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July 30, 2007 8:30 AM, EDT

Bill Sets Rail Hazmat Guidelines

Measure Would Restrict Hazmat Shipments
Tom Biery/Trans Pixs

Freight trains carrying hazardous chemicals could be required to avoid downtown Washington, D.C., and other urban areas in favor of rural routes, according to provisions in a security bill pending President Bush’s signature, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

The Homeland Security bill passed by Congress requires federal authorities to weigh risks and use the safest and most secure options available before approving hazmat rail routes, the Post said.

Advocates said the bill would press railroad companies to transport hazmats such as chlorine and ammonia over rural routes instead of urban ones, particularly in the nation’s capital, the paper reported.

Two years ago, a court struck down a D.C. city law that would have required re-routing hazmat rail shipments from an area near the U.S. Capitol, which is close to rail lines.

That law was opposed by CSX Transportation, which owns and operates rail lines in the capital area. A ruling from a federal judge on the ban’s legality is pending, the Post reported.

In 2004, CSX stopped carrying its most hazardous materials on the line that passes near the Capitol, but still carries such cargo on another in-city line, the Post said. CSX and the Association of American Railroads declined to comment for the Post story.

The pending legislation does not state which routes would be deemed safe, the Post said. Instead, the Transportation Department — along with cities, counties and rail carriers — would decide which areas would become hosts for hazmat shipments.

Once the safest routes are chosen, rerouting could begin by April 2009, the paper reported

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