Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 10, 2006

Senators speak out on rail security

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Ground Transport Security — by Christian Beckner on March 10, 2006

Several Democratic Senators held a press conference on Thursday on the subject of rail security two years after the Madrid bombings. From a Knight Ridder story:

[Sen. Joseph] Biden asserted that the U.S. rail system is a soft target for terrorists. Since the 9-11 attacks there has been “virtually no new security” for rail infrastructure, he said. In fact, he said, rail security receives half the amount of funding compared to airport security even with the vast number of rail passengers. He said that the floor plans for New York City’s Grand Central Station were in possession of the terrorists who bombed Madrid in March 11, 2004, killing 190….

“Since 9-11, we’ve done an admirable job beefing up the security of our airlines, but we’re still not doing all we can to keep our vulnerable rail and transit lines safe and secure,” said Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said the administration is inattentive to the possibility of such terror attacks. While the Madrid train attacks were a wake-up call and the London bombings were a reminder, Menendez said, the administration has pressed the snooze button by failing to implement security upgrades.

Biden said that, while addressing the security of all of the nation’s rails is insurmountable, “we can focus where we’re most vulnerable.”

The article also cites a TSA spokesperson outlining recent activity on rail security, but the article indicates dissatisfaction among these senators with these efforts. And a related Gannett story notes plans to introduce new legislation related to this threat:

Sen. Joe Biden, of Delaware, said Thursday he will introduce legislation to create a “national rail police force” to protect Amtrak.

Biden said his bill would spend $82 million annually for a 1,000-member “federal marshal” force for Amtrak. Currently, there are 288 Amtrak officers for the entire nation, he said.

I think that more needs to be done in the area of rail and transit security, but I’m not sure that this proposal is the right answer, especially at this scale. There were around 630 million domestic aviation trips in 2004, and around 3,000 air marshals according to published reports. But there were only about 25 million trips on Amtrak (excluding commuter rail) in 2004, which suggests that a “rail marshal” force of 1,000 would be too large. A smaller force for the high-speed and higher-threat Northeast Corridor might be appropriate, and we should also consider new investments in screening, explosive detection (sniffer dogs), and track monitoring as part of a layered security strategy for the rail system.

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