences between DDG and Google, along with a load of other interesting facts and stats.

Click to see the full version

duckduckgo vs. google infographic

11) It does other things that Google can’t

But privacy is just one feature DDG has over Google.

DDG also offers functions such as the ability to view someone’s social media profile without leaving the search engine, the ability to easily expand shortened links or check whether websites are down, and there’s even a password generator.

These little UX tweaks could be key to DDG attracting an increasing number of users away from Google, not just relying on the privacy issue but actually providing an even better user experience.

12) It’s the default search engine in the new Adblock Browser for mobile

Ad blockers are here to stay. Let’s not kid ourselves about that. And there’s the old saying: ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’

If DDG is the default search engine for arguably the most popular ad blocking app of them all, brands should take that very seriously.

Failure to optimise for DDG on mobile could lead to brands missing out on an increasingly large mobile ad blocking audience.

13) It has signed the Acceptable Ads Manifesto

This one is less about ad blocking but more about a clear commitment to creating a user experience that benefits people rather than brands.

The Acceptable Ads Manifesto was created by Adblock Plus as a way to encourage brands to stop ruining the online user experience with crappy ads like the ones in the screenshot below.

Annoying display ads

Here are the key points of the manifesto:

acceptable ads menifesto key points

It might be a PR move  – in fact it almost certainly is – but it also suggests DDG is taking UX seriously and this can only have a positive impact on people wanting to use it.

14) It makes money without tracking people

In short: DDG is not going anywhere. It isn’t just a political flash in the pan. It is a profitable business.

In an ask-me-anything session on YCombinator’s Hacker News site last year, founder and CEO Gabriell Weinberg said:

DuckDuckGo is actually profitable. It is a myth you need to track people to make money in Web search.

Most of the money is still made without tracking people by showing you ads based on your keyword, i.e. type in car and get a car ad. These ads are lucrative because people have buying intent.

All that tracking is for the rest of the Internet without this search intent, and that’s why you’re tracked across the Internet with those same ads.

Amtrak to test restoration of rail service lost since Katrina

Amtrak is planning to test the feasibility of restoring rail service on the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Florida that has been dormant since Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago.

Trains on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited route, which used to run between Los Angeles and Orlando, have ended in New Orleans since the 2005 storm, which wiped out tracks along the Gulf of Mexico.

Amtrak is planning to operate a test train on the route, which includes stops in Alabama and the panhandle of Florida before it heads south to Orlando, to examine the feasibility of restoring the service, the company announced this week. The train will run from New Orleans to Orlando on Feb. 18-19 with Amtrak leaders and elected officials, according to Amtrak officials.

The company said “the goal of the invitation-only trip is to examine the existing CSX railroad infrastructure and to better understand rail’s economic, cultural and mobility opportunities.”

“We want to work with community leaders and CSX,” Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement. “Additional regional economic development can come from shared infrastructure investments on a timeline to better connect the region to the rest of the country and more than 500 other Amtrak destinations.”

A recently completed study showed restoring the rail service between Louisiana and Central Florida would attract between 138,300 and 153,900 passengers annually.

The study, conducted by Amtrak for the Southern Rail Commission, also showed it would cost $5.48 million to operate a daily roundtrip train on the shuttered Gulf Coast route if states chip in under a 2008 law that allows Amtrak to contract with local governments to provide increased service on shorter routes.

The cost would rise to $9.49 million if additional service is instituted between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., under the proposal.

Other options that were studied include operating two daily trips from New Orleans to only Mobile, with bus connections from there to existing Amtrak service in Jacksonville, Fla., and operating the one daily New Orleans-to-Florida trip under Amtrak’s long-distance route structure.

The study said the long-distance proposal would attract 69,100 passengers and cost $14.4 million per year to operate.

Advocates of restoring the dormant Gulf Coast rail service have been hoping to convince Amtrak of the feasibility of the route since a provision authorizing the study was included in a highway funding bill that was passed by Congress last year.

“The Gulf Coast region is home to numerous regional, national and global tourist destinations and events, including New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, the theme parks of central Florida, Gulf Coast beaches and casino gaming/resorts,” the authors of the feasibility study wrote in the begging of their report.

“Major league sports teams, NCAA bowl games, three cruise terminals with weekly mass-market cruise ship departures and convention opportunities also draw visitors to communities in the region, while military bases and major defense contractor facilities bring business and military travelers,” the report continued. “Reintroduction of rail passenger service to this market presents numerous marketing opportunities and Amtrak has the marketing capability to assist in promoting any service which is implemented.”

The 1,995-mile Sunset Limited is one of Amtrak’s national, or long-distance, trains, which have been dubbed money-losers by critics for years. The truncated route between Los Angeles and New Orleans carried 105,000 passengers in the 2014 fiscal year, the lowest total of any long-distance Amtrak service, according to figures released by the company.

Amtrak supporters have defended the losses on national routes such as Sunset Limited by arguing that subsidizing long-distance trains in parts of the country with little air service is a big part of the reason Congress created the company in the first place.