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Neb. bill would bolster railroad security

(The Associated Press circulated the following article by Kevin O’Hanlon on February 8. Randy Meek is the BLET’s Nebraska State Legislative Board Chairman.)

LINCOLN, Neb. -- As home to the nation’s largest railroad, Nebraska sees hundreds of trains rumble through it each day.

So one state senator wants to require railroads to assess their procedures for dealing with acts of sabotage and terrorism and share them with emergency responders.

“Unfortunately in these times, we as a state must be prepared for the worst that can happen,” said Sen. Matt Connealy of Dectur in introducing his bill (LB1152) to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

“Railways are vulnerable to such events and we cannot control all aspects of these facilities,” Connealy said. “We can, however, assess the risk, communicate the plan in case of such an event and make sure that the front-line workers are prepared and be able to communicate with emergency responders if such an event happens.”

Omaha-based Union Pacific sends as many as 130 trains rumbling through Nebraska each day, according to railroad officials.

In addition, the nation’s second-largest railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, has a massive facility in Alliance and runs some 100 trains a day through the state.

Railroad union representatives appeared in support of the bill, including Randy Meeks of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Meeks, a railroad engineer for BNSF, said the railroads have had a “cavalier” attitude about security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Nobody seems to be clearly in charge,” he said, adding that the railroads have been slow to train employees on security issues.

“No training was given to me until last month,” Meeks said.

Sen. Mike Foley of Lincoln asked another union representative, Spencer Morrissey of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters union, if he knew of any instances locally where hazardous materials sat unattended in rail cars.

“Five days ago. For 12 hours. In your district,” Morrissey said, referring to six tanker cars full of chlorine that sat in Lincoln while a small derailment outside of town was cleaned up.

Railroad officials said they already have detailed emergency plans and are constantly in communication with federal agencies on security issues.

“We do have our people and we do have plans,” Union Pacific’s Scott Hinckley said.

But if those security plans are given to more people, it would increase the chances of a security breach, he said.

“To get into the details of those plans — we’d no longer have security plans,” he said.

Last year, U.S. Senate Commerce Committee members said the government may be spending too much time and money seizing knives and other potentially dangerous items from airline passengers and too little on preventing terrorist attacks against other forms of transportation, such as railroads.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

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