Congress passes toxic rail protections for major cities

Congress passes toxic rail protections for major cities

For Immediate Release

For more information contact: Nick Berning, 202-222-0748

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Congress has passed homeland security legislation (H.R. 1) that will help protect 46 U.S. cities from attacks against trains carrying hazardous materials. One of the legislation’s provisions requires railroads to route hazardous cargo shipments around, rather than through, major U.S. cities where possible.

“It’s reckless to ship toxic cargo through cities that could be terrorist targets,” said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth. “We should be re-routing these shipments outside of cities, to rail lines where terrorist attacks are less likely and where the potential risks to humans from a huge toxic release are significantly lower. That’s what this legislation will accomplish. President Bush should sign it immediately.”

The rail safety mandate is part of the Democrats’ bill implementing recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission. The legislation includes the requirement that railroads identify alternatives to routes going through high-threat target areas and that railroads use the “safest and most secure” routes for trains carrying hazardous cargo. The final votes in favor of the legislation were 371-40 in the House and 85-8 in the Senate.

Friends of the Earth and citizens concerned about “toxic trains” have mounted a sustained nationwide effort to re-route such trains since the 9/11 terror attacks. Their efforts have helped bring about the introduction of city council re-routing ordinances in 11 major cities and the introduction of legislation in three state legislatures. In addition, 25 major TV and print investigative reports have highlighted the threat posed by such trains. Just one railcar of chlorine gas, for example, according to the U.S. Naval Research Labs, could kill 100,000 people in 1/2 hour at a crowded civic or sports event in a major city.

“After attacks on transportation systems in Madrid and London, it’s important to improve security in the U.S.,” said Fred Millar, Friends of the Earth consultant and longtime hazmat transportation expert. “This legislation is an important step forward. This legislation is the result of popular pressure at the local and national levels, and it will make the U.S. the global leader in taking the common-sense step of re-routing toxic trains. We hope that other nations whose cities could be targeted take similar protective actions.”

U.S. railroads have steadfastly resisted such safety measures, which they see as the beginnings of governmental re-regulation. The only “voluntary” re-routing that citizen pressure has so far achieved is the partial re-routing of hazardous materials away from the CSXT Railroad line running four blocks south of the U.S. Capitol. CSXT still threatens D.C. targets, however, with hazmat cargoes on another CSXT route, 20 blocks north of the Capitol.

The Albany, New York, City Council will debate the re-routing issue on August 15, and the Atlanta City Council seems poised to debate a re-routing bill soon. Such local efforts will no longer be needed after a congressional mandate kicks in.