Dealing with Railcars Full of Hazards

With no federal action, cities try to create policies dealing with security, emergency preparedness

On a recent walk to Bartram's Garden, Caporali came upon an idle four-block-long train of tank cars. He said the train, hauling flammable liquefied petroleum gas and ethylene oxide, sat for more than an hour between the busy garden and a public housing project with 500 families.

"Since 9/11, there's a whole new dimension," Caporali said, "and there should be more precautions."

City Council would also like to know what hazmat cargo CSX is parking in Philadelphia neighborhoods.

If only CSX would provide answers.

Last month, City Council subpoenaed local CSX officials to appear at a hearing. But CSX sent only Sullivan.

When asked in an interview about chlorine tankers parked next to parks or residential neighborhoods, Sullivan was not specific and answered that CSX follows all federal regulations dealing with such materials.

"We comply fully with all the appropriate regulations that govern rail operations, particularly including those involving the movement of hazardous materials," he said.

Since 9/11, the federal government has spent billions tightening security at the nation's airports. It has imposed stricter rules, too, on the maritime industry. In ports, the Coast Guard now escorts most tankers hauling hazardous cargo.

But the rail industry is getting neither the federal funding for improving security nor the same degree of government scrutiny, homeland security experts say.

After 9/11, CSX installed new surveillance and detection equipment at critical points in its network, Sullivan said. It also has trained 87 Philadelphia firefighters in handling hazmat emergencies, and retrained its own police force in terrorism measures. CSX has 135 police officers in 23 states and covering 21,000 miles of rail.

"It's not as visible as airlines or ports, but there's been a great deal of work being done," Sullivan said.

Yet the low profile of the changes has meant some cities have no alternative but to impose their own laws.

"They're responding in part to a vacuum - a vacuum the federal government has the authority to fill," said Richard Falkenrath, a former deputy homeland security adviser to President Bush and now an analyst with the Brookings Institution.

Falkenrath said the federal government suffers "a certain timidity" about issuing regulations to railroads. Airports and waterways are within the public domain, but railroads are in private hands, he said.

"A rail line is private property," Falkenrath said. "While there is a measure of federal regulatory authority, there is nothing like the institution of the Coast Guard."

Peggy Wilhide, a vice president of the Association of American Railroads, said the rerouting of hazmat trains would create gridlock.

"Think of what would happen if Washington did something, and Baltimore and Philadelphia," Wilhide said. "It has a domino effect up the line to where it would virtually stop the movement of these materials."

Fred Millar, an advocate of rerouting and consultant to Friends of the Earth, said other rail companies have lines around Philadelphia that CSX could pay to use.

"That's the crux of the matter," Millar said. "They don't want the government to tell them to shift from one railroad to another."

Philadelphia Inquirer

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