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Senator says rails vulnerable

(Los Angeles television station NBC4 posted the following story on its website on April 15.)

LOS ANGELES -- Greater rail security is needed in Los Angeles County to avoid a terrorist disaster like the one in Madrid that took about 200 lives March 11, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said at Union Station Wednesday.

"We are vulnerable here, just as we are in rail systems throughout this state and throughout this country," said Boxer, who is up for re-election against Republican Bill Jones and is spearheading rail safety legislation.

"And we need to do more," she said, "and we need to do it quickly, and we have been warned."

Boxer met with local rail, Amtrak and transit officials to learn more about measures being taken to improve security in Los Angeles County and Southern California.

Boxer's "Railroad and Mass Transportation Public Protection Program Act" (SB 2276) was introduced April 1.

It would authorize $500 million a year for five years for increased police, K-9 units and surveillance equipment on rail systems.

A third of the money would go to Amtrak -- the federally subsidized train system -- and be distributed based on passenger ridership. Two-thirds of the funding would be used for freight rail and local mass transit systems.

Boxer also spoke in support of the "Rail Transportation Security Act of 2004 (SB 2273)," which was reported out of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, which she is on, April 8.

The bill authorizes $63.5 million in grants for FY 2005 for system-wide Amtrak upgrades. Some $350 million in grants would go to Amtrak, freight railroads and hazardous materials shippers for freight and passenger rail security.

The bill authorizes $5 million for the U.S Department of Homeland Security to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct an assessment of rail transportation security risks and make recommendations for improving security.

The General Accounting Office would be instructed to compare foreign and U.S. rail security programs.

And $5 million would go toward a pilot program that would be used to randomly screen passengers and baggage at five stations Amtrak serves.

Boxer said SB 2273 could come up for a vote in the full Senate any day now.

Fellow Democrat and county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who chairs the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, escorted Boxer to Union Station.

"In the aftermath of the disaster in Madrid -- that tragic terrorist act in Madrid -- any metropolitan transit authority in the United States has to have its head examined if it doesn't move quickly to do what needs to be done to secure its riders," he said.

He said Boxer is "focused like a laser beam on our needs here in California, in Los Angeles and across the country."

Thursday, April 15, 2004

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