High-speed rail meeting draws crowdApril 6, 2016
Source: Rebecca Metcalf | Herald-Progress, Ashland
A public meeting that addressed concerns regarding the proposed high-speed rail that could run through Hanover County drew a crowd of residents and government officials alike to the Patrick Henry High School auditorium Monday.
The meeting, which was organized by Hanover County, featured an informational presentation by Emily Stock, manager for rail planning at the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDOT). The presentation followed with a question and answer period that allowed citizens to voice their opinions and have their inquiries answered.
The proposal, which is in the analysis stage, is part of a program that began in 1991 during the Bush administration, the rail would see trains reach a speed of 90 miles per hour (which “is the maximum authorized speed”) and, at the present time, there are no concrete plans for where the rail tracks will be built.
“Our goal for this study is to understand the benefits and the impacts of railroad and rail services in the project corridor between Washington D.C. and Richmond, Viginia,” Stock said.
“The study is ongoing and we have not yet recommended a preferred alternative, for this area nor have we recommended a preferred alternative for the rest of the 123 mile-long corridor.”
While Stock’s presentation — which is available online at the DC2RVArail website — did answer some concerns that had been unclear to many residents, it was the question and answer session that imparted to Stock and the three other VDOT members on stage the direct impact the rail could have on Hanover families, their homes and their farmland.
“I’m trying to retire, I have a home that I’ve paid for and you want to come and take my house,” Hanover resident Deborah Molter said.
Prior to the meeting, a number of residents, among them Michelle Tobin said they did not receive letters from VDOT about studies being performed on their property, despite Stock stating that letters were sent to homeowners and residents whose properties were part of the study.
Congressman Rob Wittman (R-1st) aired similar disapproval — Stock had said that all congressional offices whose districts would be affected were contacted — which Wittman rebutted to mass-applause from the audience.
“I think you owe to the citizens a cost analysis — how much will this cost? What is the cost per passenger mile versus other means of transportation improvement? Secondly, you owe to the county a cost estimate on what fire, rescue, emergency services and law enforcement will cost if there is an accident,” he added.
The anti-rail sentiment among the community was not only made clear throughout the meeting, but prior to it as well.
Families Under the Rail, a nonprofit organization born in response to the proposed rail set up a red trailer that featured ‘no high speed rail’ signs, information packets and a petition for meeting attendee’s to sign as part of the rail opposition movement.
Carey Carlisle, one of the organizers behind Families Under the Rail said prior to the meeting that the organization was hoping to find out why a rail that takes an eastern route (as opposed to the proposed western route) is no longer an option.
“Ultimately what we would like to happen is that they reconsider the eastern option, which has been closed. We want to know exactly why. Those train tracks are already in existence and they’re owned by CSX,” she said.
Pat Pace, a Hanover resident, echoed Carlisle’s preliminary thoughts during the question and answer session.
“Why is an I-95 corridor not being chosen? Other than the cost, but if you’re going to be putting bypasses over everything on the western route I don’t see what the difference could be,” Pace said.
Stock said that the exclusion of the I-95 bypass as an option, along with other alternatives such as the Buckingham Branch, were based on studies that go as far back as 2002.
“The determination was made back then that we would stay within the CSX corridor a much as possible, the I-95 corridor — because of the development around [it] — would make it very difficult to have a train track adjacent to I-95,” she added.
Following the meeting, Board of Supervisors chairman Aubrey “Bucky” Stanley, who represents the Beaverdam district, said that he felt the meeting (which was organized by the board) went well.
“Right now there is a lot of people out there concerned because they don’t know if it is coming near them or not,” he added.
Ashland Supervisor Faye Prichard said that Hanover County should continue to facilitate communication between VDOT and the county’s residents.
“I’m obviously in the Ashland District, so it’s important for me to protect downtown, but there are equal concerns out here in the western part of the county,” she said.
“We need to make sure we facilitate the communication — which is what happened here. We asked for this meeting because we didn’t think there had been good communication with the citizens and I think they did a much better job tonight of doing that.”
As for Carlisle’s concerns prior to the meeting, she said that for the most
part her questions had been answered. However, the meeting did not quell the uncertainty that looms over a number of county citizens’ minds.
“I think a lot of people brought up questions that we all had, I was pleased that so many people were so educated to ask the right questions, because you have to be educated enough to ask the right questions,” she said.
“We still have the cloud of not knowing, as the last person that commented about property values said.”