Getting There: 700-mph Hyperloop, third-rail ban, billion-dollar bridge and other transportation updates
Published 12:00 am, Sunday, November 5, 2017
Here are some updates on topics recently discussed in “Getting There” columns:
In July, I wrote about tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s idea to build a 700-mph tube system to whisk passengers from Washington to New York in 29 minutes. Using a combination of a near-vacuum and linear induction motors, I noted that Musk has yet to build a working full-scale prototype, and called him “the PT Barnum of technology,” offering “more hype than hope.”
At the time, Musk had just gone public after a meeting at the White House, saying he’d been given “approval” to start boring giant tunnels for his project. I scoffed at the notion, but have been proven wrong.
Sure enough, a reader recently informed me that Maryland’s governor has given Musk permission to start digging 10 miles of tunnels under the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to eventually link the two cities. Boring will cost up to $1 billion a mile. So, though I remain skeptical of Hyperloop’s future, I stand corrected.
Myth of the third rail
On the road
Jim Cameron will be talking transportation at the following meetings:
Nov 14: Weston Chamber of Commerce, Terrain Restaurant, 561 Post Road E., Westport. 7 a.m.
Nov. 16: Stamford Senior Men’s Association, Congregation Agudath Sholom, Strawberry Hill Avenue and Colonial Road. 10 a.m.
Nov. 18: Bethany Public Library, 538 Amity Road, Bethany. 2 p.m.
Join the conversation
Use #GettingThereCT to chime in on Facebook and Twitter.
In October, I wrote about our state’s complex electric system to power Metro-North. In Connecticut, those trains rely on overhead catenary to get power, but in Westchester County and into Grand Central, the trains convert to third rail.
Given the perennial problems with the overhead wires, both old and new, I explained why converting to a third-rail system in Connecticut didn’t make sense: the trains would accelerate slower and we would still need catenary for Amtrak.
What I didn’t know was that third-rail power was banned by the state Supreme Court in 1906 after a center-track third rail power system installed by the New Haven Railroad resulted in several electrocutions near Hartford.
Clearly, the third-rail power system in use today is much safer than the one experimented with a century ago, but in this land of steady habits, overturning that ban might be a challenge.
The Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak released plans for a new high-speed rail (HSR) corridor through the state. The very fuzzy drawings we had at the time showed new tracks running somewhere near Interstate 95, not the current Metro-North tracks.
Now we have more detailed maps and, as feared, the mostly-elevated HSR system will fly over the interstate, smoothing out the curves to allow 200-plus mph speeds. But don’t get too enthused (or exasperated, depending on where you live): Nobody likes the plan. The Congressional delegation, the state Department of Transportation and even local officials — all of whom must approve and fund the idea — are against the proposal. And, oh yeah, we don’t have the money.
The billion-dollar bridge
Preliminary work to replace the 121-year-old Walk Bridge in South Norwalk continues apace, even as local elections have turned the project into a political hot-potato. Some oppose the cost and disruption of replacing the swing bridge with a two-section lift bridge while others, more nostalgic, want the new bridge to resemble the old. Those proposing a fixed bridge, effectively closing the Norwalk River to commercial boat traffic, are keeping their hopes alive even though the state DOT has rejected that idea.
Rumors that construction of the new bridge might require demolition of the Norwalk Aquarium’s IMAX theater seem to have been confirmed. But the real heavy construction won’t begin until 2019, so there’s plenty of time to catch a movie.
Jim Cameron is a longtime commuter advocate based in Fairfield County. Contact him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com