Draft EIS. Comment #1: Council Letter

Draft EIS DRPT – Trench deficiencies

The DRPT (Department of Rail and Public Transport) has released their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The public comment period ends November 7th 2017. I intend to submit a series of comments — of which this is the first.

Please take the time and trouble to submit your comments. Remember the DRPT will not respond to comments made in any other forum, including social media sites and blogs.

Here is the address: http://dc2rvarail.com/contact-us/

As best I can tell the comment software does not allow for embedded hyperlinks. Therefore I suggest that you spell out internet addresses, as shown below. Also, the comment software does not appear to allow for file or picture attachments.


Comment #1: Council Letter

On September 12th 2017 the Ashland Town Council sent a letter to the citizens of Ashland. The letter powerfully describes the multiple deficiencies of the proposed trench option. 

The letter is published at the town web site (http://www.ashlandva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2176) and can be downloaded here: https://iansutton.com/downloads/Council-Letter-2017-09-12.pdf.

I fully endorse that letter.

Signed, Ian Sutton

The Alameda Trench


The picture is of the Alameda railroad trench in southern Los Angeles. It contains three tracks and can handle double-stacked cars. Fences run along the top of the trench.

This trench goes through the industrial area shown — not through a small, attractive, non-industrial town such as Ashland.

Long Beach Refinery

Virginia Not Selected

Hyperloop One

The company Hyperloop One states,

The company’s goal is to build transportation networks for both people and cargo,

The goal of Hyperloop One . . . is to have three routes working in a commercial capacity by 2021 . . .

The company has announced winners of an international competition for proposed routes. From their web site:

The Hyperloop One Global Challenge kicked off in May 2016 with a call for comprehensive proposals to build Hyperloop networks connecting cities and regions around the world. More than 2600 teams registered, and we narrowed the field down to the 35 strongest proposals. The Challenge drew broad support from government leaders, and unleashed bold ideas from some of the world’s most creative companies, engineers, and urban planners. The final assessment was difficult but, along with our team of expert judges, we selected the ten routes below as winners of the Global Challenge.


  • Cheyenne – Denver – Pueblo
  • Chicago – Columbus – Pittsburgh
  • Miami – Orlando
  • Dallas – Houston


  • Edinburgh – London
  • Glasgow – Liverpool


  • Mexico City – Guadalajara


  • Bengaluru – Chennai
  • Mumbai – Chennai


  • Toronto – Montreal

Within the United States the following were either finalists or semi-finalists, but were not selected.

  • Reno-Las Vegas
  • Kansas City-St. Louis
  • Cheyenne-Pueblo
  • Seattle-Portland

Once more, we are looking at a missed opportunity to bring true High Speed Rail to Virginia.

The company has published a video showing how hyperloop trains work.

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.

Three Track Trench

Trench in Reno, NV

On September 6th the Ashland Town Council organized a meeting at which the concept of a trench for a third track through town was presented. My meeting notes are can be downloaded here.

The DRPT has only had a few days to work on this concept so there are a lot of unanswered questions.

The main sections of my notes are:

  • Property Values
  • Businesses
  • Safety
  • Building Integrity
  • Temporary Wall
  • Tunnel Options
  • Ashland — A Train Town
  • Ashland — A Community Town
  • Landlocked Homes and Businesses
  • Pollution
  • Train Service
  • Center of the Universe