ACC, Chlorine Institute urge U.S. STB to reject proposed tariff on Toxic Inhalation Hazard shipments that would indemnify railroads against all liabilities except where railroad is negligent; tariff's shortcomings include compromised safety, groups say

WASHINGTON , February 2, 2012 (press release) – The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and Chlorine Institute (CI) issued the following statement on comments filed by several associations representing shippers (including ACC and CI) with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) urging the Board to reject a proposed tariff on Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) shipments that would indemnify railroads against all liabilities, except to the extent those liabilities are caused by the negligence of the railroad. In addition to undermining safety, the tariff would allow railroads to avoid their federal obligation to provide freight rail service and conflict with existing federal and state laws.

“The STB has stated unequivocally that ‘the safe and efficient shipment of TIH by rail is in the public interest.’ This unprecedented and unreasonable tariff is clearly not in the public interest because it undermines a shipper’s ability to transport products that are essential throughout the U.S. economy. It also sets a dangerous precedent that would allow railroads to sidestep their federal obligation to provide freight rail service under the common carrier obligation.

“The tariff also conflicts with existing federal and state tort laws—creating further uncertainty about whether railroads remain accountable for the safe transport of TIH chemicals. Liability decisions have long been handled by the judicial system—not arbitrarily assigned by railroads.

“Railroads, not shippers, have the greatest ability to guard against and mitigate potential transportation risks because the products they carry are under their control during transit. Union Pacific’s unreasonably broad tariff would shield the railroad from liability and force a TIH shipper to accept responsibility for incidents over which it has absolutely no control, even if an incident did not involve the release of the shipper’s product.

“Transferring railroad responsibility removes not only an incentive but one of the critical checks and balances that ensure the railroads continue to invest in safety enhancements. This could potentially roll back years of progress that all stakeholders have achieved in making TIH shipments safer than ever before. Shippers are committed to doing their part to improve the safety of TIH shipments, including investing in tank cars that comply with strict federal standards that were supported by the railroads, the car builders, and the chemical industry. We also continue to work cooperatively and transparently with the railroads to ensure responses to incidents are timely, efficient and effective. Instead of attempting to bypass legal precedents, railroads should continue to work with shippers to improve an already impressive safety record.”

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