Old not obsolete

28 December 2021

An interesting news story caught my attention this month concerning the fate of a 126-year-old freight tunnel in the US. Far from abandonment, disrepair or demolition, the Howard Street Tunnel (HST) in Baltimore is to get a new lease of life. And it’s a wonderful story.

For years, the 2.7km-long HST has been a bottleneck, hampering the Port of Baltimore’s development because the tunnel’s restricted height cannot accomodate trains with double-stacked shipping containers. Now, the city will start work to remedy this by creating an extra 18in of clearance into the tunnel crown. This could give the tunnel another 100-125 years of useful service; help the port become an East Coast hub, and boost jobs and regional growth. In short, it will become a critical piece of US infrastructure.

HST was completed in 1895 which, in the US, saw the invention of the safety razor and Henry Ford finalise his experiments on two-stroke gasoline engines. Yet I wonder whether the tunnel designers could have possibly imagined that their brick-lined tunnel would end-up lasting potentially 250 years, possibly more and, in the 21st century, come to play a critical role in the development of the East Coast economy? Far from being a growth restrictor, the HST will now become a growth generator.

For me, this story confirms how infrastructure - like most products which are well-designed and constructed - can continue to serve society, even after the sell-by date has passed, as long as it is designed to be ‘future-ready’ and can be adapted for reuse. The extended service life makes the Howard Street Tunnel a more sustainable asset, and an important riposte to those who maintain that tunnel construction can be unsustainable.

But we have come to the end of another year and also to my last as editor of TTNA - I move on to new pastures. On behalf of the entire TTNA team – Jake, Martin, Adam, Clare, Clive and myself – I wish you all, our readers, subscribers and loyal advertisers a joyful Christmas, happy holidays and a blessed New Year.

George Demetri Editor