Denver Takes the Lead

Arrivo system in Denver

The State of Colorado, working in partnership with the company Arrivo, has committed to building the nation’s first “electromagnetic super highway”. A video of the announcement is here. The Colorado executive director starts by noting that the Denver highway system was designed in the 1950s, built in the 1960s for a population of the 1980s. But since then the population of the area has doubled. The existing infrastructure cannot be expanded — they are stuck. A new type of transportation system is needed.

Here is my understanding of what they are proposing.

  • They will start construction of a test track next year. They then start a 400 day certification period around 2019/2020. If they receive certification they will move into building the first commercial track, probably between Denver and its airport.
  • This is not a full hyperloop system because the tubes are at atmospheric pressure. Consequently the the pods travel at only 200 mph.
  • The pods are powered by Linear Electric Motors (LEMs).
  • The journey time to the airport will fall from the current 90 minutes to 9 minutes.
  • A one-way ticket will cost $15.
  • The system will carry passengers, automobiles and freight and bicycles. They stress the fact that it is an auto train. This means that people will not have to give up their cars.
  • It will have a capacity ten times the current highway system. Current highways have a capacity of 2,000 to 3,500 cars per hour. They believe that the new system will be able to handle 20,000 cars per hour.
  • They will “layer” the system on to the existing infrastructure.

 

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The Destruction of Ashland

mcmurdo-annotated-2

The following is a letter written by Roseanne Shalf to various regulatory and government agencies. Given that technology is moving so fast it seems highly doubtful that the mid-1950s proposal from the DRPT will actually happen. But, as the letter points out, the destruction of our town is happening now.

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Dear DC2RVA,

I am a resident of Ashland, Virginia. I have researched and written much about the history of Ashland including its historical relationship with the railroad companies that travel through the center of town. I have also attended most of the meetings regarding the third rail options for years now, including the most recent ones in 2017. I am very familiar with the Section 106 study done on Ashland’s historic properties. I think that the DC2RVA group must have been surprised about the strong community reaction to the third rail through town, and you should take the wisdom of the community very seriously.

I oppose the option to put a third rail through town for a number of reasons. A few are below.

#1. THE FRA DECISION WILL HAVE IMPACTS IMMEDIATELY: The biggest and most immediate impact will be simply the decision by FRA to choose the option to add a third rail through town, even though it is scheduled for 15 years down the road. The town’s economy will begin to crash now, not just in 15 years or during the construction that will close Center Street for several years. I cannot say that strongly enough. It has happened in large cities, and even years after construction, the economy struggled to repair itself. But Ashland is a small town. We are constantly struggling to build up our public image. A 15-year lead-up, a 3 year shutdown of our historic downtown, and the impact on our primary employer Randolph-Macon College, will destroy the town for decades and it may never recover. It doesn’t matter how pretty we can make it look after construction. The economic scare has already started. Homeowners who want to sell are having difficulty getting contracts. This is especially true for homes facing the tracks. Shop owners are wary of longterm commitments and are beginning to look for a way out of the commitments they already have. That will intensify over the next 15 years should FRA choose the 3rd rail through town. Such a massive project as the one proposed for a small town like Ashland, with so few commercial, residential, and tourist corridors, cannot be compared to a project on a city that has many such corridors. Ashland WILL LIKELY NEVER RECOVER. We have too few resources.

So, if there is a better alternative, such as the Hyperloop or streamlined ways for deep-bore tunnel construction, that are developed in the intervening 15 years, it will be too late for Ashland. If the decision is made now for a third rail through town, Ashland will have collapsed. How can you contemplate such a project for this town?

#2. THE 1836 RIGHT OF WAY IS TOO SMALL: The current right of way for the rails through Ashland was established in 1836 and the town developed around it. The oldest and most historic part of town is along that current right of way. The oldest shade trees line the track. A third rail would require demolition of some of the houses and businesses, demolition of all the 100-year old street trees along both sides of the track, and it would place the rails so close to many homes and businesses that they would be rendered uninhabitable—useless. Moreover, the development over the last 181 years has been so dense that there is no way to move the buildings back 10-20 feet. Is it really worth it to choose this option? The lawsuits would be unending, would cost the government many millions, and would create longterm delays.

#3. THERE WILL BE NO WAY TO ACCESS MID-BLOCK HOMES AND BUSINESSES DURING THE 3-YEAR CONSTRUCTION PERIOD: The town was laid out formally in 1854, (please see attached map) although we believe that some buildings were constructed before then. The lots along the tracks were between 8 and 30 acres each, and over the intervening years they have been subdivided into smaller, different size lots. That created lots of different depths so that today there is not straight line along the backs of the lots. (See the Hanover gis site, attached, or access it at http://www.hanovercountygis.org) Thus, there are no alleyways behind the buildings along the tracks. To try to create alleyways today to access the mid-block buildings from the rear would require demolition of even more buildings in the historic district. To create a temporary rail or temporary travel lanes along the fronts of buildings along the right of way in order to create access to mid-block buildings would bring the car lanes or tracks within feet of some of front porches and doors—For three years or more with no break! The project cannot be phased.

#4. THE SECTON 106 STUDY REVEALED BUILDINGS THAT ARE POTENTIALLY ELIGIBLE FOR INDIVIDUAL LISTINGS. The DHR and the consultants who completed the study marked a number of buildings along the tracks in the business district of the Ashland Historic District, the residential part of the Historic District, and on the Randolph-Macon Historic Campus that are potentially eligible for individual status. They were designated as potentially eligible for individual listing because they are an unusually intact example of Greek Revival, High Victorian, or Colonial Revival architecture, or an important event took place, or an important person lived there during formative years, or an important architect designed a building. As an example, our 1923 Train Station, designed by W. Duncan Lee of Richmond, would be demolished to make way for the enlarged right of way.

We are justifiabley proud of our Ashland Historic District and the Randolph-Macon Historic Campus, and we have been planning for some time to create a separate historic district in the Berkleytown area to the north of the campus that is traditionally an African-American neighborhood to tell that part of the state and national story. These historic districts and the buildings that are potentially eligible for individual listings are not only fun nostalgically, but they tell a state and national story as well. They are serious history. Aren’t historic districts and buildings elevated to individual historic listings supposed to protect our state and national history?

#5. THE 100-YEAR OLD STREETSCAPE WILL BE DESTROYED: We have also pointed out that the 100-year old streetscape along the tracks would have to be demolished if a third rail on the surface or in a trench or in a soft-earth tunnel were to be constructed through town so that utilities could be reinstalled. It would take another 100 years to regrow those oak and maple shade trees, to say nothing of certain trees that hold a special history. As an example, the oak in the front yard of 604 S Center Street was one of a pair. In the 1870s, the family balanced a plank between the two trees to create a bench for Col. Pumphry, wounded during the Civil War, to watch the trains go by and to talk to his neighbors as they strolled by. The plank is long gone, but the tree remains. The old oaks in front of the former Ashland Baptist Church were likely planted when the church was built in 1859. Early pictures show them. Such old trees are not only pleasant to view, but the also tell a history, they soften the landscape, and they lower the ambient temperature. Not many towns in Virginia have so many large old trees that have survived so long. ( See photos of the streetscape below)

#6. THE TECHNOLOGY THAT FRA IS USING NOW IS FROM THE 1950s: We all know how fast technology changes. In transportation, countries like Canada, France, South Korea, and other nations are embracing new technology called Hyperloop for for both freight and passenger systems. Elon Musk is experimenting with a deep bore machine that would reduce costs and disruptions in our transportation system and in the social impacts. (Please see this link: https://iansutton.com/downloads/Hyperloop-Standards.pdf or Wikipedia explanation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperloop or Wired.com’s article on the new deep bore machine from Elon Musk’s The Boring Company at http://www.wired.co.uk/article/elon-musk-tunnel-boring) The cost is decreasing on both of those technologies. Imagine a deep bore tunnel under I-95, which is fairly straight, has plenty of right of way, and takes a train through Akka yard. It would not even require using potential future traveling lanes. Or a tunnel through the land west of Ashland, that would protect the historic farms, allow farmers to get to their fields, and would eliminate the need for and costly lawsuits related to eminent domain. Why are we still planning on using mid-20th century technology for a project that will be built mid-21st century? Shouldn’t FRA be looking at these new technologies before planning this gigantic, expensive, 3rd rail from DC to RVA, let alone through Ashland, Virginia? Innovative projects can attract donations from major private foundations like the Gates Foundation. Perhaps FRA could use this corridor as a model for the rest of the country.

Using new technology would eliminate costly lawsuits related to eminent domain.The social upheval would be nil. The project would raise support for rail projects where there was none. And the cost might be defrayed by foundation grants.

Thank you for paying attention to our comments. Please don’t put a third rail through Ashland, Virginia.

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Draft EIS. Comment #11: Appendices I and J

Map of CSX operations
The following letter was mailed to the DRPT.

This is my last comment. I am commented out.

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712 S. Center St.
Ashland, VA 23005

281-782-7459

October 30th 2017

Dear Ms. Stock:

As you know I have submitted many comments on the Draft EIS to do with new technology. In summary, they say that the proposed expansion to the rail system, as discussed in the Draft EIS, is unrealistic due to the rapid and profound changes that are taking place in the transportation industry.

I recognize that considering the impact of new technology is outside the remit of the DRPT’s current scope. Nevertheless, it would, in my opinion, be inappropriate for the DRPT to continue spending funds on developing a project that is so unrealistic.

I have prepared a report entitled “Hyperloop — Setting the Standards”. A copy is enclosed with this letter; it can also be downloaded from https://iansutton.com/downloads/Hyperloop-Standards.pdf.

With regard to the details of the EIS I have two specific comments.

  1. I challenge ‘Section 2.2 Assumptions’ of Appendix I. No consideration is given to the fact that technology is changing. This assumption should be added to the report, and then defended.
  2. I also challenge the Contents of Appendix J, ‘Section 2.3 Supply’. It lists five types of transportation but fails to identify new technologies such as hyperloop.

As always, I would be grateful if you could acknowledge receipt of this letter. I am not confident that mailed comments are always processed properly.

Yours truly,

Ian Sutton

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Hyperloop — Setting the Standards

Hyperloop train approaching New York
Regular readers of this blog know that, during the two years in which I have been writing about the proposed “High Speed Rail” project, I have been learning more and more about new technologies — particularly hyperloop. An increasing number of posts at this site have been to do with that topic.

I have decided to combine much of my research and analysis into a single report: Hyperloop — Setting the Standards. It can be downloaded here. (This is Rev.1; I will be making updates on a regular basis.) In the report I speak to four fundamental questions about hyperloop:

  1. Will it work?
  2. Is it safe?
  3. Can it be profitable?
  4. Is it socially acceptable?

The fourth question is probably the most relevant to our community. Virtually all the discussion to do with the proposed project has been about real estate. The insight that Elon Musk expressed in the year 2012 to do with hyperloop is that it is not about speed — it is about avoiding the use of new real estate.

As I said in a previous post,

  • I have registered the domain HyperloopVA.com. (There is no web site yet.) I will use it for further information and discussions to do with hyperloop. The site ashlandrail.com will continue to challenge the ill-thought out “High Speed Rail” project.
  • I will be preparing a matching video that you can download at no cost.
  • If you would like to speak in a meeting let me know.

I will submit this report (by mail, not email) to DRPT and the CTB (Commonwealth Transportation Board), and then I am done with commenting. (I have also offered to make a presentation to DRPT and the CTB.)

Risk Report: Munich Re

Santiago, Spain high speed train crash

The company Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has worked with Munich Re to create the first Hyperloop Technologies Risk Report. Their web page states the following.

Munich Re is of the opinion that the Hyperloop technology developed by HTT is both feasible and insurable in the medium term and that delivering the system demands a model represented by HTT’s innovative approach.

In my own preliminary analyses I identify three categories of risk (I exclude grade crossings because no new high speed transportation system will incorporate them.)

  1. Air leak into the tubes.
  2. Electrical power failure.
  3. Instability.

The first two do not appear to prevent a significant safety risk — in both cases the pods in the tube would simply glide to a halt. The third item, instability, is, however, something to be concerned about, as can be seen from this video to do with the high speed rail derailment that occurred in Santiago, Spain in the year 2013.

Draft EIS. Comment #10: The Boring Company

The Boring Company hyperloop

The following will be submitted as a comment to the DRPT.

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In previous posts I have pointed out that Elon Musk’s insight regarding transportation is that we are constrained by available real estate. The key advantage of hyperloop is that the low pressure tubes can be installed along existing rights of way with minimal disruption to the local communities. The fact that the capsules move at 600 mph is attractive, but it is not the prime reason for installing hyperloop.

In the context of our own “high speed” rail project my vision has been that we install the hyperloop tubes along the I-95 median. The capsules would be used for long-distance passengers and for high value freight. Our existing tracks — which would not need to be expanded — would be used for low value freight, such as coal, and for stopping passenger trains, such as we have now.

Needless to say, Musk is ahead of us. If we are to move into the third dimension we should also look at going down as well as up.

During the early discussions to do with the DRPT project the idea of a tunnel under Ashland was summarily dismissed as being too expensive. Yet, once more, Musk is turning things around. This year he formed a new company — the Boring Company — to come up with ways of creating tunnels more quickly and at lower cost than traditional methods. And now he has a contract: a tunnel between New York and Washington for hyperloop pods, with the first ten miles to be dug being in the Baltimore, MD area.

It would appear to be a simple matter to use the same technology for building a tunnel under Hanover County. Why is this option not being considered given that costs are being reduced so dramatically?

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.

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.

 

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.