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2/2/2005



Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Council passes bill to temporarily ban haz-mat moves in D.C.; rail industry doubts rerouting will reap safety rewards



Yesterday, the Council of the District of Columbia approved emergency legislation that would ban rail and truck hazardous material shipments within two miles of the nation's capitol for 90 days. If approved by Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, the bill would prohibit moves of certain explosives and poisonous gases — such as chlorine — in the city.

However, rerouting haz-mat traffic away from the city would only shift safety risks to other communities, Association of American Railroads (AAR) officials believe.

"Instead of improving public safety, rerouting could in fact degrade it by increasing both handling and the distance hazardous materials must travel," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Hamberger in a prepared statement. "It could also send hazardous materials along routes where the emergency response capability is less sophisticated. If other communities then passed similar bans, it could make it impossible to ship these materials anywhere."

In addition, prohibiting haz-mat moves through a portion of D.C. might violate provisions of the U.S. Constitution and federal laws on interstate commerce, and rail and haz-mat transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) officials believe.

"Should this legislation be signed into law, the department will review the bill to determine whether it is, in fact, preempted by federal law and continue to explore other options that might be available with regards to routes for transporting hazardous materials through the capitol region," USDOT officials said.


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