Monthly Archives: September 2014

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,

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.


Maureen Cohen Harrington

cc:          The Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton

Council of the District of Columbia



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,


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