Guest Post #3 – Details, Details

Engineer-1

The following is a guest post from Bob Brown, a resident of Ashland. Mr. Brown served as town planner for the City of Philadelphia for many years and is currently on the Board of the Main St. Association of Ashland.

Editorial Comment: It is likely that the impact of a new track through Ashland would be considerably greater than Mr. Brown has shown here due to the need to bring all tracks up to modern code (see Not Your Grandfather’s Railroad).

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April 29, 2016

Friends and Neighbors:

The call for facts about the proposed “High Speed” Rail is fundamental. The following is my (initial) list of detail questions that everyone needs to know and have answered. Note that this list relates to Ashland (I assume some similar facts could be given for the Western route alternative.)

Note that they require several sets of evaluations:

  •             Railroad Engineering,
  •             Real Estate and Business Economics,
  •             Historic Analysis,
  •             Traffic and Pedestrian Analysis,
  •             Town Planning Analysis.
  •             College Planning Analysis

This is NOT merely a Railroad Engineering and Planning process…

Answers to these questions must be given before any position vote is taken, regarding the evaluation of possible train service changes in Ashland:

ASSUMPTION 1, RE ASHLAND: THIRD RAIL IS ADDED, AND EAST SIDE OF CENTER ST./RAILROAD AVE IS REMOVED –

  •  Exactly how many homes and properties would lose any auto access (i think it is at least 12). These homes would have to be purchased and removed.
  • What will happen to the corner houses, once the East side street is closed? Will all those streets require Fire Engine turn-arounds, thus removing land from those properties?
  • Note that this assumes that the businesses on the East side of Downtown will have no front or street access. Will this not put them out of business? And, if this one side of Railroad Ave. is put out of business, and if there is only one south-bound traffic lane, how will the West side businesses survive?
  • What will be the functional (and visual) impact on the College when its main north-south frontage street is removed? (this could be a big question for Randolph Macon to consider.) Note that much of its on-street parking would also be eliminated,
  • How would Center St. & Railroad Ave. function when there is only one-way (South bound) traffic possible – in both the Downtown and residential areas (and at the College)?
  • Will fences be required – on both sides of the tracks? If so, will pedestrian crossings be eliminated, and the Town cut in half? If so, what will that do to the quality of life of the houses on the West side of Center St.? What is their future? What will the College do, since it now exists on both sides of the Tracks?
  • How can the existing Train Station continue to function when there are three rails?
  • What will be the impact of all this on our historic buildings and Historic District?
  • What is will be the maximum speed permitted of all trains – especially including the “High Speed” rail?
  • Will the no-train-horn rule remain in effect as they pass through Town?
  • What are the projected number and size of freight trains that could come through Town? How is that different from what we experience now?
  • Will Amtrak still make stops in Ashland – or not?
  • And – the biggest question of all: What will be the future of historic and economically thriving Ashland if all the properties along the tracks, and in the Downtown (and perhaps parts of the College) cease to function? Will our beloved Community no longer exist?

ASSUMPTION 2, RE ASHLAND: NO THIRD RAIL; JUST “IMPROVEMENTS” TO THE TWO EXISTING TRACKS:

  • Exactly what are the “improvements”? Exactly what changes could they impose on the operation and quality of all three parts of Center St. and Railroad Ave.: Downtown, Residences, College?
  • What construction will take place, and how long will it take?
  • What are the projected number and size of freight trains that could come through Town? How is that different from what we experience now?
  • Will Amtrak still make stops in Ashland – or not?
  • Will – once again – pedestrian crossings be eliminated?
  • Will – once again – fences be required? If so, the same questions apply:

Elimination of pedestrian crossings (dividing Ashland in half)?

What would be the quality of life and the property values be for the houses on both sides of the tracks?

What would be our ability to shop in Downtown on both sides of the tracks?

What must the College do if pedestrian crossings are limited, since the campus now exists on both sides of the Tracks?

  • Once again – What will be the impact of all this on our historic buildings and Historic District?
  • What is will be the maximum speed permitted of all trains – especially including the “High Speed” rail?
  • Will the no-train-horn rule remain in effect as they pass through Town?

This may just be a start. Does anyone have other questions that we need to have answered before working out our position?

Bob (Brown)

PS: A detail: sometimes illustrations (diagrams, sketch views, sketch plans and street cross sections) help explain the issues. If Main Street, the Town, or the neighbors feel they would be a help, I would gladly do some.

A Report and an Editorial

Richmond-Times-Dispatch

Two items recently reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch caught our attention.

Chemical Leak

The first was to do with a chemical leak from a derailed train in the Washington D.C. area.

With regard to our Increased Freight Traffic (IFT) project we have said from the beginning that safety must always be the top priority. Reports to do with accidents involving trains are coming in all too frequently, further emphasizing the need to keep a large separation between the tracks and the public. This cannot be done if the project engineers try to squeeze a third rail through Ashland.

Norfolk Southern Deal

The second report was an editorial that states that Norfolk Southern has received a $2 million grant from the State to keep 165 jobs in the State. This report raises the broader question as to whether the IFT project can make money without taxpayer input.

Cultural Impact #2: Not Your Grandfather’s Railroad


Train-Ashland-History

The impact of the proposed third track through the Town of Ashland can be organized into the following three  categories:

  1. Safety/Environmental;
  2. Cultural — including the loss of historic buildings and sites; and
  3. Economic.

We are publishing a series of posts outlining concerns to do with all three areas. Posts to date include:

This is the second post in the Cultural series (although it could also be considered to be a safety topic).

Help Needed

I have worked as a professional engineer on large projects for much of my career. Hence I am familiar as to how such projects are organized and managed. In particular, as a result of my book-writing activities, I have a reasonable grasp as to how engineering standards are developed and implemented. However my experience has been in the process industries (oil refineries, chemical plants, offshore oil and gas platforms). This HSR Project is, of course, to do with a different industry: railways. Therefore I request that anyone who has worked on the design or construction of a railroad expansion project such as this to critique the work that I have done and correct any errors or false assumptions.

Thank you.

Basis of Design

BOD-Title-1

It is normal for project managers to create a document that summarizes the technical and engineering standards that they will be following for their project . They have to follow legal requirements, of course — of that there is no choice. But there is generally some flexibility as to which industry standards and practices are to be adopted. With regard to this proposed project the project team has published a 105 page document entitled the Basis of Design (BOD), dated February 24, 2015 (DRPT 2015).

Shown below is the first page of the BOD’s Table of Contents.

BOD-TOC
The design engineers must follow the standards that are provided in the BOD. Only in rare circumstances can the design engineers claim an exemption.

Development of Design Standards

For background it is useful to to understand how engineering codes and standards are developed and applied.

The Regulatory Processfra-logo-1

In the United States, the federal regulatory process starts when both Houses of Congress develop a law or statute. Generally, each House develops its own version. These are then sent to committee, where a compromise bill is agreed upon. This, in turn, goes to the President, who signs it (unless he chooses to use his power of veto). Once a statute becomes law, the affected agencies, such as the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in this case, develop specific regulations. It is the regulations, not the law itself, that companies are expected to follow. (The words “regulation” and “rule” are used synonymously in this post.)

Once the regulation has been written it is listed in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and indexed in the Federal Register. The public and other interested parties are invited to comment on this draft regulation. Following the implementation of a standard, the agency can modify it through Letters of Interpretation. If a person or organization disagrees with some part of the regulation, they can challenge it in court on the grounds that it does not meet the intent of the original Congressional statute. If the court agrees, the standard is implicitly changed.

This whole process is illustrated in the sketch below.

Regulatory-Process-1

Engineering Standards

Arema-1Rules and regulations generally do not provide sufficient detail for engineers to make detailed design decisions. Therefore all industries have standards-setting bodies that develop  detailed guidance. For example, AREMA (the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association) published the 2016 Manual for Railway Engineering, Chapter 5 of which contains a Recommended Practice entitled Track (AREMA 2016) and which is probably the most relevant to these discussions.

Usually these engineering standards are not a formal legal requirement unless they are adopted into a regulation by reference. However, even when they are not legally required, failure to follow them is hard to justify.

 Ashland, Ashland

Ashland-Ashland
On page 18 of her book Ashland, Ashland Rosanne Shalf describes the history of the railroad in Ashland.

Workers laid the first twenty miles of single track to the Hanover site in 1836 . . . Workers began to lay double lines of track along the route in 1903.

(Shalf, 1994)

The first engineering standards in the United States were developed in the early years of the 20th century with an initial focus on boiler explosions. The newly formed American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), for example, published its first first boiler code in the year 1914. This means, therefore, that when the existing Ashland tracks were installed it is very unlikely that the engineers at the time had to worry about code to do with spacing requirements between the tracks and adjacent pedestrians and buildings. And, as the picture at the head of this post shows, there simply wasn’t the density of building and road traffic in the town as we have now.

“Grandfathering”

Any project that involves upgrading an existing facility will likely face the challenge of “grandfathering” old designs. Standards generally become more stringent over time. But it is not practical to re-engineer an existing facility every time a new version of a standard is published. So it is normal for the facility to be “grandfathered”, i.e., it can remain “as is” and does not need to meet the latest code. An example in day-to-day life is to do with backup cameras on automobiles. It is likely that future rules will require that they be installed on all new cars but that old cars will not need to have them retrofitted.

In industry this concept of grandfathering only holds if the original facility is not significantly modified. If large changes are made then it is likely that the entire system will have to be upgraded to meet the latest standards. Adding a third track to two existing tracks constitutes a huge change. Hence I assume that the entire system will need to be upgraded to 2016 standards and to meet the requirements of the BOD for spacing between the tracks and pedestrians and buildings.

Minimum Separation Distances

Chapter 3 of the BOD —  “Highway” — appears to be the most pertinent to this discussion, particularly Section 3.3.6, which is entitled “Pedestrians/Bike Paths/Trails”.  Page 3-4 provides an inactive link to a document entitled Vtrans Pedestrian and Bicycle Facility Planning and Design Manual that presumably provides more detail. (I was unable to open the link or to locate the document on the internet.) The recommended minimum separation distances are provided in Figure 3-1, which is reproduced below.

separation-sketch-1

Engineering Judgment

No matter how detailed the rules and standards may be there are always gray areas that require interpretation and the application of professional judgement. For example, Page 3-5 of the BOD shows three types of rail operation.

BOD-3-5

A normal first response would be to put the town of Ashland into the first category:

“11 trains or more per day. Max Speed over 45 mph”.

But trains are not allowed to travel at 45 mph through town, so maybe the town does not fall into that category. It is not clear if the standard means,

. . . per day or Max Speed . . .

or

. . . per day and Max Speed . . .

Judgment is called for (or else the project engineering manager reviewed this document with an insufficiently sharp pencil).

Minor Upgrade

There is currently a discussion going on to do with a “Minor Upgrade” to the tracks through Ashland. (This option was removed from a recent Board of Supervisors motion.) No definition has been provided for the word “minor”, thus making the whole discussion rather vague. However, it may not be that all that important. Based on the the information in this post it is likely that any upgrade that can materially affect the capacity of the railroad will be large enough to obviate the existing exemption from code. Hence it is probable that,

All minor upgrades are actually major upgrades

Hence even a “minor” upgrade will lead to destruction of historic homes and businesses and will be enormously costly.

Conclusion

All engineering projects have to meet a plethora of codes and standards. In order to fully understand the impact of this proposed project on the town of Ashland we need to identify which of those codes apply. Based on the preliminary analysis provided here the following early conclusions are reached.

  1. The existing tracks were installed when there was little or nothing in the way of construction codes and standards.
  2. Adding a third track through the center of town means that the existing tracks would have to be upgraded to meet current code.
  3. The spacing required for this upgrade would be substantial and the impact on the town would be greater than previously anticipated.

This post started with a request. If anyone can provide insights regarding the engineering or construction of railroad tracks please let me know. In particular, I invite professional comments to do with the engineering discussions and assumptions that this post has initiated.

Next week we will probably glance at the topic of Cognitive Dissonance.

Citations

American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA). 2016 Manual for Railway Engineering. 2016.

Shalf, Roseanne Groat. Ashland, Ashland. Brunswick Publishing Corporation. 1994.

Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT). Basis of Design. Technical Criteria for Concept & Preliminary Engineering. Final Report. February 24, 2015.

Safety Impact #3: Amtrak Incident

Two Reported Dead After Amtrak Train Derails Near Philadelphia

Update

Further information is provided by Reuters. The two persons killed were trackside workers. 35 passengers suffered injuries.

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Today (April 3rd 2016) there was yet another Amtrak derailment in the Philadelphia area. Initial reports are of two fatalities and many injuries.

This incident further points to the irresponsibility of running an additional track through the town of Ashland and placing trains even closer to homes and businesses than they are now. (See our post Safety Impact #1: Two Car Lengths for a formal analysis of the dangers that this proposed project presents.)

Safety Impact #2: Tier I Evaluation

Documents-1Introduction

The proposed High Speed Rail project has generated much debate. But there is one aspect of the project about which there can be no debate: Safety. There is nothing more important than making sure that all those who ride the trains or who live or work near the tracks go home in the condition in which they arrived. All other issues — the environment, culture, historic farmland, old homes, profits — take second place to safety. Period. Full stop.

In a recent post it was noted that the safety issues to do with this proposed project cannot be taken for granted — indeed, there is a real chance that a train could leave the tracks at high speed. Were such an event to take place in a populated area such as the Town of Ashland the consequences could be momentous. And last year’s crash of Amtrak Train #188 shows that such events are plausible.

With these thoughts in mind available Tier I documents were reviewed to see how they analyzed safety. Certain parameters are basic to such an analysis. They include:

  • How is “acceptable safety” defined?
  • Have thorough investigations of similar projects and railroad systems been carried out in order to generate lessons learned?
  • What rules, regulations, reports and industry standards were consulted in order to ensure that the latest safety techniques are being used?
  • What methodologies were used for analyzing risk and safety?
  • What safety criteria were used when comparing one track option with another?

Tier I Analysis Matrix

In order to understand how Tier I decisions were made the simple matrix shown below was created. As data are added to the cells of the matrix it will be possible for those impacted by this project to assess the decision-making process in an organized and objective manner.

The matrix has four columns — one for each of the corridors discussed (the ‘East of Ashland’ option incorporates an upgrade to the Buckingham Branch line). There are five rows, some of which may be expanded. For example, ‘Cultural’ can include the destruction of historic homes, the loss of community created by tall fences and the desecration of historic sites. ‘Economic’ includes the losses that business in the Town of Ashland would sustain were the community to be bisected.

Analysis-Matrix

The final row — ‘Long-Term’ — is to do with the selection of a corridor that will be best in the coming decades. The choice of the Town of Ashland would be a bad one for the this category because speeds through town will always be restricted to 50 mph or so. There will never actually be “high speed” rail in Ashland. On the other hand selection of the I-95 corridor will allow for true high speed passenger trains (300 km/h). The existing tracks would be used for freight and commuter service between Richmond and D.C.

Formal Safety Analysis

The formal analysis of safety is a large topic — one that is outside the scope of this post. Nevertheless the Tier I documents should contain at least some formal safety analysis. One example of such an approach is the use of F-N curves such as that shown below (‘F’ stands for frequency of fatalities or injuries; ‘N’ represents the number of persons harmed). Such a curve is basically saying is that there is an inverse relationship between the frequency of events and the consequences of those events.

Risk-Boundaries

The sketch shows three zones:

  • Unacceptable risk;
  • Area of judgment; and
  • Acceptable risk.

At a minimum it can be expected that (a) the reports provide numerical values to define the zones, and (b) a relative ranking for each of the corridor options should be provided.

Tier I Review

The following documents were reviewed in order to understand how safety has been analyzed on Tier I of the proposed project. The paper trail is  tangled and the documents are still being evaluated. The following are initial findings to do with safety.

It must be stressed that there may be other documents. This research is not necessarily complete.

Environmental Impact Statement

Federal Register. October 23, 2014. Vol. 79. No. 205

This is the document that authorizes the Tier II process. It does not appear to provide significant information regarding the Tier I EIS (discussed below), nor does it provide guidance as to how safety is to be evaluated. The heart of the document is about two and a half pages long. It is supplemented by extensive paperwork documenting the meetings that were held in 2014.

Regarding the DC2RVA part of the project the following quotation is pertinent.

Additionally, this project will include preliminary engineering and environmental analyses for related capacity improvements on the CSXT Peninsula Subdivision in the Richmond area . . . on the Buckingham Branch Railroad from AM Junction through Doswell, VA, to the north, as well as two localities where specific improvements have not been identified: Elmont to North Doswell (through Ashland, VA) and Fredericksburg to Dahlgren (through Fredericksburg, VA and the Rappahannock River Bridge). These areas will be evaluated for station, track, and safety improvements as well as the feasibility of a third track. This project will involve further analysis of the alignment of the route selected through the 2002 Tier I EIS and Record of Decision, including the Buckingham Branch Railroad and the CSXT S-Line and A-Line routes from Greendale north of Richmond to Centralia south of Richmond.

Tier I EIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement)

This document contains the following sections:

  • Summary and Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3 Comments and Responses.
  • Appendix

The following quotation is from this document.

The most consistent community concern SEHSR Washington, DC to Charlotte, NC 1-16 Tier I Final Environmental Impact Statement (abbreviated format) expressed during the public hearings was safety.

Otherwise there are no significant comments to do with safety could be located.

Scoping Summary

This document is dated May 15, 2015. It consists of a report and appendices.

In the Comment Summary it is noted that 7% of the responses referred to Traffic/Safety.

Page 4-7 contains the following:

Comment: I am concerned that higher speed will lead to a great number of accidents.

Response: Safety is of paramount importance and will be a primary consideration in the development of improvement concepts. Safety analyses performed as part of the DC2RVATier II EIS will address the effectiveness of each proposed concept with regard to safety. In addition, Project improvements will include new and enhanced safety features such as road and rail grade separations and flashing lights and gates at roadway-rail at-grade crossings throughout the corridor as appropriate. 

Record of Decision for the Tier I Southeast High Speed Rail Project

Page 16 contains a statement that the project will improve “overall transportation safety”. No analyses or data are provided to substantiate this statement.  Otherwise there are no significant comments to do with safety.

Conclusions

Based on the Tier I documents reviewed — and it must be stressed that the review is still underway and there may be additional pertinent information not yet identified — three conclusions can be drawn.

  1. There does not appear to have been any formal safety analysis, such as the use of F-N curves to evaluate the safety issues associated with each corridor option.
  2. There are  few references to safety in any of the documents that were evaluated.
  3. Very little information is available to support the corridor selection decisions made in Tier I.

If readers of this post have additional hard information to do with safety and the Tier 1 process please provide it via the Comment section of this blog.

Given this background it is recommended that the project team retain a qualified risk analyst to review the safety impact of each of the corridor options.

Safety Impact #1: Two Car Lengths

ntsb-logo-1

Introduction

The impact of the proposed third track through the Town of Ashland can be divided into the following three categories:

  1. Safety/Environmental;
  2. Cultural: the impact on historical buildings and sites; and
  3. Economic.

We are publishing a series of posts illustrating concerns to do with all three areas. The first post in the series fell into the “Cultural” category; it was to do with loss of access to a home that General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson slept in on his way to the Seven Days’ Battle in 1862.

We now move on to safety: the safety of the people riding on the trains and of the people living and working in the communities that the trains traverse.

Recent Incidents

One way of understanding safety issues is to examine other, related events and to determine what lessons can be learned from them. In this case we are looking for incidents involving high speed rail passing through a community such as Ashland.

The Table below lists just some of the major incidents to do with high speed rail that have occurred within the last five years.

Year Location Number of fatalities
 2011 Wenzhou, China 40
 2013 Santiago de Compostela, Spain 79
 2015 Strasbourg, France. 5
 2015 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States 8

In addition to the 132 fatalities listed many other people were injured, some of them grievously.

The following 7 second clip of the Santiago de Compostela crash illustrates what it looks like when a high speed train comes off the tracks.

High Speed Train Crash-cropped

It appears as if all of these events took place in open countryside. Hence all the people killed and injured were passengers and crew on the trains involved. Were such an event to take place in Ashland it is likely that many people living and working in the community would also be victims.

The Philadelphia Crash

Of the incidents listed above the one that is of most interest to the residents of Ashland is the Philadelphia crash that event occurred on May 12, 2015 because (a) it involved Amtrak and (b) it occurred almost in our own backyard. (The map shows the location of Frankford — it is just 240 miles from Ashland.)

Frankford-1

The Event

The following are key elements of the Frankford crash based on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) review. (The published information is not a single report; it consists of a docket of documents, last updated March 10, 2016.)

  • Amtrak passenger train #188 derailed, after entering a curve at 106 mph where the speed is restricted to 50 mph.
  • Of the 250 passengers and eight Amtrak employees who were on board, eight passengers were killed and more than 200 others were transported to area hospitals.
  • Preliminary information suggested that the derailment was accidental. By early June authorities admitted that they still could not understand the reason for the incident.
  • The engine was . . . only a year old and had no reported history of unintended acceleration.
  • The engineer (driver) was not talking on the phone, texting or using smartphone data during the accident.
  • The NTSB has told Congress that human error is a likely factor.

Lessons Learned

The picture below shows the location of the cars of the train following the crash.

Emergency workers look through the remains of a derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

It can be seen that the derailed cars are at least two car lengths from the tracks. Given that these cars are about 85 ft. long this means that they traveled at least 160 ft. The sketch below shows the impact that such an event would have in Ashland (the circle is centered on the England St./Railroad Ave. intersection).

Ashland-Impact-1

Conclusion

The preliminary analysis presented here indicates that major incidents involving high speed trains do occur and that their consequences can be very serious. Furthermore, using the Amtrak Train #188 event as an example, a high speed derailment in the Town of Ashland would likely impact many people living and working in the community.

The project team has indicated that, were high speed trains to run through Ashland, they would operate at speeds considerably less than the 106 mph reported for Train #188. But that train was operating in a 50 mph limit area — not that different from what is proposed for Ashland. Moreover, if “high speed trains” are to actually operate at low speeds then it begs the question as to why the project is justified.

It is recommended that the team currently developing the Tier II report thoroughly investigate events such as those listed in this post, conduct a formal risk analysis and demonstrate to the community of Ashland that such an event could not realistically take place here.

What’s the Problem?

california-drought-2
Before undertaking a large, expensive, drawn-out project such as the High Speed Rail project all stakeholders should back up and think through the problem that they are trying to address. It is very easy to slip into the, “Here’s the Solution — Where’s the Problem?” mindset.

The California Drought

california-high-speed-rail-1
The importance of being clear about objectives came to mind when I read this article from KCBS. Evidently those concerned about California’s water problems are seeking to transfer the money budgeted for the High Speed Rail project to programs that help conserve water. The logic seems to be as follows.

  1. California is in the midst of a decades-long drought.
  2. Chronic water shortages will lead to a gradual but inexorable decline in all kinds of commercial activity, particularly manufacturing and agriculture.
  3. This will cause people and businesses will move out of the State.
  4. Hence the justification high speed rail dwindles since there will be fewer people to move around the State.

In other words, the existential crisis faced by California is not the lack of fast trains; it is chronic drought. Therefore, if the High Speed Rail team in California wishes to advance their agenda they should not say, “Support High Speed Rail for faster and more economical transport”. They should say, “Here is how High Speed Rail will help reduce drought-related problems”. In other words, they should frame their project to address the truly fundamental problem faced by Californians. Then they will get buy-in.

The problems faced by the economy in central Virginia are different from those in California. But it is fair to ask if we are making the same mistake as the Californians and jumping to a solution before defining the core problem and then working out a range of answers. In our case the problem is not “Lack of High Speed Rail”. The problem is, “How do we move people along the eastern corridor quickly and economically with minimal environmental and cultural damage?

Driverless Cars

02googlecar-web-master675
One response to the above question is to pursue a policy of incrementalism rather than starting a large, brand new project. In other words, rather than spending enormous amounts of money on a highly disruptive grassroots project consider improving the system that we have now in order to achieve the same goals through the use of proven technologies or of technologies that will be plausibly developed in the next few years. Driverless cars provide an example.

It appears as if driverless cars are on the verge of widespread acceptance. The technology is rapidly maturing and some of them are already on the roads. So what is their relevance to the High Speed Rail project? Well, it is not hard to imagine that, in the time span of this project (10-20 years), that this same technology could be applied to trains. It would allow trains (with or without a human driver) to move faster through non-built up areas and for the trains to operate much closer to one another, thus increasing both speed and capacity without a need for additional track and without jeopardizing safety.

Conclusions

It is important to understand that this post is not about the California drought, nor is it about driverless cars or trains. The post makes two basic points:

  1. We need to carefully define what the goals of the project are in the context of the overall concerns and needs of the citizens of Virginia. High speed trains are not the goal — they are one possible solution to achieving the goal.
  2. We should examine ways of achieving those goals through incremental improvements and changes in order to achieve the “No Build” option (Slide # 19 in this slidepack).

An interesting challenge for the project would be to set up a Red Team whose challenge would be,

Figure out how to achieve the goals of the high speed train project without building any new track.

Could it be done? I don’t know. But it would be a fascinating challenge.

Stage I Questions

Stages in the development of the High Speed Rail project

Last week we held a meeting at the Town Hall to discuss the impact on Ashland of the various High Speed Rail options. The presentation started by showing that the project is divided into four phases, as shown in the slide. We were informed that the ‘Stage 1 Screening — Fatal Flaw’ is complete.

Very little documentation has been presented showing how the Stage I decisions were arrived at. Therefore I have written a letter to The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) asking for copies of the Stage I documentation. (A .pdf copy of the letter can be downloaded here).

The body of the letter is shown below (with some formatting changes).

Continue reading Stage I Questions

NTSB Report on Philadelphia Crash

Amtrak-Philadelphia

One of the concerns to do with the proposed high speed rail project is safety. As mentioned in my letter to Council there have been a number of accidents that can provide lessons learned. Probably the most significant to us is the recent crash in Philadelphia.

The following is a summary of what took place.

On May 12, 2015, at 9:21 pm the northbound Amtrak passenger train #188 derailed, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The train had just entered the Frankford Junction curve at a speed of 106 mph where the speed is restricted to 50 mph. As the train entered the curve, the engineer applied the emergency brakes. Seconds later, the locomotive and all seven passenger cars derailed. Of the 250 passengers and eight Amtrak employees that were on board, eight passengers were killed and more than 200 others were transported to area hospitals. Damage is estimated by Amtrak in excess of $9.2 million.

ntsb-logo-1The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has just issued a report to do with the Philadelphia crash. The report does not provide an explanation as to why the train was traveling so fast but it does appear as if the following were not factors.

  • Engineer Competence
    The driver was properly trained, had plenty of experience and was well respected.
  • Substances and Health
    There is no evidence of any type of substance abuse; the driver was in good health.
  • Distraction
    The engineer’s cell phone was switched off and packed in a bag.
  • Projectiles
    The train was not hit by rocks or bullets. (It did pass a stopped commuter train that had had its windshield shattered by a thrown rock the previous night and the window of an Amtrak Acela train had been seriously damaged just a few days earlier.)
  • Track Integrity
    The day before the track had been inspected — there were no anomalies.

cars-1