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Pa. Senate bill calls for more railway safety measures

(The following article by Tom Barnes was posted on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website on October 23. Ken Kertesz is the BLETís Pennsylvania State Legislative Board Chairman.)

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Two state senators from opposite ends of Pennsylvania want more to be done to protect passenger and freight trains from potential terrorist acts.

Sens. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, and Michael Stack, D-Philadelphia, are pushing legislation that would require two state agencies to assess the risks faced by rail traffic in Pennsylvania and then develop plans to make trains safer.

Mr. Costa and Mr. Stack said last week that the vulnerability of rail lines is shown by terrorist attacks in 2004 on railways in Madrid, Spain, followed in 2005 by the London subway bombings.

"In light of the possible threat against rail systems, we are proposing legislation providing for a railroad security assessment and plan," they said.

The Pennsylvania rail system has 5,600 miles of track and is used to transport tons of freight, including hazardous materials, back and forth across the state from New York City to Chicago, as well as thousands of passengers on Amtrak and rail or subway systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the senators said.

"We must protect the people who use the trains and subways and the workers who work on them," Mr. Costa said.

Their proposal, Senate Bill 1298, got support last week from Ken Kertesz, an official of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which represents about 6,800 rail workers in the state.

"A bill like this has been a long time in coming," he said.

Mr. Stack said there should be more focus on rail security even without considering terrorism. A train carrying chemicals derailed near Hershey in July, and on June 30, a train wreck spilled chemicals into a McKean County stream, killing thousands of fish.

The train safety legislation probably won't be acted on until a new Legislature convenes in January, since there are only a few days remaining before the current session adjourns Nov. 30.

Mr. Costa and Mr. Stack are calling on the state Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to:

Identify the most critical rail assets, such as track, tunnels, rail yards and bridges, and develop contingency plans to restore rail traffic if such structures are lost due to natural or man-made disasters.
Evaluate dangers and vulnerabilities related to transporting hazardous materials.
Improve passenger screening and cargo security systems.
Develop strategies to minimize terrorist threats to the state's rail system.

Monday, October 23, 2006

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