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Rail News: Safety

Federal officials, congressional leaders back rail industry's opposition to D.C. haz-mat ban

Representatives from the U.S Justice, Homeland Security and Transportation departments, and several congressional leaders are backing CSX Transportation's and the railroad industry's opposition to a temporary ban on transporting hazardous materials into Washington D.C.

Signed into law in D.C. last month and set to take effect April 11, the 90-day ban will prohibit rail and truck haz-mat shipments — including certain explosives and poisonous gases, such as chlorine — within two miles of the nation's capitol. On Feb. 16, CSXT filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to block the ban, which also is opposed by the Association of American Railroads.

In recent filings with the district court and Surface Transportation Board, federal agency officials and congressmen said the ban would increase the danger of transporting hazardous materials because of the additional time and distance needed to move the freight, and prolonged exposure of the shipments to possible terrorist acts.

"The risk to the nation of transporting hazardous materials is minimized by permitting railroads to carry such cargo on routes where time in transit will be minimized," USDOT officials said in a district court brief. "As a general matter, that is accomplished by using the shortest route having the best quality of track."

In a STB filing, Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Railroads, said rerouting trains would add hundreds of miles and increase transit time for haz-mat shipments. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), who serves on the House committee, agreed. In a separate STB filing, she stated the ban would more than double CSXT's current route and add 1.9 million car miles annually.

More than 20 organizations also filed STB statements opposing the ban, including the National Industrial Transportation League, Sulfur Institute, American Chemistry Council, Edison Electric Institute, National Mining Association and Fertilizer Institute.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/8/2005