Impact of the Third Rail

Impact of Third Rail on Ashland VA

Based on data from the Basis of Design provided by the Department of Rail & Public Transportation (DRPT) we have estimated the impact of the Third Rail on the Town of Ashland. We have presented reports to the Hanover Board of Supervisors, the DRPT itself and the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB).

We have also flown a drone down Center St. and superimposed the calculated impact of the project on the town. This has led to the creation of a series of images, some of which are shown in this post.

I have stressed many times that we are working with inadequate and sometimes ambiguous data to do with codes and standards. But it is unlikely that our estimates are drastically wrong.

Here is some background.

  1. The existing tracks were laid down in 1843 (some say 1834) and 1903 respectively — long before there were any standards to do with spacing between tracks and, more important, standards to do with the spacing between the tracks and the first public highway or footpath.
  2. The preliminary plan shows a new third rail to be located on the eastern side of Center St. The existing tracks would, it is assumed, remain where they are.
  3. The new third rail would have to meet modern code regarding its distance from the existing eastern track. There would then be a space (“no man’s land”) between the outer edge of the new track and a new fence. There is then a space between the fence and the first public footpath or road.

We are referring to this as Case A. Its impact is shown in the image at the top of this post and in the images shown below. Basically it would take out many buildings in the business district, quite a few homes, it would remove all the frontage from virtually all the other homes and from buildings such as the library. It would also create the odd situation that the east side of the tracks would be built to 21st century standards of safety but that the west side would remain in the 19th century.

In my judgment Case A is not be acceptable regarding codes and standards. If they touch the existing tracks then all the historical exclusion that they have enjoyed for a century and half would disappear. This means that the existing tracks would also have to be upgraded. We refer to this as Case B. We have not created images of the impact of Case B on Center St. but it would be quite similar to what is shown for the east side. All frontages on both sides would be lost and all buildings north of the Arts Center up to and including the existing train station would be gone.

The reality is that either Case A or Case B would tear the heart out of Ashland.


Shown below are the engineering sketches that we prepared based on the DRPT Basis of Design to calculate the pertinent distances. They are respectively:

  • The existing tracks.
  • Case A.
  • Case B.
Existing Tracks
Case A — Third Rail Ashland VA
Case A
Case B Third Rail Ashland VA
Case B

3 thoughts on “Impact of the Third Rail

  1. The drone images are very powerful in conveying just how devastating the impact of a third rail would be to the town. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could present the CTB and DRPT with drone images of the importance of our community as a force for good? For instance, what a contrast it would be to also show drone images of the hundreds of trick-or-treaters who enjoy Center Street and historic Ashland as a safe and festive place to celebrate Halloween? Or perhaps the way the community converges on center street and Hanover Art Center during Train Day and the Light Up the Tracks celebrations. These are the intangibles that would be obliterated along with the properties but are hard to present on paper or even in citizen input at board meetings. A picture can indeed be worth a thousand words.


    1. I hear that various people will be taking lots of pictures Monday night. We need to organize them into some sort of slide show/hand out to be available for the Tuesday visit.

      About six months ago I discussed preparing a formal report that would summarize all the different aspects of this proposed Third Rail project: cultural, historical, economic, engineering. We never did do that but maybe the time has come to summarize all of our work in such a report.

      Ian Sutton


  2. Yes, Yes to Ian’s suggestion for a formal, summarized report WITH DRONE PICTURES & PICTURES OF BUILDINGS TO BE DESTROYED. My only concern is “would anybody read it?”…


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