How Much Train Traffic Will the New CSX Tunnel Carry? DC Agencies and Residents Discover That Estimates Are Unavailable to Them
by Larry Janezich
Capitol Hill Corner recently learned that a non-disclosure agreement between CSX and the DDOT contractor for a forthcoming study means that DDOT and city planning agencies will only receive estimates regarding the Virginia Street Tunnel freight train traffic that have been filtered through the contractor. DC agencies are reported to be unhappy about the condition imposed by CSX on the contractor for the study conducted under the auspices of the Federal Railroad Administration.
In February 2012, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board Steering Committee voted to fund a study to examine the structural integrity of Long Bridge and to study the feasibility of adding additional rail capacity to the bridge. Only a fraction of the cost of the study was funded by CSX. Long Bridge is the railroad bridge over the Potomac River in Southwest Washington which serves passenger, rail, and commuter traffic for CSX, Amtrak, and Virginia Railway Express and is owned by CSX. “Additional rail capacity” effectively means the number of freight trains which will move through the Virginia Avenue Tunnel.
Previous estimates of 20 to 40 trains per day may be an underestimate, and the non-disclosure agreement suggests that CSX may not want to make public the volume of freight train traffic which could potentially use the tunnel. While much of Capitol Hill is indifferent to the issue, nearby residents of the tunnel and those within earshot of the late night and early morning train traffic have more at stake regarding quality of life issues. More train traffic than anticipated could strengthen the hand of community stakeholders in any negotiation for amenities and benefits coming to the community to compensate it for the project’s impact. Once underway, the reconstruction of the tunnel will likely cause disruptions for a part of Capitol Hill akin to that which accompanied the construction of the Metro system. The impact on nearby historic properties is uncertain, but potentially considerable.
International issues drive the amount of traffic in the tunnel. The expansion of the Panama Canal to increase capacity by 2015 will vastly increase freight cargo to the east coast ports of New York and Norfolk. Savannah and Baltimore ports will soon be able to accommodate increased freighter traffic, as well. Much of this freight will move west across the country though Washington to Pittsburgh through the CSX Virginia Avenue Tunnel.
This local corner of global trade is affected by the lack of DC sovereignty. Much of the affected area is in ANC6B, and in the Single Member District of Commissioner Kirsten Oldenburg, Chair of the ANC Transportation Committee. Given the dismissal of city concerns about access to information, however, the most appropriate venue for redress would seem to be a direct appeal to the Federal Railroad Administration, grantor of the aforementioned study.
Meanwhile, anticipating neighborhood disruption, CSX has worked diligently to ingratiate itself to the Capitol Hill community to ameliorate community concern about the impact of tunnel reconstruction on the community: witness its financial support of the Barracks Row Fall Fest for the past two years and CSX sponsorship of the Maslin family fundraisers to assist the Maslin family after the brutal attack on TC Maslin, who suffered traumatic head injury in a mugging last August.