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St. Peters aldermen pass resolution to slow down trains carrying hazardous freight

The St. Peters Board of Aldermen unanimously approved a resolution on Oct. 22 asking the U.S. Congress to allow cities to set local speed limits for trains carrying hazardous waste and other dangerous freight.

The possibility that someday hazardous materials from the West Lake Landfill in north St. Louis County might be shipped by rail through the city has spurred the request.

The resolution will be sent on to the area’s congressional and legislative delegations and local city and county officials.

Alderman Rocky Reitmeyer (Ward 1) first brought the resolution before the board at its July 23 work session, saying he was worried about speeding trains traveling through the city. At the Oct. 22 work session, he also said he was worried about trains carrying hazardous waste through the city.

In recent months, issues involving the West Lake Landfill have resulted in St. Louis County residents asking that the radioactive wastes be removed and shipped to a federal storage location.  If there is a decision to decontaminate the site, Reitmeyer said, the material might be removed by rail.

“I’m just totally worried about it,” he said. “I’m asking when they [trains] are going through the cities to slow down just to keep it from any kind of problems these trains might have. I’d hate to see something jump off the tracks and come into our backyards and be a hazard in our area.”

A clause in the resolution states that the lack of local control poses a serious threat to local residents while “a slower rate of speed could save lives and prevent train accidents throughout the county.”

Alderman Jerry Hollingsworth (Ward 2) commended Reitmeyer for offering the resolution.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Hollingsworth said. But he also noted that current efforts by Congress to enact legislation to regulate train speeds already face strong opposition from the rail industry.

The resolution first came before the board in July. But the board did not take action at that time to allow Reitmeyer to discuss the issue with the St. Charles County Municipal League and the Missouri Municipal League.

Reitmeyer said that over the last several months, he has received support from local and state municipal league officials. He noted that, in general, local officials don’t know how fast trains are going and what they are carrying when they go through the city. He said he’s also concerned about the condition of rail cars.

In 1996, the board had adopted a similar resolution regulating train speeds. Since then, Reitmeyer said speeds appear to have increased.The city has three railroad crossings along its northern boundary.

Rail speed limits in the United States are regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration and railroads implement their own speed limits.

The resolution notes that the Norfolk Southern Railroad, whose lines run through the city, routinely inspects track and railroad crossings two times per week. But if a train is traveling at 55 mph, it takes about 1.5 miles for it to be able to stop, Reitmeyer said.

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