- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

Environmentalists visited a downtown commuter rail station yesterday to warn of the potential dangers presented by hazardous chemicals moved by truck and rail through the District each day.

They gathered at a Virginia Railway Express station in Southwest to warn that chlorine and other toxic materials could be turned into weapons of mass destruction as a result of terrorist sabotage. The train station — through which freight traffic also passes — is just outside the L’Enfant Plaza headquarters of several federal agencies.

“What sense does it make to let these tank cars come through the city day and night on tracks that are four blocks from the U.S. Capitol?” asked Frank Millar, a member of the D.C. Emergency Planning Committee. Mr. Millar said alternative routes exist that would take such cargo through communities that lack the symbolic attraction of Washington.

Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club are calling on the D.C. Council to pass legislation prohibiting cargo not destined for industrial use within the District from being transported through the city, if there are practical alternative routes available.

Proponents of the measure contend that making trucks use the Capital Beltway, and routing trains along tracks in suburban Maryland or Northern Virginia would not present major inconveniences to shippers.

“The Southeast-Southwest Freeway has been labeled by the D.C. government as an approved hazardous cargo truck route,” said Jim Dougherty, chairman of the legal committee of the local Sierra Club.

“It is nuts in a time of terrorism to be suggesting that hazardous trucks can take a shortcut through the city instead of staying farther away.”

Truck traffic near locations such as the Capitol and the White House is banned or heavily restricted, with scheduled deliveries often requiring inspection and a police escort. The environmentalists contend that chemicals deliberately released from tank trucks or rail cars moving just outside the restricted areas could threaten hundreds of thousands of workers and visitors including tourists.

“If you get these cargos away from this spot, the National Mall and the Capitol may no longer become a target for terrorism,” said Casey Harello, a local member of Greenpeace.

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