The Bush administration and the railroads defend the rule, saying it will require the railroads to ensure such materials are shipped on the “safest and most secure” routes. The railroads must assess 27 different criteria before determining which route is best, including proximity to densely populated and environmentally sensitive areas. Officials at the Federal Railroad Administration also say that there is a specific mechanism in the new rule that allows local officials to have input about their own communities.
“There is an opportunity for local communities to provide their views on potential routings,” says Warren Flatau, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration. “And if they believe the railroad’s decision did not take their concerns into account, they could certainly come to us and ask us to audit the railroad’s decision.”
Critics note that there will be no way for local or state officials to know for sure if their concerns are being taken into account. That’s because there is no requirement that state and local officials be notified of the route once it is finalized or be informed of the decisionmaking process that determined it. Such decisions are considered “security sensitive” by the federal government and so will remain secret from state and local officials.
“All of the documentation will be secret, and the results will be secret,” says Fred Millar, a consultant to the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “It’s conceivable that not a single elected official in this country will be told the results of this, because the only people that need to be told are people with a ‘need to know’. Challenging any decision is just going to be a can of worms.”
Railroads pledge public safety