Lawsuit aims to block CSX effort to double-stack trains through Washington DC

WASHINGTON — A group opposing the reconstruction of a CSX Transportation tunnel in a Washington D.C. terminal that would allow the railroad to double-stack containers has filed a lawsuit challenging a federal decision to let the project proceed.

The Committee of 100 on the Federal City today filed a lawsuit in the district court in D.C. challenging the Federal Highway Administration’s approval last week of the reconstruction of the 110-year-old, 4,000-foot tunnel. The nonprofit — dedicated to preserving the city’s historic character and livability — also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the project going forward until a new environmental impact study is completed.

Opponents of the project want CSX to guarantee that it won’t move oil loads through the tunnel — a promise the railroad won’t give, though, as it says only a handful of oil shipment went through the tunnel last year. As a common carrier, the railroad can be called to ship hazardous chemicals through the tunnel, but CSX told in July that there is no market for oil shipments via that line.

The FHA’s issuance of a record of decision following the completion of an environmental impact study is “unlawful, premature and problematic,” C100 Vice President Monte Edwards said in a statement.

“The record of decision fails to address the severe safety and security impacts the proposed project will have on the immediate community and on Capitol Hill, the constraint on the expansion of passenger and commuter rail service in the District, and the pre-approval by (the District Department of Transportation) of the project before any environmental review had been conducted,” Edwards said.

He cautioned against rushing the project, particularly because the environmental impact study found that the tunnel has “decades” of useful service left. Opponents on the tunnel construction have been emboldened by how local pushback against a planned Baltimore terminal spurred the state of Maryland to withdraw funding for the terminal.

Extensive public oversight, review and comments have helped shaped CSX’s approach to the reconstruction project, which has been greenlit by federal and District of Columbia authorities, CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said in an email today. The planned $200 million project will give CSX better economies of scale by allowing the railroad to double-stack containers and reduce congestion through double-tracking in the Virginia Avenue tunnel.

The project is key to the railroad’s effort to complete the second phase of an ambitious initiative to better connect mid-Atlantic ports and the Midwest. The tunnel’s rebuilding and expansion is one of 15 projects CSX aims to complete by the end of the 2015, bringing an end to its roughly $850 million public-private partnerships, known as the National Gateway.

Through a revised construction project aimed at reducing the impact on the neighborhood, the project is expected to take 30 to 42 months. The plan also includes measures to reduce the construction impact on nearby residences and businesses, including dust, noise and vibration monitoring and control plans; limited construction hours; and maintenance-of-traffic plans that ensure continued pedestrian access and vehicle mobility for all essential services throughout the process, CSX said.

“CSX believes the project should move forward promptly,” Doolittle said.

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