November 10, 2001

 

Proposed New Rail Tunnel for Detroit
    
Attached to this forwarded e-mail is an excerpt from an upcoming
(copyrighted) issue of Toll Roads Newseltter, giving news of the proposed
new large-diameter rail tunnel between Detroit and Windsor.

US-CANADIAN BORDER
Detroit-Windsor Rail Tunnel to go trucks

Owners of an old twin tube railway tunnel under the Detroit River, on the
US-Canada border in the Detroit-Windsor area, are proposing to convert it to
truck toll tunnels to provide extra truck crossing capacity. The tunnels
would be the centerpiece of a 12km (7.5mi) long 2-lane exclusive truck
tollway, the first full access-controlled and grade-separated link between
the motorway network of Ontario at H-401 and the interstate highways of
Michigan at I-75. Trucks are presently heavily delayed on the signalized
surface streets of downtown Detroit and Huron Church Rd in Windsor.
The truckway would probably push back several years the construction of
extra bridge capacity. The Ambassador Bridge's owners the Detroit
International Bridge Company company have said they might consider enlarging
capacity, but they have problems are the 11km (7mi) of stop-&-go surface
streets between the end of their bridge and the H-401 and congestion in the
downtown streets on the Detroit side. The most ambitious scheme is for a
downriver suspension bridge and elevated motorway connections proposed by
the Michigan-Canada International Bridge Company, a group led by Fluor
Daniel. (TRnl#55 Aug 01 p1) The downriver bridge project with a 800m (2600')
central span and a total of 5km (3mi) of roadway has been estimated as a
2x2-lane facility to cost $600m. The Ambassador bridge by comparison has a
564m (1850') central span and a total length of 2.8km (1.7mi).

Truckway

The truckway created out of the old rail tunnels is attractive because it
will offer quicker relief and it might be better economics than the
downriver bridge.

Prime mover is Borealis Transportation Infrastructure Trust, a
subsidiary of a large Ontario municipal employees retirement fund (OMERS)
with $50b assets. Earlier this year it bought a 50% share in the Detroit
River Tunnel Company (DRTC) which owns the tunnel from the Canadian National
Railway (CN). The other 50% of the DRTC is owned by Canadian Pacific
Railroad. Borealis estimates revenues from the present tunnel will be
greatly enhanced by using them for trucks rather than trains, but its scheme
also involves construction of a modern rail tunnel to satisfy rail needs.
The existing rail tunnel consists of a pair of tubes built 1906-1910,
one of which is no longer in use. The other was upgraded in 1994 and is
lightly used for trains in both directions.

In the proposed first stage of the Borealis scheme the 2-lane truckway
would be built to the tunnel portals on each side of the river and the
unused south rail tube would be converted for truck traffic for an opening
in 2004, if government permits can be obtained within about a year. Trucks
would form into convoys and alternate, perhaps ten minutes US-Can, then
10mins Can-US. The second stage would be construction of a new twin-track
tube for trains, designed with the extra clearance (6.7m, 22') to carry
double-stack 2.9m (9'6") containers or the Auto-Max railcars (6.1m, 20') for
three levels of SUVs. This would be a driven tunnel similar to the
Sarnia-Port Huron rail tunnel that made use of a tunnel boring machine.
The present DRTC tubes have more than the needed 4.25m (14') height for
trucks - the north tube was heightened in the early 1990s to take older 2.6m
(8'6") containers double-high on railcars. For trucks the internal concrete
lining will have to be milled back to provide a 4.1m (13'6") width between
walls for side clearances of 0.75m (30") each side of a standard 2.6m (8'6")
wide tractor-trailer. Escape corridors to the other tube, jet fans for
ventilation, lighting, firefighting systems, signage and a road-deck would
be installed.

The old tubes were built with structural cast-iron shells fabricated
onshore that were lowered into a trench in the river. Tremie concrete was
placed around the outside of the steel shells, and after water was pumped
out of the tubes the insides were lined with concrete too. After the new
rail tunnel was opened the presently operating north rail tube would be
widened and converted to truck traffic. The pair of converted tubes would
provide one truck lane each direction.

Borealis hope to make the connections to H-401 and I-75 mostly on
underused railroad right of way owned by the Canadian Southern (CASO)
railroad. The CASO tracks will be moved to one side of the reservation to
make room for the truckway in Windsor. Four overpasses will be built for
cross streets, eliminating grade crossings for the rail as well as for the
truckway.

Cost of the whole project, road plus rail is estimated at about $400m.
At present most of the truck traffic through Detroit uses the Ambassador
Bridge. Opened in 1929, it is limited by a narrow, by modern stanards, 14.3m
(47') deck, which does not allow for four full 3.65m (12') lanes. And there
is no median or breakdown shoulder. And as noted it has slow connections on
each side. The other toll crossing, the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, has a
clearance overhead of only 4m (13'2") and 3.35m (11') wide lanes which limit
trucks. It is basically a car, bus and light truck facility.
The rail corridor to be used for the Borealis truckway is located about
midway between the Ambassador Bridge on its west and the Detroit-Windsor
Tunnel to its east.

The DRTC tunnel itself is 2.6km (8,500') in length but with approaches on
either side the Detroit Rail Tunnel Company has 5.2km (3.3mi) total right of
way. CN has a modern tunnel for its high rail trains 100km (60mi) north of
Detroit at Port Huron-Sarnia which opened in 1995. Older low rail tunnels
make competitive railroading difficult so they represent a good opportunity
for conversion for trucks.

Juri Pill at Borealis says their ideal will be a free flow truckway
operation from H-401 to I-75 with sealed bonded trucks that have been
precleared by police, customs, immigration etc remotely from the border. The
truckway would have connections to the existing EC Rowe Expressway in
Windsor. Otherwise it would be fenced off for security, with only emergency
access or egress.

The group can gain use of land in an underutilized rail classification
(marshalling) yard on the Canadian side for a border processing plaza area,
if it is needed. There would be space for 14 processing lanes.
The chief-exec of Borealis, Michael Nobrega said in a talk at the recent
CANADA-US-MEX TRADE CORRIDORS CONFERENCE in Flint MI that his group acquired
the interest in the tunnel in order to develop the project for truck tolls
and an upgraded rail crossing.

"Borealis has commissioned preliminary engineering studies which have
concluded that the solution is feasible and workable and that it will solve
a number of issues and problems relating to truck security, inspection time
and truck congestion on local municipal streets. Moreover, it will
substantially improve rail freight service in the Detroit/Windsor corridor
by providing the passageway for triple-stacked container railcars... The
preliminary business case indicates that if the necessary lands can be
acquired at a reasonable cost, the truck-only route and the New Rail Tunnel
can be financed with private capital. If this solution is found to be
feasible and the necessary government approvals fast-tracked, then the
single tube truck tunnel could be operational by 2004, the New Rail Tunnel
opened by 2005 and the twin-tube truck tunnel route fully operational by
2006."

The group cites the security benefits of the truckway, making an
appeal that is quite powerful in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The truckway,
they say will cater only to known low-risk and more secure commercial truck
traffic separating it from the higher and unknown travelers, allowing
border inspection people and other resources to be applied to the higher
risk traffic. Given the high level of integration of the Ontario economy
with that of Michigan and nearby states their economies will be improved by
more reliable and quicker cross-border truck trips. The environment and the
safety of local streets would be enhanced, as the truckway will take a
proportion of traffic off local streets. Local communities with overpasses
over the truck and rail traffic will benefit by reduced red light waits.
Problems to be overcome include: negotiating use of right of way for
reasonable cost, persuading US officials to do their work on the Canadian
side since a US-side plaza is not feasible, likely opposition from the
Ambassador Bridge company, and gaining neighborhood acceptance.
But the biggest obstacle of all may be, perversely, the Ontario-Michigan
Border Transport Partnership (OMBTP), a bi-national border-crossing group
supported by the governments of the US, Canada, Michigan and Ontario. OMBTP
is organizing a series of studies of the many alternative crossings
possible. In their typical way the political leaders have declared this
"urgent", yet they have set a leisurely timetable of five years for
studies. The official study process is a marvelous excuse for governments to
defer consideration of the truckway scheme if it runs into serious
opposition. (Juri Pill, Borealis 416 361 2682 )
<<One interesting hypothesis of our truck people is that the private tunnel
could be by subscription only, with pre-arranged inspection and clearance at
distant sites, obviating need for customs and toll booths at the tunnel
mouths. Aarne>>

SOURCE:  Bluewater Chapter, NRHS

 

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