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Q. What is the Virginia Avenue Tunnel reconstruction project?

  • CSX plans to expand its freight capabilities through the Washington DC corridor. To do that, they want to create a new track through the Virginia Avenue Tunnel and lower the existing track to accommodate double-stacked modular trains.
  • This tunnel is one of at least 11 locations that they need to reconfigure in order to move double-stacked trains nationally.
  • Find out more about the VAT Project here.


Q. How long could construction last?

  • Construction will be anywhere from about 3 years to 6 years, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) released in July 2013 for the CSX Virginia Avenue Tunnel project.
  • Predictions by CSX officials in 2010 were for a 2- to 3-year project. (Hill Rag, 2009)
  • Because this project will be a “design-as-you-go” project, many experts agree that construction will last well beyond current estimates. With CSX planning to move freight rail through the construction site—during active construction— at a normal schedule, DC must question where is CSX’s incentive to finish early or on time?


Q. Who does this project benefit?

  • Let’s be clear. CSX—a multi-billion dollar corporation—benefits. As the Committee of 100 on the Federal City put it, “[The DEIS features an] overly narrow Statement of Purpose and Needs that focuses only on CSX’s needs, ignoring impacts on other users of rail infrastructure as well as the priorities established by federal and local planning efforts.” C100.DEIS_comments (PDF)
  • There are no community or Washington DC benefits from this project that can be or have been identified. The local business community and commuters will suffer negative impacts when routes are congested and obstructed. The health of local residents will be negatively impacted by their nearness to increased emissions and pollution.


Q: Is the VAT critical to CSX’s shipping services on Capitol Hill?

  • The only customer of CSX along this rail line is the Capitol Power Plant, which buys coal.  Thanks to a successful community campaign, led by the Sierra Club, the plant is phasing out its use of coal by 2015, and is unlikely to be a CSX customer by the time the VAT construction is completed.
  • CSX freight trains use Capitol Hill as a thoroughfare.


Q. Doesn’t this allow more passenger rail to run through Washington DC?

  • No. Passenger rail does not benefit from this tunnel expansion.
  • In fact, Washington DC passenger rail is forced to change its trains from the environmentally cleaner electric rail option to diesel solely to access CSX lines. It is projected that heavier freight use on the CSX-owned Long Bridge will actually minimize opportunities for northbound passenger rail to utilize this route.
  • Moreover, CSX’s plans may interfere with plans for passenger high-speed rail improvements.
  • Stay up to date on this issue here.


Q. CSX owns the tunnel. Can’t they do what they want with it? Don’t they have the necessary right of way for this project?

  • No. CSX was granted a limited right of way (ROW) based upon 1901 legislation from Congress under Virginia Avenue.
  • In all of its construction options, CSX wants to expand its footprint over city land.

Q. Aren’t there fewer trucks on the road as a result of more freight rail?

  • CSX likes to highlight that they’ll be taking freight off the highways by double stacking trains and expanding the Virginia Avenue Tunnel. While there are environmental benefits to moving freight via rail rather than truck:
    • The opening of the Panama Canal with super-sized freight ships arriving at East Coast ports will increase shipments up and down the East Coast exponentially for both rail and truck carriers.
    • Negative environmental impacts (air quality, noise pollution, etc.) on the immediate Capitol Hill area both during and after construction will increase.

Please visit these two sources for more information:

Q. This project is going to be painful no matter what. Shouldn’t we just get it over with now?

  • If they’re going to do this, they need to do it right.
  • DC and its citizens deserve better than the current CSX plan, which—as many organizations and citizens have pointed out—contains major omissions, unanswered questions, and lack of critical detail.
  • This project is NOT a “temporary inconvenience.” The pain of this “Big Dig” will likely continue for more than half a decade in Capitol Hill’s backyard and the Navy Yard. CSX has not shown in adequate detail how they will minimize the dangers to our community and mitigate the pain that will be experienced by the families, children, DC workers, senior citizens, business owners, bicyclists, and park enthusiasts for the next five or more years.
  • Major federal and local financial resources have been poured into this area to successfully re-energize the Southeast community. CSX should be (but is not currently) incentivized to complete this project quickly so that our neighborhood can continue to develop.
  • Although they show resistance to this idea, CSX must consider rerouting trains at least during the period of construction; this would greatly minimize the timeline necessary for construction.  Our neighborhood and our safety are worth the additional expense CSX could incur.


Q. What about traffic? Will 6th Street exit close?

  • Although CSX has stated that the 6th Street exit from I-395/I-695 would remain open (DEIS, Chapter, others who have been briefed by CSX believe that it will be closed or limited for at least a few weeks. Per the DEIS, their plan is to convert the northern part of Virginia Avenue into a two-lane street.
  • If you estimate where the current tunnel lies and you view the actual width of Virginia Avenue at the 6th Street SE exit, you realize quickly that there is no way CSX can perform its planned work on the existing tunnel without imposing upon the exit ramp.


Q. What are community health concerns?

  • We are concerned about the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of airborne contaminants, water contamination, and noise and vibration effects.
  • Specifically, the community directly along the path of the LOD currently has vulnerable populations, including seniors in affordable housing and many children under the age of 5 in the direct path of an active construction zone with double-stack freight cars running through day and night.
  • The EPA raises serious concerns about CSX’s DEIS (essentially their build proposal), which neglects the impact this massive project will have on local children’s health.
    • “Although the DEIS identifies communities and public schools located near the proposed project area, the DEIS does not clearly describe the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the project on children’s health…Children’s environmental Health does not appear to have been included in the DEIS.”
    • CSX never considers the safety and health of hundreds of children immediately located in the construction LOD area and the hundreds more who attend school or play in nearby parks.
    • In light of risks to children, the EPA recommended that the EIS evaluate soil lead levels, consider dust reductions, noise and vibration impact studies specifically regarding effects on children, and evaluate the impacts that pest/rodent extermination will have on local children. Has CSX done any of this? They have not. And there is no assurance that they will.


Q. There have been a few meetings about CSX’s Virginia Avenue Tunnel plans. What did I miss?
A. Many of the basics for recent issues raised at community meetings can be found on DCSafeRail.org. But you can also watch the video of two key meetings for yourself:
  • Community Meeting with Mayor Gray on January 16th can be seen at  http://bit.ly/CSX-Gray-Meeting. This was the first time the community met with Mayor Gray to discuss the project. More than 400 people attended to voice concerns and objections to current plans. ANC 6D Commissioner David Garber, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), District Department of Transportation (DDOT), and CSX (the company) were present.
  • Congresswoman Norton Hosts Community Meeting with Federal and City Agencies to Discuss EPA Comments: Click here. This was the second meeting with Congresswoman Norton bringing the community and CSX and Federal and city agencies together to manage concerns and issues raised about the expansion plans and open-trench plans of CSX.

Q. What does CSX say about the project?

  • See CSX’s official commentary via their contracted website.
  • The purpose and need of this project are defined in the executive summary and Chapter 1 of the massive 1,600-page draft environmental impact statement under the NEPA study. Please note: CSX has been criticized heavily for segmenting many of their projects, including the Long Bridge study, and narrowly focusing their purpose and need statements.
  • Despite CSX employees denying in a public meeting any knowledge of lobbying activity related to the VAT project, CSX has been spending millions lobbying Congress….with the VAT project among a handful of priority issues.The lobbying disclosure report for CSX, fourth quarter of 2013 shows CSX spent over $800,000 lobbying on a set of issues including “Issues related to the Virginia Avenue Tunnel” and “issues related to crude by rail.” http://disclosures.house.gov/ld/ldxmlrelease/2013/Q4/300618819.xml


Q. What do DC residents want? What do they expect of CSX?

  1. For the sake of public health and safety, as well as a faster completion of the project, trains must be rerouted at least during construction.
  2. We need a shorter period of construction and better safety measures for the community’s interests. For instance, fences must be higher than 8 feet and planned street crossings must be designed in consultation with the community, which has a number of disabled residents and those with small children.
  3. There are many questions regarding build details (emergency vehicle access, derailment emergency plans, etc.) for which we have been seeking answers for years. We deserve better answers—and detailed answers—before CSX breaks ground. We expect FHWA, DDOT, and DC Emergency services to act on behalf of their constituents, demand those answers and them make them public.
  4. We request that CSX avoid a “Band-Aid” approach to their “bottleneck” problems and begin investing in better solutions, such as permanent rerouting around Washington DC and other high security sensitive locations.


Q. Who will be most impacted by CSX’s Virginia Avenue Tunnel Project?

  • Residents in Capitol Hill, Navy Yard, and Near Southeast
  • Nationals Baseball Fans
  • Commuters
  • DCHA-supported Senior Citizens
  • Marine Barracks
  • Visitors to Garfield Park (where an open trench is proposed for all Build Options), Virginia Avenue Park, Yards Park, Canal Park
  • Find out how you’re affected. Visit the IMPACT page. Or see our maps here.

Q. Was there a train fire recently in the Virginia Avenue Tunnel?


Q. Isn’t this project a done deal?

  • No. DC and its residents can still shape the outcome. One alternative currently on the table is a NO BUILD.
  • Residents urge FHWA and DDOT to select this alternative until they can work with CSX to provide comprehensive and public analysis on at least a rerouting during construction option that would reduce most community concerns.
  • Keep speaking up. Find out how to get involved here. If this is moves forward, make sure it’s done right.


Q. Where does freight travel along the eastern seaboard?

Here is an interactive map of freight rail in the U.S.:


Here is another map of CSX and NS lines:


Q. Why was the Federal Highway Administration designated lead agency under NEPA for the VAT Project?

  • Great question. Some are suspect as to why the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is not the lead on the VAT project when they have taken the lead on the Long Bridge Project.
  • FHWA supposedly is the lead agency because CSX needs permits for temporary usage of air rights “in the vicinity of Interstate 695/11th Street Bridge and the temporary closure of the Southeast Freeway/I-695 ramp on 8th Street.” However, it has become clear that CSX would have had to go through an assessment of this project under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Q. Will there be a rodent problem?

  • You can count on it.
  • There are no available details in the CSX build plans to ease residents’ fears over rat and cockroach infestations as a result of construction and moving freight trains through open trenches. The EPA specifically faults CSX on the matter of pests and extermination as it relates to children’s health.

Ready to take action? Click here.