Welcome to DC Safe Rail

DC Safe Rail wants to keep you informed. Explore these links to learn more about the Virginia Avenue Tunnel project (VAT), about us, and the many community concerns and objections made by organizations and federal agencies related to CSX’s proposal to expand the VAT and transport dangerous materials through a historic Capitol Hill neighborhood, mere blocks from the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Understand how this project, in its current proposed state, will affect you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates and keep visiting these pages for the latest on meetings, information, and more.  You can also stay updated by signing up for our contact list. 

Don’t be railroaded. Learn more and speak out.


For more updates, check out our Google+ page here: Google+

Washington Traffic Jam
Ariel view

Mayor Gray, Time to Act

DCSafeRail called upon the DC Mayor on July 2nd to uphold his promise to protect and safeguard DC residents. With the recent release of CSX’s final plans to build two tunnels with freight operations continuing throughout the period of construction, the time is now for Mayor Gray to speak up and act. DC deserves better than what is happening, Mayor Gray. We need transparency and we need solutions. See the DCSafeRail letter here: DCSafeRail Letter to Mayor Gray (2 July 2014).

Navy Yard Community Lists Major Concerns about CSX Plan

Why are the residents of the Navy Yard still concerned about the VAT expansion plan? Read below or download the PDF file here: Continued Community Concerns – CSX Tunnel Proposal





(a)    Preferred alternative still contains open trench. Alt 3 is not a fully “closed trench” – CSX plans to run trains through an open construction trench between New Jersey Ave SE and 3rd Street SE (i.e., alongside Garfield Park, newly planned Whole Foods, 200 I Street, and homes).[i]

(b)   Increased risk of hazardous materials.  Open trains in a construction trench increase the risk of derailment.[ii] The stakes are further raised with CSX trains carrying hazardous materials through the tunnel daily.[iii]  CSX is also planning to vastly increase its Bakken crude oil shipments to our region.[iv]  If the project is completed, then hazardous materials shipments through the District would increase exponentially.  CSX continues to withhold information from the public about these risks.[v]


(a)    Passenger/commuter rail. The Committee of 100 on the Federal City (C100) has written an extensive analysis that shows CSX’s proposal would frustrate any attempt to expand passenger and commuter rail for generations. [vii] Allowing the project to proceed as proposed would result in more cars on the road and more pollution and traffic for the District.

(b)   Comprehensive Rail Plan.  Councilmember Mary Cheh put $500,000 in the D.C. Council’s FY2015 budget for a comprehensive Rail Plan to be conducted by a body of third party experts.[viii]  The goal is to ensure that all modes of rail (passenger, commuter, and freight) can co-exist as they expand. Reasonable alternatives for the re-routing of freight, such as those proposed by C100,[ix] would also be explored. CSX is rushing to stake out its claim, irreversibly squeezing out commuter rail in favor of freight, before a meaningful analysis, with balanced priorities, can be conducted.

(c)    Economic investment and affordable housing.  Billions of private and public dollars have been invested in this growing neighborhood, including a HOPE VI grant, but this project threatens to undercut past investments and stall, if not halt, future ones.[x] The city promised to preserve affordable housing in the area, but many such units would be under siege for years, as access is restricted, utilities impaired, and quality of life severely diminished.  Residents, including seniors and others with medical conditions, will be trapped by affordable housing waitlists and workforce housing restrictions.


(a)    Lack of objectivity.  District and federal law require an objective review of proposals like this before government permission is given.  But the Washington Post uncovered documents buried in the back of the FEIS that show DDOT had planned to rubber stamp the approvals for this project as early as 2010[xi] – well before any plans had been drawn, studies conducted, or alternatives proposed.  What did CSX promise DDOT in return?

(b)   Lack of transparency and accountability.  Why were these pre-approval decisions made in secret without public input or oversight from the DC Council?  Why was this decision made by Terry Bellamy – a lame duck DDOT Director in a lame duck administration?  Bellamy ratified the secret agreement on April 21, 2014 – two weeks after he announced he would resign, and one week before he actually resigned.


(a)    CSX needs new right of way.  The selected alternative has the largest land grab by CSX. Even the FEIS acknowledges that CSX does not have the clear right to expand. DDOT’s response is to give CSX whatever land it needs, while trying to blur the line between construction permits and permanent grants. Public land should be valued, not given away.

(b)   DDOT is not authorized to grant this right of way.  DDOT should explain why it believes it has the right to grant this right of way.  Its legal analysis, like its analysis of the current CSX right of way, appears deeply flawed – as though adopted nearly wholesale from CSX attorneys.


(a)    $16.44 per day.  CSX, which had over $12 billion in revenue last year, offered a handful of households $16.44 per day for putting their health, safety, and property at risk.[xii]  This “offer” ignores other impacted residents and seeks to divide the community.  CSX offered nothing to those who have to relocate during construction to protect their health.

(b)   A comprehensive mitigation plan is required.  DDOT should not approve any proposed plans unless and until a comprehensive Rail Plan is conducted (that includes  a wider range of reasonable alternatives) and concrete mitigation steps have been established.  To date, no such meaningful mitigation has been offered by CSX.[xiii]

[i] See, e.g., page S-5 of the FEIS.


[ii] CSX’s only proposed mitigation is to put a single “railroad employee-in-charge” of preventing derailments, but it is unclear how a single employee can keep a train on the tracks if a construction accident occurred.  See page S-34 of the FEIS.


[iii] In the opening footage of this NBC4 report (http://bit.ly/1yOT0r8), one can easily the black tanker cars in the footage with “Hot Molten Sulfur” emblazoned across the side of the cars.  Molten sulfur is transported at 140 degrees and is commonly used to make sulfuric acid (i.e., battery acid) and fertilizer. The Orange Book for First Responders recognizes this material as hazardous (http://phmsa.dot.gov/pv_obj_cache/pv_obj_id_7410989F4294AE44A2EBF6A80ADB640BCA8E4200/filename/ERG2012.pdf),


[iv] CSX’s spokesperson recently claimed there is “no market” for Bakken crude around DC, but CSX transports crude oil to terminals in Baltimore, MD north of the District (http://touch.baltimoresun.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-80488179/) and in Yorktown, VA south of District (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/01/us-railways-accident-csx-idUSBREA400KO20140501). CSX told investors that it plans to increase crude shipments to the East Coast by 50% year over year, which will flood CSX’s rail lines (and most notably those in the District) with highly flammable and volatile crude oil cargo (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/csx-corp-increase-crude-shipments-144712117.html).


[v] See page S-34 of the FEIS.  Take no comfort in CSX’s self-described “voluntary” rerouting agreement, or in its alleged intentions to not increase the shipment of Bakken crude and other hazmats – even chlorine! – through D.C.’s monument core. This agreement is so secret that even Congresswoman Norton and the D.C. Council can’t see it. It’s unenforceable, and CSX can breach – or just terminate – it at any time.  For example, after it receives approvals for the Virginia Avenue Tunnel expansion.


[vi] BLET testified at a “Sense of the Council” hearing on April 30th; and DCFA has begun actively questioning the proposal on Twitter.


[vii] http://www.committeeof100.net/subcommittees/transportation/commuter-passenger-freight-rail/


[viii] See page 32 here: http://dccouncil.us/files/performance_oversight/Committee_on_Transportation_and_the_Environment.pdf


[ix] http://www.committeeof100.net/home-page/c100-calls-rerouting-csx-freight-rail-lines/


[x] For example, Results Gym wrote a letter to Mayor Gray in January asking him to direct DDOT to halt the proposal until better alternatives had been explored, explaining: “It seems hard to fathom how businesses, which rely on Virginia Avenue SE and the access points and exits of I-695, can continue to prosper under the conditions as proposed.”


[xi] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dr-gridlock/wp/2014/06/19/ddots-early-commitment-to-csx-tunnel-project-irks-residents/


[xii] See page 5-14 of the FEIS, in which CSX offers “front row” properties “compensation of $500 per residence from the project sponsor for 42 months.”  Does this mean a lump sum payment of $500?  Or $500 per month?  Assuming the latter, it equates to $16.44 per day.  Again, the suggestion that families could be so cheaply bought off is insulting.


[xiii] CSX’s current “mitigation” proposal does nothing to actually mitigate harmful effects.  For example,

(i)               establishing a website and “community office” does not reduce health or safety impacts;

(ii)             erecting a chain link fence does not “protect” anyone from passing trains or construction equipment;

(iii)           putting up “temporary wayfinding signs” does not mitigate traffic backups;

(iv)            “good housekeeping” does not mitigate harmful air pollutants; and

(v)             vibration “monitoring” does nothing to reduce vibrations.

CSX also laughably states that the Southeast Freeway will “shield” the families north of the highway from harmful effects such as pollutants, noise, vibrations, derailments, and traffic backups (FEIS, page 4-30) and that most senior residents “won’t be subject to the construction effects” (FEIS, page 5-11).  In sum, CSX has proposed the bare minimum that is required under the law (which is a low bar), and CSX has never taken resident concerns seriously.  Furthermore, the financial “offer” from CSX does not come close to making impacted residents whole, based on the risk of property loss and market devaluation.  And there is no offer to compensate anyone who has to move — permanently or temporarily — because of the relentless and dangerous construction, and no way to address the problems of the long waitlists for affordable rental housing and the legal and practical strings attached to workforce housing.  See, e.g., page L-362, stating with false confidence that “there are no impacts identified in the FEIS that would indicate that residents could not remain in their homes during tunnel reconstruction.”  Not even seniors with COPD, asthma, or other respiratory problems; pregnant women; babies and young children; and simply those who can’t sleep with relentless, major construction only steps from their doorsteps 12 hours per day and trains running through the night.


CSX Tunnel Update: DCSafeRail Responds to DDOT

For Release: June 20th, 2014

DCSafeRail issued the following statement regarding DDOT’s justification yesterday for the issuances of permits for the CSX Tunnel before the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is complete [Washington Post, 6/19/14: DDOT's Early Commitment to CSX Tunnel Project in S.E. DC Irks Residents]: 

We appreciate the assurance from DDOT spokesperson Reggie Sanders that the DDOT permits ”will have no force or effect until a build alternative is approved via Record of Decision,” but this hardly corrects the weight of the documents in the EIS that are overwhelmingly in favor of the project, specifically including issuing the street occupancy two years ago and the promise by DDOT and the City Administrator (who oversees all executive agencies for the mayor)  to expedite other permits and approvals.

The EIS documents, prepared by CSX’s paid consultants, call into question DDOT’s objectivity and transparency, and raise the question why this agreement was not disclosed to the public until now, despite years of countless questions from the public and elected officials about DDOT’s permitting process and criteria. We want Mayor Gray to back-up his January commitment to not “allow people’s safety and security concerns to be compromised” by the CSX Tunnel with its track in a partially open trench carrying trains with hazardous materials.  We therefore ask Mayor Gray to countermand all efforts to “expedite” this project and assure everyone concerned that all approvals and permits will be given full review and consideration and that the EIS has not already been rubber-stamped.

See the Agreement here: DDOT-CSX Permit 2012.

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


DC Pre-Approves CSX Tunnel Plans Before Federal Environmental Study

For Release: June 19,  2014


Washington, DC—According to documents in the Environmental Impact Statement for the CSX Tunnel at Virginia Avenue, SE, released last Friday, it appears that the District Department of Transportation has predetermined the EIS and apparently rubber-stamped CSX’s proposal for a partially open-trench construction project that will carry hazardous cargo less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol and through the heart of a growing residential/business community.  It also appears to contradict Mayor Gray’s promise, made to over 400 people in January, that “…there is no way that we are going to allow people’s safety and security concerns to be compromised” by the CSX Tunnel.

Appendix A of the Final EIS (see attached) appears to show that DDOT entered into a previously unknown agreement with CSX to grant occupancy permits to expand the tunnel’s right of way beyond its existing footprint. Additional agreements apparently indicate that upon conclusion of the project, CSX would be entitled to a permanent right-of-way to cover the expanded tunnel.

“We hope that the District Government has not thrown us under the freight train,” said Helen Douglas, a member of DCSafeRail, the coalition committed to the health, safety and security of the people in and around the CSX proposed expansion site.  “We ask Mayor Gray to honor his commitment to us and withdraw any pre-EIS approval for these permits and conduct a true EIS with real alternatives to the CSX Tunnel fully analyzed.”

DCSafeRail will also ask the DC City Council, through Chairman Phil Mendelson, Councilmember Mary Cheh, chair of the Council’s transportation oversight committee, and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells to hold hearings on the whole CSX Tunnel EIS.

The CSX Tunnel project will route freight trains with hazardous cargo, including occasional Bakken crude oil, through a partially open construction trench for almost four years.  DDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) prepared the EIS.

“At best, this indicates that the District government is failing to uphold basic principles of good government, including transparency and accountability,” said Douglas.” At worst, it suggests that the environmental study is a farce because it rubber-stamps the CSX open-trench proposal.”

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

4/30/14 – 9:30 A.M. DC Council Hearing on CSX VAT Project

On Wednesday, April 30th at 9:30 am in Room 412 at the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW), the DC Council Committee of the Whole will hold its first public hearing about the VAT project. See the details at: dccouncil.us/events/cow-hearing-on-b20-601.

Two DC Councilmembers came together on a resolution to ensure that DC took a good look at the proposed Virginia Avenue Tunnel project by CSX. Please join us on April 30th to testify or support the DC Council in taking on its responsibility to safeguard and protect the interests of DC residents and District business owners. For more about the proposed VAT Project, visit these DCSafeRail.org pages.

To sign up to testify, please contact Ms. Jessica Jacobs ASAP at (202) 724-8196 or  jjacobs@dccouncil.us. Provide your name, address, telephone number, and organizational affiliation (if any) by close of business on Monday, April 28th (you may request to testify as a panel with up to three people.) Written testimony can also be submitted to the record until May 14th at 5pm.

New Videos Up of Gray and Norton January Meetings

Please click here to view the full recordings of the community meetings held with Mayor Gray and Delegate Norton in January, 2014 regarding the Virginia Avenue Tunnel.

And thank you to the hundreds of citizens who took time out of their busy days to make their voices heard in these public forums, speaking out for citizen safety and project accountability. We know that participation for some represents a great deal of effort and inconvenience, and DCSR wants you to know that we appreciate all of you!

Lac-Megantic Mayor Lobbying Washington for More Rail Safety

Collette Roy-Laroche is in town–she is the mayor of Lac-Megantic, a Quebec town that lost 47 people last July when a runaway train derailed and tank cars carrying crude oil exploded into a giant fireball.

In a March 11 briefing she said: “It’s the mayors, like me, who end up living with the life-shattering consequences of such a terrible tragedy.” …In addition to the massive number of fatalities, Lac-Megantic has to rebuild its destroyed town center, a process that’s already cost $400 million. About 50 buildings burned down, Roy-Laroche said, and “a river of burning oil” seeped into sewers and basements.The fire burned with such intensity that it rendered many of the surviving homes and businesses uninhabitable. The remains of five of the 47 victims have not been found.”

She and other Canadian and American mayors with the Cross-Border Municipal Coalition for Railway Safety are pushing the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, and members of Congress to address inadequate railway safety regulations that put citizens of Canada and America at great risk.

We at DCSR thank her and the other mayors for their action, and encourage our mayor in DC to address the issue of rail safety with similar energy and urgency.

Read more about their visit here:





C100 Press Release: “CSX Tunnel Draft EIS Is Wrong and Must be Revised”


“In comments to DDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, Monte Edwards, Vice Chair of the Committee of 100, called for a Revised Environmental Impact Statement on the CSX Virginia Avenue Tunnel citing three major problems.  “The Draft Environmental Impact Statement, prepared by a consultant and issued by the District Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, should be substantially revised because it is incomplete, contains false statements and is biased in favor of the proposed multiyear, open trench continued-freight-traffic project, ignoring existing low-impact alternative rail routes,” said Edwards. ”

Click here (Press Release CSX_C100_State3-4-14) to read the full PDF press release explaining these three major problems regarding shared tracking, alternative routes, and the project’s negative affect on passenger rail.

VAT on the Kojo Nnamdi Show: Listen Here

The Virginia Avenue Tunnel project was discussed at length on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU on Monday, 3/3/14. Click here to listen to the audio stream.

Guests included:

John Heffner
Rail Transportation Attorney
Curtis Grimm
Professor and Charles A. Taff Chair of Economics and Strategy, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland.
Andrew Lightman
Managing editor, Capitol Community News
David Garber
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, Washington D.C. (6D07 – Navy Yard, Ballpark District, Capitol Riverfront)
Monte Edwards
Vice Chair, Committee of 100 on Federal City

**And listen for Tom Sherwood, who weighed in too!**


C100: CSX using “facts” that are “just plain wrong” to justify VAT plans

The Committee of 100 on the Federal City, a non-profit advocating for responsible planning and land use in Washington, D.C., discovered that CSX used “facts….that are just plan wrong” to defend why they could not reroute trains from the Virginia Avenue Tunnel either temporarily during construction or permanently.

CSX cites non-existent choke points, ignores recent upgrades, and bases plans on other misinformation.

In light of this, the C100 requested a revised draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) from CSX that should be prepared “by an independent rail consultant.”

Read the PDF here: 2014-02-27 C100 Supplemental Comments Requesting a CSX Rerouting VA Ave Tunnel