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Officials want better rail precautions

(The following article by Jack Minch was posted on the Lowell Sun website on November 3.)

LOWELL, Mass. -- Angry politicians denounced Pan Am Railways' cavalier attitude in the wake of last month's chemical spill in South Lowell and U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan vowed to reintroduce a bill to Congress that would mandate all railroad companies notify communities of hazardous materials in transit.

Meehan originally introduced the bill in 2004 after a similar spill by then-Guilford Railroad in Boston.

Emergency workers don't know what they're dealing with when they respond to chemical spills, he said.

Meehan appeared before the City Council Subcommittee on Railroad Issues last night to discuss ways to pressure Pan Am into sharing more information with communities along the rail lines.

An estimated 10 to 15 gallons of the corrosive material ferric chloride in liquid form leaked from a rail car in South Lowell on Oct. 13.

"I think this was a wake-up call ... people now are really in fear for their health," Meehan said.

Laws were originally established to protect interstate commerce but the world has changed since they were written, said subcommittee Chairwoman Eileen Donoghue.

"Terrorists, if they want, can zero in on any of these hazardous vessels rolling through your backyard," she said.

Ninety percent of railroad companies share information regarding hazardous materials being shipped using software from Operation Respond Institute, Meehan said. Pan Am doesn't take part.

Monday, November 6, 2006

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