Railroad security plan announced

Dec 22, 2006 11:25 AM


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The release of deadly chemicals from a rail car in a densely populated city could have catastrophic consequences, whether it's caused by a terrorist attack or a derailment.

Last week, transportation and Homeland security officials proposed ways to make it harder for terrorists to attack rail cars -- and less likely that an accident would result in mass casualties.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters wants rail companies to send poison gases, like chlorine or anhydrous ammonia, and other hazardous cargo along routes that pose the least danger for nearby residents.

Under the plan, railroads would have to identify the amount of hazardous material carried over each route, then use the information to select the safest way to move it.

The announcement of Peters' plan followed Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's proposal to tighten rail security. The public has 60 days to comment on each.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said he was dumbfounded that the rules only apply to high-threat urban areas -- of which his state has none. "New Haven and other cities where tens of thousands of citizens could be harmed by a chemical release should not be ignored," Lieberman said.

The Homeland Security plan would require freight and passenger rail systems to inspect rail cars and keep them in secure areas when not in use. Railroads also would have to lessen the amount of time that cars carrying dangerous chemicals are allowed to stand still, which is when they're most vulnerable to sabotage or attack, Chertoff says.

The District of Columbia passed a law in 2005 banning hazardous material shipments within 2.2 miles of the Capitol. CSX Transportation sued and the case is pending, The Associated Press reports.

The rail industry fears that other cities would follow Washington's lead if the city prevails. Eight other cities -- Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Baltimore, St. Louis and Albany and Buffalo, N.Y. -- have introduced legislation to ban hazardous shipments.

Railroads say forcing trains to take longer, circuitous routes would create a safety hazard by increasing the likelihood of an accident.

Ed Hamburger, president of the Association of American Railroads, told The AP that railroads have already taken steps to tighten security. They have increased rail car inspections, set up an operations center to share intelligence with the government and improved the security of information systems, he said.

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