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.  Scroll down or click on links to the right to read the latest information about the VAT. You can also stay updated by signing up for our contact list. 

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

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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

CSX Decision Delayed to Allow DC Council Hearing

For Release: August 20, 2014

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

CSX Decision Delayed Until After Mid-September to Allow DC Council Hearing

Norton Request Granted by Federal Highway Administration

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton yesterday announced that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will delay a decision on the CSX tunnel expansion until after September 15, 2014. This will allow the DC Council to exercise oversight over the CSX proposal, including a hearing on August 26, as Congresswoman Norton requested.

“All of us at DCSafeRail extend a heartfelt thanks to Congresswoman Norton for supporting the need for local input into this transportation project with far- and long-reaching implications,” said Maureen Cohen Harrington, of DCSafeRail. “We also thank FHWA for heeding her appeal and delaying the CSX decision. However, as we’ve said repeatedly, a final decision on the CSX expansion should NOT be made until the Council’s DC Rail Plan is complete. This analysis of all rail service in the District will allow the coordinated expansion of passenger, commuter, and freight service. We must not let CSX dictate transportation policy for the District. And we must not allow this policy, and the grant of new right of way to CSX, to have been made behind closed doors. The entire environmental review was tainted by secret agreements between CSX and the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) that were only recently – and incompletely – revealed. The need for Council oversight is critical.”

DCSafeRail has asked DDOT to delay a final decision for the CSX tunnel expansion until the Rail Plan, and Council oversight, is complete.

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. This is a joint hearing by the Committee of the Whole, headed by Chairman Phil Mendelson, and the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh.

What:               DCSafeRail members available to the media at CSX hearing

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

When:              August 26, 11:30 a.m. until the end of the hearing

DCSafeRail is a coalition of citizens, organizations, and elected officials asking for accountability and oversight in ensuring the community’s health, safety, and security in the Virginia Avenue Tunnel expansion project. They are united by the slogan “Stop CSX, Save DC,” referring to the numerous ways the CSX proposal threatens the District – including vastly increasing the transportation of dangerous cargoes through the monument core.

View the PDF of the official statement here: SafeRailDECISIONDELAYEDPreRel 8-20-14

DCSR Press Release: CSX Tunnel Project Draws Host of Negative Comments

CSX Tunnel Project Draws Host of Negative Comments

A wide range of comments against the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the CSX Tunnel expansion proposal were submitted to the Federal Highway Administration and the District Department of Transportation by this week’s Thursday deadline. Individuals, organizations, and families pointed to the apparent pre-approval of the project before the EIS started its analysis, the lengthy environmental, traffic and human impacts and dangers of the construction plan, the questionable legality of many of the already-made decisions, the lack of attention to planned passenger and commuter rail expansion and the “decades” of use still possible for the present tunnel, thereby refuting CSX’s central argument that the tunnel has to be replaced immediately.

“The EIS was predetermined before it even commenced,” said James McPhillips, a nearby resident. “The execution of the EIS is riddled with conflicts of interest and lack of objectivity, suggesting a violation of federal and District laws if the decision is made based on this FEIS.” McPhillips also highlighted the danger trackside residents will face during construction. “CSX plans to run freight trains loaded with hazardous materials and highly flammable crude oil through an open and uncovered trench inside a complex construction zone. This is unsafe and dangerous.” Furthermore, McPhillips challenged CSX’s core claim the tunnel needs to be repaired immediately because it’s old and in is disrepair. “The FEIS states the opposite. In fact the EIS submits that the tunnel has at least a ‘few decades’ left of useful life and is in no danger of collapse.”

A group of homeowners living alongside the project, represented by the Capitol Quarter Community Association, urged “that no ‘build option’ be chosen as the preferred alternative because of the extreme environmental, traffic, and human impact” the present plan will have on them. They also questioned whether the “secret agreement between DDOT and CSX” in fact gives CSX the right-of-way it needs to complete the project.

Recapping comments it has made previously, the citywide Committee of 100 on the Federal City said that the EIS “refuses to consider commuter and passenger rail plans” as proposed by the District Office of Planning, the National Capital Planning Commission, MARC, VRE and Amtrak. And, by only considering the tunnel in isolation, the EIS ignores the “the physical constraints that limit the ability to accommodate the need for increased freight, passenger and commuter traffic.”

The FEIS comment period was supposed to be the last stage of the EIS consideration before the “Record of Decision” is issued. However, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and DC Councilmember Mary Cheh have all requested District Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration delay any action until after the August 26th DC Council hearing on the CSX Tunnel and until after the DC Council returns from its summer recess on September 15th. So far their requests have gone unanswered. DCSafeRail continues to request federal and District elected officials put the project’s approval on hold until the Council is able to complete its comprehensive rail plan, which will analyze, among other issues, how to accommodate expanded passenger and commuter rail service along with increased freight traffic.

For Release: August 15, 2014

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

Download the PDF of the DCSR Statement Here: SafeRailCOMMENTSPreRel 8-14-14

Norton Joins Council: Delay Decision on CSX Tunnel

Norton Joins Councilmembers’ Request to Delay Decision on CSX Tunnel

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has asked the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to delay making a final decision on CSX’s proposed expansion of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel until September 15, 2014.  Norton’s request joins DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh’s parallel request to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).  Norton has also asked for an extension of the review and comment period.

Noting that the city has “serious concerns,” Norton’s August 4th letter requests that FHWA respect the DC Council’s desire to conduct proper investigation and oversight.  This includes an August 26th hearing, at which councilmembers will look for DDOT to explain the “agreements made between CSX and DDOT prior to the issuance of the draft [Environmental Impact Statement].”

“We are thrilled that Congresswoman Norton is supporting the councilmembers’ no-decision request so there can be a fair process and proper oversight,” said Helena Smolich, DCSafeRail member. “The August 26th hearing will be the first opportunity to investigate DDOT’s pre-approval of the project, as reflected in agreements revealed for the first time with the issuance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement in July.  We then expect federal and District elected officials to support DCSafeRail’s request to put the project’s approval on hold until the Council is able to complete a comprehensive rail plan, which is needed to ensure a holistic review and a fair process.”

The Council’s rail plan will analyze, among other issues, how to accommodate expanded passenger and commuter rail service, along with increased freight traffic.   The Committee of 100 on the Federal City has demonstrated that the proposed expansion of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel would prioritize freight passing through the city over people commuting to and from the city.

Read the DCSafeRail press release PDF here. SafeRailEHNDELAYPreRel 8-6-14
Read Norton’s press release PDF here. Norton Letter to FHWA re Virginia Avenue Tunnel ROD

ANC6D issues Resolution to Refrain from Issuing Record of Decision on Virginia Avenue Tunnel

ANC6D –which will be directly affected by the VAT construction–has issued a resolution that DDOT refrain from issuing a record of decision in light of disconcerting questions that have arisen about the approval process. They state that the FEIS “ raised at least as many questions as it answered” and asked for the DC Council to obtain answers related to the following:

  • how the VAT project fits into the Council’s comprehensive rail plan
  • if DDOT wrongfully preapproved CSX’s preferred proposal
  • if DDOT has the authority to grant CSX additional right of way needed for their preferred alternative
  • whether the city should condition right of way on CSX entering into a binding agreement forbidding the transportation of hazardous materials through the tunnel
  • how the city’s first responders are prepared to respond to a disaster int eh tunnel
  • how the project will affect economic development and if it will dissuade new investment
  • how vulnerable populations like low income families and the elderly will be given alternative options for housing if construction threatens their health.
  • how they will replace tree cover and compensate for environmental damage that will result
  • and more! Read it–it is a great summary.

A copy of the letter in PDF form may be read here: Resolution to DDOT CSX ROD.

Excerpts include the following:

 

July 31st: Final Public Meeting on VAT at Capitol Skyline Hotel

There is a final public meeting on the VAT project hosted by CSX on July 31st at the Capitol Skyline Hotel from 6:30pm-8:00pm.  The stated purpose of this meeting is as follows: “The meeting will include a presentation responsive to input from citizens at the public meeting held on July 1, 2014 with a question and answer period focused on the July 1 input.”

The standing room only crowd on July 1 expressed plenty of concerns.  These included long-asked questions for which we have yet to receive answers, and reactions to new information in the FEIS, such as DDOT pre-approvals dating to at least 2010, and the “temporary inconvenience” compensation of $16.44 per day to select households for part of the period of construction.
CSX, DDOT, and FHWA had few answers and offered only vague reassurances.The July 1 Public Meeting transcript is available here. 
Please join us to see if today’s presentation includes new information (some bombshells, perhaps?), or is more of the same old, same old.