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Rail, chemical companies warned on rail car safety

(Reuters circulated the following article by John Crawley on October 20.)

WASHINGTON -- U.S. lawmakers warned freight rail and chemical companies on Thursday to devise a way to strengthen tanker cars that hold the most dangerous chemicals.

Two senior Republican and Democratic senators said at a transportation security hearing that deadly accidents this year and unresolved concerns about rail security required action on hazardous shipments.

"I think Congress would be in the mood to say that cities in this country should not exposed to the risk," said Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican and Commerce Committee chairman.

Stevens said lawmakers could mandate stronger tanker cars unless changes were made voluntarily or other ways were devised to transport hazardous gases and liquids. A third option is for U.S. industry to use safer chemicals, senators said.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. John Rockefeller, told the freight rail industry's main trade group that financial concerns should not handicap safety efforts.

"You're betting the farm on something not happening because it hasn't," Rockefeller said.
About 1.7 million carloads of hazardous materials are transported by train throughout the United States each year, about 6 percent of total freight rail traffic. Tank cars carry about 68 percent of hazardous materials and nearly all of the most dangerous chemicals, like chlorine.

In January, a freight train in Graniteville, South Carolina, collided with parked railroad cars and released a deadly cloud of chlorine gas. Nine people were killed.

Edward Hamberger, president of the American Association of Railroads, said rail companies, tank car builders and chemical companies are researching the prospect of better steel for tank car construction and analyzing design requirements.

"Railroads are required by law to transport these shipments, even though this transportation involves extraordinary risks for the industry," Hamberger said in his testimony.

Hamberger said doubling the thickness of tanker cars, as lawmakers and others have suggested, could make them stronger but would also make them heavier and reduce their payload. He said it could cost about $1.2 billion to replace the tanker car fleet.

Friday, October 21, 2005

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