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Opinion: Secure the tunnels

(The following editorial was posted on the Providence Journal website on May 6.)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- After 9/11, a huge share of the national-security efforts went to U.S. airports. But the recent attacks in Madrid have renewed concerns about rail and other forms of mass transit here at home. At a recent hearing, the Senate Commerce Committee discussed steps for improving the safety of the nation's trains.

As Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D.-Del.) pointed out, one essential measure is to strengthen protection of tunnels, where attacks could prove especially disastrous. One Amtrak tunnel runs directly beneath the U.S. Supreme Court building. The six tunnels serving New York's Penn Station are under office buildings; every day, hundreds of thousands of people move through them.

Critics rightly say that too little has been done to shore up security of the rails. A broad plan for assessing risks is still absent, so the efforts to improve security have been fragmented. And federal agencies have been working at cross-purposes, issuing conflicting rules.

Since the 2001 attacks, the Bush administration has spent $12 billion to make flying more secure. But railroads and other mass-transit systems have received only $115 million. With the political conventions set to take place in rail-intensive New York and Boston, improving the security of the tracks takes on added urgency.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation must agree on their respective roles in this endeavor, and they must establish a comprehensive plan. Meanwhile, Congress should allot money for upgrading tunnels' emergency systems, and improving their fire, ventilation and electrical apparatus.

Plenty more remains to be done. A pilot program for rail passenger screening is about to be tested, and Homeland Security plans to deploy and help train more bomb-sniffing dogs. But improvement of security in the nation's tunnels should not wait.

Thursday, May 6, 2004

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