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STB backs CSX on D.C. hazmat ban

(Reuters circulated the following article on March 15.)

WASHINGTON -- Washington, D.C., has no authority to ban train shipments of hazardous materials near the city, despite its dissatisfaction with federal efforts to address freight rail security, a U.S. government advisory panel found on Monday.

The Transportation Department's Surface Transportation Board, which settles railroad industry regulatory disputes, upheld a petition by CSX Corp. that contends a City Council prohibition on hazardous materials within two miles of the Capitol building should be ruled invalid.

The rail giant, which also claims the ban unreasonably restrains the flow of commerce, has asked a federal judge to block the 90-day ban approved last month. It is scheduled to take effect April 11.

A U.S. District Court hearing is scheduled for March 23 in Washington.

The board ruling carries no regulatory authority but could carry weight with the court. The ruling crystallizes federal opposition -- expressed by the Justice, Homeland Security and Transportation Departments -- to the ban on grounds that federal regulators have preeminent authority over security and aspects of train routing.

The case is being watched by cities concerned with protection from the potentially devastating impact of an attack on rail tankers hauling volatile toxic materials.

Recent derailments and other mishaps have prompted large evacuations of residential areas. In January, leaking gas from a damaged rail car killed nine people in South Carolina.

The Washington ban would prohibit a small group of hazardous materials, like flammable gases and explosives, from moving near the city.

Local officials were dissatisfied with federal efforts to secure rail lines and address concerns about a potential attack. The council considered studies that an attack on a train or truck carrying certain hazardous materials in or close to Washington could cause thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in economic damages.

The Bush administration said the Washington restriction could compromise security and safety, because rerouting trains around the nation's capital lengthens travel time, potentially increasing the vulnerability of a hazardous shipment.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

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