Mayors Seek Notification on Moving of Hazardous Materials

Following S.C. train wreck, information sharing on hazardous materials becomes a leading homeland security topic for municipalities


BALTIMORE -- Mayor Martin O'Malley and some four dozen other U.S. mayors are urging the federal government to require railroads to inform local governments of plans to transport hazardous materials through their cities.

In a letter to outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge this week, the mayors cited this month's Norfolk Southern train derailment in South Carolina, which led to the rupture of a tank car carrying chlorine.

Nine people were killed and about 250 injured by the release of the toxic chlorine cloud in the small town of Graniteville. Nearly 5,500 people were evacuated from their homes.

In Baltimore, freight trains carry shipments of hazardous chemicals, including chlorine, through the Howard Street Tunnel downtown. Baltimore officials say they are notified when the railroads store a chlorine-laden car within the city limits but not when they are moving through.

"We don't generally get a response from the White House," O'Malley said. "I hope it will, but I'm not optimistic, given their track record for the last four years," he said.

The mayors sent their letter Tuesday at the annual winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington. Ridge spoke to the mayors Wednesday and mentioned the Graniteville incident but gave no specific reply to their request.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security was not available to comment.

In their letter, the mayors noted that more than 90,000 shipments of chlorine are transported around the country each year. They restated the conference's repeated calls that city governments be notified of such shipments, a move the railroad industry has resisted.

"These types of trains run on tracks through the hearts of our cities," the mayors wrote. "Our citizens should have a reasonable expectation that hazardous materials are being shipped in the safest manner possible and that local first responders are aware of such shipments in advance."

The railroad industry has taken the position that sharing information about shipments with local officials increases the opportunity for leaks of information to terrorists.