Hazardous Materials Train Ban Goes to Appeals Court

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal judges repeatedly questioned attorneys for the District of Columbia and C-S-X Transportation on Wednesday about whether Congress could ultimately block the district's ban on hazardous rail shipments.

The U.S. Court of Appeals panel was hearing arguments in CSX's appeal of a court ruling upholding the district law. The U.S. Justice Department was backing CSX in its case and the Sierra Club also argued on behalf of the city.

Both sides began to argue the merits of the case, but the judges refocused both sides on why the issue was before their court.

"If they (Congress) are not interested in preempting this law, why should we?" Judge John G. Roberts asked.

Congress could also pass its own law to keep hazardous shipments from traveling near their offices. Democrats planned to offer an amendment to homeland security department legislation Wednesday to do that.

The appeals court next examined the District's argument that federal rail security plans are inadequate. The Department of Homeland Security let carriers come up with their own voluntary plans.

"The tracks are not secure are they?" asked Judge A. Raymond Randolph. "We've got photos of people standing on them."

Justice Department attorney Douglas Letter replied that the department was working with CSX on developing a plan for the D.C. area.

Sierra Club attorney James R. Wrathall said the Federal Aviation Administration has created a security zone around the district, but the Department of Transportation has failed to do the same.

Earlier, CSX attorney Carter Phillips said the District government was illegally interfering in a matter that the federal government controls.

Edward Schwab, a city attorney, and Wrathall argued the District is following a federal law set up to "check and balance" federal agencies by allowing states to step in on unregulated safety matters.