Last week we published a post McMurdo House: State Register to do with the historical preservation of 713 S. Center St. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has published a similar article: Ashland’s Macmurdo House, 163 years old, listed on state landmarks register.


The circa 1858 Macmurdo House, situated along Ashland’s picturesque Center Street, was recently added to the Virginia Landmarks Register, the state’s official list of places of historic, architectural, archaeological and cultural significance. It also has been submitted to be considered for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

Named for the family who built it — Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad Treasurer Cunningham Waldrop Macmurdo — it’s one of more than 200 properties within Ashland’s designated Historic District, and one of the earliest homes built in the newly established Town of Ashland, incorporated that same year.

The home’s history reportedly includes a visit from Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson and his senior officers in the days leading to the Seven Days’ Battle in 1862. At one point, it served as a Civil War hospital.

Derailed tanker held toxic chemical

The Richmond Times-Dispatch for December 19, 2020 published the following report to do with a derailment in downtown Roanoke.

The report describes damage to a car containing liquid sulfur. Sulfur is a yellow solid at room temperatures. It is used to make sulfuric acid (the acid in our car batteries). The sulfur is liquefied for transportation and loaded into tank cars. (Its melting point is 115.2 °C / 239.4 °F.)

Liquid sulfur is a hazardous chemical. We there to be a spill, the high temperature liquid could cause severe burns. Also, were it to catch fire, it would generate sulfur dioxide (SO2) fumes that are toxic.

Historic Designation

The recent change in administration is likely to revive interest in high speed rail.  Therefore we need to keep the “No High Speed Rail” project active.

One reason for opposing a third track through the town of Ashland is that it would damage the historic properties that are located on or near the tracks. Attached is a copy of a letter that I received from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources  to do with placing the Macmurdo House on the National Register of Historic Places. I replied expressing my strong support for the proposal.

I urge others to do the same.

Global Hyperloop Conference — 2019

Hyperloop Advanced Research Partnership (HARP)

We, as a community, need to keep a watchful eye on the proposal to drive a third track through Ashland. Although immediate actions have been shelved for now we need to keep our guard up. The issue has not gone away.

From the beginning of the controversy I felt that there should be a technical solution to the problems that were raised. Is there a way of expanding our transportation network (as distinct from merely the railway network) without causing so much disruption?

I think that the answer to this question is “Yes”.

In fact, there are two answers. The first is to introduce new forms of high speed transportation. After all, if there is one industry that is in turmoil right now, it is transportation (think drones, autonomous vehicles, electric cars, Uber). The second answer to move into the third dimension, i.e., to go underground.

In this post, let’s take a look at a response to the first question: new technology.

Here are the requirements for a new form of long distance transportation:

  1. Speeds at least equal to that of airplanes;
  2. Radically reduced impact on the climate as compared to conventional trains, trucks and airplanes;
  3. The highest levels of energy efficiency; and
  4. The highest levels of safety.

So, is there a form of transportation that meets these requirements? I think that the answer is, “Yes”. And its name is “hyperloop”.

In future posts I will describe the basics of hyperloop: what it is and how it works. For now, I would like to introduce an organization called HARP and to provide a plug for the organization’s upcoming conference.

HARP

The initials HARP stand for “Hyperloop Advanced Research Partnership”. HARP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is,

To promote the collaboration, research, funding, and knowledge sharing necessary for the development of high-speed tube transportation networks and standards around the world.

Conference

HARP organizes an annual conference. (Last year’s was at the University of California — here is what I wrote about that successful event).

This year we are meeting at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado — July 8-9th. (I will be leading a session to do with ‘Safety and Security’.) Please spread the word about HARP and what promises to be an interesting and useful meeting.

Fox News Hyperloop Video

Fox News has just released a video to do with hyperloop. The video is upbeat in tone, suggesting that the technology is well advanced and that the general concept is practical. It does not, however, provide any new information.

They also discuss the regulatory environment: should a hyperloop be considered a train or an airplane? They seem to come down on the side of ‘airplane’ because the modules are actually flying along the tubes — there are no wheels or rails.

The Tunnel Option

Ashland is not the only locality that does not have the space for expansion of existing transportation systems. In fact, such problems are pretty much universal in any urban or suburban area.

Elon Musk’s response to this problem is to move into the third dimension, i.e., to build a network of tunnels below the surface infrastructure.

Now there is nothing original in his insight — after all, cities around the world have been building subway systems for decades. But what Musk is claiming is that he can build tunnels much more quickly and economically than has been possible in the past. Is he correct? Well, only time will tell. But, when we look at his Tesla electric cars we see that, regardless of whether his company will eventually be financially successful, his initiative has become a ‘forcing function’ for other, more traditional automobile companies, to develop electric cars.

Maybe something similar will happen to tunnel construction. Musk has put the companies that build tunnels on notice that there is a new type of competitor in town, and that they need to look at upping their game.

So what does this have to do with the proposed “high speed” rail project? Well, the natural solution to the problem of adding capacity to the existing railroad in the Ashland area is to go underground, i.e., to build a tunnel for the new trains, and to keep the existing tracks for slow freight trains and local passenger service.

The traditional response to this suggestion has been that building a tunnel would be much more expensive than adding new surface tracks. But maybe Musk’s challenge will prove that assumption to be wrong — maybe tunnel options will turn out to be not only environmentally friendly, but also be a more sound financial investment.

Here are three examples of new tunnel projects. The first is the City of Chicago, which has just announced that it will be working with Musk’s Boring Company to build a tunnel between downtown and O’Hare airport. Second, as we have previously reported, the State of Maryland is looking at a similar system to connect Baltimore with D.C. Finally, something similar is underway in Los Angeles. Projects such as these tell us that we should not summarily reject a tunnel option on the grounds that it is too expensive. Maybe it is, and — there again — maybe it isn’t.