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Appeals court blocks DC ban on hazardous shipments

(Reuters circulated the following article on May 3.)

WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling on Tuesday that would permit the city of Washington to temporarily prohibit rail shipments of hazardous materials on security grounds.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with freight rail giant CSX Corp., which had sought a preliminary injunction against the ordinance to reroute tankers hauling flammable gases and explosives around the capital.

CSX said the restriction, which covered an area within two miles of the U.S. Capitol building, was preempted by federal law. The company also said the ban would disrupt its sprawling rail network and the economy. CSX has two freight lines running through the Washington area.

The Bush administration supported the company's position, and the three-judge appeals panel found that CSX met the minimum standard for obtaining an injunction. The panel ordered U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to grant the company's request.

District officials and CSX could not immediately be reached for comment.

The appeals judges said securing government buildings and operations from potential attack was a federal concern, not a local responsibility. They also said that the district's ban unfairly restricted CSX's operations.

``The court does not minimize the calamitous consequences of a terrorist attack on a rail car transporting banned materials through the district,'' the appeals court said. ``The effect of the (city's ban), however, is simply to shift this risk or at least some of the risk to other jurisdictions.''

D.C. officials fear hazardous chemicals and other substances could be inviting targets for attacks, and imposed the 90-day ban earlier this year out of frustration with federal security efforts to protect the capital.

The City 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 damage.

The prohibition, which also includes truck shipments of hazardous materials, was to have taken effect on April 20. It was stayed by the appeals court, pending its ruling.

Some communities are worried about the potential threat posed by rail tankers loaded with hazardous chemicals. In January, gas that leaked from a damaged rail car killed nine people and injured more than 200 in South Carolina. More than 5,000 people were evacuated.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

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