DOJ, Union Pacific Set Accord on 2004 Chlorine Accident

DOJ, Union Pacific Set Accord on 2004 Chlorine Accident

The Department of Justice lodged a proposed consent decree to resolve a federal claim against Union Pacific Railroad for environmental costs, stemming from a 2004 train crash in Texas that released a deadly cloud of chlorine gas.

In a notice set for publication in the April 12 Federal Register, DOJ said the decree resolves the claim for $480,000. The decree was lodged April 2 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, in San Antonio. (For the register notice, click here http://www.federalregister.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2010-08242_PI.pdf)

The government had sought recovery of response costs incurred by the Environmental Protection Agency, after a train derailment near Macdona, Texas, on June 28, 2004, that ruptured a railroad tank car carrying chlorine gas.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a 2006 review of the pre-dawn accident that a westbound UP train hit the middle of a long, eastbound BNSF train that was moving onto a rail siding next to the mainline track. It said the UP train was operated by a fatigued locomotive engineer.

The chlorine gas vented from the ruptured tankcar, and created a toxic cloud that killed the UP conductor and two residents of a nearby house, the NTSB said, while injuring several others including the UP engineer.

The government’s complaint this month said response costs and prejudgment interest had reached nearly $582,000. Under the proposed decree, Union Pacific does not admit any liability, and will pay $480,000 into the EPA’s Hazardous Substance Superfund. The decree will go through a 30-day public comment period before it can be finalized.

This is the second recent government settlement with major railroads to finalize past environmental cost claims from accidents involving chlorine. (See “Norfolk Southern to Pay $4 Million for Chlorine Spill” http://www.joc.com/rail-intermodal/norfolk-southern-pay-4-million-chlorine-spill)

They come as railroads are spending large amounts to develop extensive collision avoidance and remote locomotive control systems, under a 2008 federal law that targeted lanes hauling highly toxic inhalant hazard chemicals or routes used by passenger trains.

Railroads have been asking for federal help to cover those costs, while shippers of chlorine and other highly toxic inhalant hazard chemicals fear the railroads will hit them with sharply higher freight rates to pay for the new technology.

See also “FRA Sets $50 Million Rail Tech Program” http://www.joc.com/rail-intermodal/fra-sets-50-million-rail-tech-program

Contact John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.