WASHINGTON (AP) – Transportation officials want rail companies to send hazardous cargo along routes that pose the least danger for nearby residents, a proposal that’s part of a plan to guard against terrorist attacks on railroads.

Under the plan, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said Friday, railroads would have to identify the amount of hazardous material carried over each route, then use the information to select the safest way to move it.

The release of deadly chemicals from a rail car can have catastrophic consequences, whether it’s caused by a terrorist or a derailment. And so the Transportation Department proposal to make trains safer was coordinated with the Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s proposal to make them more secure.

The public has 60 days to comment on both.

Democratic lawmakers denounced the Homeland Security plan as too little, too late.

“This rule is long overdue,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We need to be doing so much more to protect our communities from potential disasters.”

The Homeland Security plan would require freight and passenger rail systems to inspect rail cars and keep them in secure areas when not in use. Railroads also would have to lessen the amount of time that cars carrying dangerous chemicals are allowed to stand still, which is when they’re most vulnerable to sabotage or attack, Chertoff said.

Democrats, set to take control of Congress next month, said they’d file bills to require stricter safety and security measures for railroads.

Schumer wants to double the number of hazardous materials inspectors and limit the age of rail cars carrying dangerous cargo. He also wants to raise the penalty for railroads found guilty of negligence in a fatal accident to a maximum of $10 million.

Several Democratic proposals would reroute hazardous materials away from places where an attack could do the most damage.

The District of Columbia passed a law in 2005 banning hazardous material shipments within 2.2 miles of the Capitol. CSX Transportation sued; the case is pending.

The rail industry fears that other cities would follow Washington’s lead if the city prevails. Eight other cities have introduced legislation to ban hazardous shipments.

Railroads say forcing trains to take longer, circuitous routes would create a safety hazard by increasing the likelihood of an accident.

Ed Hamburger, president of the Association of American Railroads, said railroads have already taken steps to tighten security. They have increased rail car inspections, set up an operations center to share intelligence with the government and improved the security of information systems.

The eight cities that have introduced legislation to require trains carrying hazardous material to be rerouted around them are Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Albany and Buffalo, N.Y., Cleveland, Baltimore and St. Louis.



On the Net:

Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.gov


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.