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Railroad security is a ‘joke’

(The following story by Dennis Welch appeared on the East Valley Tribune website on December 8.)

MESA, Ariz. -- Arizonans are at risk of dying from terrorist attacks along the state’s 3,000 miles of railroad tracks because of nonexistent security, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes said Wednesday.

Mayes called security a "joke" after hearing that no federal money is being spent to guard the state’s railroads against a potential terrorist strike.

During a special meeting called to address safety, members of the commission’s railroad safety staff also noted that only one person is in charge of terrorist security for the railroads’ entire Phoenix metropolitan network.

"I find this absolutely appalling," Mayes said during the nearly three-hour meeting.

Mayes said the railroads were "woefully" unprepared to deal with terrorism. She plans to pressure the companies and the federal government to tighten security.

The state has become a major crossroads for trains hauling hazardous and flammable materials such as propane, chlorine and ethanol, said Tom Whitmer, a railroad inspector.

But despite that, Whitmer told the commissioners, he has seen little if no increase in security during the four years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Commissioner Bill Mundell then called for staff to begin reviewing the state’s authority over the railroads, which is restricted by the U.S. Constitution.

Mundell has been outspoken about rail safety in the past and plans to use his position to press for safety improvements.

Among his concerns are railroad crossings and train speeds in fast growing areas like the East Valley where locomotives can reach 60 mph.

"You hope the railroads would do the right thing, but sometimes it takes the heavy hand of government," Mundell said.

In other issues, the panel would also like to cut down on the number of trespassing deaths on the track, a rising number they attribute to illegal immigration.

According to federal numbers, the state now ranks seventh in the nation in trespassing deaths — which is when an unauthorized person is killed on the tracks.

So far this year, the state has recorded 22 trespassing deaths. Last year’s total: 21.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

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