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.)

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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

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

DRPT Recommendations

The DRPT (Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation) has issued recommendations for increased rail capacity at http://dc2rvarail.com/about/recommendations/.

Report Details

Below is the the first page of the report. They have divided the 123 mile corridor into six Areas ― with Ashland being Area 5. Firm recommendations are made for each Area except for Ashland, which requires supplemental study.

DRPT Report AshlandThe section to do with Area 5 is shown below.

DRPT Report Ashland area

The following points can be drawn from the Area 5 section of the report.

  • There are seven build alternatives. These are not defined. It states that two of the seven are under consideration but does not state which they are. Four small maps are shown. Clicking on any one of these shows that they are part of a series of ten alternatives. (Originally there were three options: No Build, Third Track and Western Bypass. It is assumed that the No Build option has been dropped.)
  • With regard to the undefined “Both Alternatives” there are three bullet points. They are ambiguous but do suggest that there will be no new track within the town of Ashland but that there might be “improvements” within the existing Right of Way ― which is not defined.
  • Local train service from Richmond to D.C. will continue, with a stop at a new station in Ashland.
  • Two station options are under consideration. The first is the 850 platform over the College Avenue crossing. This is the one that is so strongly opposed by the College. The second is south of Ashcake Rd.
  • Two unidentified roadway crossings will have grade separation.

Ashland Town Council

At its scheduled December 6th 2016 meeting the Ashland Town Council adopted the following resolution.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED by the Ashland Town Council at its regular meeting on December 6, 2016, that the Ashland Town Council strongly opposes a third track through Town, and therefore heartily endorses and supports DRPT’s recommendations made on December 6, 2016 to the CTB [Commonwealth Transportation Board] to request of the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) the ability for DRPT to conduct a separate additional study for the Ashland area while proceeding with the DC2RVA project for the remainder of the 123-mile corridor, so as to allow for additional coordination and time to study and identify a preferred alternative for rail capacity improvements in the Ashland area.

In his remarks  Mayor Foley said that the study period would be around twelve months and that options such as the Buckingham Branch and a tunnel would be reconsidered.

Timing

The timing of the project, without the delays just discussed, is as follows.

  • The DRPT recommendations are submitted to the FRA.
  • The DRPT publishes a draft of its plan, possibly in January or February, 2017.
  • This is followed by a 60 day period for public hearings.
  • The FRA will make its final decision in late 2017.
  • The tentative build date is the year 2026.

Conclusions

It appears as if we will continue with a period of uncertainty ― maybe as long as twelve months. In the meantime we need to demonstrate our continued opposition to the third track option.

Board of Supervisors Resolution

Hyperloop train

At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting the following resolution was approved.

There was no opportunity for public comment on this topic. The following remarks were made.

  • The High Speed Rail issue has generated more citizen response than any other topic since a suggestion that nuclear waste be stored in the County.
  • The resolution was not so much about the Buckingham Branch per se. Instead the supervisors want the DRPT to explore other options.
  • They expressed a need for dialog with the DRPT.

My personal take on this topic is that the Buckingham Branch is not technically feasible ─ particularly at its southern end. If they want to pursue a really different option then they will have to look at new technology, such as Hyperloop Trains ─ a topic I broached with the same Board of Supervisors in July of this year.

Message from Mayor Foley

Jim Foley Mayor Ashland VA

The following is a message from Mayor Foley regarding the upcoming visit by DRPT and CTB to our town on November 1st.

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Dear Citizens,

I want to update everyone on the latest information about the CTB visit this Tuesday.  I also would like to give some guidance regarding how you can assist the town and county during the visit.

The CTB and some members of the DRTP will arrive at the Ashland Theater by 11:00 am on Tuesday.  The group will give a presentation, followed by 5 minutes of commentary from myself, President Lindgren and someone from Hanover County.

This is a “fact finding” visit.  No public comments will be allowed although you are allowed to watch the proceedings inside the theater.

The group will have a working lunch at the theater and will then take a short tour of the town starting at approximately 12:45pm. We believe that the tour will start from the theater and cover Center Street between Lee Street and College Avenue.

After the walking tour (12:45-1:45pm), the group will do a slow driving tour of the town.  Although we are not sure of the order, I do know that they plan to drive by Randolph-Macon College and Berkleytown.  They are also planning to drive down south Center Street to view a potential new train station location south of Ashcake Road.

Afterwards, the group will head to the county to view all of the potential intersections that a bypass would possibly cross.

How can you help?

1) Stay positive.  These are the folks that will make the decision on the Third Rail option. Technically they make a recommendation to the Federal government (FRA) and that recommendation is very likely to be accepted.

2) It is your right to hold up signs like “No Third Rail,” but please be calm and courteous.

3) We want to show the CTB and DRTP that we are always conscious of track safety.  Please use designated cross walks and piers to cross the tracks.

4) If you are available on Tuesday before and/or after the meeting please spend time outside.  Walk your dogs and babies.  Sit outside on your front porch.  Have lunch or coffee outside at one of our fine establishments near the intersection of England Street and Center Street.  We want to show the CTB and DRTP that we are a vibrant little town.

5) Tidy up your yards, especially if you live on or near the walking tour route or the driving tour route.

As always, I am available to answer any questions you may have on this important topic.

Best Regards,

Mayor Foley

 

CTB Meetings: November 1st – Details

Germanna Community College

One of our Ashland neighbors has provided the following additional information to do with the meetings on November 1st.

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11:00 am Ashland Theater, OPEN TO THE PUBLIC – CTB and DRPT will be giving a presentation on High Speed Rail and their visit to Ashland. Then, Jim Foley, R-MC President Lindgren and a representative from the County will briefly speak (5 minutes each.) Next there will be a Q&A between the CTB and Town and County representatives… there will be NO PUBLIC COMMENT.

The group of officials will then walk from Lee Street (Library) north to College Ave where they will ride a bus up Center to Ashcake to check out a potential new rail station location. Then, as I understand it, they will drive along the Western Bypass route before leaving for their 4:00 meeting in Fredericksburg.

Let’s show them how much we love our Town… Come to the meeting at the Ashland Theater, beautify your properties for them to see, be out and about Town during their visit and please come to Fredericksburg for public comments during CTB meeting!

Commonwealth Transportation Board Meeting

Tuesday, November 1 @ 4:00

Germanna Community College,
Center for Workforce Development and Community Education
10000 Germanna Point Drive
Fredericksburg, VA 22408

There are already a few people planning on attending/speaking at this meeting, so if you would like to car pool contact kjamkjam at comcast dot net.

If anyone has questions, you can contact Jim Foley jfoley@town.ashland.va.us or Kathy Abbott kabbott@town.ashland.va.us or Josh Farrar (Acting Town Manager)  jfarrar@town.ashland.va.us

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If you are planning on speaking at the Fredericsksburg meeting I suggest that you coordinate your comments with Jim Foley or Kathy Abbot.

 

Impact of the Third Rail

Impact of Third Rail on Ashland VA

Based on data from the Basis of Design provided by the Department of Rail & Public Transportation (DRPT) we have estimated the impact of the Third Rail on the Town of Ashland. We have presented reports to the Hanover Board of Supervisors, the DRPT itself and the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB).

We have also flown a drone down Center St. and superimposed the calculated impact of the project on the town. This has led to the creation of a series of images, some of which are shown in this post.

I have stressed many times that we are working with inadequate and sometimes ambiguous data to do with codes and standards. But it is unlikely that our estimates are drastically wrong.

Here is some background.

  1. The existing tracks were laid down in 1843 (some say 1834) and 1903 respectively — long before there were any standards to do with spacing between tracks and, more important, standards to do with the spacing between the tracks and the first public highway or footpath.
  2. The preliminary plan shows a new third rail to be located on the eastern side of Center St. The existing tracks would, it is assumed, remain where they are.
  3. The new third rail would have to meet modern code regarding its distance from the existing eastern track. There would then be a space (“no man’s land”) between the outer edge of the new track and a new fence. There is then a space between the fence and the first public footpath or road.

We are referring to this as Case A. Its impact is shown in the image at the top of this post and in the images shown below. Basically it would take out many buildings in the business district, quite a few homes, it would remove all the frontage from virtually all the other homes and from buildings such as the library. It would also create the odd situation that the east side of the tracks would be built to 21st century standards of safety but that the west side would remain in the 19th century.

In my judgment Case A is not be acceptable regarding codes and standards. If they touch the existing tracks then all the historical exclusion that they have enjoyed for a century and half would disappear. This means that the existing tracks would also have to be upgraded. We refer to this as Case B. We have not created images of the impact of Case B on Center St. but it would be quite similar to what is shown for the east side. All frontages on both sides would be lost and all buildings north of the Arts Center up to and including the existing train station would be gone.

The reality is that either Case A or Case B would tear the heart out of Ashland.

 

Shown below are the engineering sketches that we prepared based on the DRPT Basis of Design to calculate the pertinent distances. They are respectively:

  • The existing tracks.
  • Case A.
  • Case B.
existing
Existing Tracks
Case A — Third Rail Ashland VA
Case A
Case B Third Rail Ashland VA
Case B

Traffic Growth

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) traffic growth

The justification for the High Speed Rail project is growth in rail traffic. With that in mind the recent publication of the document Rail Safety by the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) provides some useful insights.

Amtrak

The chart below shows the growth in Amtrak traffic from the year 2000 to 2014. It has gone from 22 million to 32 million — a 45% increase, roughly 3% per annum. This is not a dramatic figure, but it is greater than the growth in the overall economy.

Growth in Amtrak traffic

Intermodal

The next chart shows the growth for intermodal (containers). It shows 3.1 million units in 1980, rising to 11 million units in 2003 — a growth rate of 11% per annum. Since then the number of units carried has been about constant.

Growth in intermodal traffic

Coal

We took a look at the change in coal traffic in our February 2016 post Freight Traffic. The chart for the last three years is shown below.

To quote,

. . . coal traffic by rail in the United States decreased by 15% during 2015; from January 2015 to January 2016 it is down 31%. It is questionable if coal traffic will return to its earlier levels given environmental pressures and the economics of natural gas.

coal-traffic-2015

Analysis

Based on the above data sets we can arrive at the following tentative conclusions.

  • Amtrak ridership is growing at 3% per annum. The growth rate appears to be quite steady.
  • Coal tonnage has fallen dramatically in the last few years and is not likely to ever return to its previous levels.
  • Intermodal traffic grew dramatically in the 1980-2005 period but has since flattened out. Given the overall decline in world economic activity it is likely that it will remain flat for the foreseeable future.

All of the above data is for nation-wide traffic. Regarding the traffic through Ashland, the following information can be added:

  • We have around 75 trains per day.
  • Of these about 17% are passenger.
  • The small growth in passenger traffic, and the relatively small number of passenger trains compared to freight, indicate that there will be little, if any, growth in the number of trains in the coming years.
  • Subjective observation suggests that the amount of traffic in the last few years has been steady, at best, and may actually be declining, thus supporting the above conclusion.

Conclusion

There seems to be little justification for spending large amounts of public funds for a small and rather dubious projected increase in rail traffic along our corridor.