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U.S. district court upholds D.C. haz-mat ban; CSXT to appeal decision


Despite rail industry opposition, Washington, D.C.’s temporary hazardous materials ban is about to begin. Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the Council of the District of Columbia's 90-day ban prohibiting haz-mat shipments from moving within two miles of the nation’s capitol. The ban is scheduled to take effect tomorrow.

City officials believe chemicals and other haz-mat materials could be terrorist targets, and a derailment or train accident would pose a threat to capitol-area residents.

CSX Transportation, which operates two lines running through the D.C. area, petitioned the court to declare the ban invalid. As a common carrier, the railroad is required by federal law to transport hazardous materials. CSXT officials believe that using alternative routes will add about 2 million miles annually to haz-mat shipments moving around the D.C. area, and require chemicals and other materials to move through and be collected in communities outside the city.

“CSXT disagrees with the district court's decision and will file an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit as quickly as possible,” CSXT officials said in a prepared statement. “Left unchallenged, the district's law could establish a precedent that could lead to a patchwork of similar laws that could virtually shut down rail transportation of critical commodities in the United States. The city of Baltimore is already moving forward on similar legislation, and other cities are considering similar bans, as well.”

The decision also creates conflict for CSXT, officials said. The railroad would have to abide by the district's law, which contradicts the legal positions of the U.S. departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Transportation — which have voiced opposition to the ban — and an order from the Surface Transportation Board, which backed CSXT’s petition.

Association of American Railroads (AAR) officials also disagreed with the decision and pledged to support CSXT as it appeals the ruling.

“The D.C. law will improve neither security nor safety,” AAR officials said. “If this decision is allowed to stand, it could disrupt the shipments of many hazardous materials [and] make it difficult, if not impossible, to ship these products by rail to points where they are needed to purify water supplies or manufacture pharmaceuticals, or for manufacturing processes.”

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More News from 4/19/2005