Hazardous Rail Cargo Near Capitol Hill Will Continue

Constructing a new rail line to reroute trains of hazardous cargo away from the US Capitol would be too expensive, according to a new Federal Environmental Impact statement released last week.

Instead, the Virginia Avenue Tunnel, owned by CSX, which is only ½ mile from the Capitol, should be rebuilt so that two way traffic can pass, and also so double stacked rail cars can go through it.

If that final recommendation is adopted, just about guarantees that there will be a big hike in hazardous rail traffic just four blocks from major legislative buildings, such as the Rayburn House Office Building where many members of Congress have their offices.

The study is a disappointment to residents of southeast Washington who have been contesting the expansion of the tunnel. They fear derailments of dangerous cargo, such as crude oil and diesel fuel.

The environmental impact statement filed by the Federal Highway Administration turned down several alternatives that could have rerouted train traffic from downtown and sent it onto new lines in southern Maryland.

However, these plans would have required almost 40 miles of new rail lines, as well as a new bridge over the Potomac River. The cost of these plans: up to $4.2 billion.

The problem causing all of this is the 100 year old Virginia Avenue tunnel, which is a major choke point for freight traveling on the East Coast. It only allows trains on one track in one direction. The expansion would allow for two way traffic and rail cars that are double stacked. This would let CSX boost the flow of freight with fewer trains. Currently about eight trains go through the tunnel each day.

Residents of the area will have a month to review the study before an official decision is made.

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