Board of Supervisors Resolution

Hyperloop train

At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting the following resolution was approved.

There was no opportunity for public comment on this topic. The following remarks were made.

  • The High Speed Rail issue has generated more citizen response than any other topic since a suggestion that nuclear waste be stored in the County.
  • The resolution was not so much about the Buckingham Branch per se. Instead the supervisors want the DRPT to explore other options.
  • They expressed a need for dialog with the DRPT.

My personal take on this topic is that the Buckingham Branch is not technically feasible ─ particularly at its southern end. If they want to pursue a really different option then they will have to look at new technology, such as Hyperloop Trains ─ a topic I broached with the same Board of Supervisors in July of this year.

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Florida Crash

CSX Florida Train Crash 2016

Two CSX trains collided today at a location in central Florida. Although this event did not involved highly hazardous chemicals it does give us an idea as to the impact of such an incident. (The first reports state that there was a 4,000 gallon fuel leak although it appears as if it did not catch fire. It is not clear if this number refers to the actual or potential size of the leak.)

Based on the pictures  and movie clips that have been made available so far some of the derailed cars are at least one a car length away from the tracks. Most freight cars are around 60 ft. long (including their attachments).As the sketch below shows, currently there is a distance of 351 inches or 29.25 ft. from the outer edge of the rail to community property.existing
Therefore, were an event such as this to take place in Ashland, it would impact many homes and businesses.

 

Draft Tier II EIA: Analysis #1 – What’s Not There: Safety

Toxic East Tennessee train derailment

Introduction

On November 8th the Commonwealth of Virginia Attorney General’s office released a draft of the Tier II Environmental Impact Statement (EIA). A copy of the document is available at the Town of Ashland web site here. (Due to the size of the document it takes a few minutes to download the document. Be patient.)

The document is lengthy (1426 pages) and is difficult to navigate because the Adobe ‘Find’ function does not work, at least not on the document that we downloaded. I will analyze the document as time permits and publish a set of Analyses.

Disclaimer: Because there is so much material in this document it is possible that some of the early conclusions will have to be adjusted as the analysis proceeds.

My first reaction to the draft EIS is a huge “missing section”. There is no solid discussion about the most important topic of all: Safety.

There are various categories of safety. For the purposes of this analysis we will look at two of them:

  1. A spill of a Highly Hazardous Chemical from a damaged tank car.
  2. A grade crossing event involving either a vehicle or a pedestrian.

Chemical Tank Car Safety

We have discussed chemical tank car safety in many previous posts. Probably the most relevant is the Lynchburg derailment. After all, this occurred in our state just over two years ago.

What Can Happen

The general scenario is as follows.

  1. A tank car is badly damaged, say by hitting another car or by coming off the tracks. (The picture at the top of this post is an example of the second failure mode.It is of  a car carrying toxic chemicals through Tennessee in July 2015. The chemical in question — acrylonitrile — is toxic, flammable and water soluble. This event led to serious contamination of both the soil and groundwater.)
  2. The chemical spill leads to the formation of a cloud of toxic gas that drifts into the local community, or the spilled contents explode and catch fire. One of the tenets of my work is not be alarmist. But, should such an event take place within the town of Ashland, the loss of life and injuries to people could be very high indeed.)

Now the likelihood of such an event is low, but it is not zero. Indeed, an Internet search shows that there have been quite a few of this type of event in recent years. Moreover we know how to analyze events of this type using EPA-approved software. Chemical risk management is a mature topic.

Options

Up until this point we have simply accepted the risks to do with highly hazardous chemicals being hauled through the town of Ashland. “That’s the way it’s always been”. But now that we are looking at new track configurations it would be irresponsible not to select the safest option. And that option is to run chemical tanks cars on a bypass around town. This would improve safety for the following reasons.

  1. The population density would be much lower. Hence the impact would be correspondingly less.
  2. A new track would be built to the latest standards of safety, particularly with regard to track spacing. Hence the likelihood of such an event taking place would be as low as can be achieved.
  3. Emergency vehicle access would be good since all crossings would be bridges, hence the roads would not be blocked by the stopped train.

Traffic Crossing Safety

Amtrak incident Myrtle Street Ashland VA 2012

The second type of safety with which railroads concern themselves is collisions between vehicles or people at grade crossings. (The picture shows the consequence of a train traveling at 9½ mph hitting a car crossing the tracks at Myrtle St.)

Events such as these occur quite frequently. The town of Ashland is a particular concern due to the large number of vehicles that transit England St. and Ashcake Rd. On the other hand the proposed bypass will have only bridge crossings and (presumably) fences to prevent people and livestock from crossing the tracks.

One of the options presented at the recent community meeting at the Ashland theater was to run just passenger trains through Ashland and to direct freight trains (and presumably express passenger trains) on a bypass. Not only would such a bypass option be inherently safer due to the absence of grade crossings, safety will also be enhanced because there would be fewer trains traveling through Ashland. A rough estimate is that around 80% of the trains are freight. If most of these could be diverted we would see a corresponding improvement in safety. Moreover, passenger trains are shorter and can brake more quickly: another safety enhancement.

Conclusions

Ashland VA train tracks — no third rail

Running just passenger trains through town and diverting most of the freight trains to a bypass is unequivocally the safest option.

Dungeon Hunter 5

Bad Aibling train crash

This rail tragedy in Bad Aibling, Bavaria, in which 12 persons died and many more were injured, was caused by the train controller using his mobile phone while working.

Prosecutors said Michael P had been playing the fantasy game “Dungeon Hunter 5” on his phone when he allowed the two trains on to a single-track line.

The court heard from one police official that the controller had regularly played on his smart phone while on shift, even though it was banned. Analysis of his phone records showed that his mobile use often corresponded with his working hours.

“He played almost every time,” the official said, according to Germany’s DPA news agency.

There was a similar incident in London, England a couple of years ago in which the driver of a commuter train was using his mobile phone as he approached the terminus. He slammed into the buffers causing many passenger injuries.

I have worked in the process industries for all of my career. Safety is given the very highest priority — not least because the consequences of a large release of a Highly Hazardous Chemical can be so catastrophic. We have known for a long time that the use of a mobile/cell phone while driving is dangerous. We may think that we are looking at the road and watching the traffic but psychologists tell us that we are mentally “looking at” the person we are talking to and that our driving is receiving only 30% of our attention. For this reason companies in the process industries insist that mobile phones be switched off while driving; moreover, the use of a phone while driving is grounds for termination.

If you are driving, for your own safety and for the safety of your neighbors, please turn off your cell phone.

Thank you.

Train Day: 2016

Train Day 2016 Ashland VA

This year’s Train Day is Saturday, November 5th. Please visit the event site to learn more.

The “No Third Rail” team will have a table in front of the museum on Hanover Ave. Volunteers will discuss the impact of the proposed project. (If you would like to help as a volunteer please let us know.)

Based on what we heard yesterday it appears as if what we have been calling ‘Case A’ (existing tracks stay in place) will not happen. So we move to ‘Case B’ which has an even greater impact. Therefore the sketch below, which is for ‘Case A’ (and which was derived from our limited knowledge as to what engineering standards are being used on this project), is probably too conservative, i.e., the impact of the Third Rail will be greater than shown. It is likely that there will be little or no road access and just narrow sidewalks. Some buildings will have to be be moved or eliminated. (We have not yet been able to access yesterday’s presentation that shows the DRPT sketch of the impact of the third rail — we will do so when the information becomes available. We can then update our own analysis.)

Impact of Third Rail on Ashland VA

Meetings, Meetings

Today — Tuesday, November 1st 2016 — the DRPT (Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation) and the CTB (Commonwealth Transportation Board) held two meetings/site visits. The first was in Ashland, the second at the Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg.

There was little in the way of news to report, but here are some personal impressions.

Ashland Meeting

  • Attendance in the theater was probably over 200. It included all of the Ashland Town Council and many members of the Hanover Board of Supervisors.
  • Speakers included Mayor Foley, Supervisor Stanley and President Lindgren.
  • Details as to some of the options were filled out. What was particularly interesting was having the existing tracks used for passenger trains only (about 20 per day) and all freight trains taking the bypass (about 65 per day). Tie that into having a proper station at Ashcake and we have a sensible program for Ashland.
  • I think that we heard the the draft Tier II Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has not only been written but it has been sent to the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration).
  • Some information regarding spacing between tracks and to the public highway was provided, but we need to see the presentation to be sure of the data.
  • We are likely to see bridges over England and Vaughn Streets. This should enhance safety and reduce road congestion.
  • President Lindgren expressed opposition to a shorter (350 ft.) station platform on the campus. College expansion programs are focused on the west side of the tracks.
  • He and Mayor Foley were adamant in their opposition to a third rail. Foley said that we would be wiling to give up an Ashland station if that’s what it took.
  • An eastern bypass would have a greater impact on the local communities than would a western bypass.
  • The tunnel option has returned to life.
  • Our guests had a bus tour of Center St. and western Hanover County. It was reported that the bus was traveling at > 25 mph down Center St.
  • The draft Tier II EIS will probably be published in December 2016. It will be followed by a 60 day comment period to allow for the holidays.

Fredericksburg Meeting

  • Attendance at the Fredericksburg meeting was probably over 100. It included Rep. Wittman, Hanover supervisors Hazzard, Stanley and Prichard and elected representatives from other areas.
  • There was general agreement that the communication process has been lacking but this was largely attributed to the processes required by the federal government.
  • There continues to be opposition to the (eastern) Fredericksburg bypass.
  • Residents of western Hanover presented a detailed plan for the use of the Buckingham Branch.