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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Draft EIS. Comment #8: Operations

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

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

Faster Horses

Secretariat
Secretariat

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

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


Henry Ford is reputed to have once said,

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

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

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

In other words, we need faster horses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

savedowntownashland

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