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Calif. lawmakers consider rail security bills

(Sacramento television station KCRA 3 posted the following article on its website on August 17.)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- State lawmakers are expected to decide on Thursday whether two bills aimed at increasing security along the rail system will make it to a vote.

In May, a KCRA 3 investigation exposed serious security lapses at Northern California rail yards. Now, lawmakers are hoping that investigation will help close security gaps.

There are no metal detectors or bomb-sniffing dogs. There is nothing stopping someone from slapping a bomb on a train and running it right through downtown Sacramento.

KCRA 3's investigation exposed little to no security at the Roseville rail yard -- the largest rail yard west of the Mississippi. Trains loaded with hazardous materials sit unsecured for hours at a time.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said KCRA's investigation helped expose one of the greatest threats to homeland security. So Simitian, along with other lawmakers, is demanding change.

Simitian has introduced a bill that would require dangerous chemicals, such as chlorine gas, to be hauled in more secure tanks. He wants to increase accountability for the industry and require hazardous materials and the companies hauling them to be tracked by the state.

"If it's flammable, if it's explosive, if it's poisonous, then let's put it in the most up-to-date technology and provide the greatest degree of safety," Simitian said.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is also calling for increased security.

He's introduced a bill that would force the industry to submit threat assessments and security plans to local authorities.

"The railroad industry has turned its back on railroad safety in a way that is unbelievable," Nunez said.

Both bills are facing strong resistance.

Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that was overwhelmingly supported by lawmakers. That bill would have required simple measures, such as increased signage and notification of any accidents.

"Well, I just didn't believe in it. It was the way it was written," Schwarzenegger said.

Just before he killed the bill, the governor accepted tens of thousands of dollars in contributions. In all, the rail industry pumped more than $65,000 into the governor's campaign within a matter of weeks.

"Our responsibility is protect the public and the safety of our communities, not to protect the safety of the railroad industry and their profit margin," Nunez said.

Simitian's bill, along with an amended version of Nunez's legislation, has a little more than two weeks left before the legislative session comes to an end.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

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