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 These documents have not been peer reviewed.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.
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 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.
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.