Open Letter

Open letter from Ragan Phillips; CSX subsidies
Shown below is an open letter written by Mr. Ragan Phillips to the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), dated October 7th 2017. I fully support what he says.

**********************

OPEN LETTER

October 7, 2017

TO: Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT)

Commonwealth of Virginia

Gentlemen:

The proposed rail system between Washington and Richmond (DC2RVA), promoted by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and financially supported by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), represents devastation for farms and homes in western Hanover County or for homes and businesses in Ashland.

The CTB and the DRPT are poised to announce an unjustified “death sentence” on Hanover County and the community of Ashland.  Whenever and wherever this rail system is built, families, farms, friendships and communities will be destroyed.

Even though the execution may be years in the future, this “sentence” defines our area as a “dead man walking.”

ETHICAL DUTY OF PUBLIC OFFICIALS

Federal and state government officials have a strong ethical duty to protect American tax –payers from improper or improvident use of our tax dollars.

This means that our tax dollars should be expended fairly and prudently. It does not mean that one element of industry or, particularly, one entity, should be the beneficiary of Federal and Commonwealth expenditures. It does not mean these expenditures should be made at the expense of the vast majority of the citizenry who receive no direct or indirect benefit.

The beneficiary of this huge multi-billion tax-payer funded project is neither the Commonwealth nor the public.  THE REAL BENEFICIARY IS CSX.

ASSERTION vs. FACT

ASSERTION:  The DRPT official web site states: “The purpose of this project is to provide a competitive transportation choice in the corridor by increasing intercity passenger rail capacity and improving travel times.”

FACT: Upwards of ninety percent (90%) of the railcars that will pass though the Commonwealth on this DC2RVA system will be CSX freight cars. Amtrak passengers would benefit by reducing the time for the Washington-Richmond trip by twenty minutes.

ASSERTION: The DRPT claims that this “public transportation” project, will be paid for by “federal, state and local sources.”

FACT: Sources? The DPRT has failed to advise the public that this “source” is us. Our tax dollars will underwrite CSX freight operations. In effect, the citizens of western Hanover and Ashland are being asked to write the checks for our own destruction.

ASSERTION: the DRPT publicizes this DC2RVA rail system as a “…segment of the Southeast High Speed Rail (SEHSR).”

FACT: It is, in fact, definitely not “high speed.” In actuality, DC2RVA is a huge upgrade on freight-laden rail lines primarily for the financial benefit of CSX.

A HAND IN THE TILL

To subsidize CSX, along with issuing misleading information, is certainly not an act that meets the aforementioned ethical duties of public officials.

The DC2RVA Project would allow CSX, an $11 billion revenue corporation with a $3 billion cash flow, to haul more freight at a faster pace and add to their bottom line.

CONCLUSION

The citizens of western Hanover County and the Town of Ashland must not be forced to pay for our own destruction.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has numerous essential, but under-funded, projects and institutions: affordable housing, mass public transportation, pre-school for all children, upgraded public education, and health care. Funding these needs would have a real, positive and long-term impact on the citizens of the Commonwealth.

If CSX wants this high cost upgrade of their rails, let them make the investment with their corporate resources of equity and from willing providers of debt.

In this case, public officials’ fiduciary duty is quite simple:

Invest our tax dollars to ensure a stronger Commonwealth…

not a better CSX freight line.

 

Sincerely,

Ragan Phillips                    Phyllis Theroux

504 Duncan Street/Ashland, Virginia 23005

 

cc: Senator Timothy Kaine

      Senator Mark Warner

      Governor Terry McAuliffe

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Draft EIS. Comment #8: Operations

Map of CSX operations
This comment is based on the earlier post Greenfield / Brownfield. It notes that the trench option will be extremely disruptive to operations for four years or more. This will not only cause many delays to passenger service along the corridor, it will also negatively impact the operations and profitability of CSX and other freight companies.

A bypass, on the other hand, can be installed without causing any disruption to on-going operations.

Faster Horses

Secretariat
Secretariat

The October 5th 2017 edition of the Herald-Progress includes a letter written by myself to do with the topic of “Faster Horses”. The thesis of the letter is that transportation technology is going through enormous changes right now but that the DRPT’s thinking remains trapped in the mid 1950s.

The letter is reproduced below. A scanned copy of the printed version is available here


Henry Ford is reputed to have once said,

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

This month the DRPT (Department of Rail and Public Transport) issued their Tier II draft EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). On the first page of the document is the statement,

The purpose of the DC2RVA Project is to increase capacity to deliver higher speed passenger rail, expand commuter rail, and accommodate growth of freight rail service in an efficient and reliable multimodal rail corridor.

In other words, we need faster horses.

Often better solutions to problems arise when the question is re-framed. At present the question is, “How do we increase rail capacity?” If we change the question to, “How do we reduce journey times?” then we can develop new and better answers. Maybe we can reduce journey times through the use of new technology.

Moreover, the proposed project does not address the DRPT goals listed above. Specifically,

  • It does not provide true high speed rail between Richmond and Washington D.C. High speed trains have a straight away speed of 180 mph or more. This project does not come close to achieving that target.
  • Today’s Amtrak trains are frequently quite empty. “Expanding commuter rail” will merely increase the number of empty trains. A true commuter service would have trains leaving every 20 minutes.
  • The growth in the freight capacity is an assumption that may not hold up. Data published by the Association of American Railroads shows that the number of carloads in the year 2017 to date is below the number for the years 2015 and 2016.
  • The term “multi-modal rail corridor” presumably means that both passenger and freight trains run on the same tracks as they do now. The DRPT goals would be better achieved by separating passenger and freight trains.

Over the last three decades many countries such as Japan, France, China and Spain have implemented true high speed rail networks. The DRPT project does not even get us caught up to that level of technology. They are proposing to use 1950s expertise to address the problems of the 21st century. Yet if there is one industry in the United States that is currently in a state of massive change it is the transportation industry. These changes include,

  • Autonomous/self-driving vehicles are on the horizon. Some analysts suggest that they will be in service in large numbers by the year 2025. They will be able to drive much more closely to one another than vehicles do now. Hence traffic density can safely increase.
  • The technology behind hyperloop trains is well established and is advancing quickly. Many other nations are implementing hyperloop projects. Within the United States the Hyperloop One company intends to have three routes “working in commercial capacity by 2021”. They have announced that their United States location will be in one of the following: Colorado, Illinois/Ohio/Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas. Virginia did not ask to be considered. These “trains” travel at 600 mph or more. If hyperloop tubes could be placed along the I-95 median then transportation times would decrease dramatically — without the need for additional conventional rail.
  • Commercial drones will take high value freight away from the railroads.

Currently the citizens of Ashland and Hanover county are embroiled in discussions as to where new rail tracks are to be installed. Which means that these citizens have bought into the DRPT “faster horses” paradigm that the solution to our transportation problems is to simply add more tracks. Yet were the DRPT and the Commonwealth of Virginia to pursue new technologies they could leapfrog the current high speed rail systems and become leaders in international transportation, while obviating the need for the new tracks.

Now that would put Ashland at the Center of the Universe.

 

savedowntownashland

Cave In San Gabriel
The Ashland town council has published a letter that provides further detail on its opposition to the trench option. The letter is available here and at the town site. The town has also opened a new web site — http://www.savedowntownashland.org/ — that provides a convenient way for submitting comments to the DRPT (further details here).

Draft EIS. Comment #7: Laws of Physics

Book Ashland Ashland

This comment is based on the post Laws of Physics.

**************

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.

Laws of Physics

Book Ashland Ashland
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.

Draft EIS. Comment #6: Missed Goals

Missed Goal

The Tier II draft EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) has the following statement on the first page,

The purpose of the DC2RVA Project is to increase capacity to deliver higher speed passenger rail, expand commuter rail, and accommodate growth of freight rail service in an efficient and reliable multimodal rail corridor.

The project in its current form does not meet the specified goals. Specifically:

  • It does not provide true high speed rail service between Richmond and Washington D.C. High speed trains have a straight away speed of 180 mph or more. This project does not come close to achieving that target.
  • Today’s Amtrak trains are frequently quite empty. “Expanding commuter rail” will merely increase the number of empty trains. A true commuter service would have trains leaving every 20 minutes.
  • The growth in the freight capacity is an assumption that may not hold up. Data published by the Association of American Railroads shows that the number of carloads in the year 2017 to date is below the number for the years 2015 and 2016.
  • The term “multi-modal rail corridor” presumably means that both passenger and freight trains run on the same tracks as they do now. The DRPT goals would be better achieved by separating passenger and freight trains.

I suggest that the DRPT go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that addresses the goals that it has set for itself.

Draft EIS. Comment #5: Ashland Town Video

Draft EIS Comments Ashland Rail

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 #5: Council Video

Ashland Trench Option
Center St. — Before
Trench-2
Center St. — After

The Ashland Town Council has published a video that illustrates the appalling destruction that would be visited upon the town of Ashland were the trench option to be selected. It can be viewed here or here.

I fully endorse the message of the video,

Ian Sutton

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