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Officials ask CSX to limit shipping

The Baltimore Sun

The five members of Congress who represent Baltimore are urging CSX Corp., whose tracks run alongside the Camden Yards sports complex, to cease shipments of hazardous materials through downtown during Ravens and Orioles games and other stadium events.

The two U.S. senators and three representatives said yesterday that they had sent a letter to CSX Chief Executive Michael J. Ward calling for a series of precautionary measures after the city reached what they called an "apparent stalemate" in negotiations with the freight railroad. Twelve of the company's rail cars derailed Saturday outside M&T; Bank Stadium.

The cars jumped the tracks one week before the Army-Navy football game, which is to be played at the stadium tomorrow. It was the second major CSX derailment near the stadiums this decade. In 2001, a derailment and chemical fire in the Howard Street Tunnel forced the evacuation of many downtown buildings and the cancellation of three Orioles games.

"These derailments demonstrate in stark terms the significant risks that the transportation of hazardous materials through Baltimore bring to all of the residents of the city and to those who may be attending events at facilities located near CSX rail operations," the letter states. "While the cause of the most recent derailment is still under investigation, this derailment also renews concern about the safety of CSX rail operations in and around the Howard Street Tunnel."

The letter is signed by Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin and Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes. All are Democrats.

In a news release, the lawmakers said that CSX agreed to "several previously denied requests for safety measures" after learning that President Bush might attend tomorrow's game.

"It is simply unconscionable that a company would take any safety precautions for a presidential visit the day after refusing to take precautions for tens of thousands of Marylanders," Cummings said. "Having 70,000 people gathered just 35 feet from toxic trains is like painting a giant bulls-eye on our community."

No alternative route

CSX routinely carries hazardous chemicals such as tripropylene - the chemical that ignited in the 2001 fire - through Baltimore via the Howard Street Tunnel because it has no alternate route in the Northeast Corridor. City officials have long complained that the railroad does not tell them what dangerous materials it is transporting and when.

The lawmakers urged the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company to begin sharing more information with city officials on shipments of hazardous materials. Historically, railroads have been reluctant to give local authorities real-time notice of shipments, considering that information proprietary.

Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon, said city officials have been in negotiations with CSX since Saturday's derailment, in which three of the cars that left the tracks carried hazardous materials. No chemical spill or injuries resulted, but the incident tied up traffic in the stadium area all day and into the night. The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating the cause.

Clifford said that the city's talks with the railroad are continuing, but that progress has been slow.

"I would say we are not as close to an agreement as we had hoped to be," he said. Clifford declined to give details of the issues in dispute but said the congressional letter accurately reflects the city's position.

CSX Transportation spokesman Bob Sullivan declined to describe the railroad's safety measures in detail but said the company would respond to the members of Congress today.

"CSXT has a deep commitment to safety and security and has been working with city officials in preparing for this weekend's events in a way that is consistent with what the railroad does for other major events," he said.

Sullivan said fans attending the weekend games would not be in danger of a chemical spill. He said the railroad was making preparations for the events before the derailment.

"On Nov. 17, CSXT informed representatives of the city that the railroad is taking extra security precautions and considering operational changes for the upcoming Army-Navy game due to the iconic nature of that event," he said.

Sullivan declined to spell out CSX policy on other stadium events but indicated that they figure into its shipment schedule. "The railroad in its security efforts is aware of events that occur around its rail network," he said.

2 big events

In addition to a general agreement to refrain from hazardous shipments during stadium events, the letter calls for specific CSX actions this weekend in connection with the Army-Navy game and the Ravens game Monday night against the New England Patriots.

The lawmakers urged CSX to suspend hazardous materials shipments through the city from noon today until 6 a.m. tomorrow in advance of the Army-Navy game, which is expected to draw about 71,000 fans. The lawmakers also called upon the railroad to suspend rail traffic from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. tomorrow for the Army-Navy game, which begins at 12:20 p.m.

CSX was also urged to call off hazardous shipments from noon Monday to 1 a.m. Tuesday for the Ravens game.

The lawmakers' intervention adds weight to city officials' position in dealing with CSX. Local officials have little regulatory power over railroads, which are governed by federal law.

Congress has a measure of influence over the railroads, and some members of Maryland's delegation are well-situated to command CSX attention. Cummings is a member of the House subcommittee that oversees the railroad industry, and Cardin sits on a Senate subcommittee on transportation safety. Mikulski serves on the Senate Appropriations panel that oversees the transportation budget.

Baltimore has had a strained relationship with CSX - particularly in the aftermath of the 2001 tunnel fire, which took three days to put out and shut down north-south rail traffic for a week.

The city and the railroad pointed fingers at each other after the accident - with Baltimore officials contending that the fire caused a water main break and CSX suggesting that the break might have been the cause of the derailment. The National Transportation Safety Board was unable to determine the cause but chided the city and the railroad for their problems in communicating.

Then-Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration filed a $10 million lawsuit against the railroad to recover the costs to the city of dealing with the 2001 fire. In 2006, CSX paid the city $2 million to settle the case.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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