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Opinion: Chertoff said what?

(Newsday posted the following editorial on its website on July 18.)

NEW YORK -- For a fellow who spent much of his legal career just across the harbor from Manhattan, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff of New Jersey made some inexplicable comments in a recent interview with the Associated Press.

Chertoff began by noting that oversight for commercial aviation is "almost exclusively a federal responsibility." (No argument.) Yet he went on to say that because state and local governments regulate most mass transit systems, they should bear the bulk of those anti-terror costs. (But why?)

Unfortunately, he didn't stop there. The truth is, he said, "a fully loaded airplane with jet fuel ... has the capacity to kill 3,000 people. A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people." So as the feds weigh their priorities, he went on, they must make sure they don't risk catastrophe.

Whaaaat? Check the numbers. New York City's subways carry 4.8 million riders daily. At Penn Station alone, subway lines cross paths in two different places with the Long Island Rail Road (which itself carries 274,000 riders daily). At the same time, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak feed thousands of riders into Penn. Should the unthinkable happen, fatalities there could certainly exceed 30 and quite possibly 3,000.

Ditto for Grand Central Terminal - the destination for most of Metro North's 250,000 daily riders. Several of the city's busiest subway lines pass beneath this station. Should the unthinkable happen, the results could be catastrophic.

One proposal before the Senate last week would have given transit systems $1.16 billion to spend on security. The number got whacked to $100 million. It's a terribly modest amount. New York alone is playing $1 million a week for the extra security it has added since the London bombings.

We hope Chertoff just made a beginner's mistake as he played mass transit security against aviation security. Both urgently need federal help. It now falls to House and Senate negotiators to find more cash for mass transit before they send their Homeland Security bill off to the White House.

Monday, July 18, 2005

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