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Utah Senate transportation panel agrees to study rail safety bill this summer

(The following article by Nicole Warburton was posted on the Deseret Morning News website on February 9. Jeff Worthington is the BLET’s Utah State Legislative Board Chairman.)

SALT LAKE CITY -- Two years ago, a rail car filled with a mix of hazardous chemicals began leaking in a South Salt Lake rail yard, forcing the evacuation of 8,000 people and the closure of three major state roads.

Local emergency responders said in interviews after the event that responders initially didn’t know what was in the tanker or how damaging it could be to public health.

“It was like going in with a blindfold,” Steve Foote, fire chief for South Salt Lake, told the Deseret Morning News.

Utah lawmakers want to make sure that such an incident doesn’t happen again. On Thursday, the Senate Transportation Committee voted to study the issue of rail security this summer.

Their vote was prompted by a bill sponsored by Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley. The bill, SB79, would have required rail companies and carriers to make reports to the Division of Emergency Services and Homeland Security about what kind of cargo was going through the state and how emergency responders could best react to an incident.

Jeff Worthington, Utah State Legislative Board Chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, told committee members that the goal of the bill was to protect railroad employees and “to protect and ensure the safety of all citizens of Utah.”

But Claire Williams, attorney for Union Pacific, said Thursday that his company and other railroad carriers have national and local security plans in place that are adequate.

“Our major concern with this bill is that it is getting into an area that is completely and absolutely and totally pre-empted by federal legislation,” Williams told committee members. “I can almost assure the committee, if this bill passed, it would be challenged in federal court in Utah.”

Mayne agreed to have the bill referred to interim study. And Williams agreed to work out issues involving rail security with lawmakers.

“I’m going to take you at your word,” Mayne told Williams, “because we’ve got a lot of people who were not given the right to testify today that are in public safety in the state of Utah. We’ve got to have a public forum for that.”

Friday, February 9, 2007

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