DDOT Releases Study of Virginia Avenue Tunnel Rail Vibrations

Train Speed Reduction and Further Study Recommended

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The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has released its study of vibrations caused by train traffic through the Virginia Avenue Tunnel located in Southeast Washington near the Nationals ballpark.

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The study concluded it is “probable that train operations have caused vibrations that exceed perceptible levels (65 VdB).” While the average values are perceptible, they do not exceed the vibration limits in the project’s EIS (Environment Impact Statement) of 80 VdB, and would be appropriate for increases in traffic up to 30 trains daily (75 VdB).

The absence of baseline monitoring data makes it impossible to establish what the increase in vibrations has been since CSX began operating again in the tunnel or whether the anti-vibration measures installed during its renovation have proved effective. The data did not allow the study to answer the following questions:

  • “Were trains operating in the VAT during the times that residents reported experiencing vibration?”
  • “Are vibration levels higher on upper floors of residences?”
  • “Why do residents one to two blocks away from the tunnel report experiencing vibration?”
  • “Were the weight, length and speed of trains operating during the supplemental monitoring typical of the trains that operate in the Virginia Avenue Tunnel? Did the measurements collected constitute a statistically significant sample?”
  • “What are the expected vibration levels when CSX begins operating trains simultaneously in both tunnels and operating speeds are increased to the design speed of 40 mph?”
  • “What are the other sources of vibration in the area? In particular, what non-train sources resulted in measured vibration levels during periods of no train activity that were similar to those measured during a train pass-by?”

The study recommends that CSX take the following actions:

  • “Provide a formal report prepared by the independent vibration monitoring consultant outlining the methodology, justification, and conclusions of the supplemental monitoring.”
  • “Include maximum vibration levels for both locomotive pass-by and rail car pass-by in the data summary in addition to the average levels currently reported.”
  • “Confirm whether a train was present or not during the times residents reported perceptible vibrations.”
  • “Provide the raw data collected in the supplemental monitoring.”

To address the concern of neighbors, the study also advised that more data be collected including:

  • “Vibration measurements at the CSX townhouse, one front row residence and one additional residence that is more than one block away from the tunnel;”
  • “Vibration measurements on the ground floor and top floor at each location;”
  • The reporting of “train pass-by information for the monitoring period to include time of pass-by, train length, train weight and train speed;”

This data, the authors advised, needs to be collected over “a period of time sufficient to provide a statistically significant sample size that includes the appropriate range of typical train lengths and weights.”

The study requested “an estimate, based on the follow-up data collection results, of vibration levels with a train in each tunnel traveling at 40 mph. This will provide a basis for comparison to the analysis completed in the EIS.”

The study further agreed with the Federal Highway Administration that the operating speed in the Virginia Avenue Tunnel should be reduced until the new analysis could be completed.

“I will be pushing for the District to follow the recommendations and next steps outlined in the review so that the vibration impacts on residents are mitigated ASAP,” stated ANC 6D Chair Meredith Fascett (6D07) in a Facebook post.

“The results of the vibration study are what many of us suspected and feared may happen,”stated Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6). “Protecting residents from negative impacts and associated concerns is exactly why I authored the law that creates the new state rail safety office that is empowered to ensure safe rail travel within the District,” Allen pointed out. “With the study’s findings, this office should now require slower rail travel speeds and continue ongoing monitoring for the impact on neighbors’ homes near the tunnel,” he stated.

The Rail Safety Division created by Allen’s legislation is part of the District’s Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE).

This story will be updated.