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Railroad cargo particularly vulnerable at Port of NY and NJ, official says

(The Associated Press circulated the following article by Donna De La Cruz on November 16.)

WASHINGTON -- More needs to be done to ensure cargo being brought into the United States on railroads is secure, a top Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official said at a maritime and port security summit here Tuesday.

"There is not nearly enough attention paid to railroad cargo as there is to the inspection of containerized cargo," said Bethann Rooney, the Port Authority's port security manager.

Rooney said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with marine terminals in New Jersey and New York City, is the largest automobile handler in the United States. Close to 600,000 automobiles move through its facilities via railroad every year. The agency counts buses, subway cars and tractors as automobiles shipped in and out of its facilities.

The vehicles "all have their seats taken out and are shrink-wrapped in material you cannot see through and are generally not inspected," she said. "If you can think about how much you can put in a 40-foot container, you can put that much more in a 50-foot-long railroad car."

Rooney added that if the maritime industry wants to remedy these security lapses, the federal government will have to provide more money to help the industry fully comply with the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, which requires all segments of the industry to develop security plans.

But earlier this year, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the federal government cannot afford to pay for the increased security needed to protect U.S. ports from terrorists. The federal government set aside nearly $3 billion on security programs for this year.

Rooney said the U.S. Coast Guard's estimate to implement the act was $5.4 billion over 10 years for 3,500 maritime facilities.

"That's nothing more than $321,000 per facility to implement the act for year one," Rooney said.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has 161 facilities that were required by the act to submit security plans. The security costs for just two of those facilities was a total of $32 million, Rooney said.

The Port Authority's operating expenses have increased 500 percent since Sept. 11, with police overtime, security guards and maintaining new equipment needed for security measures, Rooney said. She added that the agency is now spending $25 million a year on operating expenses just for the agency's port facility on the Hudson River.

In order to address the costs, some ports have begun to impose user fees or port security surcharges. The Port Authority has not decided to do that yet, but it may have to down the road, Rooney said.

"For every dollar we're spending on security, that's one less dollar we're spending on infrastructure improvement that are necessary to handle growth and volume," Rooney said.

The Port Authority has several marine terminals, including Port Newark/Elizabeth and its Auto Marine Terminal in New Jersey, the Brooklyn Piers and Red Hook Container Terminal and the Howland Hook Marine Terminal in New York City.

The combined facilities are the 13th largest port in the world, and the third largest in the United States, handling more than 4 million containers last year _ that amount represented 13 percent of all the cargo entering the United States, valued at $90 billion, Rooney said.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

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