Union Pacific Railroad is asking federal regulators to help it fend off certain new long-haul chlorine shipment requests, in cases where receiving customers could get the supplies delivered by pipeline or shorter hauls.
The carrier recently petitioned the Surface Transportation Board “to clarify the extent of UP's common carrier obligation with regard to transporting chlorine, a toxic inhalation hazard.”
Federal security and safety agencies have been pressing railroads to keep closer tabs on their TIH cargoes, and reduce risks that a catastrophic accident or attack could release poisonous clouds over major U.S. cities.
Railroads under law are obligated to offer rates to haul any legitimate cargoes that shippers want moved. But fearful that financial costs from a large TIH release could wipe them out has led major railroads to push back, by trying to get shippers to indemnify them against the risks and perhaps shed some of those cargoes.
UP asked the STB for “guidance about our obligation to quote rates for new, lengthy movements of chlorine in situations where the transportation would require movement through several High Threat Urban Areas” as defined by the government.
It said a shipper has asked for rates on loads UP would have to haul up to 2,000 miles, while customers at the destinations have options of obtaining the chlorine through pipeline or using closer rail service. The railroad is not giving the customer rate quotes until it hears from the STB.
Yet UP hopes the regulators will allow it reject some loads. It told that “the public interest underlying the railroads’ common carrier obligation does not support unnecessarily exposing the millions of people in HTUAs in the requested routings.”