Draft EIS. Comment #7: Laws of Physics

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This comment is based on the post Laws of Physics.

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The third track option through Ashland cannot work, regardless of whether it is at grade or below grade. Here is why.

  1. The first track was laid down before the Civil War. Homes and businesses were built around it at a sensible spacing. We can see that sensible spacing when we look at old pictures of Ashland, such as the one at the head of this post.
  2. At a later date — the first decade of the 20th century, I believe — they decided to install a second track. There wasn’t enough room for it but they shoehorned it in anyway. This explains why so many visitors to Ashland comment on the closeness of the tracks to the homes. The reason that they seem too close is that is that they are too close. However, we have learned to live with the situation, just as someone can get used to a shoe that is too tight.
  3. But trying to add yet another track is absurd. It doesn’t matter if it is built at grade or below grade. There is no room for it. This is not an opinion — it is merely a statement of the laws of physics. If it installed at grade, some buildings, many of which are of enormous historical importance, will have to be removed to provide sufficient space for the tracks. If the track is installed below grade then many buildings will have to be demolished. In addition, some buildings (including some constructed more recently) will fail because their foundations simply do not have the integrity to handle the appalling vibrations that the digging of the trench would create. Either way the result is the same: the loss of Ashland.
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Laws of Physics

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Roseanne Shalf, co-founder of the Ashland Museum and author of the book Ashland Ashland, has just submitted a detailed comment outlining the manner in which the trench option would destroy Ashland. I fully endorse her comment, which is reproduced below with permission.

As I was reading and thinking about her insights it “clicked” with me as to why the third track options — either at grade or below grade — cannot work. The logic is as follows:

  1. The first track was laid down before the Civil War. Homes and businesses were built around it at a sensible spacing. We can see that sensible spacing when we look at old pictures of Ashland, such as the one at the head of this post.
  2. At a later date — the first decade of the 20th century, I believe — they decided to install a second track. There wasn’t enough room for it but they shoehorned it in anyway. This explains why so many visitors to Ashland comment on the closeness of the tracks to the homes. The reason that they seem too close is that is that they are too close. However, we have learned to live with the situation, just as someone can get used to a shoe that is too tight.
  3. But trying to add yet another track is absurd. It doesn’t matter if it is built at grade or below grade. There is no room for it. This is not an opinion — it is merely a statement of the laws of physics. If it installed at grade, some buildings, many of which are of enormous historical importance, will have to be removed to provide sufficient space for the tracks. If the track is installed below grade then many buildings will have to be demolished. In addition, some buildings (including some constructed more recently) will fail because their foundations simply do not have the integrity to handle the appalling vibrations that the digging of the trench would create. Either way the result is the same: the loss of Ashland.

And now, here is the comment that Roseanne’s sent to the DRPT.


There is a lot of misinformation about the trench option through Ashland.

#1. So many are saying, “Well it is best to use existing right of way for projects like this. And besides, Ashland has trains going down the middle of Center Street already. How can another track be so bad?” Well, the right of way is based on conditions present in 1836. It is a TINY right of way. Trying to shoehorn a third track down the middle of a right of way and surrounding residential and business development that was built for the trains of 1836 is just not adequate for the trains of the present and future. In terms of physical safety for the people and economic viability for the town and college, putting a third rail down Center Street in a trench is simply a deadly proposition for the town of Ashland.

#2. Contrary to what some are saying, there are scores of historic family homes and business buildings that will have to be taken by the state in order to fit this trench into this tiny right of way. There are even more homes and businesses that would effectively be made unusable because the train will come so close to them. We have a detailed list of them based on the specifications supplied by the FRA. So it is not true that the impact would be less in Ashland than it would be for a bypass.

#3. Mr. Stanley and others who are against the western bypass continue to say that the project could be phased so that the entire Center Street corridor would not actually have to close down for 2-3 years. The engineers painted no such picture. They said it would positively not be a project that could be phased. I would like you to make that much more clear to the public, because that kind of misinformation makes it seem like a doable project, which it is not.

#4. The sketches that an artist drew showing the caps are not what will actually be built. They are very misleading. First, the caps will be very far apart and there will not be enough of them to soften the visual impact of the trenches. Second, when you see the trench and cap projects elsewhere that have actually been completed, they look industrial and not at all what is suitable for residential or business neighborhoods like in Ashland, so the sketches are very misleading. Third, the sketches do not show the huge, tall, interstate-style cement walls proposed along the open portions of the trench. Fourth, the open trenches will be not only an eyesore, they will be dangerous. Children and college kids would be attracted to the walls around the trenches and would attempt to climb them. Or some would want to throw objects into the trenches that could injure engineers driving through the trenches. I can see all sorts of tragedies that would happen. So the trenches which were touted as a way to make the rails through town safer, will actually make the town unsafe in a different way.

#5. We’ve been told that the impact will not happen for 15 to 20 years if it happens at all, but that is just not true. We have evidence now that even just the discussion of shutting down Center Street businesses and residences for 2-3 years is hurting real estate prices right now. And you cannot blame buyers. Who would want to buy and renovate a historic home with 100 year old shade trees in the front lawn with the prospect of the trees being cut down to make way for the temporary track that will come within a few yards of people’s front door? The economic impact is immediate. By 15 -20 years, Ashland will be a ghost town. It has taken decades to build up the credibility of Ashland as a tourist and shopping center and as a community that is attractive to young families as well as retirees. The 15-20 year breakdown of that work, will be added to the decades of trying to rebuild the town’s reputation after construction. As our mayor says, “the trench option will have a generational impact” 40 to 50 years of that kind of economic disruption is just too much for a small community to deal with.

#6. The engineers say that during the construction phase, they can just route people through rear yards for those houses in the middle of the blocks where the temporary track will come too close to the front door during the 2-3 year construction period. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Center Street lots. They began as 10+ acre lots and were individually subdivided here and there over the past 150 years, so the rear lot lines do not line up at all. There are no alleyways along Center Street like there are in other parts of town. In fact, in some cases, you would simply have to tear down houses in order to create ways to reach mid-block homes.

In summary, a third rail through Ashland would cause an immediate economic crash in Ashland as the most desirable properties in town lose value and businesses search for other locations. People would lose their life savings that they have poured into their homes. Tax revenue would begin to wane immediately. The town would turn into another Petersburg, unable to pay its obligations or to provide services. Any kind of third rail down this tiny tiny right of way.

Save Downtown Ashland – Public Input

Save Downtown Ashland
The Town has developed a quick and easy way for you to submit your comments to DRPT and the CBT (see below.) Please have everyone in your family, your friends and your co-workers submit a comment. It only takes a minute!!

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DC2RVA Public Input

Now is the time for public input on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as part of the DC2RVA Rail Project.  The Town has tried to make providing input as easy as possible by creating the website www.savedowntownashland.org.  It is important for those who oppose a third rail on the surface or in a trench through Ashland to comment early and often.  Your comments and input on the project are crucial to saving our Town.  Your voice matters!  

There will also be a public hearing, organized by the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, on October 11, 2017 at 6 p.m. in Patrick Henry High School.  Please come share why you believe the State should oppose a third rail through Town.  

If you have any questions about the project, the Town’s position on the various alternatives, or how to help please don’t hesitate to reach out to Town Manager Joshua Farrar at (804) 798-9219 orJfarrar@ashlandva.gov. 

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The Real Justification for Hyperloop

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

The justification for hyperloop technology is almost invariably to do with moving passengers at high speed from city center to city center. This is, of course, an admirable goal, but I think that it misses the point.

Most conventional transportation improvement projects involve adding either more lanes to existing roads, building news roads or installing new railroad track. Given that real estate is almost always limited, such projects invariably lead to strong community pushback, litigation and extensive delays.

The beauty of hyperloop systems is that they can be installed in the third dimension, either as tubes placed over the medians of existing freeways or in tunnels. Hence the real estate impact is minimal compared to conventional projects. If the system also whisks people from point A to point B at high speeds, that is great — but is a secondary benefit.

Elon Musk spelled out this justification in his original 2012 White Paper,


The key advantages of a tube vs. a railway track are that it can be built above the ground on pylons and it can be built in prefabricated sections that are dropped in place and joined with an orbital seam welder. By building it on pylons, you can almost entirely avoid the need to buy land by following alongside the mostly very straight California Interstate 5 highway, with only minor deviations when the highway makes a sharp turn.


(For Interstate 5 substitute the congested freeway in your community.)

So the justification for hyperloop is not that it moves people quickly but that the system can be built quickly.