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Anti-terrorism 'smart fence' is planned for N.J. Turnpike

(The following article by Tom Feeney was posted on the Newark Star-Ledger website on December 14.)

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey will guard against a potential terrorist attack on chemical-filled freight trains by building a 10-foot fence and installing sensors and closed circuit monitors along a 2.6-mile stretch of the Turnpike between Linden and Newark.

The 90-ton tanker cars that are often stopped on the rails just off the northbound side of the New Jersey Turnpike represent a terror threat homeland security officials have worried about since bombings in recent years on commuter rails in Spain, England and India.

The cars -- often in plain view of passing motorists -- are used to carry chlorine, ammonia and other toxic substances that could wreak havoc over a large area if the tankers were ruptured in an attack.

An estimated $6 million will be spent by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to erect the so-called privacy fence to shield the tankers from public view. The authority's board voted yesterday to let Executive Director Michael Lapolla award the contract once bids are opened next month.

The state Department of Transportation will turn the barrier into a "smart fence" by designing and installing a system of closed-circuit monitors and motion sensors to be used with the privacy screen. That work will begin when construction on the privacy screen is further along, DOT spokeswoman Erin Phalon said.

"You can't shoot what you can't see," Richard Canas, director of the state's Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said yesterday in describing the security benefit the privacy screen would yield. "The objective is to get the cars out of sight and, hopefully, out of mind."

The Turnpike Authority will pay for the fence. Canas said his office has set aside $600,000 to pay for the technology that will be used with it, though he expects it will cost less.

The fence will be installed in three sections. A one-mile stretch will be erected near the Bayway Refinery in Linden. Stretches of 1.1 miles and a half-mile will be erected near Port Newark/Elizabeth, across the Turnpike from Newark Liberty International Airport.

The fence is being built on an accelerated schedule, Lapolla said. That's why the board voted yesterday to let him award a contract after bids are opened Jan. 4 rather than waiting for the next board meeting Jan. 31.

Officials expect it to be in place by the spring.

Gov. Jon Corzine, whose concern about the safety of New Jersey's chemical facilities dates to when he served in the U.S. Senate, directed the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness to come up with a rail security strategy to protect both commuter and freight operations, Canas said.

"Transit is our Achilles heel," Canas said. "That's what keeps me up at night."

The sections of rail just off the heavily traveled section of Turnpike known as "chemical alley" were quickly identified as areas where security needed to be beefed up, Canas said.

Conrail and other freight operators have told state homeland security officials that tankers are not left near the Turnpike when they are filled with dangerous chemicals. Nonetheless, Canas said, the public perception of a vulnerability was enough to justify the security measures.

"Everybody who drives up and down the Turnpike says, 'What the heck is going on with those tankers so close to the highway,'" he said.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

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