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Democrats fault railroad security

(Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service circulated the following article by Jonathan Crawford on March 10.)

WASHINGTON -- Two days before the second anniversary of the deadly Madrid train attacks, three Democratic senators Thursday berated the Bush administration for what they said is a failure to upgrade adequately the nation's rail security in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Citing a "dangerous incompetence" by the administration to address national security concerns, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware recalled the administration's endorsement of the recent Dubai Ports World deal, the Hurricane Katrina aftermath and, at Thursday's conference at the U.S. Capitol, inadequate rail security.

Biden asserted that the U.S. rail system is a soft target for terrorists. Since the 9-11 attacks there has been "virtually no new security" for rail infrastructure, he said. In fact, he said, rail security receives half the amount of funding compared to airport security even with the vast number of rail passengers. He said that the floor plans for New York City's Grand Central Station were in possession of the terrorists who bombed Madrid in March 11, 2004, killing 190.

Amy Kudwa, a public affairs spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, said that her agency deployed a security team on Thursday to inspect rail facilities in New York, Washington and Philadelphia. These security teams, comprising federal air marshals and aviation and surface transportation inspectors, are responsible for discerning and addressing security vulnerabilities. These inspections come amid heightened concern in the United States as the anniversaries approach of the Madrid attacks and the July 7 attacks in London that killed 57.

"We explore new ways to enhance rail security," Kudwa said.

The senators at the conference Thursday, however, are not satisfied with the security directives implemented by the TSA in May 2004.

"Since 9-11, we've done an admirable job beefing up the security of our airlines, but we're still not doing all we can to keep our vulnerable rail and transit lines safe and secure," said Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said the administration is inattentive to the possibility of such terror attacks. While the Madrid train attacks were a wake-up call and the London bombings were a reminder, Menendez said, the administration has pressed the snooze button by failing to implement security upgrades.

Biden said that, while addressing the security of all of the nation's rails is insurmountable, "we can focus where we're most vulnerable."

A rail security bill proposed in November 2005 would require the TSA to conduct a threat assessment of U.S. railroads and submit recommendations for improving security. The legislation would provide grants through TSA to Amtrak, freight railroads and others to upgrade security across the entire railroad system. The legislation has cleared the Senate Commerce Committee, but awaits further action.

Friday, March 10, 2006

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