#Bombtrains and CSX Derailments in the News

ForestEthics, the Sierra Club, and Earthjustice have sued to require Sec. Foxx to issue an emergency order to stop bomb trains.For more information about the litigation, including a link to the complaint, http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2014/administration-failing-to-protect-public-from-dangerous-crude-oil-trains

Also, Rachel Maddow had a four-minute segment about a recent freight derailment and the ongoing attempts by the rail industry and its customers to fight critical federal rail safety regulations. Maddow has been following the problems of  “bomb trains” very closely. This segment highlights the dangers posed by some of the other rail hazmats. 

WaPo: Council Hearing Reveals Major Gaps in DC Train Security and Safety

The 9/8 Council hearing revealed important information indicating that DC has far to go in order to keep its citizens safe from rail-associated dangers and derailments.

See News 4′s coverage here.

Read the full Washington Post article here:

“D.C. EMS personnel haven’t conducted a rail emergency exercise in recent years and the last time the city’s first responders received specialized training for handling such emergencies was five years ago. In addition, the city doesn’t inspect freight rail shipments or rail infrastructure in the city.

That’s what top EMS officials told the D.C. Council on Monday during an oversight hearing on the proposed reconstruction of a CSX rail tunnel in Southeast Washington, a project that has revived concerns about the safety and security of the city’s railways…

The District’s top homeland security official, however, said the city needs to update its assessment of vulnerabilities related to rail safety and security, which became a hot topic in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks…

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) asked whether anyone oversees the city’s rail system. Officials with HMESA, the D.C. Department of Fire and EMS and the District Department of Transportation all said they have no inspectors overseeing  how CSX handles the transportation of goods, whether there are any security breaches from employees, or whether there are any problems with the rail infrastructure.

“All of that is just out there and no one is minding that?” Cheh asked.  “Nobody ever looks at that?”"

 

Council Asked to Act in CSX Tunnel Controversy

PDF here: SafeRailHEARINGIIPreRel 9-8-14

For Release: Sept. 8th, 2014

Contact: Natalie Skidmore, 202.657.1911, Twitter @DCSafeRail, Facebook.com/DCSafeRail

Council Asked to Act in CSX Tunnel Controversy

Hearing Resumes This Morning

 

DCSafeRail has asked the DC Council to prevent further action by DDOT to approve the proposed CSX tunnel expansion until after the Council completes the District Rail Plan and the plan’s holistic and objective analysis and recommendations are made part of a new environmental review. DCSafeRail made the request in a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmember Mary Cheh, in anticipation of the resumption on Monday of the August 26 hearing about the proposed CSX expansion. Chairman Mendelson put that hearing into recess because the lone DDOT witness did not answer many of the questions posed by councilmembers.

 

“We look forward to hard questions for DDOT from Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Cheh, and other council members as to why this project seems to be on the fast-track to approval when there are so many unanswered questions, and when the entire environmental review was tainted by DDOT’s pre-approvals,” said DCSafeRail member Rebecca Sohmer. “Maryland’s rejection last week of the proposed CSX expansion in Baltimore shows that communities and their political leaders can stand up to being railroaded by CSX. These projects can be rejected, at least unless and until they pass muster after reevaluation with professional objectivity and all of the facts.”

 

The letter lists the following problems with the current CSX Tunnel proposal: (i) the grave public health and safety risks it poses; (ii) the detrimental impact it will have on passenger and commuter rail in the District; (iii) DDOT’s pre-approval of the project before any environmental review had been conducted; (iv) lack of authority to expand the right of way for CSX; and (v) the lack of a meaningful mitigation and benefits package for residents and the District as a whole.

 

Continuation of DC Council Hearing on CSX Tunnel

 

When:         TODAY, September 8th, 2014

Where:        Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Time:          10:00am

 

DCSafeRail Shares Morrell Park Letter with DC Council

PDF of DCSafeRail letter here: DCSafeRail Letter to DC Council (5 September 2014)

Morrell Park Letter to MDOT here: April 2014 – Morrell Park Letter to MDOT

Sept 5th, 2014

Dear Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember Cheh:

Thank you for holding the Joint Public Oversight Hearing regarding CSX’s proposed expansion of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel.  During the hearing, public testimony overwhelmingly opposed the expansion due in part to: (i) the proposal’s grave public health and safety risks; (ii) the detrimental impact the proposal will have on passenger and commuter rail in the District; (iii) the lack of objectivity  and accountability by DDOT in overseeing the review process and DDOT’s pre-approval of the project before any environmental review had been conducted; (iv) lack of authority to expand the right of way; and (v) the lack of a meaningful mitigation and benefits package for residents and the District as a whole.

DCSafeRail supports the DC Council’s District Rail Plan, and we believe that the Rail Plan will review all rail infrastructure goals in the District in a holistic and objective manner.  Part of this review should include whether expansion of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel is in the District’s best interest and whether there are better alternatives.  Accordingly, we ask the DC Council to (i) enact legislation prohibiting DDOT from issuing any rail permits, including those required for CSX’s proposed tunnel expansion, and (ii) request a suspension of the issuance of the proposal’s Record of Decision unless and until:

(1)   The District Rail Plan is complete; and

(2)   The environmental review is re-performed and/or modified so that it includes a careful analysis of the conclusions and recommendations of the District Rail Plan.

There is ample precedent for a local government to reject a proposed private project that threatens the health and safety of its citizens.  In fact, just two days after the hearing,[1] news broke that Maryland transportation officials cancelled a long-planned CSX intermodal rail facility in the Morrell Park neighborhood of Baltimore because the proposal, according to Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, had created a burden “at the expense of our residents and local businesses.”[2]

Baltimore and Maryland stood to gain tremendously from CSX’s proposal – both in terms of permanent jobs in the port as well as additional tax revenues.  Despite those benefits, Maryland officials determined that the human cost was still too high.  Here in DC the analysis is much easier.  There is no benefit to the District by expanding the tunnel, and the costs to District residents are significant.  Furthermore, expanding the tunnel contributes an added cost of threatening the District’s future transportation goals of expanding passenger and commuter rail.  And now that the Baltimore double-stacking terminal has been cancelled, CSX’s primary rationale for expanding the Virginia Avenue Tunnel is called into question.

We have attached a letter from the Morrell Park community to Maryland DOT that describes how CSX treats communities when it comes to projects like these.  Notably, CSX proved to be “not engaged” and “consistently unresponsive to the community’s questions and concerns.”  In response to CSX’s continued disregard for the community here in the District, we are looking to the DC Council to firmly represent the community’s interests in this matter.

Sincerely,

Maureen Cohen Harrington

DCSafeRail.org

cc:          The Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton

Council of the District of Columbia



[1] http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2014-08-28/business/bs-bz-intermodal-funding-pulled-20140828_1_morrell-park-maryland-port-administration-west-baltimore

[2] https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2014/08/29/a-victory-for-morrell-park-as-state-drops-plan-for-csx-intermodal-facility/

CSX Tunnel Hearing Resumes in Council MONDAY 9/8

[ Full PDF Available here: SafeRailCONTINUATIONPreRel 9-5-14]

For Release: Sept. 5th, 2014

Contact: Natalie Skidmore, 202.657.1911, Twitter @DCSafeRail, Facebook.com/DCSafeRail

 

CSX Tunnel Hearing Resumes Monday

DDOT Called Back to Answer Council’s Questions

 

 

DDOT is expected to answer pointed questions from the DC Council on Monday (9/8) during the continuation of a rare summer hearing about CSX’s Virginia Avenue Tunnel expansion project in Southeast. Chairman Mendelson chose to continue the hearing on 8/26 after DDOT’s lead engineer on the project failed repeatedly to address any of the Council’s concerns about the multi-year, $200 million project, which may receive final approval as early as 9/16.

 

During the 8/26 hearing Chairman Mendelson said DDOT’s inability to answer questions about the project made it appear DDOT was not willing to work with the Council on this issue, which may significantly impact the district for decades to come. “…We’re not just looking at the sufficiency of this [Environmental Impact Statement], we’re looking at the sufficiency of this project…,” said Chairman Mendelson. “We’re looking at how it relates to public safety in the District – hazardous cargo.  How it relates to transportation in the District – like commuter rail.  Which is more than just the Virginia Avenue Tunnel.” A higher-level DDOT representative is expected to testify on 9/8.

 

The same week the DC Council began its hearing on CSX’s controversial expansion proposal, grass-roots activists in Maryland killed a major rail cargo facility in Baltimore long-sought by CSX. Maryland’s Department of Transportation terminated an agreement with CSX and revoked $32 million in state funds for the project after CSX failed repeatedly to address the community’s concerns about the project’s impact on people living nearby.

 

 

Continuation of DC Council Hearing on CSX Tunnel

 

When:         Monday, September 8th, 2014

Where:        Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Time:          10:00am

News Links: CSX Baltimore Project Defeated by Residents

Residents in Morrell Park, Maryland had a major victory when the state pulled funding for a CSX rail project in their neighborhood yesterday.  Throughout the planning of the project at the Mount Clare rail yard, residents repeatedly complained CSX didn’t respond to their concerns–a frustration Navy Yard residents understand firsthand. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the following: 

“The residents of Morrell Park have made it clear: The proposed CSX Intermodal Facility will be disruptive to their community. I hear them and I am certainly not interested in forcing a project on the community that has not fully considered or responded to their concerns and needs.

To read more, click on the articles below:

MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION WITHDRAWS FUNDING FOR PROPOSED CSX INTERMODAL FACILITY IN MORRELL PARK
“State pulls $30 million from rail facility project in major victory for community activists”

CSX Project in Baltimore Killed by Local Resident Opposition

For Release: August 29, 2014

Contact: Natalie Skidmore, 202.657.1911, Twitter @DCSafeRail, Facebook.com/DCSafeRail

 

CSX Project in Baltimore Killed by Local Opposition

DCSafeRail Calls on DC Council to Halt CSX Expansion

Pending Objective and Comprehensive Review

 

Grassroots opposition has killed a major rail cargo facility long-sought by CSX in Baltimore.  Maryland Transportation Secretary James T. Smith said the project collapsed because the community opposition was heard by the elected officials.  ”It just wasn’t getting the kind of traction in the community it needed,” he said. “The political will of elected officials usually doesn’t collapse of its own initiative, it usually collapses because the community revolts and says it just doesn’t want it. And we were in that position. And rather than simply spin our wheels and get nowhere, we thought, ‘OK, let’s look at something else.’”
Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake voiced her support for the decision: “I made clear from the start [that] I wanted a project that was compatible with the neighboring community.  While I support the continued strength of industry at the Port, it can’t be at the expense of our residents and local businesses.”

 

Maryland announced on August 28 that it terminated an agreement with CSX and pulled all state funding for that project until at least FY 2020, withdrawing previously-committed support of about $32 million.  Maryland took this step even though Maryland, unlike DC’s monument core, is not a mere pass-through for CSX freight.

 

DCSafeRail member Maureen Cohen Harrington has emailed the DC Council and other officials hailing the Maryland decision, pointing out the parallels between the Baltimore and DC controversies, and highlighting how it affects the decision-making in the District. As in DC, the Maryland CSX plan “would have severely disrupted a local community and endangered the health and safety of… residents.”  Without the now-killed Baltimore facility, freight in-and-to the Port of Baltimore will not be double-stacked, thereby removing one of the reasons CSX gave for tunnel expansion in the District — and the need to rush the decision. Moreover this “further supports the need for a Supplemental EIS, which should also examine whether CSX even has a purpose and need for the VAT expansion at this point.”

 

DCSafeRail looks forward to a full discussion of all of these questions at the continuation of the August 26 Council hearing. Chairman Mendelson announced the continuance after having received shifting answers from CSX and non-answers from DDOT. The Chairman said that he will ask for higher-level DDOT officials to attend round 2, to provide answers and accountability.

 

 

 

 

New! Media Coverage of Council Hearing

Click on the links below to view video coverage of the Council hearing, in which dozens of community members united to testify against the CSX plan and demand Council oversight, as well as investigations into suspicious activity, such as allegations of a $4 million payment from CSX to DDOT, that, it appears, was returned to CSX and then handed back to DDOT, apparently to pay for a small redesign of the just-finished 11th St Bridge.

Citizens were asking that no decision be made on the EIS until all these and other questions are fully evaluated in the DC Council’s comprehensive rail study that is just getting under way.

WJLA ABC, 8/26/14, reporter: Caroline Tucker, DC Council Hears Testimony on Controversial Train Tunnel Expansion

WUSA9, 8/20, CSX tunnel expansion decision delayed for hearing

And Fox 5′s piece may be found here.

40 Witnesses to Testify in Council Meeting TODAY

For Release: August 26, 2014

Contact: Natalie Skidmore, 202.657.1911, Twitter @DCSafeRail, Facebook.com/DCSafeRail

40 Witnesses to Testify at CSX Hearing Today

The DC City Council will convene an unusual summer hearing on Tuesday to hear testimony from some 40 witnesses on the CSX proposal to rebuild and expand its Virginia Avenue Tunnel in southeast. Residents, some living within a few feet of the planned massive construction site and strongly against CSX’s proposal, are on the witness list, along with representatives from CSX, a $30 billion transportation company, and from the District Department of Transportation, the local agency that shares authority over the project with the Federal Highway Administration/U.S. Department of Transportation.

What: Joint hearing on CSX Tunnel in front of Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, of the Committee of the Whole and the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, respectively

When: Noon, Tuesday, August 26; DCSafeRail witnesses available at 11:30 am and throughout hearing

Where: Council Chamber, Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Differing testimony is expected on the following:

1) that the tunnel has ”decades” of use, per the federal Environmental Impact Statement, contrary to CSX’s contention that the “tunnel…is near the end of its useful life…”

2) the safety of continued and expanded shipment of hazardous materials through the District, very close to the U.S. Capitol, including Bakken crude oil.

3) preapproval before the EIS analysis started of a vital public right-of-way in perpetuity for $10, for CSX.

4) the crowding out of planned expansion of commuter and passenger service, vital to reduce auto commuting and air pollution, by the increased freight traffic through the expanded tunnel.

5) a $4 million payment from CSX to DDOT, that, it appears, was returned to CSX and then handed back to DDOT, apparently to pay for a small redesign of the just-finished 11th St Bridge.

DCSafeRail is asking that no decision be made on the EIS until all these and other questions are fully evaluated in the DC Council’s comprehensive rail study that is just getting under way.
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Finding: Tunnel has “Decades” of Life

For Release: August 25, 2014

Contact: Natalie Skidmore, 202.657.1911, Twitter @DCSafeRail, Facebook.com/DCSafeRail

CSX Tunnel has “Decades” of Life, Per Federal Report

Question to be Explored at Council Hearing on Tuesday

One of the key arguments made by CSX for immediate approval of its plan to rebuild and greatly expand the Virginia Avenue Tunnel freight tunnel is undercut by the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  The EIS, issued in June by the Federal Highway Administration/U.S. Department of Transportation and the District Department of Transportation, says that “despite the signs of distress…the tunnel is in no danger of collapsing [although] a major structural deficiency could materialize over the next few decades,” page 2-5, (emphasis added).

The EIS directly contradicts CSX’s contention that the proposal should be rushed through the approval process because tunnel is on the verge of failure or collapse. For instance, Steve Flippin, director of federal affairs for CSX told theWashington Post on February 2, 2014: “This is a tunnel that is near the end of its useful life.  We are having to maintain it more and more and more often, which means it is getting closer to failure and that’s not anything that we want, and it’s nothing that the community wants. At some point this tunnel has to be replaced.”   CSX has made similar statements before the City Council and elsewhere.

The condition of the tunnel and other questions will be the subject of an unusual DC Council hearing on Tuesday, August 26th.  The hearing will be jointly chaired by Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmember Mary Cheh, chair of the Transportation and Environment Committee.

DCSafeRail Media Availability at 8/26 DC Council Hearing

 

Members of DCSafeRail will be available to the media before and during the August 26 hearing on the CSX expansion.

What:          DCSafeRail members available to the media at CSX hearing

Where:        Outside DC Council Chamber, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

When:         Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. until the end of the hearing (the hearing begins at 12:00pm.)

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 View PDF of original press release here: SafeRailDCCOUNCILHEARINGPreRel 8-25-14