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Railroad security sidelined

(The following story by Lisa Friedman appeared on the Long Beach Press Telegram website on July 7.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than a year since declaring the deadly Madrid train bombings a "wake-up call' about the need for tighter rail security in the U.S., Congress has failed to pass far-reaching legislation safeguarding the nation's bus, train and subway systems.

Among the stymied measures was a $1.1 billion plan sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to protect the railroads running through Los Angeles and other urban centers. His bill, which passed the Senate but stalled in the House, also would have required the Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan to improve rail security nationally.

A separate bill would have authorized $3.5 billion over three years for rail and bus security. That one fell victim to a turf battle between the Transportation and Homeland Security departments over who had the authority to dole out grants.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who co-sponsored McCain's legislation, blasted Congress' failure to act on rail security.

"This administration, and I have to say, this Congress, just doesn't take it seriously enough," Boxer told National Public Radio.

The attack in London, she said, "should be another horrific reminder that we have not done enough to protect our transit systems, our ports, our landmarks, nuclear power plants, chemical plants, water systems."

William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, said federal funding for rail security has been "woefully inadequate."

Millar noted that Congress has given public transportation $250 million in security funding since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, compared with $18.1 billion for airline security.

Regional lawmakers disputed his assessment.

"We're doing everything humanly possible," said Rep. Gary Miller, R-Diamond Bar, who sits on the House Transportation Committee.

He called rail and airline security "apples and oranges," and said the terrifying ability to use an airplane as a missile is just one reason why that industry needs more help from Congress.

Still, Miller noted that the public transportation systems have spent $2 billion to improve security since Sept. 11, 2001. In addition to federal grants the Transportation Security Administration also has issued a host of new rail security rules.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, agreed that rail systems have already seen improvement.

Jim Berard, Democratic spokeswoman for the House Transportation Committee, said the logistical difficulties in protecting subways and train stations is a top reason for congressional inaction.

"Can you imagine having to have a magnetometer at every bus stop?" he said. "To that extent, it's one reason why we haven't tackled it. It's just so daunting."

Friday, July 8, 2005

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