Cities worry about toxic substances in freight cars

Published 30 November 2007

Water treatment facilities in Baltimore no longer use chlorine, but city residents are still exposed to risk because trains carrying the toxic substance to facilities elsewhere go through the city; city officials want to change this situation

How does this CapitalOne commercial go: What’s in your wallet? Well, the city of Baltimore wants to know what’s in all those freight train cars chugging along through and on the outskirts of the city. The curiosity became more urgent last week following the derailment of a CSX freight train carrying hazardous materials through Baltimore. City officials now insist that they should know what dangerous cargo is passing through the city each day. Last weekend’s accident, in which twelve train cars derailed near M&T Bank Stadium, left no injuries or leaks, but city officials say they intend to press CSX Transportation for real-time information on what chemicals are coming in and out of Baltimore — information to which the city does not now have regular access. The Baltimore Sun’s Sumathi Reddy and Stephen Kiehl write that Mayor Sheila Dixon held a security cabinet meeting Monday with police, fire, health, and transportation representatives to discuss requesting such information immediately. Baltimore Fire Chief William Goodwin said a call was made to CSX and that he hopes to have access to such information within a week. “This could really be a simple thing that CSX could do in 72 hours and look heroic,” Goodwin said. “You have 70,000 in the stadium at the Army-Navy game this weekend. … You’re looking at a large potential there for something to go wrong,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin noted that Baltimore is the only location in the country where hazardous materials run just thirty-five feet from a large-volume football stadium and near a baseball stadium. “This is an area that serves the whole Northeast corridor, and we just want some real-time operational assets,” he said. In July 2001, a week-long fire raged beneath the city’s downtown after fire erupted on a CSX train carrying hazardous materials through the Howard Street Tunnel. CSX officials say Baltimore is due to participate in a one-year pilot program that would give city officials access to up-to-date information, likely sometime next summer. City officials want it sooner.

Andrew Lauland, who was homeland security adviser to former mayor Martin O’Malley, said the administration worked from July 2001 until O’Malley left office this year to gain access to real-time information but it never came. “If UPS knows where a package of cookies you shipped to your grandmother is, clearly a major rail carrier should know where a 1-ton cylinder of chlorine is,” said Lauland, who