The Sun Shines on Pompano

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, November 29, 2011 No Comment(s)

The Sun Sentinel reported Sunday that Tri-Rail’s rebuilt station in Pompano Beach will be entirely powered by solar energy. This makes South Florida the nation’s leader in solar-powered commuter train stations – probably because there aren’t any others. The money comes from the federal government – a $5.7 million grant to build a “green” station. A Tri-Rail spokeswoman said this would be the model for stations of the future. The 18-month construction will also put some people to work. It is a good example of government stimulus improving our infrastructure.

We love solar. We even have a solar steering wheel in the car. When you leave it out for a few hours in the August sun, you can’t touch the steering wheel, which is painted black to make sure you scorch your fingers at the slightest touch. We are working now on a steering wheel filled with water, so that if you desire to take a shower in your car, you can count on hot water.

That, of course, is not the concept applicable at the Pompano Beach station. There we expect the use of solar panels which convert sunlight into electricity, enough electricity in this case that it will handle the station's needs and have excess to sell to the electric company.

Joking aside, this is welcome news. This report, and others recently, show a slow but steady trend in South Florida toward the use of renewable energy. We have read about buildings being designed with wind turbines on the roofs, and new designs in wind turbines which seem to hold promise of greater versatility. Instead of large propellers, there is a design shaped somewhat like a football in the kickoff position, only larger. It rotates and can take wind coming from any direction. This is not exactly novel. You can still see old Florida cottages with those little rotaries on the roof that spin in the wind and are designed to draw stale air from below.

The only question we have about the Tri-Rail deal is practical: Why spend a lot of money on a high-tech station that is on the wrong track? It is pretty obvious by now that some, and eventually most Tri-Rail trains are going to be shifted to where they should have been in the first place – from the marginally useful CSX along the I-95 corridor, east to the utilitarian FEC tracks which run through the high-rise business areas where commuters want to go. Amtrak wants to use the FEC, Tri-Rail wants to use the FEC, and most important, the FEC, in a major switch from its position when Tri-Rail opened in 1989, wants passenger trains on its tracks. It is going to happen.

Does it not make sense, in this day of tight government money, to minimize dollars spent on the track that will be less used, in favor of the one which holds promise for the future? Of course it does. It makes as much sense as Gov. Rick Scott accepting all that high-speed rail money (which he rejected) and diverting it to a sensible rail use, such as putting Tri-Rail on the right track. Of course, the rub was that the money was earmarked for high-speed rail. But you could debate the definition of high speed. Most people think 150 mph minimum. But you could argue that 65 mph is high speed. When you compare it to no speed at all.

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