VRE station in Crystal City

The existing Virginia Railway Express station at Crystal City. (VRE photo)

Under the theory it never hurts to ask, Arlington officials are seeking help from rail giant CSX to reduce the need for trains to blow their horns in Crystal City.

At a meeting discussing Virginia Railway Express’s plan to expand and potentially relocate its Arlington stop, county officials acknowledged that they’ve already received some help from CSX, which owns the tracks and sets operating rules for all trains that use them. But they’d like to get more.

County Board member Christian Dorsey said county officials hoped to get changes to the horn policy “to make it less intrusive as well as standardized.”

CSX has provided accommodation; under a change to the rules approved a few years ago, train engineers still must sound their horns when approaching the passenger station during normal VRE operating hours, but at other times, crews are not required to sound the horn, but can do so if there are safety concerns.

“They’ve already had some flexibility,” said T.R. “Tom” Hickey, chief development officer for Virginia Railway Express.

“It’s possible that they could relax them further,” said County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac, who also serves as attorney for the VRE board. MacIsaac said Arlington and VRE have “approached it delicately” with CSX officials.

“This is their railroad,” MacIsaac said. “They’re always going to be reluctant to relax [safety regulations]. It’s really a judgment call of the railroad.”

Rob Doolittle, assistant vice president for media and communications for CSX, said railroad officials “would consider a broader discussion that balances both community impacts and safety.”

“While CSX works to minimize the impact of our operations on local communities, we must also prioritize the safety of those communities and our employees,’” Doolittle said.

Rail service through what is now Crystal City dates to establishment of a line by the Alexandria and Washington Railroad in January 1858. For much of that period, the corridor was industrial in nature.

Over the past 50 years, though, Crystal City (which got its name in the 1960s) has been developed with both commercial and residential projects, and is being prepped for a wave of upcoming redevelopment. On July 15, County Board members approved a 302-unit apartment building, with ground-floor retail, at 2351 Jefferson Davis Highway.

While sharing concern about excessive noise, Hickey said the public needs to understand the bigger picture.

“The railroad is a dangerous place, and sometimes we lose sight of that,” he said.

(The late-June meeting between Arlington and VRE officials came just a day after two CSX workers were killed after being hit by an Amtrak train just north of Union Station. The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Railroad Administration are investigating the accident.)

Conversations between the parties over ways to mitigate noise will continue, but final decisions will rest with CSX, Hickey acknowledged.

“Every railroad has their own rules. We have no control over it,” he said. “When they tell us to stop talking, we’ll hang up the phone.”

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