Draft EIS. Comment #4: Trench Cave In

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 third.

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 #4: Trench Cave In

One of the most serious risks to do with the digging of trenches is cave in. This is a particular concern with regard to the proposed trench through Ashland for the following reasons.

  • There is very little “elbow room” to the side of the trench walls. This will make it very difficult to ensure that the walls are properly shored up.
  • Based on what we heard at the recent Ashland Town Council meeting it is our understanding that they are considering a temporary wall running longitudinally along the trench. One side will be filled with dirt on top of which will be full size freight trains. Workers will be on the other side. Has this ever been done before? Can the DRPT ensure the safety of the workers?
  • Were there to be a cave in it would most likely take buildings and people with it, as shown in the picture below.

Cave In San Gabriel

Please demonstrate that the trench option can be carried out safely — considering both workers and people in the neighborhood.

 

Advertisements

Draft EIS. Comment #3: Highly Hazardous Chemicals

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 third.

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 #3: Highly Hazardous Chemicals

Lynchburg derailment and fire 2014
The Lynchburg derailment

During the course of this proposed project citizens have expressed concern to do with the risks associated with highly hazardous chemicals transiting our town. Approximately 6% of the freight cars that go through Ashland carry these chemicals — and accidents do occur, as evidenced by the recent event in Lynchburg, VA (fortunately no one was injured).

The current situation is that, were there to be a release of materials from a tank car, the release would be at grade and so would disperse quite quickly depending on wind conditions. Also, since all equipment would be at grade emergency response vehicles would have good access to allow them to mitigate the event quickly and effectively.

If the trench option were to be selected the risk associated with these highly hazardous chemicals appears to increase substantially for the following reasons:

  • They are not dispersed by normal winds. Hence the concentrations of these chemicals would be much higher than at present.
  • Emergency response teams would find it difficult to access the leaking or burning cars.
  • For a smaller leak, some method of removing fumes from the trench would be needed.
  • The train crews would have a harder time escaping from the scene.

At the recent Town Council meeting at which preliminary information to do with the trench option was presented the speaker stated that the risk analyses to do with other trench projects will be provided to us. We look forward to receiving those reports.

Risk Matrix

The simple 2×2 matrix shown below divides the risks to do with highly hazardous chemicals into four groups.

2x2 matrix showing danger of highly hazardous chemicals in the trench option

A brief discussion to do with each square of the matrix is provided below.

Group 1. Flammable or explosive materials that stay in the liquid phase (oil products are an example).

If released, and if a source of ignition is present, these materials create a pool fire. Currently the liquid would flow away from the source of the spill and could be contained and the fire could be brought under control. Under the trench option the liquid would accumulate, the fire would spread to other cars, and control would be a challenge.

Group 2. Flammable or explosive materials that form a vapor cloud (LPG is an example).

Currently the vapor from this type of release would drift away from the release source and, assuming an ignition source, would explode. The explosion (a deflagration) would be followed by a fire.

Under the trench option it is possible that the vapor release could lead to what is known as a Confined Vapor Cloud Explosion. This is much more serious than the unconfined situation and has the potential for creating a detonation, as distinct from a deflagration. The consequences of such an event would be severe.

Group 3. Toxic materials that stay in the liquid phase (sulfuric acid is an example).

Currently these liquids flow away from the leak source into the ground and drains. Under the trench option they would presumably stay in the trench, depending on the drainage system that is installed. Removing the liquids would be challenging.

Group 4. Toxic materials that vaporize (chlorine is an example).

Currently, depending on the density of the vapor with respect to air, a release could create a cloud affecting many homes and business locations. The trench option may actually pose less of a hazard because the vapors would be partially confined, although some means of removing the vapors to a safe location would be required.

Chemicals that Solidify

Sulfur Pile
A Sulfur Pile

There is actually another category of chemical — those that are liquid in the cars but that solidify when they are released and cooled. Easily the most important of those to us is liquid sulfur, which is a by-product of oil refining and is used to make sulfuric acid. Many sulfur cars go through our town every day. It is possible that the sulfur in the cars is in solid form and that it is heated and melted when it reaches its destination. However, if liquid sulfur is released it will set up right away because it has a melting point of 115C/239F.

Solid sulfur is not particularly hazardous, but removing it from the trench could be a chore.

Conclusions

This preliminary review suggests that trench option would materially increase the risks associated with highly hazardous chemicals because the materials would not disperse as they do now, and because the emergency responders would have difficulty in controlling the situation.. However, much additional analysis is required.

As noted in the Introduction to this post, we have been informed that the pertinent reports to do with other trench options will be provided to us. We look forward to receiving those reports.

Draft EIS. Comment #2: Structural Integrity

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 second.

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 #2: Structural Integrity

Approximately a year and a half ago — long before the idea of a trench was considered — the DRPT conducted a survey to do with the structural integrity of the buildings on Center St. and Railroad Ave.

Some of the older homes on the tracks already experience vibration as the trains go by. If the trench option were to be selected the vibration would be much worse, particularly during the construction phase. It may not be hyperbole to say that some of the homes would be damaged to the point where they need to be condemned. Even the newer homes are built only to normal codes — they are not seismically qualified.

Please submit updated reports that show just what the impact that the trench project would have on the structural integrity of the buildings adjacent to the tracks.

Thank you.

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

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

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-Reno
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

Twenty Year Plan

Driverless trafficThe DRPT (Department of Rail and Public Transportation) uses railroad modeling software to forecast the effect of changes to the performance of the trains. While such software is useful, and probably reasonably valid, for thinking through short-term changes, it cannot predict what is going to happen twenty years from now. Yet this is what they are attempting to do. The assume that,

 The future is a linear continuation of the present

 This assumption is particularly problematic given the profound changes that are currently taking place in the transportation industry. These include:

  • Driverless trucks that will upend the road transportation business.
  • Driverless trains.
  • Mag-lev trains in vacuum tunnels (hyperloop).
  • Great improvements to train management with the use of modern scheduling software and signaling systems.
  • Uber-like systems for both freight and passengers.

I have drafted a letter to the DRPT challenging their way of planning and urging them to include the impact of modern technology in their plans.