The Department of Transportation’s Surface Transportation Board (STB) has determined that the District of Columbia preempted its safety regime under the Federal Rail Safety Act and the Hazardous Material Transportation Act when it enacted a transportation ban on certain hazardous materials within 2.2 miles of the U.S. Capitol without approval from the district DOT.
The hazmat ban, dubbed “Terrorist Prevention in Hazardous Materials Transportation Emergency Act of 2005,” was enacted by the D.C. Council on Feb. 1. The Council took this action on the grounds that the federal government had failed to put in place adequate security measures around the Capitol.
“But states or municipalities are not free to impose any requirements that they wish on a railroad in the name of police power,” stated STB. “Regulating when and where particular products can be carried by rail, as the D.C. Act purports to do, would not have merely incidental effects on rail operations, as the District and Sierra Club suggest, but would constitute a direct regulation of a railroad’s activities.”
“[The Interstate Commerce Act] is intended to prevent a patchwork of local regulation from unreasonably interfering with interstate commerce,” STB continued. “The D.C. Act would unreasonably interfere with interstate commerce, if permitted to exist, and would likely lead to further piecemeal attempts by other localities to regulate rail shipments,” said STB.
STB noted there are indications that Pittsburgh officials will consider a similar ordinance if the D.C. ban is determined to be valid.
Railroad company CSXT has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in an effort to have the ban declared invalid and to have the ban removed. A hearing is slated for March 23.