Updates on the billion dollar bridge and high-speed rail

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Wikipedia image.

A hyperloop capsule.

A few updates on some recent items:

HYPERLOOP: In July I wrote about tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s idea to build a 700-plus mph tube system to whisk passengers from Washington D.C. to New York City 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 faithful reader of this column told me that several weeks ago 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: In October I wrote about our state’s complex electric system to power Metro-North… how 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 for their power.

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, we would still need catenary for Amtrak, etc.

What I did not know was that third rail power had been outlawed by the Connecticut State Supreme Court back in 1906 after a center-track third rail power system installed near Hartford by the New Haven RR resulted in several electrocutions.

Clearly, the current 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.

HIGH SPEED RAIL: This summer the FRA and Amtrak released plans for a new high-speed rail (HSR) corridor through our state. The very fuzzy drawings we had at the time showed new tracks running somewhere near I-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+ mph speeds. But don’t get too enthused (or exasperated, depending on where you live): nobody likes the plan… our Congressional delegation, the CDOT and even local officials, all of whom must approve and fund the idea. 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 CDOT 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 founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting. Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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