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Homeland Security

Railroad and Transit Security

Prior to the rail-attacks on Madrid in March 2004 and London in July 2005, much of what was meant by rail and transit security referred to passenger safety. However, since the bombings in Madrid and London, vulnerability of passenger rail systems to terrorist threat was highlighted. The 9-11 Commission's report highlighted this fact: "Surface transportation systems such as railroads and mass transit remain hard to protect because they are so accessible and extensive." Although 100 percent safety cannot be guaranteed, improving rail safety can be accomplished by "fixing holes" in any rail system. These fixes involve actions taken at individual stations. Some of these fixes include:

  • Closing gaps in fencing surrounding the rail station in order to better secure the rail facility.
  • Improving the facility's lighting in order to improve surveillance and decrease the site's attractiveness to terrorists.
  • Installing blast resistant trash recepticles to absorb a blast if a bomb is placed while still providing passengers with recepticles for their trash.
  • Installing close-circuit television to increase security personnel's visibility over the rail facility.
  • Posting signs to educate riders about potentially dangerous unattended packages and evacuation procedures in the event of an emergency.
  • Emphasizing to personnel and passengers that they have a role in security by reporting unattended packages and luggage, suspicious behavior.

Rail Security is commonly separated into two parts: passenger rail and freight rail. Each type has its own security concerns. Passenger rail is vulnerable because they are most often located in densly populated cities with numerous stops, allowing for easy movement and escape. In addition, the nature of mass transportation relies on accessibility and quick service, both of which would be harmed by airport-like security measures. Freight rail, although often not traveling through dense urban areas, transports approximately half of the US's hazardous waste materials. As prior accidents have shown, these materials can cause great dammage. The nature of freight rail would also prevent airport-like security to be imposed. As a comercial entity, freight rail must compete with trucks and air in order to effectively serve as transporters of goods. Air-port security would increase rail's costs to prohibitively high levels. Although somewhat separate, the concerns for both are linked because both types of transport often utilize the same rail lines. In addition, freight rail does pass through densly populated areas from time to time and could be used to attack a city.

When compared to airport security, rail security if certainly underfunded. In 2004, the federal government spent $4.5 Billion on airline safety, but only $65 Million on rail security. This discrepency is even greater when one keeps in mind that roughly five times as many passengers use the rail than fly.

The Security located at rail stations centers primarily around law enforcement around the station. The officers at Amtrak, for example, do not focus their training on counter terrorism, but do perform security evaluations of their respective stations. Amtrak also created a Security Coordinator Program. Within each Amtrak division, a Security Coordinator works closely with Amtrak Police and Security personnel to review the security components and steps of the Security Threat Level Response Plan (ASTLRP) and to ensure that employees within their division are undertaking the required steps.

On 20 May 2004 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued Security Directives (SD) requiring protective measures to be implemented by passenger rail operators. The measures instruct commuter, transit and inter-city passenger rail systems to comply with requirements that range from removing or replacing station trash cans to utilizing canine explosives detection teams.

The directives, which are administered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), took effect on 23 May 2004. The directives apply to all passenger rail owners/operators. These include light rail systems, inter-city passenger rail systems such as Amtrak, commuter rail operations such as the Maryland Rail Commuter and Long Island Railroad, as well as subway systems nationwide.

The mandatory measures cover a broad range of security issues and provide flexibility to meet the specific needs of rail operators. They substantiate existing best practices in the rail industry and will ensure enhanced security across the nation's passenger rail systems. The directives require rail operators to take a number of steps, among them:

  • Rail owners/operators must designate coordinators to enhance security-related communications with the TSA.
  • Passengers and employees will be asked to report unattended property or suspicious behavior.
  • At certain locations, operators will be required to remove trash receptacles, except clear plastic or bomb-resistant trash containers.
  • When needed, canine explosive teams may be utilized to screen passenger baggage, terminals and trains.
  • Facility inspections will be conducted by rail operators for suspicious or unattended items.
  • Rail operators will ensure that security is at appropriate levels consistent with the DHS established threat level.
These protective measures were part of a series of initiatives DHS, the Department of Transportation and the industry have put in place to strengthen rail security. These measures include:
  • Assessing new technologies at the New Carrollton, Md. Amtrak and Maryland Rail Commuter station
  • Conducting comprehensive vulnerability assessments of rail and transit networks that operate in high-density urban areas
  • Training for rail personnel in preventing and responding to potential terrorist events
  • Allocating over $115 million since May 2003 to improve rail and transit security in urban areas
  • Developing new technologies including chemical and biological countermeasures

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Page last modified: 13-07-2011 12:51:26 ZULU