Chicago Mayor Emanuel Calls for Dangerous Goods Transportation Fee

Due to the alarming number of railway accidents involving railcars carrying hazardous materials, from crude oil to chemicals, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his unwavering support on imposing fees for trains that transport dangerous goods through the city.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel addressed all the mayors last January 23, 2014 and proposed a national fee for railcars transporting hazardous substances. Emanuel said he was greatly motivated by the disastrous rail accidents, which include the one that happened in Lac-Megantic, a town devastated by the oil spill that the derailed train left in the fields of Quebec. The mayor compared the devastation to what happened in Dresden, a German city, after the Allied firebombing during the World War II.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel of City of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Emanuel met with City Council Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke the other week to talk about the unspecified fee that the mayor proposed at the council meeting on Wednesday. Both Burke and Emanuel agreed that the recent railway accidents in North Dakota and Canada were a wake-up call for Chicago and the rest of the nation.

Emanuel said, “With what’s going on throughout the United States in the sense of this energy revolution, we’re going to see more, not less.”

The Chicago mayor added, “This natural gas doesn’t just explode. It stays on fire. . . . If there are, God forbid, any accidents, we . . . have to make sure that our police and fire and first-responders have the training and equipment to handle this hazardous material. Should there be a way to finance all of this and make sure we have the type of rail upgrades to prevent these types of accidents?”

Chicago’s 911 center chief, police superintendent, and health and fire commissioner are responsible for determining the hazardous-freight fee, which will be “based on the fair approximation of the tank car’s physical presence with the city.” The money will then be used to for planning, enforcement, and emergency response.

Chairman Burke mentioned the recent chemical spill that happened in West Virginia as something that can happen in Chicago if proper measures are not implemented. “People can’t drink their water. People can’t take a shower. They can’t fix their food. Where is the federal government that’s supposed to be regulating these kinds of accidents?”

Burke added, “Where I live, I can reach out and touch the railroad tracks. Can you imagine a spill of this magnitude taking place in a dense, highly-populated area? No one could calculate how many people would be killed. [There were] 47 people killed up in Canada in a very sparsely settled town. What if it happens here in the middle of Chicago? Somebody needs to wake up.”

To start Chicago’s efforts in managing the transport of hazardous substances, the City Council ordered Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton to make a petition to the US Department of Transportation to request the retrofitting of DOT-111 tank cars with steel shells that are designed to be extra thin, making them resistant punctures.

Mayor Emanuel said, “Every city is slowly but surely starting to see what’s going on and we’ll be the first to actually start to respond as well as put in place what we need to . . . make sure we’re able to handle something that’s happening literally in our backyard.”