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9/11 commission says rail security ignored

(The following story by Glenn Maffei of States News Service appeared on the Boston Globe website on August 18.)

WASHINGTON -- While the government focuses antiterror resources on aviation, there remains a neglected threat to Amtrak trains, commuter lines, and freight rail, and authorities should better secure the nation's railways, according to investigators and legislators.

The 9/11 commission said the government should identify transportation assets most likely to be attacked, prioritize which ones to defend, and then accomplish both with available funds.

The commissioners chided the Transportation Security Administration for failing to quickly develop an "integrated strategic plan." They also noted that aviation security in the past three years received 90 percent of the TSA's terror funding while rail protection received a fraction of available money.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill also are calling for more attention to rail security.

"We need to try and stay one step ahead of these terrorists, and in order to do that we've got to look at history here," said Representative Stephen Lynch, Democrat of Boston, who has introduced a bill to overhaul emergency training for rail workers and expand safety and communications systems. "We have a very large population of travelers who use the rail every day, and there's very little being done in terms of losing the vulnerability right now in our rail systems."

The Senate next month is expected to move on a $200 million appropriations measure that would for the first time earmark funds specifically for rail security, rather than draw from the Homeland Security Department's general budget. The House version of $100 million must be reconciled with the Senate's, but either one would at least double previous rail security funding levels.

In the Senate, the banking committee authorized $5.2 billion for rail security, and the transportation committee authorized $1.2 billion for freight security.

This month, however, the terrorism debate on Capitol Hill has centered on how, and whether, to create a national director of intelligence and counterterrorism center. Lynch said he was concerned that the need for enhanced rail security was overshadowed by the 9/11 commission's sweeping intelligence proposals.

In its summary of transportation security, the commission stopped short of providing specific guidance on what priority to give securing the nation's rails and how much to fund the effort, leaving those decisions to Congress and the Department of Homeland Security.

The American Public Transportation Association supports the Senate's proposed appropriations level but said an industry survey this year identified $6 billion in transit-security needs -- $5.2 billion in one-time capital expenses and $800 million in annual costs.

Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for Homeland Security's Border and Transportation Security Department, said he agreed with the 9/11 commission's recommendations but said the department is already developing a plan to address each mode of transportation, and it should be completed by year's end.

Noting ground-transportation terrorist attacks in Tokyo, Moscow, Chechnya, and, most recently, in Madrid, Lynch urged quick action to protect railways, and avoid the same mistakes.

"We were victims of our own incompetence and our own arrogance, some would say," Lynch said of pre-Sept. 11, 2001 aviation security. "What I'm afraid of is that we're repeating our past mistakes, and we're assuming that we're invincible, and that is not at all the case."

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

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