Back-Yard WMD

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The New York Times has an important and rightly terrifying piece about the dangers posed by the rail transport of deadly chemical gasses in and around our most densely populated cities. A terrorist attack on a single rail car full of chlorine could kill as many as 100,000 people. But our urban rail yards are unguarded. The Times reporter "spent 10 minutes driving along a rail bed beside cars holding toxic chemicals without being challenged, or even approached, by railroad employees" — this in a depot 7 miles from Manhattan. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has routinely sided with the chemical and railroad companies — rail transport giant CSX's ex-CEO is Bush Treasury Secretary John Snow — stifiling state efforts to require chemical firms to use less toxic alternatives to chlorine, and going to court to block Washington D.C.'s efforts to re-route deadly chlorine cargo away from the city.

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"Chemical transport is clearly the greatest vulnerability in the country today, and for some reason - and I'm not sure what it is - the federal government has not acted," said Richard A. Falkenrath, President Bush's former deputy homeland security adviser. "There's no legislation necessary, the government already has the authority to require stronger containers, reroute shipments, and allow the kind of tracking that would allow local police agencies to know what they have to contend with in their communities. But to date it hasn't been done."