I have frequently maintained that the long term solution to the hazmat rail routing problem is not the use of a patchwork of inter-tie agreements to move individual hazmat railcars around large cities and high-threat urban areas (HTUAs), but a routing of all through freight-rail corridors around such areas. According to an article on Fredricsburg.com last week, it looks like such an approach is being proposed for the area around Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital has long been the poster city for re-routing efforts. The fact that freight rail lines carrying PIH chemicals like chlorine and anhydrous ammonia routinely pass within blocks of the Capitol Building presents a particularly rich potential terrorist target. This is one of the reasons that the city government has tried to be pro-active in requiring the re-routing of such shipments.
In many instances there are Class 2 and Class 3 rail lines that would allow for re-routing of hazmat rail cars around the large cities and HTUAs. Unfortunately this causes potential problems of scheduling. With the Class 1 railroad transiting through the urban area, it would only drop off its hazmat cars for the bypass route. Those cars would wait until a smaller railroad formed up a train for movement around the urban area. They would then wait on the other end for the next Class 1 railroad scheduled freight train. Not only do the Class 1 railroads object to sharing their revenue with the smaller railroads, but the re-routing also causes potential delivery delays beyond the control of the Class 1 lines.
Security issues with these transfers cause additional problems. With the new railroad freight security rules going into full effect next week, there will have to be a physical, person-to-person hand-off of the PIH and other selected hazmat cars. This will pose manning issues for many of the Class 3 rail lines. Storage of those hazmat cars awaiting train formation is not yet covered by regulations, but railroads have agreed to try to minimize the idle time for PIH railcars.
If the long-run, through rail lines went around these urban areas instead of thru them there would be no reason for the Class 1 lines to carry these high-risk rail cars through urban areas. The only requirements would be for rail cars to be delivered to customers in the cities or HTUAs. This would be a significant reduction in hazmat volume.
This would be the long term solution to the hazmat problem. It would take time to plan for and acquire the land necessary for running the tracks around these urban areas. The railroads would be hard pressed to be able to afford these projects. It will take some sort of public-private partnership with much public money.
Fortunately, we are at a point where there are a number of issues that could be aided by establishing these out-of-urban-area routes. The rationalization of rail mass transit lines would be aided by freeing up these urban rail routes. These extra-urban rail rights of way would allow for the expansion of mass transit rail service to new areas. Many of the large freight yards in urban areas would no longer be needed, freeing up valuable land for revitalizing city centers. This would also ease some of the heavy truck traffic that served those freight yards.
I spent 15 years in the US Army as an Infantry NCO. After getting out of the Army I started working in the chemical industry, getting my BSc Chemistry degree while working as a technician. I spent 12 years working as a process chemist in a specialty chemical company. Most recently I worked as a QA/R&D Manager in a specialty chemical manufacturing facility. Currently I am working as a freelance writer.