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>>