Lack of Imagination

Electric Truck

Christmas Greetings

I started this blog almost two years ago. The first post, Preliminary Thoughts, was published Christmas Eve 2015. The purpose of the blog at that time was to present a reasoned opposition to the installation of a third train track through Ashland, with a focus on engineering and safety issues.

In that first post I wrote,

Regarding Ashland there are three choices.

1. Create a new line east of town along the existing Buckingham Branch line.
2. Create three tracks (with overhead high voltage cables and high fencing) through the center of town.
3. Create a new line west of town.

Well, after almost two years and seemingly endless meetings and correspondence we learn that,

  • The eastern bypass option has been eliminated,
  • The true high speed option through town has been replaced with a possible trench along which will trundle old-fashioned diesel-electric trains, and
  • The western bypass option remains about the same.

In the coming months I will continue to post regarding the infeasibility — indeed the absurdity — of the trench option, and I will also post news and other thoughts as appropriate, including a summary of the comments I will submit regarding the draft Environmental Impact Statement. However, given that much of the decision-making regarding the original three options is behind us, I intend to shift the focus of this blog.

Lack of Imagination

I recall that when I first saw the “High Speed Rail” proposal my immediate reaction was, “But that’s not high speed rail!” True high speed rail has at least three parameters:

  1. Straightaway speeds of 300 km/h,
  2. High voltage overhead catenaries, and
  3. No mixing of freight and passenger trains.

This project did not pass on any of the above tests. Although the project was called “High Speed Rail” it is nothing of the sort. It is not even 1950s technology.

My second reaction to the initial proposal was to say, “Lack of Imagination”. Which is why I wrote the post Faster Horses. Yet, if there is one industry in the United States that is undergoing wholesale transformation it is the transportation industry. Given that the DRPT is talking about having the third rail installed fifteen to eighteen years from now it is certain that,

By the year 2035 the most profound changes will have taken place in the movement of freight and people.

Imagine (that word again) the authorities had devoted their energies toward creating a transport corridor along the east coast that is not only up to date, but that puts Virginia in a position of world leadership. That would be exciting. And it would have the added benefit of not needing a third rail through either Ashland or Hanover.

The new technologies, all of which are completely feasible, include:

  • Drones for moving freight in bulk,
  • Hyperloop trains for moving both freight and people at airplane speeds,
  • Autonomous/self-driving vehicles that permit much greater traffic density on existing roadways,
  • Electrically-powered vehicles that will be much more efficient than their diesel counterparts. (Why did the DRPT drop the idea of high voltage overhead cables?)

Therefore, given this background, I will move the focus of this blog from mostly opposing the ideas that have been presented to us toward a more positive attitude of, “What can we do to make Virginia a world leader in transportation?” If this focus has the side benefit of eliminating third tracks through the Ashland area then that will be an added benefit.

Albert Einstein imaginationAlbert Einstein once said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”.

If our problem is the need to move more freight and more passengers, and to move them at higher speeds, then a new level of thinking is needed.

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