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Hazardous Cargo

(Columbus, Ohio, television station WBNS posted the following report by Ted Hart on its website on November 19. Jim Ong is the BLET’s Ohio State Legislative Board Chairman.)

The election was five days away and Nationwide Arena was filled to the rafters. The crowd was buzzing with the appearance of President George Bush and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Outside the arena though there was no buzz on the rails - no roar of the locomotives. Secret Service stopped the trains. Local train engineers say only on those special occasions does the federal government take notice of security issues on America's railroads.

James Ong, chairman of the Ohio Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen told 10 Investigates, "It's a national disgrace and it's something that needs addressed."

At issue are the thousands of tank cars carrying hazardous materials on America's rails every day. They have been described by some as "potential weapons of mass destruction".

In many major cities, including Columbus, tank cars carrying potentially lethal cargo pass right through the heart of downtown. In Columbus, rail lines run directly beside Nationwide Arena and the Columbus Convention Center.

"Unprotected, a constant stream of them right through the heart of town, not quite Broad and High, but close by," said Ong.

Dr. Fred Millar is a rail security specialist for Friends of the Earth and among those trying to force railroads to reroute the most dangerous substances around metropolitan areas. "If I had to pick the most likely next big target for a terrorist - I would pick a railroad tank car in a populated area."

!0 Investigates turned its cameras on the rail lines in downtown Columbus and witnessed tank cars labeled as anhydrous ammonia and chlorine rolling through downtown Columbus shortly before noon on a workday.

Experts say a leak of either chemical could endanger the lives of thousands of downtown workers in a matter of minutes. Dr Millar told 10 Investigates, "To allow these cargoes to come freely through American cities...is really providing extremely attractive targets for the terrorists."

In Washington, D.C., one rail line passes within four blocks of the U.S. Capitol. A study by The Naval Research Laboratory concluded that a chlorine or ammonia explosion along that line could kill people at the rate of 100 per second.

The Department of Homeland Security is in the process of developing recommendations for railroad security.

The railroad industry and the Federal Railroad Administration have opposed rerouting hazardous rail cars around metropolitan areas. Gary Sease, a spokesman for CSX told 10 Investigates rerouting tank cars would be expensive, that it would hurt the economy and interrupt the flow of necessary chemicals.

Sease says since September 11, the railroad has increased railroad security in a number of ways including the use of remote surveillance by camera. He said trains are still the preferred mode of transportation for chemical materials.

Millar argues though, "the fact is there are no rail cars that are meant to withstand terrorism."

Ohio Congressman Sherrod Brown says Congress should be paying more attention to rail security. "So many of the terrorist acts around the world have been aimed at the transportation system and mostly not the airlines, mostly buses and trains," he said. "It’s pretty clearly this congress has fallen way short in dealing with potentially a problem that people look back on and say - why didn't you do something about that which is so obvious."

Friday, November 19, 2004

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