In his July 15 column ["Next Time, Terror Could Ride the Rails"] Marc Fisher ignores the fact that rail is the safest way to ship most hazardous materials, with 99.99 percent arriving at their destination without any release attributable to an accident. Diversion of these shipments to highways -- which increases the risk of an incident by a factor of 16 -- is a very real possibility if legislation permits communities to ban rail shipments. Even diversion from one rail route to another increases risk by adding to mileage traveled and yard handling.
Recognizing Washington's significance as a city and a symbol, CSX Corp. has worked closely with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and others to implement additional security measures that harden this critical transportation corridor.
Hazardous materials are essential to the health and welfare of the country. More than half of all water supplies are purified with chlorine.
Mr. Fisher also ignores the fact that the terrorist threat to either highway or rail comes from organized terrorist groups that carefully plan their attacks, leaving traces that can be picked up by intelligence agencies. The railroad industry has implemented a comprehensive, risk-based security plan that involves working closely with intelligence agencies to respond to special situations and credible threats.
This response has been praised by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge; his deputy, Adm. James Loy; and others. Railroads are committed to ensuring that security and safety are not compromised so that the flow of essential products is not disrupted.
EDWARD R. HAMBERGER
Association of American Railroads
I read Marc Fisher's July 15 column with great interest. However, I was taken aback by a statement attributed to Fred Millar, an emergency planning consultant in Arlington. Emergency planners in Montgomery and Fairfax counties "wanted to know if I could get them the money to defend themselves after the railroads sue them" if they ban shipments of hazardous chemicals through their counties, Mr. Millar was quoted as saying. I would like to clarify our organization's contact with Mr. Millar.
Mr. Millar spoke at two meetings of the Fairfax Joint Local Emergency Planning Committee. He presented his findings and concerns regarding the shipment of hazardous materials by rail through the Washington area at the committee's Feb. 13, 2003, meeting. He again addressed the committee, on Feb. 12, 2004, about legislation being considered by the D.C. Council that would ban shipments of hazardous cargo by rail through Washington. At no point in either meeting was Mr. Millar asked if he could raise funds to defend Fairfax County if it also tried to ban these shipments.
The Fairfax Joint Local Emergency Planning Committee and the area's emergency planners, responders and hazardous materials response teams are dedicated to developing, updating and exercising their emergency response plans regularly. These preparations include formal plan exercises involving rail, highway, storage facility and pipeline emergencies. While the member jurisdictions of the Fairfax emergency planning committee cannot readily ban the transport of hazardous materials on a federally regulated means of transportation, we can be prepared for emergencies.
DENNIS A. HILL
Fairfax Joint Local Emergency
Marc Fisher makes a valid point that the risks of transporting hazardous materials must be adequately addressed. However, he's fallen victim to some misleading information about terrorist threats to rail shipments and "worst-case scenarios."
Chlorine is neither flammable nor explosive, as the column stated. Also, the column mistakenly cites modeling data developed to assist emergency planners. The models don't take into account real conditions and were never intended to predict actual harm caused by chemical releases.
We shouldn't forget that chemicals are assets -- not liabilities -- in the age of terrorism. Chlorine chemistry is used to make countless products critical to public health, safety and security -- from clean drinking water to antibiotics and bulletproof vests. Now more than ever, we cannot do without these products or delay their delivery.
C.T. "KIP" HOWLETT JR.
American Chemistry Council
Chlorine Chemistry Council