Draft EIS. Comment #9: Time Out

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

The following comment has been submitted to the DRPT.
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I recognize that the scope of the draft EIS does not include consideration of new technologies. Yet, if there is one industry in the United Sates that is undergoing radical change it is the transportation industry. In my view it would be irresponsible for the DRPT to make a recommendation to do with the future of passenger and freight transportation along the east coast corridor without considering these profound changes.

There are many aspects to the new technologies — these include drones, autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles. But the one that will have the greatest impact on the rail industry is what is known as ‘hyperloop’. The seminal paper on this topic was written by Elon Musk in the year 2012. He recognized that the key advantage to this technology is not speed — although traveling at 650 mph is certainly enticing — but the fact that such systems can be implemented without needing much real estate.

I am currently preparing an article with the working title, The Practicality of Hyperloop, for publication in a professional journal. In the article I address three questions:

  1. Does it (hyperloop) work?
  2. Is it safe?
  3. Can it be profitable?

Question #1
Hyperloop is made up of well-established and commercially proven pieces (low pressure tubes, linear induction motors, mag lev suspension), so my conditional answer to the first question is “Yes”.

Question #2
Process-Risk-Reliability-Management-2ndI have spent many years analyzing the risk to do with industrial systems (the picture is of one of my books on the topic: Process Risk and Reliability Management). Based on this experience I would say that there are legitimate safety concerns, but that traveling by hyperloop is likely to be safer than flying on a commercial airplane. So the answer to the second question is also a conditional “Yes”.

Question #3
Richard Branson Virgin Hyperloop OneFinally, we look at economics. Obviously there are many unknowns but the fact that Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines has now made a substantial investment in the company known as ‘Virgin Hyperloop One’ suggests that professional investors see a real opportunity. So, once more, I respond with a conditional “Yes”.

I will mail a draft of my article to the DRPT before the November 7th comments deadline.

If DRPT management is interested in having a presentation on this topic, please let me know. I would be very willing to visit with management and discuss these issues in greater depth.

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HyperloopVA.com

Virgin Hyperloop OneThe primary purpose of this blog has been to demonstrate that, from a technical point of view, the third track option through Ashland (whether at grade or in a trench) does not work. The original railroad had just one track; adding the second track a hundred years ago was a squeeze; trying to push a third track is foolish.

In my opinion the DRPT is asking the wrong question. They are asking. “How do we improve the rail service along the east corridor?” A much better question would be, “How do we improve the transportation service along the east coast corridor?” Ask a different question and you may get radically different answers.

Therefore the blog has gradually developed a second agenda: to look for engineering solutions that can perform an end-run around all of the discussions/arguments that are currently going on. Specifically, I have posted frequently regarding hyperloop technology. I continue to research this topic and I am making enough progress such that I have registered the domain HyperloopVA.com (there is no web site yet).

I am also currently preparing a 20 minute talk on hyperloop technology that aims to address the following three questions:

  1. Is hyperloop technology realistic?
    (There are two simple engineering questions to answer: “Does it work?” and “Is it safe?”)
  2. Can we solve real estate problems by running the tubes down existing rights of way such as I-95?
    (The insight here is that the main justification for hyperloop is not speed, it is the saving of real estate by working in three dimensions).
  3. Can hyperloop handle sufficient freight and passenger traffic so as to obviate the need for a third track through Ashland?
    (The existing tracks would continue to be used for low value freight such as coal and for local passenger trains.)

If anyone is interested in listening to this talk let me know.

Richard Branson Virgin Hyperloop One
Richard Branson

Note: At this point I do not have sufficient information to speak to the economic viability of an east coast hyperloop system. However, the fact that Sir Richard Branson chose to invest in the Hyperloop One company (now called Virgin Hyperloop One) this month is a sign that the technology is gaining commercial acceptance.

 

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.

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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

 

 

 

 

A Hand in the Till

Herald Progress Ashland VA

The September 28th 2017 edition of the Herald-Progress published an “In My Opinion” by Ragan Phillips. It is re-published here with permission.


To quote Wendell Berry: “…political leaders do not know what we are talking about, and they are without the local affections and allegiances that would permit them to learn what we are talking about.”

The proposed new rail system between Washington and Richmond (DC2RVA) is an example of the consequences of Berry’s quote and, In My Opinion, it represents a tragedy for Hanover County and Ashland. At the end of the day, whenever and wherever this rail system is built, families, farms, friendships and communities will be destroyed.

Congress, along with federal and state governments and all public officials, has a strong ethical duty to American tax -payers. Included in these duties should be:

  • Duty of care
  • Duty of loyalty
  • Duty of impartiality
  • Duty of accountability
  • Duty to preserve the public’s trust in government
    (See Markula Center for Applied Ethics on “Public Officials as Fiduciaries”

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.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) proposes to spend, at the very least, $5 billion for the 123 mile DC2RVA railroad line. The beneficiary of this huge tax-payer funded project is not the Commonwealth, nor the public. Who, then, is the primary beneficiary? The real “winner” is the railroad company, CSX.

Press releases from the DRPT state: “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.” To wit, Amtrak passengers would benefit by reducing the time for the Washington-Richmond trip by twenty minutes. This is “fake news.”

Fact: Upwards of ninety percent (90%) of the railcars that will pass though the Commonwealth on this DC2RVA system will be CSX freight cars.

The DRPT goes on to say this “public transportation” project, will be paid for by “federal, state and local sources.” It happens that those “sources” are our tax dollars. The DPRT fails to advise the public that DC2RVA financially underwrites CSX freight operations.

Subsidizing CSX, an $11 billion revenue corporation with a $3 billion cash flow appears to be CSX’s “hand in the till” brought about by white-shoe lobbyists and elected public officials more interested in re-election than acting for the interest of the citizens whose votes put them in office.

In the meantime, while CSX hauls more freight at a faster pace and adds to their bottom line (and Amtrak passengers save that “critical” twenty minutes) the Commonwealth has numerous real problems experienced by real people whose essential needs have not been met.

Why not authorize these “CSX” railroad funds, certain to be well above the $5 billion preliminary estimate, for needed public investments in the Commonwealth, such as:

  • Affordable housing that would provide the economically disadvantaged with the opportunity for a productive life
  • Or, a real investment in public transportation enabling folks to move between home and work
  • Or, quality pre-school for all children that would offer a path toward future achievement
  • Or, targeted funding for public education, to include better pay for dedicated teachers, smaller class sizes, up-to-date technology, and safe, well-designed facilities

As one example, In the Hanover County Public School system [where the Board of Supervisors has (a) drained over $10 million (well over 10% of county funding for school operations) from the schools in the past six years and (b) removed $50 million in capital funds planned for four 75 year old elementary schools] we need an investment in public education for the 18,000 students. We do not need a multi-billion dollar subsidy for a CSX freight hauling scheme.

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 better Commonwealth…not a better CSX freight line.