DHS Targets High Risk Hazardous Materials in Transit

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff: Dec. 12, 2006, Press Conference

WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security is proposing new rules it says will vastly strengthen the security of the nation’s rail systems in the highest threat urban areas.

The proposed rule is part of a package of new security measures that will require freight rail carriers to ensure 100 percent positive hand-off of Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) materials, establish security protocols for custody transfers of TIH rail cars in the high threat urban areas, and appoint a rail security coordinator to share information with the federal government, as well as formalizing the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) freight and passenger rail inspection authority.

“A toxic emission from an attack against a chemical facility or hazardous chemicals in transit is among the most serious risks facing America’s highest threat areas,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “We’re going to take a significant percentage of that risk off the table.”

The freight rail industry has already begun to implement several key security measures, such as tracking and substantially reducing the standstill time for unattended freight cars transporting TIH materials in high threat urban areas, developing site-specific security plans with access controls and providing security training for employees, according to DHS. Using industry data, TSA will create a tracking system that will allow the federal government to determine the location of rail cars carrying TIH materials within minutes.

“Although we have not had the opportunity to review the DHS proposed rules, the nation’s major railroads have a demonstrated commitment to security and believe that keeping hazardous materials secure will continue to require active involvement and close cooperation among all the players in the logistics chain,” Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads said. “Railroads, for example, do not own the tank cars used to ship highly hazardous chemicals. Tank car owners, chemical shippers, chemical users and railroads each play a critical role in the transportation of hazardous materials.”

Once finalized, the proposed rule will address the transport of TIH materials by rail, from start to finish, including predictable standstill points and unpredictable stops during shipment. TIH materials, which are potentially harmful but essential chemicals like chlorine or anhydrous ammonia, represent less than 1 percent of all rail shipments.

In addition to this proposed rule, the Department of Transportation is introducing a proposed regulation that will require railroads to analyze safety and security concerns when determining the route for a freight train carrying certain types of hazardous materials.

TSA has the authority to impose up to $10,000 in fines per security violation, per day.

“The nation’s railroad industry strongly supports efforts to increase security and was one of the very first to develop, fund and implement an industry-wide security plan after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11,” Hamberger said. “Unlike other industries, railroads are required by the federal government to carry the hazardous materials that are currently the focus of the Department of Homeland Security.”

– Railfanning.org News Wire