ABOUT THE HIGHER SPEED RAIL PROJECT
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) is in the midst of a Tier II Environmental Impact study for the implementation of higher speed passenger rail service in the Washington, DC to Richmond, Virginia corridor. According to the DRPT, the D.C. to Richmond Southeast High Speed Rail Project (DC2RVA) will improve rail and infrastructure to “increase capacity to deliver higher speed passenger rail, improve conventional speed passenger service, expand commuter rail, and accommodate growth of freight rail service, in an efficient and reliable multimodal rail corridor.”
Ashland is a serious problem for the advancement of this project. Passenger and freight trains must slow down to 35 mph when moving through town (45 mph at night), the tracks are extremely close to homes and businesses on Center Street, many are designated historic structures, and there are passenger and pedestrian safety issues with the tracks and our station. Ashland is already a bottleneck for trains. With an expected increase of daily freight and rail traffic over the next 10-15 years, Ashland will become a bottleneck of epic proportions. There will be more trains, but they must still slow down through town. “The project is not contemplating a change to these speeds through Ashland,” says the DRPT.
The DRPT has proposed 3 options to address the Ashland challenge:
1. ADD A THIRD RAIL beside the existing two tracks through town, eliminating at least one side of Center Street/Railroad Avenue.
- Ashland would be sliced in half, including the Randolph-Macon campus
- Businesses and homes would lose access to Center Street/Railroad Avenue on at least one side of the tracks
- Security barriers along the tracks would impede pedestrian traffic downtown
- Businesses would suffer, not only those on the tracks
- Traffic on Route 54, a major east-west artery, would worsen. There could be serious congestion at other crossings as well
- Possible damage to our historic structures during construction (vibrations, etc.)
2. MAKE MINOR IMPROVEMENTS/UPGRADES to the existing tracks, crossings, signals, safety systems, station and platforms. Under consideration is a 3-2- 3 rail alignment option in which a third rail would be built to the north and south of Ashland, and the rail traffic would be funneled onto the 2 tracks running through town
- Ashland remains a bottleneck for the whole line, which could mean losing our station stop
- Improvements to the existing tracks could result in the immediate implementation of modern safety requirements, such as barriers
- Trains through town will increase in number, but still face the same speed restrictions
- Serious traffic congestion with the increased number of trains
- Businesses will also suffer
“The Ashland station and platforms would need to be expanded and improved in all of these alternatives.” – DRPT
In April, 2016, members of Ashland Town Staff and Council were shown ideas for a new station by the DRPT, located on the campus of Randolph-Macon College and included a large parking deck. Both the Town and the College voiced opposition to these concepts because of the location and the size (station and platform would stretch 850 feet!). According to the DRPT, the proposed station and platforms must comply with modern guidelines from the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak.