City Desk

Navy Yard Residents: Seriously, We Want Nothing To Do With This Tunnel Project

Navy Yard residents still unequivocally don't want the the city to give a complex Virginia Avenue Tunnel construction project the go-ahead, and last night, hundreds of neighbors came out to let Mayor Vince Gray know just how horrible they think the project is.


The 4,000-foot Virginia Avenue Tunnel is an operating rail track for freight trains that runs through the Navy Yard and Capitol Hill area. Now the owners of the 100-year-old tunnel, CSX Transportation, want to widen and deepen it to allow for double-stacked freight trains and a second track for two-way traffic.

"What I'm asking you, Mayor Gray, please do not let D.C. be the guinea pig for CSX," resident Claire Schaefer Oleksiak said at the meeting, expressing widespread concern that the company wants to continue operating trains through the tunnel during the construction period in a densely populated urban area.

The residents' concerns about this project aren't new: They don't think CSX has any experience doing this sort of project in a city, and they fear the environmental and safety hazards a three-to-six-years-long construction project would pose. At the very least, they want the trains to be re-routed while the tunnel is under construction.

Gray facilitated the meeting and took  what he referred to as "copious notes" throughout. He didn't say much about the project itself, only promising that the city would never sign on to a project that would endanger lives: "There's no way we would be involved in a project like that."

The trains running through the tunnel all convey freight, not passengers. When residents questioned the materials the trains would carry, specifically if they would be carrying crude oil—the oil a train in Canada was carrying in July when it exploded and killed dozens of people—Gray called up a CSX exec to answer.

Skip Elliott, vice president of public safety, health and environment at CSX, said there would be no "unit trains" with crude oil going through the tunnel. When the meeting attendees screamed he was lying, he clarified that while there would be no unit trains—or a group of trains that typically carry a single commodity—there would be some rail cars that would carry crude.

At this point, there is no firm timeline for when DDOT or the FHWA will give their recommendations for the project.

Ward 6 council candidates Darrel Thompson and Charles Allen attended the meeting, and Thompson called the issue crucial. As residents said throughout the meeting, Navy Yard is finally developing and attracting families and business establishments to the area. This project, which they argue provides no benefits to the community, threatens to ruin that progress, neighbors believe.

Tommy Wells, the current Ward 6 councilmember who is running for mayor against Gray, was not at last night's meeting, but attended a November meeting with Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and declared that he wants the trains rerouted permanently.

Photo by Perry Stein

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  • Anya

    The thing is, you don't need a 'unit train' full of 100 cars full of crude oil to have a disaster like in Lac Megantic in the very heart of our Nation's capitol. You only need a handful. And with CSX's terrible accident record - in 2012 it was the equivalent of one accident every other day. And if this project is project by CSX to run 3 to 5.5 years (but of course it will be design-as-you-go, so we have no way to hold them to that schedule), the odds will most certainly be against us. CSX hasn't proved the need for this expansion through the nation's capitol, hasn't transparently explored the alternatives, and hasn't answered any of the myriad serious health and safety concerns the community has raised time and again. This ill-advised and poorly planned expansion will put many at risk and has no benefit whatsoever for DC. It's time for Mayor Gray to stand up to CSX. #MayorNoBuild

  • Jen

    Thanks for covering! This is a devastating and dangerous project. Over 800 feet of asbestos in that tunnel. Open trenches with trains carrying crude oil traveling mere feet away from homes and blocks away from the US Captiol FOR for up to SIX YEARS! We are sitting ducks - Mayor Gray MUST STOP THIS!

  • Corky

    That's funny, no one asked anyone near Spingarn whether they wanted a stupid trolley car trashing their streets. I bet all of these people protesting the CSX tunnel were gung ho for the trolley to nowhere to be built--in someone else' neighborhood.

  • Mike not Ike

    I opposed the tunnel expansion and the streetcar. Both bad ideas.

  • Chris hauser

    Interstate commerce clause

  • JJ

    Buy in a neighborhood where a project is on the books that is keeping prices low, then fight like heck against the project so your property values will go up. What percent of those opposing the plan moved in after the plan was originally announced?

  • Ward-8

    What CSX is attempting to do makes financial sense to them and their Investors. There was No up roar about the Nats stadium, trolley system, the traffic inconvenience of the 11th street bridge, the high rise, noise in the regeneration of the same area. Yes, I understand, this project don't benefit the well to do White Folks in being able to acquire another coveted Condo, Townhouse or in town Apartment that displace the low income folks. I am not a CSX supporter however, the hypocrisy of these well to do white folks need to be told.

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  • Fearing Dysphoria

    In 2012, a CSX coal train running between West Virginia and Baltimore derailed in Ellicott City MD, killing two women. Why would anyone think it makes sense to let CSX run double-stacked cars through any part of DC, either above ground or through tunnels?

  • AndrewinDC

    @Ward-8 Maybe you missed the part where the vast majority of the most highly inconvenienced folk are African-American, Section 8 senior citizens... And they were just as loud at this meeting as their whitebread neighbors. How does your disdain service them?

  • Typical DC BS

    Uh, Ward-8. I was at the meeting and there are several areas (Arthur Capper and nearby townhouses) right next to Virginia Avenue (where the tracks are underground) that house many folks who are NOT white or rich.

    Save your racist blatherings for your friends, since you don't know what you're talking about.

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