CITY HALL — Aldermen pushed the federal government Tuesday to adopt stricter rules on trains carrying dangerous fuels and impose a hazardous-material transportation fee to fund new equipment and training in public safety.
A joint meeting of the Finance and Transportation committees passed a resolution calling for the city corporation counsel to use an open public-comment period on new federal guidelines to push for the tougher restrictions and additional fees.
"This is more about public safety than anything," said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the Transportation Committee. "The railroad companies have an obligation to make the rail cars safer."
Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the Finance Committee, pointed to the July 2013 catastrophe in Quebec in which a runaway train carrying petroleum crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people and causing a blaze that took 150 firefighters more than 30 hours to extinguish.
According to Burke, increased domestic oil production has caused an increase in train shipments, with accidents involving those trains rising from none in 2010 to five last year and five more thus far this year.
"Chicago is the busiest rail hub in the United States, handling one-fourth of the nation's freight traffic daily," Burke said. "As many as 40 crude-oil trains, each carrying a million or more gallons of the flammable liquid involved in several recent fiery derailments, roll through Chicago weekly."
Burke said the U.S. Department of Transportation arrived at new regulations in July, including a proposal to phase out or upgrade tank cars that no longer meet new safety standards. Those regulations also allowed for a 60-day period of public comment to make recommendations on improving them before formal adoption.
The City Council resolution supports those new restrictions, while calling on the city corporation counsel to also lobby for a hazardous-material transportation fee. Without suggesting what that fee might be, Burke added, "The proceeds of such a fee would help ensure that our firefighters and police officers who would answer the call for help have the necessary equipment and proper training to respond to a catastrophic railroad accident."
Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th) said a couple of major train lines run through his Beverly neighborhood and that the city would be hard-pressed to deal with a spill.
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) added that terror threats remain a concern as well.
"Hopefully, our leaders in Washington will act promptly to protect millions of people in the Chicago area before, not after, a disaster strikes," Burke said.
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