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CHEMICAL: RAILROAD ATTACK OR ACCIDENT

RAILROAD ACCIDENTS WITH HAZARDOUS MATERIALS (HAZMAT)

On January 6, 2005, two trains collided early in the morning near Graniteville, S.C., releasing a cloud of chlorine gas. Nine people died and more than 250 were treated. Another 5,000 had to be evacuated - all in a town of 6,900 people. Had this been in a major metropolitan area, such as Washington D.C., it could have been catastrophic.1

Statistically, rail accidents involving toxic inhalation (TIH) HAZMAT materials are rare. However, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads testified before Congress that there are approximately 100,000 carloads of TIH materials that traverse the rails each year.2 Chlorine and anhydrous ammonia constitute 80 percent of these shipments.3 While it is difficult to determine the exact number of accidents involving such TIH materials, it has been reported that since 1965, 99.964 percent of all chlorine rail shipments arrived without a release of their toxins.4 This would mean that .036 percent of the shipments involved a release of this deadly gas. If one applies that percentage to all TIH rail shipments, that would indicate there are approximately 3,600 accidents involving the release of TIH materials each year. This is a huge number when one considers the inherent potential for death and injury in accidents involving these substances.

RAILROADS AS TARGETS

The bombings in London in 2005 and Madrid in 2004 are stark reminders that terrorists have made rail systems a primary target. Despite these warnings, the security of the nation's freight rail lines, rail yards, and the chemical plants they serve remains poor and freight rail security has remained low on the priority list for federal funding for security.

Rail yards remain particularly vulnerable to penetration by a terrorist. A recent survey by the Teamsters' Rail Conference found that 32 percent of rail workers observed trespassers in the rail yards where they work. More than 50 percent of rail workers observed hazardous material shipments that were left unattended in the yard. Only 4 percent noticed a police presence in the yard.5

The chemical plants serviced by rail lines are equally vulnerable. In 2007, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review penetrated 48 plants and the freight lines that service them to reach potentially catastrophic chemicals in populated parts of Seattle, Tacoma, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, San Francisco's Bay Area and the New Jersey suburbs.6

The same reporter walked past rail switching levers and safety chocks to 90 tons of deadly chlorine gas abandoned by the Tacoma Municipal Beltline Railroad outside the gates. According to EPA "Worst Case Scenario" filings, a catastrophic chlorine tank rupture there could push gas to as many as 14 miles, threatening 900,000 people.7

Rail cars carrying toxic inhalant HAZMAT (TIH) materials are required to be plainly marked with placards that identify the toxic materials they contain, thereby making target selection easy for a terrorist.

Because of these vulnerabilities and many, many more well-documented cases, the populations of major metropolitan areas throughout the country remain dangerously exposed to the after-effects of a terrorist attack upon hundreds of well-marked, easily accessible, "chemical bombs" parked in or passing through our cities - mobile bombs routinely containing thousands of pounds of such substances as chlorine, ammonia, hydrochloric acid and hydrogen cyanide. A terrorist attack using a rocket-propelled grenade or remotely detonated explosive to detonate a tank car could release a huge cloud of toxic vapors that could injure or kill thousands of people if protected shelters couldn't be reached in time.


Sources/Footnotes

  1. Jarvie, Jenny, "Effects of chlorine gas linger for town," LA Times/Dallas Morning News, March 5, 2006.
  2. Hamberger, Edward R. (President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of American Railroads), "Statement Before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Sub-Committee on Highways and Transit and Sub-Committee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, Hearing on Transit and Rail Security," March 7, 2007, pg. 9.
  3. Testimony of Joseph H. Boardman, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration, "Testimony Before the U.S. Department of Transportation, Before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transpor-tation, United States Senate," January 18, 2007.
  4. Senator Joe Biden, Opinion Column: "The Rail Threat," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 21, 2007.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Prine, Carl. "Terror on the Tracks," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 14, 2007.
  7. Ibid