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Rail regulations considered

(The following article by Tom Fontaine was posted on the Beaver County Times website on December 22.)

BEAVER COUNTY, Pa. -- Do you know what, or when, toxic chemicals are rolling through your community?

Beaver County emergency officials don't.

That's because railroads aren't required to share such information with local officials.

While less than 1 percent of all materials shipped by rail - enough to fill 100,000 train cars - is toxic by inhalation, their emissions could affect people's respiratory systems and endanger their health in large numbers.

Despite the small window of opportunity, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration last week proposed a series of regulations regarding rail transport of toxic chemicals.

Under the proposal, TSA officials would be able to inspect railroads, rail yards and mass-transit rail systems whenever they choose. Carriers currently can deny the TSA access, but an agency spokeswoman said that has never happened.

The railroads also would be required to appoint security coordinators to report to government agencies and work with them when a threat in uncovered.

The proposal also would require carriers, upon request, to pinpoint the location of any train carrying toxic materials within five minutes and all trains doing so in a given region within 30. The agencies also want carriers to reduce their trains' "standstill time," and ensure that trains sitting in one place for an extended period of time are in a physically secure area or personally attended.

Norfolk Southern Railways spokesman Rudy Husband said the railroad, which operates Conway Yards along Route 65, has continually bolstered security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and many of the measures outlined in the proposal are already in place or in the works.

Peggy Nasir, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Railroads, echoed Husband, saying that railroads - which are required by federal law to carry toxic chemicals - have increased inspections and already have security coordinators, track their trains and share information with "appropriate national intelligence agencies."

But they don't regularly share information with local government agencies - nor would they be required to under the proposal.

"There's no notification process in which they tell us when hazardous materials are being carried through the county," said Kevin Joy, assistant director of the Beaver County Emergency Services Center.

A 60-day public comment period on the proposal, which is available at www.tsa.gov, began Thursday.

Friday, December 22, 2006

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