From the New York Times today:
The railways transport more than 1.7 million shipments of hazardous materials every year, including 100,000 tank cars filled with toxic gases like chlorine and anhydrous ammonia.
According to a recent study by the Navy, an accident or terrorist attack involving a single car of chlorine near a densely populated area could kill as many as 100,000 people.
In New Jersey, where so many chemical factories and refineries are crowded near major population centers, including a stretch near Newark Liberty International Airport that has been called “the most dangerous two miles in America,” the difficulty of managing that potentially deadly cargo is particularly complex.
Since 9/11, railroads have spent millions to install fences and security cameras and add additional officers around the state, but industry officials concede that their facilities are far too large to be completely sealed. Leaders of railroad workers’ unions say it is not uncommon for tanker cars to be left unattended for days, and that security along the rails is frighteningly inadequate. And the sight of graffiti-covered tank cars filled with deadly gases is a reminder of the holes in the security system.
I agree with the Association of American Railroads’ assertion in the article that they have taken steps to address rail security issues – by every account I’ve heard, they have been much more proactive than other industries at improving their own security. But when I read passages like this one below, it’s clear that DHS and other relevant government agencies need a greater sense of urgency about improving rail security:
“Chemical transport is clearly the greatest vulnerability in the country today, and for some reason â€” and I’m not sure what it is â€” the federal government has not acted,” said Richard A. Falkenrath, President Bush’s former deputy homeland security adviser. “There’s no legislation necessary, the government already has the authority to require stronger containers, reroute shipments, and allow the kind of tracking that would allow local police agencies to know what they have to contend with in their communities. But to date it hasn’t been done.”