Hazmat Rail Cars Voluntarily Rerouted from D.C.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Freight trains carrying hazardous materials have been rerouted around the nation's capital since terrorists attacked rail commuters in Spain, three lawmakers revealed Monday.

The information was contained in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that was signed by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Jim Turner, D-Tex. According to the letter, freight railroad CSX has ``voluntarily rerouted'' such cargo since March 11, 2004, when a series of train bombings killed 191 people in Madrid.

But the lawmakers go on to say that voluntary action is not enough, and urge Ridge to make it mandatory.

``As you know, enough chlorine to kill or injured 100,000 people in half an hour is often contained in a single rail tanker car going right through crowded urban centers _ including Washington, D.C.,'' the trio wrote. Among other things, their letter requests an explanation of why rerouting is not required.

Railcars carrying hazardous chemicals are allowed to pass within four blocks of the U.S. Capitol. The headquarters of several cabinet-level federal agencies are located even closer to CSX tracks handling such shipments.

The District of Columbia Council is considering legislation prohibiting the rail shipment of hazardous materials not designated for local use through the city. But the legislation, which could be presented as early as Nov. 9, would be only symbolic because the district government has no authority to regulate interstate commerce. Since last spring, the council has been seeking a review of the policy by the Department of Homeland Security.

A CSX spokesman declined to discuss security matters.