"Railroad companies are pressing federal regulators to cut back on trains carrying hazardous materials through urban areas, saying they fear a catastrophic release of toxic chemicals in a large city.
The companies also fear billions in legal claims if toxic materials spill during a derailment or act of sabotage. Rail industry associations are petitioning to allow railroads for the first time to refuse to carry chemicals such as chlorine over long distances.
Federal law requires railroads to transport such materials, which are used in manufacturing, agriculture and water treatment.
The companies' move is opposed by the Obama administration and others who say railroads are the safest way to move toxic materials. If trucks end up carrying materials that railroads reject, "that would pose a much greater danger," said Patricia Abbate of Citizens for Rail Safety, a Massachusetts advocacy group."
Thomas Frank reports for USA TODAY May 20, 2009.