“High Speed” Rail on Trial in Bowling Green

Tuesday evening, Emily Stock, Manager of Rail Planning for the Virginia Department of Rail & Public Transportation, presented a report on the High Speed Rail project proposal impacting Caroline County. The “DC2RVA” rail improvement and expansion project is a part of an east coast rail revamp from Jacksonville, Florida to Washington D.C., resulting from the 1991 Transportation Efficiency Act. The 123 mile RVA to D.C. corridor carries both Amtrak commuter trains and CSX freight.  Emily Stock explained that Amtrak is running trains at a 60 to 70% on-schedule rate, making commuter services unreliable at best. The Transportation Efficiency Act is intended to fix this.

The Virginia plans have been in place for years, but Caroline County wasn’t notified until a Fredericksburg Bypass alternative was put in place in response to complaints from Fredericksburg residents about rail expansion running through downtown Fredericksburg. The Fredericksburg Bypass alternative requires an Environmental Impact Study to be performed across six possible tracks. The problem for Caroline County residents is that an EIS, once filed, can have a severely depreciating effect on property values.

The most likely bypass route would build new rails that would cross Route 3, Route 17 and Route 2, and is certain to have a deleterious impact on traffic. The new rail would cross into Caroline County south of the Route 2 and Route 17 intersection, then crossing Route 2 heading north to the Spotsylvania Station. A full map of the DC to RVA corridor can be viewed at DC2RVA.

csxrail1

The Caroline County Board of Supervisors voiced their displeasure with the proposed Fredericksburg Bypass in no uncertain terms. Chairman Jeff Sili asked Mrs. Stock what Caroline County and county residents needed to do in order to derail the bypass. Mrs. Stock did her best to avoid answering Mr. Sili’s request for specific information on who to contact to voice our collective displeasure. Mrs. Stock attempted to explain that they had already made note of our displeasure and that all our resolutions and comments had been included in the “project record”. Finally, she admitted that the Federal Railroad Administration was the lead agency on the project. Here is a link to the FRA contact page if you would like to share your thoughts on the Fredericksburg Bypass and High Speed Rail proposal.

You can also express your concerns directly to the Department of Rail & Public Transportation here.  The DRPT will be evaluating comments after the Environmental Impact Study is finalized later this year.

Supervisors Thomas and Underwood both stressed their displeasure that this project had zero benefit for Caroline County residents. Mr. Thomas explained that a previous board had approved a rail station in Carmel Church and that if the town of Ashland wasn’t looking to expand their commuter infrastructure, Caroline County is looking to grow. He encouraged Mrs. Stock that she might find it easier working with a county that actually wants to do business than working with a town that doesn’t want anything to do with her project. Mrs. Stock explained that Carmel Church would not be considered in the current project.

Supervisor Nancy Long gave an impassioned statement regarding DRPT’s refusal to reach out to the Caroline County Board or Caroline County residents before considering a bypass alternative that would destroy property values in the county, split farms into two and congest traffic. Mrs. Long explained that this High Speed Rail isn’t high speed, that it’s freight rail and that perhaps DRPT would warrant more trust if they didn’t begin the conversation under false pretenses. Supervisor Long asked, “Why weren’t we brought in? This is supposed to be an open process” and chastised Mrs. Stock for treating Caroline County residents as if they and their property didn’t matter.

Mrs. Stock explained that Caroline County residents would have a 45 day comment period after the final EIS draft is completed. Of course, once the EIS is completed, the damage to property values will already be complete; a fact DRPT apparently doesn’t consider very important.

csxrail2When asked by Supervisor Long if she could name just one benefit of this rail to Caroline County, Mrs. Stock paused and then said the new freight rails could ease congestion on I95 by reducing the amount of freight traffic there. Of course, it should be noted that this reduction in traffic doesn’t keep up with the annual increase in I95 traffic, so no alleviation of traffic would ever be noticed by Caroline residents.

Nancy Long concluded that this Bypass is nothing more than a freight diversion, that Caroline County receives no commuter rail service and that DRPT has shown a complete lack of respect for the homes and lives of local residents.

Supervisor Underwood pointed out that Caroline County is a rural community, but a growing community and that there is property in this county that has been “in the family” of residents for hundreds of years and that DRPT should show some respect for that fact. He explained that DRPT had completely negated any positive financial impact for Caroline County and that, this fact too, has been shown no respect. “You already have railroads and right of ways”, he told Mrs. Stock, “you should look at using those”.

Supervisor Jeff Black took Mrs. Stock to task for DRPT’s refusal to show up to a GWRC meeting after agreeing to be on the agenda. “You say you want to involve the public, but when you are on the agenda, you don’t show up.” He explained that their unwillingness to meet with residents of King George and Caroline County doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence that the DRPT really cares what residents think.

Vice-Chairman Jeff Black pointed out that there are only 30,000 residents in Fredericksburg while there are 140,000 residents in Stafford, 130,000 residents in Spotsylvania and well over 30,000 residents in Caroline County who do not want this bypass. Why is the DRPT catering to Fredericksburg?

Chairman Sili concluded by explaining that he understood that Mrs. Stock was simply the face of the project, but that “the frustration is that we’re in the mix and people want to get out of the mix, because this does not seem like it will benefit them”.

Mrs. Stock’s report made it very clear that there will be no benefit to Caroline County from a Fredericksburg Bypass. Furthermore, the bypass is completely unnecessary. CSX already has rail and that rail can be expanded without ruining the countryside in Hanover and Caroline counties.

Tim Davis, a Caroline County resident, who will be severely impacted by the EIS and proposed new track, spoke on behalf of residents, reiterating all the ways in which the bypass harms Caroline County. He also pointed out that CSX will own these new lines, which violates Virginia law against the use of eminent domain on behalf of a private enterprise. The Rob Bell sponsored ballot initiative passed with 75% support in 2012 and will likely open any attempt to take land from Caroline residents on behalf of CSX to lawsuits.  Mr. Davis operates a local Facebook page that updates residents about future meetings and current events related to the bypass.

 

About Steven Brodie Tucker 175 Articles
Graduated From Virginia Tech with a Bachelors in Philosophy and a minor in Psychology. Studied Economics and History at George Mason University. Caroline County Resident and Activist.