On April 4th 2016 the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) held an informational meeting at the Patrick Henry High School to do with the various High Speed Rail options for the Ashland area. I had not intended to post about the meeting since not much new information was provided and the articles in the Herald-Progress and the Richmond-Times Dispatch covered the event well. My post 2002 reflected on my concern to do with the age of the Tier I report.
However, I have been asked to provide a few notes, so here they are.
- Location: Auditorium, Patrick Henry High School.
- Date and time: April 4th 2016, 6:35 p.m. to 8:05 p.m.
- Very rough head count: more than 550 attendees.
The meeting, which was chaired by Supervisors Stanley and Pritchard, was well managed and, in spite of the high level of emotion, the audience members responded correctly. The project team members replied to questions and comments professionally and courteously. Compliments to all.
The meeting was divided into two sections. The first was a presentation by Ms. Emily Stock of DRPT, supported by her colleagues. It lasted for approximately 40 minutes. We were told that the slidepack would be available at the project web site; I have not been able to locate it yet.
The following are some of the notes I took during the presentation and follow-up question and answer session. I am only commenting on information that was new to me — most of the presentation covered territory that is well known to most of us.
- Growth in Freight Traffic
One of the rationales for the project is an anticipated growth of 2% per annum in freight traffic. This may sound like a small number but, being an exponential, it means that 30 years from now traffic is projected to be up by 80%. A background comment that I have heard is that this projection may not pass the red-face test. Subjective observations are that freight traffic through Ashland has declined in the last twelve months. And coal traffic nation-wide has certainly declined materially (see Freight Traffic). The projected growth may come from increased inter-modal shipping (containers) but these assumptions are worthy of further investigation.
- Grade Crossings
If the western bypass is selected there will be no grade crossings. This obviates one of the major concerns to do with this option: residents’ access to roads.
The No-Build option will nevertheless probably include minor improvements to the existing system.
- Ashland Tunnel
Were a tunnel under Ashland to be used the “ramps” into and out of that tunnel would be at least a mile long in order to achieve a gradual enough grade.
- Travel Time
Travel time from Richmond to D.C. will be reduced from its current level of around 2 hr 15 min by about 15 to 20 minutes and delays would be reduced. (This observation was not graciously received.)
- Tier I
The book on Tier I is closed (but see 2002). The cost of straightening I-95 would be prohibitive and the existing Buckingham Branch has too many curves and grades.
90 mph is the project limit. Train speeds are restricted to 35 mph by day, 40 mph at night through town. These are head-in speeds. Once a train clears town it can accelerate, hence the rear part of the train may be going faster.
Another round of letters to do with access to properties is to be sent out.
The issue of economics was not satisfactorily addressed — the team needs more data. The projections seem to be foggy. However, a red-face check creates a concern: does the expenditure of billions of dollars along with the associated cultural upheaval justify the relatively minor gains that the project offers? In addition concerns were expressed regarding spending public funds to finance a private business (CSX).
I was asked to stress to readers of this blog that the project team will only respond to comments that are submitted to their web site (see my post Comments to DC2RVA Rail). I did ask as to how we can submit comments such as Cultural Impact #1: Stonewall Jackson that contain hyperlinks and video clips. Being a government site they cannot include links to non-governmental sites such as this blog or YouTube. I will post an answer to this question when I receive it.