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N.J. homeland chief wants to wall off chemical tankers along turnpike

(The following article by Ron Marsico was posted on the Newark Star-Ledger website on July 25.)

NEWARK, N.J. -- Concerned about the potential for a terrorist attack on freight trains, New Jersey's homeland security czar yesterday proposed walling off the view of parked chemical tanker cars along the New Jersey Turnpike at critical points near Newark Liberty International Airport and farther south in Linden.

The goal is to protect vulnerable 90-ton tankers containing chlorine, ammonia and other toxic substances that line the busy stretch of Turnpike in North Jersey from a bomb or missile that could wreak havoc on the surrounding area. Government filings show a ruptured tanker could spew gas dangerous enough to damage the lungs of people living and working up to 25 miles away.

"You can't hit what you can't see -- if someone were so inclined," said Richard Canas, director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, in a phone interview outlining his plans to erect barriers at key spots. "It just needs to block the visibility to these cars and also provide protections on the other side."

Those additional safeguards include better lighting, security cameras and perhaps motion sensors to detect intruders, he said.

Canas has submitted recommendations to Gov. Jon Corzine, calling for a series of steps to augment both freight and rail security after terrorist bombings in recent years of commuter lines in Spain, England and India. Safeguarding rail tanker cars along the Turnpike has been a priority of Corzine's since he was in the U.S. Senate and focused on efforts to improve security of chemical plants in New Jersey and around the nation.

The security director said he will start by earmarking "several millions" of dollars of state funds to erect the fencing, with the eventual hope of gaining additional money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and private rail lines.

Canas said he will begin walking the area this week with transportation officials to help develop construction plans and cost estimates, adding he is hopeful construction of the fencing can begin within two months.

Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, said the agency already is working with New Jersey officials and others to assess threats along the New Jersey freight rail corridor in high-risk urban areas.

"It's a means to work with our industry partners to determine where there may be vulnerabilities of the system and to direct resources to address those vulnerabilities," Davis said.

Canas said he eventually wants to improve security at all freight train storage yards and sidings in New Jersey, but for now is focusing on two critical points along the Turnpike.

One is across from Newark Airport, where rail tanker cars are often parked along the northbound side of the roadway -- part of an area that security officials have dubbed "the most dangerous two miles in America." The other site is located just north of the South Wood Avenue/Tremley Point Road overpass in Linden, near the Bayway oil refinery.

Joe Orlando, a spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, said the agency has spent about $750,000 in recent months to erect fencing south of Interchange 13A and north of Interchange 13 to help block the view of freight trains. He said the fencing is six feet high, made of steel and alloy and sits atop three-feet-high concrete barriers -- providing nine feet of coverage.

"At certain points during the day, there are rail cars just stopped there," Orlando said. "This is there to provide security and a deterrent."

But a state homeland security official said the existing fencing is not adequate.

The recommendations prepared by Canas also call for increasing "security training for state and local police in communities in and around rail yards," while also convening a forum of public and private officials to implement additional safeguards.

Canas also has proposed improving passenger security by improving the communications system for authorities in Newark's subway system, installing closed-circuit television cameras in commuter train storage yards and expanding NJ Transit's bomb-dog program.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

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