U.S. Sets Hazardous-Material Rules
Published: April 17, 2008
Source: Christopher Conkey - Wall Street Journal
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PUEBLO, Colo. -- The Bush administration adopted new rules dictating
when and how railroads can transport hazardous materials through cities,
in a move that could override state and local restrictions on such
The regulations, which were announced by Transportation Secretary Mary
Peters at a rail-technology and -training center here, require carriers
to consider 27 criteria such as volume, density and track quality before
selecting a route "posing the least overall safety and security risk."
routing requirements cap a period of federal regulatory activity on rail
safety. The government has a continuing effort to improve the puncture
resistance of tank cars and adopted separate rules earlier this year to
curb common human errors leading to accidents.
Many of these efforts come in response to deadly accidents, including a
2005 train crash in Graniteville, S.C., that released a poisonous cloud
of chlorine, killing nine and injuring more than 500 people.
Neither Ms. Peters nor her top deputy on the matter, Federal Railroad
Administration head Joseph Boardman, could say to what extent railroads
will reroute dangerous shipments away from cities like New York and
Washington, which are considered major terrorist targets. Many of those
decisions will be made in consultation with local officials, they said.
Some environmental and consumer-protection organizations said the
requirements will leave railroads free to route hazardous shipments
however they see fit. Brent Blackwelder, president of the
environmental-advocacy organization Friends of the Earth, called the
rules an "abdication of government responsibility."
Gerie Voss, regulatory counsel at the American Association for Justice,
a group representing trial lawyers, including some who have represented
victims in hazardous-material accidents, predicted Congress will object
to the pre-emption of local ordinances like one in Washington, which has
already been challenged in court.
Mr. Boardman of the FRA dismissed these criticisms as "cavalier" and
"nonsensical," saying railroads will work with local officials and be
held accountable if they don't.
Industry groups generally supported the move, but others were concerned
that the federal rules will pre-empt state and local ordinances. The
regulations may also affect future House-Senate negotiations over
Marty Durbin, managing director of federal affairs at the American
Chemistry Council, a trade group representing more than 100
manufacturers, said the prospect of various, conflicting local laws
would spell chaos for shippers and carriers.
"That would screw up the entire transportation system," Mr. Durbin said.
"We've always said this has to be done at a federal level."
Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar, chairman of the House transportation
committee, issued qualified praise for the new routing requirements. "If
implemented as Congress intended, this rule will help ensure greater
safety for the routing of these shipments in the future," he said in a
The new routing requirements will take effect in June. The FRA's
tank-car rule making, which is at an earlier stage, would require trains
carrying hazardous materials to go no faster than 50 miles an hour --
and 30 miles an hour or less for trains with out-of-date cars in areas