Bob DeLille, Carey Burch, Emily Stock
On February 4th the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) held a public meeting to discuss the status of the High Speed Rail project. My notes are shown below. (The images shown are scanned from a handout. We hope to receive higher quality images that we can use to upgrade this post.)
Please feel free to add your own comments and additional information.
UPDATE: a .pdf file of the presentation can be downloaded here. The images are of better quality than those shown in this post.
Location: Ashland Town Hall
Date/Time: February 4th 2016. 6:00 p.m.
- Bob DeLille (chair)
- Danny Plaugher, Director, Virginians for High Speed Rail
- Emily Stock, Manager of Rail Planning, DRPT
- Megan Hunter, DRPT
- Carey Burch, Deputy Project Manager, DRPT
- Charles Hartrgrove, Manager, Town of Ashland
- Pete Burrus, Chief of Rail, Virginia Department of Transportation
- Randy Marcus, CSX Transportation, Resident Vice President – Virginia
- approximately 30 citizens from the Town of Ashland
The meeting adjourned at 7:15 p.m.
Our thanks to the Town of Ashland for allowing the use of the Town Hall for this meeting.
Ms. Stock introduced her organization, http://www.dc2rvarail.com/, what it does and how it works with State and Federal agencies, CSX and Norfolk Southern. She explained how some of the activities, such as Tier 1 studies, have already been completed.
The schedule is shown below. It indicates that a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is due at the end of 2016, with a Record of Decision by mid-2017.
The agency goes through a four-stage screening process. Stage I is complete; they are now at Stage II. In Stage I they were looking for ‘Fatal Flaws’.
Note: If a property is on the National Register of Historic Places then that option is considered to have a ‘Fatal Flaw’. Evidently Ashland is not an Historic Place and the third track through town option would not result in the destruction of a building so designated. Hence the ‘Fatal Flaw’ criterion was not met.
There have been three comment periods. The number of comments to date are:
- November 2014: 1625
- June 2015: 189
- January 2016 (so far): 410
Mr. Burch presented information to do with the Ashland options. The following are under consideration:
- No Build — maintain the current two tracks with minor improvements and no operational changes
- Add a Third Track through Ashland
- Construct a double track bypass to the west of Ashland, with no change to the existing track
The eastern bypass and the use of the I-95 corridor options are no longer under consideration. (They were screened out in Tier 1.)
This option would cause no local disruption. However, given the anticipated increases in the volume of both freight and passenger traffic it would likely cause congestion in other parts of the system.
This involves building a new, two-track section with no change to the tracks though Ashland. All CSX and Amtrak expresses would use this track. The existing track through Ashland would be for stopping passenger trains only, with the possibility of a much more frequent service.
DRPT has developed the following options: two at-grade, two below grade and one elevated.
The at-grade options are shown in the next two pictures. Both would lead to major disruption and loss of street access for businesses and homes on Railroad Ave./Center St.
There are also two below grade options, as shown. One is a tunnel; the other a trench.
Note: Both of these options and the elevated options would require that a temporary line be constructed around Ashland while construction is under way.
This option is shown in the picture below.
Mr. Hartgrove handed out copies of the letter from the Town of Ashland. Mr. Plaugher stated that his organization favors the bypass option.
It was made clear that public comments are an important component of the overall decision process. Therefore it behooves us to keep those comments flowing.
One of the concerns to do with the proposed high speed rail project is safety. As mentioned in my letter to Council there have been a number of accidents that can provide lessons learned. Probably the most significant to us is the recent crash in Philadelphia.
The following is a summary of what took place.
On May 12, 2015, at 9:21 pm the northbound Amtrak passenger train #188 derailed, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The train had just entered the Frankford Junction curve at a speed of 106 mph where the speed is restricted to 50 mph. As the train entered the curve, the engineer applied the emergency brakes. Seconds later, the locomotive and all seven passenger cars derailed. Of the 250 passengers and eight Amtrak employees that were on board, eight passengers were killed and more than 200 others were transported to area hospitals. Damage is estimated by Amtrak in excess of $9.2 million.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has just issued a report to do with the Philadelphia crash. The report does not provide an explanation as to why the train was traveling so fast but it does appear as if the following were not factors.
- Engineer Competence
The driver was properly trained, had plenty of experience and was well respected.
- Substances and Health
There is no evidence of any type of substance abuse; the driver was in good health.
The engineer’s cell phone was switched off and packed in a bag.
The train was not hit by rocks or bullets. (It did pass a stopped commuter train that had had its windshield shattered by a thrown rock the previous night and the window of an Amtrak Acela train had been seriously damaged just a few days earlier.)
- Track Integrity
The day before the track had been inspected — there were no anomalies.
This is a reminder that there will be a meeting on Thursday, February 4th at the Town Hall. Details here.
(The picture is of an Amtrak crossing designed for high speed rail. It is located in Bloomington, IL.)