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D.C. council 'justified' to ban rail hazmat

(The following article by Robert Redding Jr. was posted on the Washington Times website on July 12.)

WASHINGTON -- D.C. officials are citing last week's transit-system bombings in London to bolster their call for a ban on trains carrying hazardous materials through the District.

"It just goes to show you that the city council's actions were justified in trying to eliminate a likely terrorist target," D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, the Ward 4 Democrat who is running for mayor, said yesterday.

Last week, Mayor Anthony A. Williams called London's terrorist bombings a "wake-up call."

"This is an attack that happens to be on your railroad structure," he said.

Four bombs exploded in three subway trains and a bus during morning rush hour Thursday in London, killing at least 52 persons and injuring hundreds of others. The attacks were similar to the bombings of commuter trains in Madrid on March 11, 2004, that killed 191 persons.

Mr. Williams in February signed into law a ban on hazardous rail shipments, citing studies that show a terrorist attack on a rail car containing chlorine could kill as many as 100,000 people.

"Personally, I am not saying that absolutely every shipment should be stopped from coming through the city," the Democratic mayor said last week. "[But] we need to step it up and come up with a game plan."

A federal appeals court has blocked the city's implementation of the ban. However, CSX Transportation Inc. has voluntarily halted its hazardous shipments through the District.

"We are working with the appropriate government agencies," CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan said yesterday. "We continue to reroute along the north-south line. ... Our concern really relates to city-by-city solutions that are not possible to uphold when they conflict with federal law."

Baltimore and Philadelphia are considering legislation similar to the District's.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting congressional representative, is proposing a wide-ranging federal law to protect mass-transit systems.

The Safe Trains Act would allocate $2.8 billion for security needs, including evacuation drills over three years, said Mrs. Norton, a member of the House Homeland Security and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.

"How close does it have to get before Congress and the administration move to protect millions of riders on mass transit?" she said. "I find our response to the clear and present danger to rail security especially frustrating, considering that all of the security data show that al Qaeda and other terrorists commit many more attacks on mass transportation than in the air."

Mrs. Norton said Congress last year allocated $15 billion for aviation security and $400 million for mass-transit security.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

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