CTB Meeting


The DRPT (Department of Rail & Public Transportation) will issue their Tier I Environmental Impact Statement on or around mid-November of this year. Their recommendations will be reviewed by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) which will will issue its response early next year.

On September 20th and 21st the CTB held hearings that included public comment. The “No Third-Rail” team from Ashland was well represented. Vice Mayor James Murray and Council Member Kathy Abbot led the presentations. They were supported by citizen input, including comments from myself to do with codes and safety. A transcript of my remarks is available here and a copy of the report that I submitted — The Impact of the Ashland Third Mainline — is here. These documents have not been peer reviewed.

Codes and Standards

We looked at two scenarios. Case A assumes that a third rail is added to the east side of Center St. but the existing tracks remain where they are. Case B assumes that the new track is laid down the east side of Center St. and that the existing tracks are brought up to modern codes and standards.

Shown below are sketches that were prepared to analyze the various options. These sketches are not to scale and they are based on the DRPT Basis of Design — a document that has limitations.

Figures 1 and 2 show the existing situation. The tracks were laid down in the years 1843 and 1903 respectively. They do not come close to meeting current code for distance between the tracks and, most importantly, distance from the outer edge of the track to the public highway.

Tracks through Ashland VA
Figure 1 – Existing Tracks
Tracks through Ashland VA
Figure 2 – Existing Tracks

Case A

This is the scenario in which a new track is added but the existing tracks remain where they are. Figure 3 shows that land 8 feet to the east of the existing sidewalk will be taken. This will lead to the destruction of many homes and stores and to the loss of frontage for all the buildings on the east side of the tracks.

Figure 3 – Case A

Case B

Figure 4 assumes that all tracks will have to meet current standards for spacing. It shows that the western side of Center St. is destroyed. Not only would homes be lost but all of the commercial buildings north of the Arts Center up to and including the station would have to be removed.

Shows the impact of Case B, upgrading all tracks
Figure 4 – Case B



In previous posts we have discussed safety issues to do with the transport of ‘Highly Hazardous Chemicals’ (HHCs) through town. The analyses are based on the following parameters:



  • Approximately 62 freight trains a day travel through town.
  • 6% of the cars that they haul contain HHCs. These are chemicals that, were they to spill, would explode, burn or release a cloud of toxic gas. The impact of such a release could lead to serious injuries, possibly the loss of life and much property damage.
  • A ‘Process Hazards Analysis’ (reference my book Process Risk and Reliability Management) demonstrates that the current situation is demonstrably unsafe. However we tolerate it because, just as with the spacing of the tracks, “that’s the way it’s always been”.
  • Adding more trains and more HHC cars would make the current unsafe situation even less tolerable.

These are not merely theoretical issues, as shown by the recent 2014 Lynchburg, VA incident.

Lynchburg derailment and fire 2014



3 thoughts on “CTB Meeting

  1. Ian…. would you kindly draw your own map of the proposed western bypass option showing Rt 54 & Blanton Rd as maybe the focal point as it branches out in both directions? With road names, not Rt #’s, as some of us are not familiar with the routes. Many of us would like to see this plan and we are not satisfied with the map on the DRPT FAQ’s from the PHHS April 5th meeting. I don’t know if you can also list owner’s names on the properties or not. That would also help if you could.

    Thanks, so very much!


    1. Barb:

      Thanks for your comment. I’m afraid that I will have to take a pass on it for the following reasons.

      • My focus has always been on demonstrating that the third rail through Ashland is both a code violation and unsafe. I have not paid much attention to the western bypass options.
      • All my work is based on the documentation provided by DRPT. Hence there is nothing that I can do that would improve on the information that they have already provided.
      • Their documentation is not entirely satisfactory from an engineering point of view. Therefore I intend to make a formal request that they provide the citizen community with information, in detail, as to their engineering and code standards, and show how they are interpreting them for this project.


      1. Thank you for your reply and I completely understand. There are some folks who live out that way that have no idea where the proposed western option is and we can’t really make it out on that map. I do appreciate your requesting that information from the DRPT.

        And, yes, I, too, have said from the beginning, when I first learned of this in December, that a 3rd rail must be illegal since it does not allow emergency vehicle access to any building on that street! A “no build” would also greatly limit access since a high safety fence would have to be erected! While I realize this project will happen, I believe they could find a better route that they haven’t bothered to explore as of yet, that would not be in close proximity to our schools or destroy 61 homes.

        Thank you, again, Ian. I sincerely appreciate everything you do for our community!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s