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CSX asks STB to pre-empt D.C. hazmat ban

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Brian Westley on February 8.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Rail operator CSX Corp. is asking a government regulatory agency to pre-empt legislation that would ban the shipment of hazardous materials within about two miles of the Capitol, warning that it "unreasonably burdens interstate commerce."

In a petition filed Monday with the Surface Transportation Board, CSX said the decision by District of Columbia lawmakers could inspire other communities to pass similar bans, making it increasingly difficult to ship important materials throughout the United States.

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based company also said the ban is pre-empted by a federal law that regulates interstate rail transportation.

The D.C. Council approved the 90-day emergency legislation Feb. 1, prohibiting certain explosives as well as poisonous gases such as chlorine. It is awaiting the signature of Mayor Anthony A. Williams and would take effect then. The city is the first jurisdiction in the nation to halt such cargo in response to the threat of a terrorist attack.

Council member Carol Schwartz, who voted against the ban, said last week that CSX already is voluntarily rerouting hazardous materials. In the petition to the transportation board, CSX also went further to alleviate security fears, explaining that it transports hazardous materials in specially constructed cars that meet federal and industry standards.

But council member Kathy Patterson, who sponsored the bill, said those assurances were not enough to protect city residents, noting that similar measures did not prevent last month's deadly chlorine leak after a train crash in Graniteville, S.C.

Patterson also said she felt confident the city's legislation would withstand CSX's challenge.

"They're caught on a couple of contradictions," Patterson said, referring to CSX. "They say at great length that it would be a burden for them to reroute (hazardous shipments), and at the same time they're already doing so."

CSX requested that the federal board act quickly on its petition and that city officials respond within four business days.

CSX operates more than 500,000 loads of hazardous material a year throughout the country.

The Surface Transportation Board is an economic regulatory agency whose duties include resolving railroad rate and service disputes. The board's decisions are independent, though it is affiliated with the Transportation Department.

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

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