I had an interesting exchange of email messages with reader "New Taste" recently about a corner of Australia where Queensland and New South Wales hit the Coral Sea. The discussion had been triggered by one of my earlier articles I called "What Crosses an Airport Runway?." A surprising number of unexpected things cross an airport runway I should note as I did back in May 2010, but the single item of interest for this purpose happened to be the Gold Coast Airport. The Queensland – New South Wales border bisects a runway there.
Our reader drew my attention to a spot a little farther along the border, just outside of the airport grounds to the east, and was kind enough to create a map:
These are two small gated communities, The Grove and Ocean Breeze. By now some readers might be saying "so what" but savvy long-time followers of the Twelve Mile Circle are no doubt exclaiming, "Wow! — practical exclaves!" A practical exlave isn’t truly an exclave because it’s physically connected to the rest of its associated geographic unit. However, as a general rule, a visitor wouldn’t access a practical exclave from within the unit. I discussed some examples in Andorra recently that might help explain this better.
In this instance, both gated communities are part of Tweed Heads, NSW. However, they can be accessed only from Coolangatta, QLD. Certainly someone with enough determination could drive down Ourimbah Road and hop the fence on the backside of the communities and never leave New South Wales. But is that a practical thing to do? Would security guards employed by these gated communities take issue with that? That’s what I mean by a practical exclave. It’s not really an exclave but it behaves like one in ordinary circumstances. If you were lucky enough to live within the geo-oddities communities of The Grove and Ocean Breeze, the only way you could access your home or exit to the rest of the world in a legal manner would be through Queensland, even though you happened to a resident of New South Wales.
I wished I lived in a geo-oddity. I’d probably pay extra for that privilege. Well I kind-of live in a minor geo-oddity ("smallest self-governing county in the United States") but it’s not a very impressive one. I’d rather be in a practical exlave or better.
I spotted another area immediately west of the gated communities, the property adjacent to Gold Coast Airport. It’s Border Park Raceway, a greyhound track. This turns out to be another practical exclave. According to their website, "Tweed heads Coursing Club operates from Border Park which is situated on QLD and NSW border. The Border Park complex operates greyhound racing and a betting auditorium in a family friendly environment." The 2011 Galaxy Winner was Pretty Malaika and in 2010 Big Bunga. That last sentence was totally unnecessary except to say Big Bunga.
Usually when a business such as this locates directly along a border it means the laws are friendlier on their side of the line and they are attempting to attract residents from the other. Are gambling laws in New South Wales more relaxed than Queensland, or is Border Park Raceway’s unusual location a coincidence? I don’t know but I certainly did appreciate the border sign at the park’s entrance when I peeked at it in Google Street View.
That’s all fine and wonderful but I found something even more fascinating. I thought there could be a third NSW practical exclave where the state border intersects the Coral Sea.
My vicarious email guide helped me sort through this. First, it should be noted that the border as drawn on Google Maps isn’t entirely correct. We’ve seen that before so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The true border goes down the median between the two sides of Boundary Street as shown by a large border marker.
Queensland is on the left and New South Wales is on the right.
This is where the situation becomes very special, perhaps unique, meaning I didn’t bother looking for any other occurrences: the curious case of a semi-practical exclave. One can exit the community while remaining in NSW (a reminder for North American readers that drivers stay to the left in Australia) BUT the only way to return to the community is via Queensland. Thus, it’s a practical exclave going in one direction but not in the other. A semi-practical exclave!
You can confirm the situation on the land and property maps page on the Tweed Shire Council site since Google gets the border wrong.
I’d like to throw one final oddity into the mix. New South Wales observes daylight saving time while Queensland does not. Imagine all of the repeated time changes as one travels from these practical and semi-practical areas during the summer. I’m sure nobody actually changes their clocks as that happens so perhaps this creates a practical time zone? It’s all too amusing.
Thank you "New Taste." I’ve had a lot of fun with this one.
I went on a brief roadtrip last Autumn, an experience I described in more detail in my Adventures along Maryland I-70/68. I mentioned a massive road cut at Sideling Hill. I couldn’t find a reason to highlight another feature, a runaway truck ramp just west of the cut as one descends descends the hill at great speed. I had enough material for the article so I saved it for another day.
You’ve probably seen these ramps too: odd, stubby stretches of roadway designed to halt trucks in their tracks should brakes fail while descending scary road grades. They exist all over the world with a similar purpose although under different names. Runaway truck ramp; truck arrester bed; safety ramp; escape bays, escape ramps and other variations influenced by engineering techniques or geography. Let’s see one in action during a 2009 test conducted by Canada’s Ministry of Transportation on Highway 11 in North Bay, Ontario. This one comes courtesy of YouTube. It’s all rather self-explanatory.
Few people probably realize that there are several different types. Auto Evolution describes four of them: A gravity escape ramp forces a truck uphill so gravity can slow it down. Arrester material ramps feature a thick gravel layer or some similar material causing friction as a truck passes. Sand pile ramps work in a similar manner. Arrester barriers act somewhat like arresting wires on an aircraft carrier as trucks barrel through a series of cable nets. Designs can be mixed-and-matched. The one I saw in western Maryland combined a gravity ramp with sand piles.
Runaway truck ramps have become a common roadway feature in mountainous areas. They also come in handy more than I imagined. Car and Driver explains,
By 1990, there were reportedly 170 runaway ramps in 27 (mostly western) states. Current data is scarce, but a 1981 NHTSA study notes there had been 2450 runaway-truck incidents that year, with 2150 of those involving the use of ramps… [a study described] the stopping inertia as “strong but absent the jarring impact of other crashes.” Vehicle damage was confined to lower engine accessories and air tanks.
Does this stretch of highway look familiar? It should. I found the exact place along Highway 11 in North Bay featured in the video. The most difficult part of today’s article was finding runaway truck ramps on Street View. They aren’t labeled and I had to search areal imagery in painful detail before drilling down. I’m actually pretty proud of myself for finding this one.
This ramp definitely has cable nets and possibly gravel judging by the dust kicked-up as the truck makes its approach in the video.
I already mentioned the example in Maryland. This particular version can be found just outside of Vail, Colorado along Interstate 70. Notice how it would force a truck uphill so gravity could slow it down. It also appears to use a thick bed of gravel. It’s hard to tell.
I managed to find an Australian example in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Here signage along the Great Western Highway declares it a "Safety Ramp." Once again, gravity and gravel are combined to force a stop. I’d be a bit wary of the large stone outcrop on the right. The ramp seems a little narrow to me. Imagine barreling down a mountain in a tractor-trailer without brakes and having to angle for that slot. I’d categorize that as a good example of threading-the-needle.
12MC reader "Thomas" in Scotland challenged me to find more Scottish material for my articles. Thomas, I searched satellite imagery all over the Highlands for a solid half-hour trying to uncover a runaway truck ramp for you, and I failed. Send me a map link if you’ve seen one.
The United Kingdom was difficult and not because of the issue of Truck vs. Lorry. Search engines dealt with that distinction without a problem. I did finally find one as I was about to give up on the UK entirely. It’s in Wales along the A4119 as one approaches Tonypandy in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf. In this instance the descent doesn’t last very long but there’s a vicious roundabout at the bottom. I’d hate to consider the devastation that would ensue should a lorry plow into the circle at full speed, and I guess the road engineers in Tonypandy felt the same way.
I know runaway truck ramps exist in other countries but I don’t know what they’re called in their native languages. It’s hard enough with all the different English variations. What might this piece of road engineering be in German or Russian or Portuguese? A search engine isn’t much use if one can’t plug-in the proper term and, as I mentioned, they are exceedingly difficult to spot from satellite imagery.
Please post your favorite runaway truck ramps along with map links or embedded Street View images in the comments. Readers posting examples found in non-English speaking countries get double bonus points.
Good times were had by all at the American Meridian Happy Hour on Tuesday. Our county counter extraordinaire is on the left (he said it was OK to post this). I’m on the right. Can you tell it was a LONG day at work? I’ll let other attendees self identify if they wish. We swapped all sorts of travel adventures involving geo-oddities. Thanks guys! — I wish the rest of the 12MC audience lived close enough to attend. Where else can one find people who totally understand why I once took my family miles out of the way to see the 45X90 Spot?
Many years ago my fiancé (now wife) and I traveled through northern New England for two weeks. This was so long ago that we actually tent-camped our way through a string of rustic state parks with few amenities. That changed to Bed-and-Breakfasts once we got married, and then changed again to whatever hotel happened to have an indoor pool and a free breakfast buffet once the kids came along. Imagine though, a time when I once trampled through the wilderness without regard to creature comforts.
One of our stops delivered us to the top of Mount Washington, the highest point in the state of New Hampshire and indeed anywhere in the northeastern United States: 1,917 metres (6,288 feet). The observatory atop the mountain claims to be the "Home of the World’s Worst Weather" but it didn’t live up to that reputation during our visit. It was postcard perfect.
We saw a terrible column of black smoke rising from the valley. What could possibly burn on the barren rock above the tree line? It moved closer. Soon enough we saw that it belching from an ancient machine, a mighty hissing steam engine pushing a passenger car, the Mount Washington Cog Railway
I didn’t know anything about the cog railway prior to our visit. I will take a ride if I ever return, now wiser and lazier after the passage of more years than I’d like to admit.
The Washington Mountain Cog Railway is an institution. It was the very first mountain cog railway ever constructed, and of course it continues to be the oldest by definition. Tourists have taken the railway safely to the summit of Mount Washington since 1869, pushed along nearly unimaginable gradients up to 37%.
Generically it’s a "rack and pinion" railway, a technology particularly suited to steep mountainous terrain. The rack is a toothed track strung along a rail bed and the pinion is a cog wheel that aligns with the rack. It’s easier to picture than describe. They’ve been deployed worldwide in places where ordinary trains would spin their wheels on their tracks.
A rack and pinion design has worked efficiently for over a century at Snowdon, the highest peak in the British Isles other than Scotland. The Snowdon Mountain Railway rises to a 1,085 m (3,560 ft) summit from Llanberis, a village in Gwynedd, North Wales. It is the only example of a cog railway in the United Kingdom.
Reputedly the SMR served as an inspiration for the fictional Culdee Fell Railway, which in turn spun off into the whole Thomas the Tank Engine phenomenon. That probably doesn’t matter much to you unless your household went through a Thomas the Tank Engine phase, as mine did when the kids were younger.
Not every cog railroad dates back to the Nineteenth or earliest days of the Twentieth Century. The technology continues to fill a small but important niche in the modern world.
Perisher is a large ski resort in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Australia. The only road into the area was frequently blocked by the same weather that makes the resort so attractive, an overabundance of snow. The proprietors dug a tunnel through a mountain to provide an alternate path, and within the tunnel they constructed an underground rack railway. Perisher Skitube Alpine Rail has delivered skiers to the resort since 1987.
A segment of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Tamil Nadu, India, is a cog railway climbing up through thick, uninhabitable jungle slopes. The rack-and-pinion portion of the railway running from Kallar to Coonoor includes "208 curves and 13 tunnels, and 27 viaducts" as noted by UNESCO when it added Nilgiri to the Mountain Railways of India World Heritage Site. It has operated here since 1908.
More accessible, yet also confronting the challenges of extreme topography, the Trem do Corcovado of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, climbs to the top of Morro do Corcovado. This is the famous mountaintop crowned by the statue of Cristo Redentor — Christ the Redeemer — that is easily one of the most recognizable and iconic images of the nation.
There are other examples, but Cog railways are still a rather unusual phenomenon. Even so, a rack-and-pinion design is still the best technology for a very special set of circumstances. That hasn’t changed in more than a hundred and fifty years.