Letter to DRPT

Letter Ashland DRPT train safety

John Hodges and I have sent a letter/report to the DRPT expressing our concerns to do with safety and the proposed third track through Ashland. The letter, which was written on Ashland Museum letter head, has three main sections:

1. Vehicle / Train Collisions
Cars frequently drive on to the tracks. Many of these events have been recorded by the organization Virtual Railfan. In some instances the events have led to trains hitting cars. People have been injured — we are fortunate that so far there have been no fatalities. Adding an additional track and many more trains will create a safety situation that is untenable.

2. Highly Hazardous Chemicals
Approximately 6% of the freight traffic consists of tank cars carrying chemicals that are flammable, explosive or toxic. In the process industries it is normal to conduct a Formal Safety Assessment to do with such chemicals. We believe that such a study should be carried out for our community.

3. Engineering Standards
We need more detail to do with the standards for,

  1. Spacing between tracks.
  2. Spacing between the outer edge of the tracks and the first public access point.
  3. Whether modern standards will be applied to the existing tracks.

Municipal Stables

Steve Jobs High Speed Rail

In the June 8th edition of the Herald-Progress Jon Jewett, a resident of Ashland, published an editorial entitled A Closer Look at the DC2RVA Controversy. He notes that the DC2RVA project is based on an assumption that highway traffic between Richmond and Washington D.C. will continue to grow at 2% per annum, as it has done for the last 40 years. Hence the new rail service is needed to help alleviate the congestion on I-95.

But the future is not always a linear continuation of the past — step changes occur, often as a consequence of disruptive technology. Jowett suggests that we are about to experience one of those step changes with the advent of driverless trucks and cars.

Henry Ford High Speed TrainAnecdotally, Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The changes that driverless vehicles will bring about could be as disruptive as the switch from horses to the internal combustion engine. We don’t know.

In spite of the pace of technological change it appears as if the DRPT is busy, in Jowett’s words, “building new municipal stables in the early 1900’s to meet projected increases in the use of horse-drawn carriages.”

Jowett discusses the vehicle side of the issue. What about the trains? As regular readers of this blog know I have been discussing the potential for Hyperloop Trains and how they could create an end run around this whole DRPT project.

When I asked the DRPT about this concept in a formal comment I received the following response,

The 2002 Southeast High Speed Rail (SEHSR) Tier I Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and in subsequent studies determined that the railroad corridor would be developed incrementally parallel to the existing tracks to develop the corridor along existing track, and to rely on fossil fuel locomotives to ensure inter-operability of the infrastructure. The hyperloop concept is one that could serve the topic of future study in Virginia.

The key part of the above quotation is the number ‘2002’. We are working with a plan that was developed almost a generation ago. This appears to be, to put it mildly, short sighted.

Second CAC Meeting

The DRPT will be holding its second Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting at 6:00 p.m. on June 26th at Randolph-Macon College. (Notes to do with the first meeting are here. The video record is here; it’s 1:47:56 long.) Prior to the meeting John Hodges and I plan on mailing a letter/report to the DRPT covering three main heads:

  • Vehicle/Train incidents (see the post Losing Count);
  • Highly Hazardous Chemicals; and
  • Engineering Standards for Track Spacing.

We demonstrate that we already are experiencing a significant number of safety events — adding a third track and much more train traffic is untenable. Furthermore, adding fencing will have little effect, and closing crossings could actually make the safety situation worse than it is now.

There will be a public comment session so please prepare your questions and thoughts ahead of time and be prepared to speak up.