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Senator Biden to push for 'rail police force'

(Gannett News Service circulated the following article by John Machacek on Mach 10.)

WASHINGTON -- Hoping to capitalize on the uproar over port security, Senate Democrats from states with heavy mass transit ridership called for a greater federal commitment to protect the nation's rails.

Sen. Joe Biden, of Delaware, said Thursday he will introduce legislation to create a "national rail police force" to protect Amtrak.

Others, including Sens. Tom Carper, of Delaware; Robert Menendez, of New Jersey, and Chuck Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both of New York, warned that the Bush administration has neglected rail security despite terrorist attacks on the London and Madrid, Spain, mass transit systems.

"I don't know if we are prepared for an attack on rail," said Carper, who served on Amtrak board of directors while governor of Delaware a decade ago. "But we have to make sure that the moneys that are allocated [for homeland security] go for higher risk first."

Biden said his bill would spend $82 million annually for a 1,000-member "federal marshal" force for Amtrak. Currently, there are 288 Amtrak officers for the entire nation, he said.

The push to beef up rail security is part of a weeklong Democratic offensive aimed at convincing voters that the Bush administration's budget fails to meet national security needs. Thursday's news conference came two days before the second anniversary of the Madrid attacks and against a backdrop of congressional efforts to scuttle a port deal allowing an Arab-owned company to take over some operations at six U.S. ports, including the ports of Wilmington and New Jersey.

"Madrid should have been our wake-up call. The bombings in London should have been our reminder," Menendez said. "How much longer must we wait to secure the over 14 million Americans who use public transit to get to work?"

The Democrats did not dispute the decision to spend $20 billion on airline security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but said it was time to spend considerably more to protect public transit and interstate train traffic.

The government has spent "less than a half billion" on rail security since 9/11, Biden said.

Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has said funding for rail security was increased after the Madrid bombings. Another $8.6 billion is available through general homeland security grants for transit protection.

Friday, March 10, 2006

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