Monday, April 18, 2005

A federal judge yesterday rejected an attempt by CSX Transportation Inc. to stop the District’s looming ban on hazardous rail shipments.

In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan denied arguments from CSX — as well as federal agencies — that the city did not have authority to ban hazardous chemicals such as chlorine from being transported within about two miles of the U.S. Capitol.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams signed the law in February, citing studies that show a terrorist attack on such cargo could kill up to 100,000 people.

The ban is to take effect tomorrow.

“The court recognizes that the federal government has the ultimate authority and responsibility to provide a safe, secure and efficient rail transportation system in the United States,” Judge Sullivan wrote in an order released yesterday. But he ruled that Congress had given states the authority to regulate areas of railroad safety if the federal government has not taken action to address new risks, such as a terrorist threat.

Judge Sullivan refused to put the city’s law on hold while the matter is appealed.

CSX officials said the company will file an appeal with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as quickly as possible and will ask the court to enjoin Judge Sullivan’s ruling on an emergency basis.

If the appeals court does not rule before tomorrow, CSX will comply with the legislation and reroute hazardous materials around the city, CSX spokeswoman J. Anne Chettle said.

CSX and the departments of Transportation and Homeland Security have argued that rerouting trains around the city would be costly and would interfere with interstate commerce. They have refused to disclose their safety plan in full to D.C. officials.

Judge Sullivan said they would have to provide more evidence — which he did not have — to prove any irreparable harm from the city’s ban.

“These burdens pale in comparison to the potential devastation predicted to occur in the event of a terrorist attack on a railcar transporting [hazardous materials] in the nation’s capital,” Judge Sullivan wrote.

City officials were bolstered by the judge’s 76-page decision, challenging the federal government to work more closely with the city on security measures.

“I see the judge’s ruling as an invitation for the U.S. Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Transportation to put aside their ideas of adding hidden cameras and dummy rail cars and to step forward with meaningful security measures,” said D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, the Ward 3 Democrat who introduced the original bill.

The D.C. Attorney General’s Office said it would continue to defend the law in the federal courts.

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