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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Washington Traffic Jam
Ariel view

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.

Tues. August 26th: DC Council holding Joint Public Oversight Hearing re: VAT!

DC Council to host a Joint Public Oversight Hearing Meeting regarding the Virginia Avenue Tunnel Project.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014
12:00 p.m., Council Chamber, John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

The announcement of the hearing and more details may be found by clicking here.

The D.C. Council will hold an August 26 hearing about the proposed CSX expansion. This is the only hearing on the Council’s schedule before it returns from recess in September. This rare move was prompted by considerable procedural and substantive concerns about the project. You may sign up to testify until August 22. But please don’t wait; the witness list may fill before then.

Council calendar available here. 

DCSafeRail’s press release thanking the council for this hearing may be found here. SafeRailHEARINGPreRel 7-23-14

Letter: Cheh and Mendelson Ask DDOT to Explain VAT-Related Actions

Was the rejection of a “no build” option and the outcome of the VAT FEIS predetermined? With the evidence strongly suggesting this is the case, DC Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Phil Mendelson sent a letter on July 24th, 2014 to Michael Brown of the District Department of Transportation asking for an explanation.

DDOT granted a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to CSX in 2010, and “this language of the 2010 agreement suggests that the outcome fo the FEIS issued in 2014 was predetermined. While the FEIS purports to consider a variety of alternatives, including a “no build option,” a promise to provide permits as early as 2010 suggests that the “no build” option was never seriously considered.”

DDOT is asked to explain if they ever gave full consideration to all proposed alternatives.

Cheh and Mendelson requested “that DDOT delay the issuance of any permits for this project until September 15th, 2014 in order for the Council to continue oversight on this issue.”

The Committee of the Whole as well as the Committee on Transportation and the Environment are holding a hearing on the Virginia Avenue Tunnel project on August 26th, 2014. where DDOT will be asked to provide answers about their actions regarding the VAT project.

Please find  a full text PDF of Councilmember Cheh and Mendelson’s letter here: 7 24 14 Letter to DDOT re CSX VAT Project (2)-1


Councilmembers Commended for Requesting CSX Tunnel Expansion Delay Pending Oversight

For Release: July 31st, 2014

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



Councilmembers Commended for Requesting CSX Tunnel Expansion Delay Pending Oversight

DCSafeRail, the grassroots organization against the current, unsafe plan by CSX to expand its rail tunnel in Southeast, commended Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh for their letter to DDOT Acting Director Mathew Brown requesting that DDOT postpone issuing any approvals or permits or providing the Record of Decision for the proposal until September 15, 2014.  This will allow the Council to hold a hearing on August 26 and consider DDOT’s answers and the public testimony on the CSX proposal.



The Mendelson/Cheh letter asks DDOT to explain the strong implication that the “‘no build’ option was never seriously considered” in the recently completed FEIS when DDOT promised to “expedite approvals” four years earlier. The letter also states that it is “imperative” that the Council be able to provide a public forum in which DDOT can provide long-awaited answers prior to final agency action.



“We want to thank Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember Cheh for this appeal to DDOT and for the opportunity to present our case at the August 26 hearing,” said Helen Douglas of DCSafeRail. “The pre-approvals by DDOT are just one of the many questions that the Council needs to explore at the hearing and in the comprehensive rail study that it is undertaking.  In fact, the final decisions on the CSX Tunnel should come after the study is completed and all parties have had an opportunity to consider its conclusions.”





DCSR 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.

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.