Counter-Terrorism: October 29, 2004

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The District of Columbia says it will pass emergency legislation to ban railroads from shipping hazardous materials through the nation's capital, if the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) can't get it done by early November. TSA has missed several self-imposed deadlines to make a decision over the past year, since the District first proposed legislation on the issue. 

Since 9/11, the city and the current administration have been trying to figure out how to regulate the transport of highly toxic chemicals through the District. Around 8,500 rail cars carrying chlorine, ammonia, and hydrochloric and sulfuric acid roll through the city each year. Six million tons of chemical freight a year passes within four blocks of the Capitol, on a CSX Corporation rail line south of the Mall, according to the National Capital Planning Commission. Federal safety reports estimate the rupture of a single 90-ton rail car, carrying chlorine, in DC, could kill or injure people living within 22 kilometers, depending on the direction of the wind and the weather. If a release took place during a large gathering on the Mall, it would have the potential to kill up to 100,000 people within 30 minutes. 

Critics allege the Bush administration has decided to allow the chemical industry to voluntary reroute potentially dangerous train shipments outside of densely populated areas but is waiting until after the November elections to make the announcement. Department of Homeland Security officials say delays in funding and program planning are to blame for the delays, not politics. 

CSX has delayed or rerouted hazardous materials shipments during certain events at the request of Homeland Security, including the State of the Union address and last year's NFL season kickoff event on the Mall. Federal regulators and railroad and chemical industry representatives fear that a permanent ban on shipments through the District would trigger a nation-wide rush by cities and states to enact similar measures, causing economic disruptions, raising costs, and creating other security problems. Doug Mohney

 


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