- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

A federal regulatory board ruled yesterday that the District does not have the authority to ban trains from carrying hazardous chemicals through the city, despite the city government’s argument that such trains could be prime terrorist targets.

The Surface Transportation Board in its ruling said the city’s police power cannot be used to impose new requirements on rail transportation.

On Feb. 1, the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation ” the Terrorism Prevention in Hazardous Materials Transportation Emergency Act of 2005 ” that banned train and truck shipments of hazardous materials within about two miles of the Capitol. The ban was to last for 90 days.

“The D.C. act would unreasonably interfere with interstate commerce, and if permitted to exist would likely lead to further piecemeal attempts by other localities to regulate rail shipments,” the board wrote.

The board does not have the power to invalidate the D.C. law, but it can be used in court as an advisory opinion on the city’s legal authority.

City officials said they are optimistic that the ban on hazardous cargo will be upheld in federal court against a CSX Corp. lawsuit. A hearing is scheduled for March 23.

Traci Hughes, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, said city attorneys disagree with the board’s ruling, “however, we weren’t surprised by the board’s determination today. We’re going to continue to pursue this in federal court and are looking forward to doing so.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who is listed as the chief defendant in a CSX lawsuit, has said the law is a necessary precaution because of terrorist threats to the city. His spokeswoman said the city is prepared to defend the law through the federal appeals process, if necessary.

The Bush administration has filed briefs opposing the D.C. law in federal court, as well as a Department of Transportation filing with the Surface Transportation Board.

CSX voluntarily has rerouted trains carrying hazardous cargo off of the rail line that passes within blocks of the Capitol, cooperating with federal authorities, but the company continues to use an east-west rail line that passes through a residential portion of the District, CSX spokesman Gary Sease said. But he said hazardous cargo is spread throughout the entire system and is not concentrated on a single rail line.

D.C. officials have argued that the voluntary rerouting has been inconsistent, with as many as 51 chlorine-carrying cars passing near the Capitol during the reroute period.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, said federal authorities have failed to take any significant action to protect the city from a terrorism weak spot.

“The Department of Homeland Security has taken no action — none at all — to address the risk of terrorist attacks on hazardous cargo in this highest of high-risk cities,” she said.

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