Four Bridges

Dear J—

When you ride the train between San Mateo and Burlingame you pass over four bridges which cross (going from south to north) Tilton, Monte Diablo, Santa Inez and Poplar, all within the San Mateo city limits. They’re replacing them with newer structures as part of the capital improvements for the rail line in preparation for electrification, which means increased service frequency and eventually, high-speed rail which is meant to link San Francisco with Los Angeles and San Diego (the electric Caltrain will still run, albeit in parallel with HSR, and with specially-designed overtaking tracks at strategic locations; I can’t imagine that makes the cities with at-grade crossings feel any better.)

The interesting part about the four bridges is their age and low clearance; the lowest one only affords 8.5 feet of overhead clearance and it feels like, walking underneath that bridge at Tilton, that you could almost jump high enough to touch the underside. They were built more than a hundred years ago and have been used on the San Francisco – San Jose route since, with very few upgrades or modifications for modern life; they predate the extensive private ownership of motor vehicles and as the clearance indicates, weren’t designed in mind for modern vehicles such as high-box vans, which is another reason they’re being replaced.

One of the concessions to modernity has been adding sacrificial beams so that vehicles that don’t clear don’t strike the bridge itself, and I’ve managed to be around for at least one of those instances, which resulted in a loud echoing gong as the Isuzu box truck struck and rebounded; it’s the embarrassment factor as much as anything else at play there, I suspect. I find them delightfully anachronistic and emblematic of San Mateo as a whole; the sense of history as you turn around and walk downtown is substantial compared with the 1950s era subdivision of San Diego where we were and there are trees and … so yes. Bridges forward, bridges all around. We enjoy our time here.

Mike

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