I 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 http://www.dc2rvarail.com/. 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.
- Create a new line east of town along the existing Buckingham Branch line.
- Create three tracks (with overhead high voltage cables and high fencing) through the center of town.
- 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.
As we note in https://ashlandrail.wordpress.com/2015/12/24/january-8th-2016-deadline/ please submit your comments to DRPT before January 8th.