- The Washington Times - Friday, April 22, 2005

The D.C. government yesterday submitted to a federal appeals court its arguments for banning trains carrying hazardous materials from passing through the city.

“The District Terrorism Prevention Act was enacted … because relevant federal agencies have failed to use ample powers available to them to take action to prevent terrorist attacks against likely targets in Washington, D.C.,” the city said in a motion filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The environmental group Sierra Club filed a separate motion supporting the city’s position.

On Tuesday, the appellate court granted an injunction to block the city from implementing the ban, which was to have taken effect Wednesday. The court had asked the District to file motions for implementing the ban by 4 p.m. yesterday.

The freight rail company CSX Transportation Inc. and several federal agencies have sought to overturn the ban, saying it would be too costly and would interfere with interstate commerce.

As recently as Thursday, the Justice Department filed arguments supporting CSX’s position, saying the ban would disrupt the transportation of hazardous chemicals that are vital to public health.

But also on Thursday, a former deputy administrator for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said the federal government lacked adequate plans to secure hazardous rail shipments during his tenure.

Stephen McHale, TSA’s second-ranking official from 2002 to August 2004, told a panel at the Center for American Progress that he was disappointed with the government’s efforts to secure chemicals on railways. Mr. McHale opposes the District’s ban.

In its 24-page motion, the city said the federal government has not provided adequate protection to prevent “inevitable collateral damage from a terrorist attack on likely targets,” such as rail lines.

“The failure of such protections means that the federal regulations do not pre-empt the operations of the District’s law,” the motion reads.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan denied CSX’s request to block the ban. 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.

The appeals court ruling overturned Judge Sullivan’s decision.

Neither CSX nor federal agencies — including Homeland Security — have fully disclosed plans to secure the rails from a terrorist attack.

CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan has said company officials are addressing community concerns “with maximum effort and attention.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams signed the law in February, citing studies that show a terrorist attack on a rail car containing chlorine could kill as many as 100,000 people.

Other cities, including Baltimore and Philadelphia, are considering similar legislation. CSX fears such action could bring certain shipments to a halt.

The U.S. Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the motions by Monday, officials said.

D.C. officials have said they are prepared to take their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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