Riding the Model Train in Binghamton

Another Town on the Hudson

On Memorial Day weekend, I woke at the crack of dawn and boarded a bus destined for Binghamton, New York to see an old friend for the first time in five years. To me, that city meant little more than name on a highway sign. My friend was visiting his family in Western New York.  Since Binghamton sat equidistantly between my friend’s and my respective home bases, we agreed to rendezvous in New York’s Southern Tier.

i81ny17Since we had no plan for the day (aside from catching up), my friend suggested that we visit the local planetarium at the Roberson Museum and Science Center. Having just launched a company producing custom globes (Global Creations), he might have been searching for insight and inspiration.

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A salute to Florida’s Overseas Highway

The 1.25-mile-long Jewfish Creek Bridge in Key Largo is part of the Overseas Highway, as it passes through Key Largo. (Photo: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)

Even if you’ve never ventured outside of Orange County or the confines of Walt Disney World Resort, there’s still a good chance you’ve traversed Florida’s most characteristic type of roadway: the causeway.

A pancake-flat peninsula flecked with lakes and sporting the longest coastline in the contiguous United States, Florida seems a natural place for an abundance of thoroughfares that, by their most basic definition, are raised paved roads, tracks or paths — usually earthen and often man-made — across bodies of water or wetlands.

Here’s where things get a bit confusing. In Florida, the word causeway is frequently applied to thoroughfares that consist of a combination of raised roads and multiple bridges, linked by narrow strips of land or small islands. Most often, you’ll cross this type of causeway traveling from the Floridian mainland to its barrier islands. The San Carlos Bay-spanning Sanibel Causeway, the Venetian Causeway in Miami-Dade County and the Courtney Campbell Causeway, which stretches nearly 10 miles across the northern section of Tampa Bay, are just three heavily traversed examples.

And then there’s the Overseas Highway, which has 42 bridges and too many causeways to count.

While some might consider it a causeway in its entirety as it follows the familiar causeway-bridge-causeway-bridge-causeway pattern, nobody really refers to the 113-mile-long Overseas Highway as one. Carrying U.S. Route 1 through the Florida Keys from mainland Florida to its southern terminus in Key West, the so-called “Highway That Goes to the Sea” is the grand dame of scenic drives, the prettiest place in the world to be stuck in bottleneck traffic and the most transcendent stretch of pavement in the Lower 48. There’s nothing else quite like it.
Alongside such fabled roads including Natchez Trace Parkway and the Blue Ridge Parkway, the historic Overseas Highway is one of a select few National Scenic Byways designated as an All-American Road. It’s among the best of the best, the most scenic of scenic drives.

It’s also arguably one of the more surreal All-American roads. On a clear day, driving southbound on the Overseas Highway is akin to gliding above the open ocean into infinity. Just imagine being sandwiched between blue skies and turquoise waters that stretch forever as you charge toward what feels like the end of the Earth (or, in reality, the southernmost point in the contiguous United States). A drive on the Overseas Highway makes anything seem possible.

But as evidenced before and in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the Overseas Highway isn’t just an otherworldly artery that enables motorists to island-hop through a tropical wonderland like a real-life magic carpet ride, to which it’s often compared. It also functions as an asphalt lifeline, the only road in and out of the Florida Keys, an archipelago or roughly 1,700 coral and limestone islands. Without the Overseas Highway, the islands and the 70,000-some people who call a small number of them home would be severed from the mainland save for transport by water or by air. It was along the Overseas Highway that a mandatory mass evacuation was carried out ahead of Irma and, days later, residents and business owners slowly trickled back to assess the devastation.

Now that debris has been cleared from its causeways and its bridges have been deemed structurally sound and safe for travel, it’s clear that the Overseas Highway has weathered the storm. The Keys, however, have weeks, months, even years of recovery ahead.

As a tribute to the Florida Keys and its beloved scenic byway, here’s the fascinating story of a shining — and incredibly fun to drive on — testament to American ingenuity. Let’s hope that visitors who have never experienced this preternaturally beautiful slice of paradise will be able to make that storied drive someday soon.

A tropical paradise that you can drive to: Photographed in 1961, marking the start of the southernmost stretch of U.S. Highway 1, which begins near the Canadian border in Fort Kent, Maine. (Photo: Florida Keys–Public Libraries/flickr)
The Storm of the (early 20th) Century
It was a hurricane of all things that gave way to the creation of the Overseas Highway.

While individual segments of the “original” highway date to the mid-1920s with the construction of State Route 4A, the present day Overseas Highway didn’t come about until the late 1930s following the catastrophic Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, which, to this day, remains the strongest most intense hurricane to make landfall in the United States.

The storm claimed over 400 lives, including a large number of World War I veterans and their families who were living at three Federal Emergency Relief Administration-operated veteran work camps located on the Florida Keys.

The job at hand for the vets? To construct a complete and continuous modern highway from the mainland to Key West that would help alleviate pressure on a struggling, sluggish ferry service. The idea was that the new toll roads would eventually render the ferry system obsolete.

In the early years, the Overseas Highway (pictured here in 1940) consisted of winding dirt roads and rickety wooden bridges. Although scenic, it was more white-knuckle than anything. (Photo: Florida Keys–Public Libraries/flickr)
Writes Jerry Wilkinson in a “History of the Overseas Highway”:

The ferry service was barely adequate. It had a limited capacity, was slow, unreliable, inconvenient and relatively expensive for the service it provided. Often they would run aground, or be delayed due to low tides and shallow water. One ferry captain commented that there was not quite enough water for swimming and too much for farming. Key West was not satisfied. Plans were begun to bridge the water gaps for vehicular traffic to eliminate the ferries.
On Sept. 2, 1935, the mother of all hurricanes hit the Keys. Nearly all work completed or nearly completed to transform State Route 4A into a continuous, non-segmented highway was destroyed. Just off of Lower Matecumbe Key, near mile marker 73, is a small island that was dredged as part of a never-realized bridge that was under construction when the storm hit. The island is now known as Veteran’s Key. In addition to the island, the unfinished bridge’s eight piers remain as a haunting memorial to the veterans who lost their lives in the storm.
Best known as the Overseas Railroad, the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway put the Keys, long accessible only by water, on the map. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
When life gives you defunct railway lines …
In addition to wiping out much of old State Route 4A, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 also heavily damaged the one reliable mode of transport in and out of the Keys: the Overseas Railroad.

An extension of the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC), the Overseas Railroad was completed in 1912 and, unlike any existing roads, stretched all the way from mainland Florida to Key West, the state’s most populous city at the time. A hugely complex and expensive undertaking that many critics believed to be impossible to complete, work began on the Overseas Railroad in 1905 as the pet project of Henry Flagler, a Gilded Age oilman-turned-resort developer. Hailing from New York, Flagler was instrumental in transforming the east coast of Florida into the vacation destination that it is today.

Although popular during its relatively short lifespan, the Overseas Railroad was ultimately written into history as an ill-fated marvel of early 20th century engineering that, in the end, succumbed to Mother Nature. Following the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the financially trouble FEC decided not to rebuild damaged and wholly destroyed sections of the line, leaving the Keys, once again, accessible only by boat.

Following the shuttering of the Overseas Railway, the state of Florida saw a rare opportunity. Although its railbeds were damaged beyond repair by the hurricane, the railway’s most crucial infrastructure, including its bridges and formidable arch viaducts, survived the storm largely intact. And so the state purchased the railroad’s right of way from the FEC for a sum of $640,000 and embarked on an ambitious rail-to-road conversion project that would, at long last, link the disconnected sections of State Route 4A to form a complete highway.
A 1928 photograph of Florida’s Overseas Railroad, which was ultimately replaced with the Overseas Highway in the late 1930s. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Work retrofitting the old railway bridges — most notably, the iconic and still-standing Bahia Honda Rail Bridge that links Bahia Honda Key with Spanish Harbor Key — into automobile bridges in the Middle Keys wrapped up in 1938. That year, the now-continuous highway was rechristened as the southernmost stretch of U.S. Route 1. The first incarnation of the current Overseas Highway was officially born.

As Wilkinson writes in his “History of the Overseas Highway”: “The Gibraltar of the South [Key West] had a usable vehicle artery to and from the mainland.”

Improvements and modifications on the Overseas Highway, which still incorporated large segments of old State Route 4A, continued through the first half of the 20th century. This work, particularly in the Upper and Lower Keys, picked up steam during World War II when the U.S. Navy, which maintained an air station on Boca Chica Key near Key West, concluded that the existing highway — filled with “many wooden bridges and sharp turns,” to quote Wilkinson — was inadequate for its needs. And so, existing bridges were upgraded and routes were reconfigured as part of an extensive overhaul that, in lieu of building roads atop just part of the old railway, incorporated the FEC right of way in its entirety.

On July 2, 1944, the Overseas Highway was dedicated (again) in a ceremony that Wilkinson notes was “much larger” than when it opened in 1938.

Wider roads, bigger bridges
As Key West-bound sun-worshippers descended on the once-sleepy Florida Keys in even greater numbers during the latter half of the 20th century, work on improving the Overseas Highway to accommodate an increase in motor traffic began in earnest. With a focus on lane expansion projects, Wilkinson refers to the highway from 1944 though 1978 as being in an “almost continuous maintenance period.” Another noteworthy event from this period came in April 1954 when tolls — $1 per vehicle and driver plus a quarter for each additional passenger — for traveling on the highway were banished following a “scandal over inappropriate revenue use.”

From 1978 though the early 1980s, the Overseas Highway entered a period of dramatic reinvention when 37 bridges, most of them old FEC railway bridges dating back to the early 1900s, were replaced with wider, stronger and heavier spans built specifically for automobile traffic. After years of service, the retrofitted rail bridges, many of them in rather rough condition, were retired.

In 1982, the bridge that’s now considered the crown jewel of the Overseas Highway, the Seven Mile Bridge, opened to traffic. Crossing Moser Channel to connect Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys to Knight’s Key, part of the city of Marathon in the Middle Keys, this $45 million prestressed concrete box-girder span was considered a feat of engineering and among the world’s longest bridges when completed. (Technically, it’s just shy of seven miles: 35,862 feet or 6.79 miles.)
As is the case with several other modern vehicular bridges along the Overseas Highway, the old Seven Mile Bridge Seven Mile Bridge — completed in 1912 as part of the Overseas Railroad and retrofitted in the late 1930s to accommodate automobiles — still stands alongside it. After the new bridge opened to traffic, a 2.2-mile-long section of the old bridge spanning from Knight’s Key to Pigeon Key remained open as a popular fishing pier and wildly popular sunset-watching spot accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

The bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was closed inits entirety in July 2016 as part of a $77 million restoration scheme. It’s due to remain closed until 2021 when it reopens as one of the country’s most spectacular linear parks. (Also in the works for those who would rather hike or bike, not drive, across the archipelago is the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, a 106-mile paved path set along the old Overseas Railroad route that, when completed, will stretch from Key Largo to Key West as the southernmost section of the East Coast Greenway.)

It’s unclear how the raggedy but beloved old Seven Mile Bridge fared during Hurricane Irma but as Kelly McKinnon, executive director of the Pigeon Key Foundation, relayed to the Florida Rambler in 2013: “The new bridge will go down before the old one does. It’s been there for 100 years; it was made to last. The new one was just built by the lowest bidder.”

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, only emergency vehicles were allowed to access the Overseas Highway, a heavily traveled National Scenic Byway. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
The road to recovery
On Sept. 13, three days after Irma made landfall at Cudjoe Key, the Miami Herald reported that all 42 bridges along the Overseas Highway had been inspected by authorities and were deemed safe for travel. Causeways that had flooded or been washed away during the storm were also deemed passable. Still, only the less-harder-hit Upper Keys were open to anxious returning residents and business owners as large swaths of the Lower and Middle Keys remained without electricity or cell phone service.

On Sept. 18, the Herald reported that the Overseas Highway, including parts of the road south of the Seven Mile Bridge, had reopened in its entirety to vehicular traffic. Neighborhoods in more devastated areas remain off limits indefinitely. Highway access aside, the Keys — from mile marker 107 in Key Largo to mile marker 0 in Key West — will remain temporarily closed to tourists as recovery efforts and repairs to infrastructure continue.


Mother Nature Network

Japan Is Selling Bullet Trains to India

Japan’s government and its rail companies lobbied the U.S. for years to sell their bullet-train technology and found little success. Finally, there’s an international buyer: India.

The South Asian country is poised to become the first to import the iconic ‘Shinkansen’ bullet-train technology after Japan’s near-neighbor Taiwan, and that will be a highlight of India’s infrastructure upgrade program. The Japanese government has also agreed to fund most of the $17 billion needed for the project that will become part of Asia’s oldest railway network.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan’s Shinzo Abe formally kicked off a plan to build the 316-mile bullet train line — roughly the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Financing by Japan also means business farmed out to companies such as Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., Hitachi Ltd. and East Japan Railway Co. and an opportunity lost for China’s CRRC Corp Ltd. and European manufacturers including Alstom SA.

For Japan, which is locked in a strategic rivalry with China for commercial contracts abroad, the Indian project marks a hard-fought victory as companies including Siemens AG, Bombardier Inc., Alstom and, lately, CRRC compete in a global market projected by BCC Research to be worth about $133 billion by 2019. After building the world’s largest high-speed network since the start of the century, covering 80 percent of its major cities, China has been raising its profile.

“The competition between China and Japan, especially in the ASEAN region, has been fairly intense and in India, there will be more competition for other phases of the bullet train project,” said Jaideep Ghosh, partner and head of transport at consultancy KPMG. “Japan has a longer history of operating the system without any fatalities. Politics and strategic considerations do play a part, but finally it is a commercial decision.”
Trump Campaign

India isn’t the only country in Asia that is offering potential in high-speed rail. China outbid Japan to win a $5.5 billion project in Indonesia in 2015, while the two countries are poised for a face-off again over a proposed Singapore-Kuala Lumpur link scheduled for completion by 2026.

President Donald Trump campaigned for improving infrastructure during elections. In February, ahead of a meeting with Abe, Trump even talked about high-speed railway lines. Trump told airline bosses that Japan and China “have fast trains all over the place. We don’t have one,” according to a transcript of a meeting he had with airline chiefs.

In 2010, Japan had offered to build high-speed rail in California as part of a $40 billion project after discussions with then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 2014, Abe said his government may provide financing to support Central Japan Railway Co.’s bid to provide maglev trains for a Washington-Baltimore line.

A bullet train on Indian soil is part of Modi’s ambitious plan to modernize rail infrastructure after decades of underinvestment. He is pouring as much as 8.6 trillion rupees ($134 billion) to upgrade the congested and aging lines that daily carry the equivalent of Australia’s population. The network was started under British colonial rule 164 years ago.
Soft Loan

Modi and Abe unveiled a plaque at Sabarmati in Gujarat to mark the inauguration of the project linking the financial capital of Mumbai with the economic hub of Ahmedabad. The Japanese government is financing 81 percent of the cost, with a $13.8 billion soft yen-loan carrying an interest rate of 0.1 percent.

Kawasaki Heavy and India’s Bharat Heavy Electrics Ltd. will collaborate on the rolling stock, Abe said Thursday at the event. Bharat Heavy rose as much as 10.2 percent in Mumbai, the biggest intraday gain in a year.

Modi is also counting on the project to spur a manufacturing and employment boom. His government says it will create 20,000 construction jobs, apart from 4,000 direct and 20,000 indirect jobs for operations. Local companies such as Larsen & Toubro Ltd., Gammon India Ltd. and GMR Infrastructure Ltd. are also looking to win some of the contracts.

“We may be getting the technology from Japan, but most of the components for the bullet train will be sourced from India,” Modi said in a speech at the event. “That’s why our industry will have to manufacture world-class equipment, supply them on time, focus on zero-defect manufacturing.”

Japan has pitched quality as the primary selling point to India — a network that boasts zero fatal accidents in its more than half-century of history. Japan’s relatively high initial costs can be offset by lower repair expenses over a lifespan of decades, Japanese officials have said.

Bloomberg Technology

The New Haven and the Military

In Weymouth along the Greenbush there was the Naval Ammunition Depot, its annex in Hingham, and the Bethlehem Steel shipyard in Hingham. The Bethlehem Steel shipyard in Quincy. In Hull there was Ft. Revere and supposedly some 16″ guns brought into Hull via rail during WW2. In South Weymouth the Plymouth line’s tracks pass right by the rear gate of NAS South Weymouth. Of course Camp Edwards on the Cape interacted with the NH. I’m curious about all aspects of the NH’s interaction with all military sites in its service area, small installations or large: NAS Cherry Point, RI, Westover AFB in Springfield, National Guard units, Groton, Submarine base, CT, Boston Navy Yard?

The New Haven had a switching yard (totalling about ten miles of track) at Camp Myles Standish. The New Haven was responsible for troop train movements and freight/supply for the camp. None of the yard remains as of today, although the ROW from Taunton to Mansfield can still be explored (one cannot get across Rte 495, however). Camp Miles Standish was a major staging area for the Boston Port of Embarkation in Boston Harbor. Camp Miles Standish was just one of many Army bases located in the Boston area. A Port of Embarkation was a place where troops were actually put on board troop ships and sent off to the war zones. On the New Haven side, the actual Port of Embarkation was the Boston Army Base on the South Boston waterfront. This was served by “Government Yard” which was adjacent to Commonwealth Pier and the Boston Fish Pier. Boston Navy Yard (Charlestown) was on the B&M side of the river. The NH did serve the Military RR in the Quonset point Fleet docks,and the Davisville RI. complex where the Groundpounders were.

There is substantially more to see, from a railroad perspective, at the old Hingham Ammunition Depot annex in Hingham, MA. Known as Wampatuck State Park today, the tracks leading into the Hingham Ammunition Depot annex were refurbished sometime during the 1960s in anticipation of processing rail shipment during the Vietnam War, which apparently never happened. The tracks leading into this facility cross Route 3A near the Hingham/Scituate line and if you walk about a mile into the woods along the tracks you’ll find plenty of tracks and plenty of structures from WW2.

Most of this discussion so far has involved WW II.There are two other aspects — first the NH sponsorship of two military railway reserve outfits, the 729th Railway Operating Battalion and the 749th Railway Operating Battalion in WW II. The 729th served in Europe. The 749th served in the Philippines. The 729th was reorganized, again with NH sponsorship postwar, and served in the Korean War. The 729th was the predecessor unit of the present 1205th railway unit of the Army Reserve.

From: The New Haven and the Military