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CSX won't disclose hazmat re-routing

(United Press International circulated the following article by Shaun Waterman on November 22.)

WASHINGTON -- Rail executives told a Washington, D.C., City Council hearing Monday that, despite concern about the danger of a terrorist attack, they had not been ordered to stop running cargos of ultra-hazardous toxic chemicals through the capital and refused to say whether they were doing so voluntarily.

"Federal officials have not directed (us) to route hazardous materials away from the District of Columbia or other urban areas," said H.R. "Skip" Elliott, assistant vice president of CSX Transportation, which owns a freight rail line running close to the Capitol and other federal buildings.

Environmental advocates and city politicians have long fretted that the CSX line is a tempting target for terrorists. Rick Hind of Greenpeace told the hearing that an al-Qaida attack on a rail tanker filled with chlorine gas or other highly toxic material would be "the easiest way" for the group to kill tens of thousands of people.

Asked if the company was voluntarily re-routing, Elliott replied, "We don't want to make public a lot of information about our security plans." He added, however, that in consultation with federal officials, the company had "determined to hold or re-route trains during certain national security special events," like the State of the Union address.

The Department of Homeland Security official responsible for metropolitan Washington, Tom Lockwood, also declined to discuss specifics of a $6 million plan designed to reduce the risk of an attack.

"It is the department position that we do not disclose operational information," he said, adding that CSX was at liberty to discuss the measures it was taking if it so desired.

CSX Regional Vice President for Public Affairs Robert Sullivan told United Press International that the company had nonetheless decided -- in consultation with homeland security officials -- not to disclose whether it was re-routing.

"Why the secrecy?" demanded an irritated councilwoman Carol Schwartz, R-At large, chairwoman of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment.

She said she believed that re-routing was taking place. "I know that is happening," she said, adding, "Why wouldn't we tell people that this has all been taken care of?"

Lockwood told the hearing that a working group of federal and local officials and private-sector executives had developed the plan -- called the D.C. Rail Corridor Project -- that had resulted in a "measurable hardening" of security along the corridor.

But environmental advocates accused department officials of having "diddled this council for more than a year" with secret plans and closed-door negotiations.

"You don't know that this re-routing is taking place," Jim Dougherty of the Washington, D.C., Sierra Club told Schwartz. He called for government action to ban such cargos from high-threat areas.

Democratic councilwoman Kathy Patterson said that the failure to regulate was "consistent with a pattern of policy -- or no policy" from the Bush administration. "This is not an aberration," she said.

Scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory have calculated that a successful attack on a 90-ton rail tanker of chlorine in central Washington could kill up to 100,000 people. More than 8,000 rail cars of toxic chemicals move through the city every year, although only a small percentage contain ultra-hazardous poisonous gases like chlorine.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

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