CSX talks with Md. on cargo

Railroad says it wants state in project that gives information about shipments

December 05, 2007|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun reporter

CSX Transportation, which operates trains that carry hazardous freight through the heart of Baltimore, has assured the city's members of Congress that the company is talking with Maryland officials about "immediately" including the state in a pilot project that gives security officials access to information about dangerous cargo.

In a letter to five Maryland legislators, CSX Corp. Chief Executive Officer Michael J. Ward also promises to give Baltimore officials access to its network operations during future Ravens games this season at M&T Bank Stadium, which borders the CSX tracks where 12 railcars derailed Nov. 24.

The incident did not result in a leak or fire, but it renewed concerns raised by a 2001 derailment and subsequent conflagration in the nearby Howard Street Tunnel about the safety of transporting hazardous chemicals through downtown Baltimore.

But Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, one of five members of Congress who wrote to CSX Corp. after the recent derailment, said he was not fully satisfied with the railroad's reply. He said members of the Maryland delegation, along with state and city officials, have called for a meeting with railroad executives next week to clarify remaining issues.

"I don't know what `immediately' means, and we have to get a clear definition of what that means," Cummings said. "I want it to be yesterday."

Calls to CSX Corp. were not returned yesterday.

Last week, Cummings, along with Maryland's two senators and two other representatives, wrote Ward to urge CSX to take steps to ensure the safety of people attending the Army-Navy game on Saturday and the Ravens game against the New England Patriots on Monday night.

Calling himself a Baltimore native, Ward said in the letter dated Friday that the railroad had agreed to give city officials access to its Network Operations Workstation (NOW), during the weekend's games. He also promised similar access for those officials for the Ravens games Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts and Dec. 30 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The reply was sent to Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin and to Reps. Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes. All are Democrats.

Guarding information

Freight railroads - CSX in particular - have long jealously guarded information about what they are shipping and where and when.

But recently, after pressure from Congress and local elective officials, CSX launched a pilot project giving officials in some states NOW terminals providing them with real-time information on the railroad's shipments. The project is under way in New York, New Jersey and Kentucky.

In his letter, Ward said CSX is "entering into discussions with Maryland officials about enrolling Maryland immediately" in the project.

Ward noted that as a condition of participation, the states have agreed to maintain the confidentiality of proprietary information.

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, confirmed that there have been talks between the railroad and members of the governor's staff.

"It certainly is a critical first step in the process, but many of the details remain to be worked out," Abbruzzese said.

For instance, Ward's letter does not deal with the issue of whether state officials would be allowed to share information with Baltimore fire and police officials.

Cummings, a high-ranking member of the House committee that oversees transportation, said that is one of his key concerns.

"I want them to work with the state, but the state is not going to be the first people to respond to the emergency," he said. "That's probably going to be the city."

Cummings also expressed disappointment that Ward's letter did not address Orioles games or future Ravens seasons. Like M&T Bank Stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards lies close to the CSX main line through the city.

2001 tunnel incident

In 2001, the Howard Street Tunnel chemical fire forced the postponement of three Orioles games and forced the evacuation of many downtown buildings. The 112-year-old tunnel, a bottleneck with no convenient alternative for north-south traffic, was closed for a week - paralyzing East Coast freight traffic.

Ward wrote that while CSX will work closely with security officials, "we are required by federal law to satisfy the railroad's common carrier obligations and meet the vital shipping needs of the East Coast, including chemical shipments."

Cummings said he shares the railroad's concern about the flow of commerce but believes some inconvenience might be necessary.

"I am more concerned about human life and safety," the congressman said.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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