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Exclusive: Rail workers have little faith in security efforts, Union survey is finding

(The following article by Sean Madigan was posted on the Congressional Quarterly website on February 2.)

WASHINGTON -- Were locomotive operators hauling freight trains to Washington Wednesday night supposed to be on special alert as President Bush delivered his State of the Union speech?

Engineers and others who work on trains probably would have had no idea, said the Teamsters Union, which represents them.

There was no public word of an alert, and officially, CSX has voluntarily rerouted trains during major events on the National Mall and during the State of the Union speech at the request of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Since September, the union has surveyed about 5,000 locomotive engineers to find out what the men and women on the front lines think about rail security. They have not finished collecting the data, but union officials say the early results are not promising.

"Overwhelmingly, people don't know if it is a terrorist alert day," said Carin Zelenko, a union official who works on the Teamsters' rail security campaign. She said a majority of respondents say rail yards are not secure. They see little evidence of an increased police presence, she said, and rarely see certified engineers who could respond to hijackings or other emergencies.

Zelenko said the union launched the survey to test claims by the railroad industry that security has increased significantly since the attacks of Sept. 11.

"They'll come out every time: 'There's no problem, everything is fine,'" Zelenko said. "It just doesn't jibe with what we are hearing."

The Teamsters' survey asks workers simple questions: Have you worked alone today? Did trains carrying hazardous materials pass your work area today? Have you received any or additional training related to terrorism prevention and response in the past 12 months? Respondents check "yes," "no" or "don't know."

Rick Inclima, the director of education and safety for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE) - which became part of the Teamsters Jan. 1 - said he expects to survey about 10,000 of the union's 32,000 track workers within the next month.

"What we constantly hear from the industry is that everybody is trained, it's a team effort," Inclima said. "These guys on the ground don't feel like they are part of the team."

He said that although the industry might have developed a strong preparedness and security plan, it does little good if the "boots on the ground" don't know what it is or how to respond during an event.

"We're not looking for the secrets, but we need to know the framework," he said. Wait and See Tom White, a spokesman for the American Association of Railroads, said it is hard to respond to the Teamsters' survey because the results are not final and he does not know the survey methodology.

"They make these statements and these claims, but they don't bring anything to back it up," White said. "The railroads have stepped up security."

White said the industry's four-level alert system, which was adopted in December 2001, relies on intelligence from the FBI and DHS. He said the alert level changes only when there is a specific threat to rail security.

Railroad employees should be aware of the system and how to respond, White said: "They're supposed to respond to everything they see . . . this has been explained to them."

Both the railroad industry and the union seem to agree on one thing: The federal government has not spent enough money on rail security - especially compared with what it has spent on aviation.

"What has been done has been paid for by the railroads themselves - well over $100 million," White said. "The railroads have been paying attention to security all along."

In a press release last September, the Teamsters said, "[T]he Bush Administration has ignored the FBI's warnings about likely attacks on commuter and freight rail lines, and has left railroad security up to their friends in private industry."

Zelenko said she did not know when the union would release the complete survey results. Inclima said he expects the BMWE's survey to be finished in about three months.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

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