County Rescinds Initial Rail Recommendation

May 4, 2016

Source: Herald Progress, Ashland (print)

Board of Supervisors moves forward with new high-speed rail resolution

County Administrator Cecil R. "Rhu" Harris.

The Hanover County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution rescinding County Administrator Cecil R. “Rhu” Harris’ Jan. 7 letter recommending a western bypass for the proposed high-speed rail at their April 27 meeting.

Harris’ January letter to Emily Stock, manager of rail planning for the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) said that “should it be determined that a new track is needed, the bypass alignment west of the Town of Ashland is preferred.”

In addition to rescinding Harris’ letter, the draft resolution referred to a briefly-mentioned “Ashland minor upgrade alternative” route, and also looked to collaborate with Hanover County residents and DRPT to “identify an upgrade for the current tracks through Ashland which will result in the least disruption to the residents and businesses of the Town of Ashland.”

The upgrade refers to one of three options for the proposed rail, which was presented to both government officials and members of the public at an April 4 public meeting at Patrick Henry High School.

During the informational part of the meeting Stock mentioned three potential options for the section of the rail that runs through Hanover; a western bypass through Hanover County, “minor upgrades” to the pre-existing rail in Ashland and a no-build option.

In an email sent to The Town Council April 26, Ashland Town Manager Charles Hartgrove expressed his concern with the Board’s original draft resolution.

“No officials from Hanover County or the Town of Ashland have been shared any specifics of a ‘modified no build/new Ashland minor upgrade’ option,” Hartgrove wrote. The email then directly addressed the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for their upcoming meeting.

“The ‘new Ashland minor upgrade alternative’ may be a phenomenal common sense solution…however, I don’t understand how one could 

Hanover County Board of Supervisors chairman Aubrey M. "Bucky" Stanley. support an option of this magnitude before knowing what it actually entails.”

Hartgrove added that because the resolution is an agenda item, attendees could not speak about the rail during “Citizen’s Time” at the beginning of the meeting.

However, the draft resolution administered at the board meeting did not mention the new Ashland minor upgrade alternative included in the original resolution.

Chairman of the board and Beaverdam District representative Aubrey M. “Bucky” Stanley introduced the resolution, opening with his concern for western Hanover residents whose properties were being surveyed in a study for potential high speed rail routes. Stanley referred to the ‘new upgrade option’ Stock mentioned at the April 4 informational meeting, and its inclusion on the original resolution for the April 27 board meeting.

“I have come back to the resolution, and the part about doing some maintenance in the Town of Ashland,” Stanley said. “I guess we really don’t know what [the ‘new upgrade option’] means. It means something to me but it may not mean the same thing to those folks who are doing the survey.”

“We are still rescinding the letter of the county,” Stanley said. “I would hope that the Town of Ashland would come through with a resolution too, because they also supported it.”

Ashland district supervisor Faye Prichard echoed Stanley’s hesitance to endorse any decision before more information is revealed.

Ashland District Supervisor Faye Prichard.

“I’d like to see some concrete answers before we take any position,” Prichard said. “[I hope that] in this process the folks in Ashland and the folks in western Hanover present a united front and take care of the county and take care of each other and make sure whichever option we adopt is best for us all as a whole.”

All members of the Board of Supervisors voted for the amended resolution, with the exception of South Anna supervisor Wayne Hazzard, who was not present for the vote. After arriving later in the meeting, Hazzard said he would have voted in favor of the resolution.

Following the board’s vote, Director of Families Under the Rail Michelle Tobin said she was satisfied with the board’s decision.

“I feel hopeful,” Tobin said. “I feel our land will be protected.”

When asked in a phone interview after the meeting how the resolution would affect the rail’s development, Stock said “[DRPT] really needs to let the study take its course to make an educated recommendation.”

Despite countywide opposition to the rail, not all Hanover residents oppose the rail.

Prior to the board meeting Ashland resident and former Amtrak engineer Doug Riddell sent a letter to each member of the Board of Supervisors expressing his professional advice in regards to endorsing a potential modified “no build” resolution.

“It’s not high speed rail, that’s not the issue,” Riddell said in his letter. “Capacity is the issue.”

Riddell added that CSX is predicted to lose a significant number of employees, and downgrade the rails running through West Virginia and Kentucky. According to Riddell, CSX has found a more efficient route from Chicago, Illinois, to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, then through Washington D.C. down to Florida — which would result in traffic being “funneled” through Ashland.

“If we fail to build the bypass, the impact on business will be crippling,” Riddell said. “You’ll end up with a traffic jam up to Fredericksburg.”

Riddell ran trains through Ashland during his 37-year engineering career, and has published several books about trains throughout his life.

In a phone interview after the meeting, Riddell said he supported the board’s approval of the revised resolution.

“If they can get it pulled off and the people in western Hanover are happy, that’s the best thing that could happen.”