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D.C. backs off hazardous cargo ban for now

(The Associated Press circulated the following article on April 6.)

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge urged the District of Columbia government and CSX Transportation on Tuesday to settle their dispute over rail shipments of hazardous materials through the city and asked President Bush (website - news - bio) to furnish information that would be critical to a deal.

The city government agreed to tentatively delay enforcing a ban on hazardous cargo shipments that was to take effect next Monday after U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan proposed a 30-day cooling-off period for settlement talks. The judge has proposed that the city delay enforcing the ban and that CSX refrain from moving the cargo on rails in the district during the 30 days, The Washington Post reported. Sullivan expressed optimism that a deal could be reached after receiving a private briefing Monday on the federal government's efforts to secure rail lines in the city.

"We need to spend our money and time trying to settle this case so everyone can leave with their heads held high, knowing the security of the District residents remains paramount," Sullivan said.

The judge also urged President Bush to instruct the Justice Department to provide as much information as possible to senior D.C. officials about the work to safeguard District rail lines.

"I need the president's help," Sullivan said. "There is no way I can broker this deal if the District is left totally in the dark about what the federal government is doing. They have to know what I know."

Mayor Anthony Williams (website - news - bio) signed a law in February that prohibits the shipment of hazardous materials on the 37 miles of rail lines in the city. City leaders contend that the nation's capital is a probable target for terrorist attacks, and that 10,000 people could be killed in an attack on a rail car loaded with propane or chlorine.

CSX is suing to overturn the ban, saying only that the federal government has the power to regulate rail security and that such bans could cripple the nation's rail transportation. The Justice Department is siding with CSX.

Attorneys for all three parties said they would tell Sullivan on Wednesday if they could accept the 30-day cooling-off period.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

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