Your recent “All Aboard” editorial was an accurate and badly needed comment on the condition of the Amtrak facilities in Ashland.
The condition of the sidewalk, especially as it falls away downhill as it goes south on the Railroad Avenue side of the tracks is a danger to everyone – not just frail passengers or those with bags. Those who ride the train know, and appreciate, how hard the Amtrak conductors work to help everyone on and off the trains safely.
I am writing because you did not mention parking at the station. That is a growing problem that the town can do something about. Unfortunately, the only thing it has done is to make the problem worse.
I began riding Amtrak from Ashland to Alexandria almost daily in 2009. At that time, there was a regular group of four to six riders, and 10 was a huge turnout. Over time, the number of riders has slowly but steadily increased to 12 or more regular riders and 20 is not unusual. Even as ridership grew, parking was never a problem. That is, until the college increased the number of students beginning in 2012. Now, students use many of the parking places on Railroad Avenue or North Center Street for long-term parking, or at least the vehicles have Randolph-Macon College decals and parking permits on them and they disappear en masse when the students leave for breaks.
When students began taking so many of these places, Amtrak riders began using the parking places on the south side of the block of Henry Clay Street closest to the tracks. That is when the town decided to dump on train riders by putting up the no parking signs. Two Ashland police officers told me the town did so because citizens who live on Henry Clay Street – and apparently they were very important citizens – complained that people parking there slowed them down. So now passengers are parking in front of the businesses on North Center Street and ever farther from the station. I hope someone from the town will respond and tell me there is a plan to do something positive about parking, so that as ridership, and perhaps the college, continue to grow, the problem will not get as bad as the current parking nightmare at the Staples Mill Station. The state is doing something positive about that problem; it recently announced it was purchasing an adjoining business to expand parking significantly. Surely the Town can do something, if only extend the “reserved for Amtrak passengers” zone on Railroad Avenue. But it appears to me the town and college are doing nothing. I suggest that if the town doesn’t care enough about the people who ride the train from Ashland to do something, it should at least take the pictures of the Amtrak trains in Ashland off its website!
The lack of access for those taking the train from Ashland has been a problem for quite a few years now. Years ago, the roadbed was a foot or so below the grade of the brick sidewalk today and it was not a problem getting on and off the train. Over the years, the railroad (mostly on CSX’s watch) has gradually raised the roadbed to the point that it is now a foot or two higher than it was years ago making it almost impossible for a handicapped person to use the Ashland station any longer, including my wife.
If you notice the road crossings at England and Myrtle Streets, you can quickly see the significant raise in the railroad grade. There are even times when the heavy gravel in the raised bed overflows onto Center Street creating a driving hazard. The raised roadbed can also increase noise from passing trains.
There are solutions for addressing this problem. Many communities with historic streetscapes they don’t want to harm have found ways to deal with this without creating visual problems. This past summer I was in both the Brunswick and Freeport train stations in Maine and both have “train level” platforms. Brunswick is an older, historic college town, somewhat like Ashland, and the station (which is actually new) was done in a way as to complement its surroundings. And, both stations only have two trains a day!
We should look at the various funding options for addressing this problem, including grants that may be available.
Last week’s “In My Opinion” contained an error that should be corrected.
I wrote in the column: “Board Chairman W. Canova Peterson, Mechanicsville District supervisor, in his Herald-Progress commentary of Jan. 2, highlights these achievements of the school system… additional funding for long neglected maintenance projects (the “additional funding” came from the school’s technology budget, not to mention the fact that they were “long neglected” needs)…”
The additional funding, in the amount of $800,000, came from the reserve-contingency School Budget account and not from the technology account. I believe that is a most appropriate use of the reserve contingency account. The error in noting the source of these funds is completely mine.
The real point is that, contrary to Mr. Peterson’s implication, there was no “additional funding” provided by the Board of Supervisors. The School Board merely moved funds from one account to another account to address the matter of much needed maintenance of school buildings.