Celine Cooper: Hyperloop would be a far cry from orange cones

Montreal Gazette by Celine Cooper

Hyperloop would zing passengers in small container-like pods through a low pressure tube at an estimated average speed of 962 km/h.

From orange cones to the Hyperloop: is this the future of transportation infrastructure in Montreal?

Back in 2013, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and the entrepreneur behind PayPal, introduced plans for what he called the Hyperloop transportation system. In a public blog post, he called it a fifth mode of transport “after planes, trains, cars and boats,” that was “safer, faster, lower cost, more convenient, immune to weather, sustainably self-powering, resistant to earthquakes and non disruptive to those along the route.”

Inspired by the pneumatic tubes that were used to move inter-office mail a century ago, the Hyperloop would zing passengers in small container-like pods through a low pressure tube at an estimated average speed of 962 km/h up to a maximum speed of 1220 km/h. It all sounds very futuristic and slightly far fetched (if not mildly terrifying). But it’s also close to becoming a reality: A Hyperloop prototype was successfully tested in the Nevada desert.

But could it be the future of transport here in Montreal?

Some people think so. In 2016, a company called Hyperloop One announced a global challenge for proposals to bring Musk’s concept to life. There were 35 finalists, and last month, 10 winning proposals were named. The Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal route — brought forward by a team called HyperCan — was the only Canadian route among them. Hyperloop One will work with each of the 10 to determine the viability of their routes.

The company claims that Hyperloop transportation could theoretically connect 25 per cent of Canada’s population in less than 40 minutes. Imagine being able to travel 640 km from Toronto to Montreal in 39 minutes, or the 450 km from Toronto to Ottawa in 27 minutes, or the 190 km it takes to get from Ottawa to Montreal in 12 minutes.

There’s no question that it would be appealing to anyone who travels the Toronto-Montreal corridor regularly, as we did over the Thanksgiving weekend to visit family in Ontario, and dreads getting stuck in the chronic bottlenecks as one approaches the cities. But just how much of a priority would it be, and for whom?

Writing for MTLinTech, a local online technology website last year, Joseph Sizick explored a few potential stumbling blocks for a Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal hyperloop project. Here are just a few:

First, it would be expensive. Like, really expensive. When Musk first conceived of the concept, he estimated that a Hyperloop system would cost about $11.5 million per mile to build in the United States. But leaked documents obtained by Forbes in 2016 indicated that Hyperloop One — one of two companies attempting to make Musk’s idea a reality — is estimating the cost to be $84 million to $121 million per mile. To build a Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Hyperloop would require long-term, non-partisan partnership and commitment among all three levels of government, as well as a steady flow of private investment and venture capital. Is the money and the political will there?

Second, ironing out complicated logistics would take a great deal of time. Experts have estimated that sorting out the urban planning, environmental assessments and policy issues to bring a Hyperloop to life could take up to 20 years or more.

Third, do these Canadian cities have the population density to sustain such an ambitious system? Montreal has around 4 million people in its Census Metropolitan Area, Toronto has around 6 million people in the Greater Toronto Area. Ottawa has just under 1.5 million. These numbers are expected to grow, of course, but would enough people use it to make the investment worthwhile?

Seeing as we’re in the middle of a hot municipal election, it’s still worthwhile asking what candidates running for office have to say about the Hyperloop concept and how it fits into the future of Montreal’s transportation system. But for now, I think most Montrealers, myself included, are more concerned with transportation issues closer to home. Before turning our attention to a Hyperloop, let’s concentrate on fixing the potholes, building safer bike lanes and an expanded, smoothly functioning STM.

Rail Freight Thru Connecticut

A few years ago Jon Melnick, a transportation planner with the New York City Transit Authority, published an article about travel from Delaware to Connecticut not using AMTRAK. He took two days and 22 buses to travel from Newark, Delaware to Old Saybrook, Connecticut. We discussed how to continue on towards Boston.

2017 Update: Still no connection between Shore Line East and Providence, Rhode Island!

news article: “Feds drop Old Saybrook-to-Rhode Island bypass from final rail plan”

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Then we began to expand on our plans for: (1) bridge across Hudson River between Poughkeepsie and Beacon; (2) revival of Beacon Line” from Beacon to Harlem Division, Danbury and Connecticut. So where do we go in Connecticut? The “Maybrook Line” which preceeded the “Beacon Line” before the Great Bridge at Poughkeepsie burned.

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We put together a WebSite on the freight railroads of Connecticut

Then we got copy of the Connecticut State Rail Plan.

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Amtrak owns the corridor that runs between Springfield, Massachusetts and New Haven, Connecticut. This segment is one of the federally designated high-speed rail corridors.

The Boston and Albany route through Springfield toward Boston is a heavily congested freight route operated by CSX. It experiences between sixteen and eighteen freight trains per day.

Amtrak owns the 70 – mile segment along the Connecticut shoreline between
New Haven and the Rhode Island state line . The segment is primarily 2 – tracks with passing sidings near Guilford, Old Saybrook, and Groton
Connecticut, like other states, struggles with the mounting costs of maintaining its highway infrastructure. A single intermodal freight train can carry the same load as 500 trucks . Nationally,
freight shippers would have to add 50 million additional trucks on the roadways.

Encouraging and supporting approaches that maximize the amount of freight that moves by rail while minimizing tonnage moving over state highways will help reduce wear and maintenance costs on the state’s road system.
Railroads are the most fuel – efficient means of surface transportation, and are becoming more efficient and “green” at a much faster rate than long – haul trucking. Moving freight by rail
reduces the consumption of diesel fuel, reduces heavy truck traffic, and reduces carbon emissions.

The railroad track structure allows for the passage of wildlife and only experiences traffic a few times per day, as opposed to roads and highways, which see nearly constant movement of vehicles.

Unlike public transit and the public highway network, the rail freight industry is operated by the private sector for profit. There are ten privately owned freight railroad companies operating in Connecticut
These companies own most of the rail freight infrastructure in the state
and all of the rail freight equipment operating within the state.

Housatonic Railroad Company (HRRC) is a regional short line that operates in the western part of Connecticut along the Berkshire Line (50.0 miles), and to Derby/Shelton via its Maybrook Line (33.5 miles)
and in western Massachusetts. HRRC owns the southern 13.6 miles of the Berkshire Line between Boardman’s Bridge and Brookfield, as well as the Maybrook Line to Derby.HRRC interchanges with CSX in
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and has the potential to interchange with CSX in Beacon, New York.

The HRRC has an opportunity to interchange with Pan Am Southern Railway in Derby, should the potential for this particular routing present itself.
HRRC operates trains between Pittsfield and Canaan on Monday through Friday, and between Canaan and New Milford on Sunday through Thursday.
It operates a local switching operation in the New Milford -Danbury
– Newtown area on Monday through Friday. There are switching yards
in N. Canaan, New Milford, Danbury, and Hawleyville/Newtown, along with
and an engine and railcar maintenance facility in Canaan.

P&W provides local freight service from Milford to Derby

In Connecticut, CSX operates nearly 70 miles of railroad and maintains 11 public and private grade crossings. In 2009, CSX handled more than 9,500 carloads of freight and employed
seven people in Connecticut. Products shipped include lumber, municipal and construction waste, plywood, limestone, and wood
pulp. CSX has a TRANSFLO terminal in North Haven that provides transloading (transfers of freight between railcars and trucks),
materials management, and logistics services
.