Ashland stakeholder group forming to continue study of high-speed rail proposal

April 24, 2017

Source: Richmond Times Dispatch | Michael Thompson 

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation met last week with stakeholders of the Ashland section of a 123-mile portion of a federal high-speed rail project.

The purpose of the meeting was to give an update on plans for high-speed rail between Washington and Richmond and to form a community advisory group tasked with recommending how the project should be implemented in the Ashland area, according to agency spokesman Chris Smith.

The Federal Railroad Administration will have the final say on the route of the rail project, which has been dubbed DC2RVA.

 Present at Monday’s meeting were officials from Ashland, Hanover County, Randolph-Macon College and CSX Transportation, as well as from the rail and public transportation department. Representatives from those entities will comprise the community advisory group.

In June, the Federal Railroad Administration is expected to publish a draft environmental impact statement for the rail project. The statement will include the recommendations for each section of the proposed route, but a recommendation for the Ashland area will not be included.

Beginning in May, the community advisory group will hold six public meetings over six months throughout Ashland and Hanover.

Ashland Mayor James Foley said at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting that the town is open to any option except a third rail being added to Ashland.

“We’re having an open mind to everything except a third rail through the middle of Ashland,” Foley said. “I think the modeling is going to show there is not a need for a third rail. I’m just reading a little bit into that, but we’ll see.”

In December, the Department of Rail and Public Transportation announced it had specific recommendations for five out of the six areas envisioned for DC2RVA. For the Ashland area, the agency recommended there be more study on how high-speed rail would play out.

The recommendation, praised at the time by Ashland, Hanover and Randolph-Macon College, came after vocal and organized opposition from people and local officials in Ashland and Hanover. Their concern was partly over what was seen as a lack of engagement on how high-speed rail would be implemented in the area.

Supervisor Faye O. Prichard said she is hopeful even if the future remains unclear.

“At least this time around, there will be a real opportunity for everyone to know what’s going on,” Prichard said. “It’s a much more inclusive process.”

For its part, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which will make a recommendation on the DC2RVA route to the Federal Railroad Administration, made an official visit to the Ashland area to tour how the various options for implementing high-speed rail would affect the area.

Options considered have been installing a third rail in downtown Ashland, and bypasses that run around the town in either eastern or western Hanover.

Hanover County Administrator Cecil R. “Rhu” Harris Jr. said in an email that he and Supervisor Aubrey M. “Bucky” Stanley were at Monday’s meeting. Harris said Hanover’s participants in the community advisory group will be determined by the Board of Supervisors.

Ashland Town Council member Steve Trivett called on people to work together to find the best solution.

“It won’t be easy, but it’s wonderful that we have this extra time and extra, almost call it, respect that we have to try to find a better solution,” Trivett said.

CSX spokeswoman Laura Phelps said resident vice president for state relations Randy Marcus represented the railroad at Monday’s meeting. Phelps said CSX does not have a position on any of the alternatives that would be required to increase the number of passenger trains in the corridor.

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