Guest Post #1

herald-progressThe following is a guest post from Bob Brown.



To the Citizens of Ashland

I am writing this as retired from the practice of Urban Design, and as an Ashland neighbor. I urge all readers of this blot to see the Herald Progress Editorial on June 25, 2015 about the proposed “plans” for High-Speed Rail in Ashland, and to consider the following:

That Editorial was titled “High-speed rail could change town”. While I agree with that statement, I must note that if any of the options proposed by the DRPT for bringing the new, third, rail through town were realized, the Town would not merely be “changed”. It would be destroyed. Imagine the through-Town options that have been prepared by the VA Department of Rail and Public Transportation: 1) three rail lines that eliminate the adjacent roadways and shopping/residential sidewalks, or 2) a giant trench between two at-grade lines (with the accompanying elimination of the roads and sidewalks), or 3) an overhead “elevated” line above the at-grade lines (like those in Philadelphia and New York). Each of these options would eliminate the businesses in our historic Main Street Downtown, and would destroy the values of the homes in all the neighborhoods that line the tracks. This downward impact would spin off to England St., Rte 1, and Rte 54 – and perhaps even to the College…

If any of these happens we would no longer have an Ashland to love. Why would we live, or shop, or work – or go to school – here under these circumstances? Ashland as we know it would not exist.

I am truly surprised, and profoundly disappointed, that plans to destroy a community and to eliminate its businesses has been considered in any way by our public agencies. One of the High Speed Rail plan objectives is to stimulate Virginia’s economy. It is definitely not an objective to bring an economy down.

The only, and by far the best, choice (if indeed the government ultimately goes ahead), is to have the High Speed Rail go around the town, and leave CSX (on its own tracks) and the local Northeast Corridor Amtrak trains where they are now. We as Ashlanders must stand firm for this.

I repeat: the current through-train plans are totally destructive, and I am personally and professionally stunned that any public agency could not see this, and has not stopped considering these alternatives.


Robert (Bob) Brown
W. Francis St.



blog-1The DC to Richmond site has a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section ( There are 38 FAQs. Here are 7 of them. (I have shortened the replies to save space.)

Where will the trains start and stop? What safety measures will be in place where roads cross the rail tracks at-grade?

. . . The project will inventory existing and proposed crossings, and assess the existing safety measures at the crossings. Safety measures typically include warning signs, traffic signals, warning horns or gates designed to alert motorists or pedestrians of oncoming trains. The project will also make recommendations regarding the appropriate level of warning devices and other safety measures at each crossing for higher speed rail. . .

How much quicker will the trip be between Washington, D.C. and Richmond?

The time it takes to travel between D.C. and Richmond will be studied and determined as part of this project and is dependent on the number and location of station stops as well as the final track design. . .

If the trains don’t stop in my community, what benefit will there be for me?

New passenger rail service will provide another transportation option to the traveling public to avoid traffic congestion on I-95 between Washington, DC and Richmond, VA. The construction and operation of the project would likely have a positive economic impact on cities, towns and counties along the corridor. . . Because the lines would carry both passengers and freight, new and/or improved freight access and improved reliability could bring goods to market faster.

What considerations are you making for safety if the speed of intercity passenger trains is increased to MAS 90 mph?

Preliminary design will address FRA, Amtrak, CSX, VDOT, and other federal and state safety standards. With guidance from these stakeholders and FRA approval, DRPT has developed a Basis of Design, which specifies how the infrastructure will be designed to allow for the safe operation of the new 90 mph MAS service. The final design and construction will comply with all applicable safety standards, including positive train control . . .

Will the new service be electrified?

No. Electric service on the corridor was evaluated in the Tier I EIS and subsequent studies, and found not to be feasible for this corridor that is shared with freight trains.

Why can’t the existing rail lines be used?

The existing rail line cannot support the passenger rail line envisioned for the future. More passenger trains at higher speeds combined with frequent freight service requires upgrades to tracks and stations.

When do you anticipate the project will be under construction?

. . . Complete build-out of the corridor and full implementation of the new service is dependent on future state and federal funding. Currently, DRPT is anticipating the new service could be in operation by 2026.

Preliminary Thoughts

Amtrak_Keystone_Corridor_Rosemont_CurveI have been asked to provide a review of the discussions to do with the impact of the high speed rail project on the Town of Ashland. Like everyone else I am still getting up to speed on this proposed project but here are some initial thoughts.


The principal source of information is the The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation at They are proposing a high speed rail system that would go from Washington D.C. to the Carolinas. They project that rail traffic (freight and passenger) will double in the next ten to twenty years. Regarding Ashland there are three choices.

  1. Create a new line east of town along the existing Buckingham Branch line.
  2. Create three tracks (with overhead high voltage cables and high fencing) through the center of town.
  3. Create a new line west of town.

The first option — Buckingham Branch — has, I am told, been rejected. Two explanations have been offered. The first is that it is too costly (two bridges over I-95). Another is that it would affect ‘Cultural Resources’. I have requested a copy of the report that was written to do with this option but have not seen it yet. I would like for us all to carefully review its conclusions and findings.

Maps to do with the second option — straight through town — are shown here and here. It would appear as if the third rail would either be in a trench between the two existing rails or it would be elevated. Moreover, not only would there be a third track, I assume that there would also be high voltage overhead wires and tall fences to prevent people crossing the tracks. How this would work with regard to Ashcake Rd. and Hwy 54 is not clear.

The third option — west of town — can be seen in four maps, of which this is one.

I have two concerns with regard to the second option (“Straight through town”). The first is cultural; the second is to do with safety.

With respect to safety, trains are generally a safe method of transport. But accidents do occur — there have been at least two involving high speed trains in the last two years leading to 120 deaths. If we double the amount of traffic on our tracks and the trains are moving much faster than now then the chance of an event goes up significantly. Moreover, the impact of such an event could be very serious given the closeness of homes, businesses and pedestrian traffic.

Follow Up
As we note in please submit your comments to DRPT before January 8th.

Ian Sutton


This forum discusses the impact of the proposed D.C. to Richmond “Southeast High Speed Rail” project on the Town of Ashland. Please feel free to add your thoughts, comments and opinions.

To learn more about the proposed project please visit the dc2rvarail site.

A summary of the posts to date is provided in the Table below.

They are listed by topic.




“High Speed Rail”

Project Management


Public Communication