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Probe: Trains can be easy terror targets

(The Associated Press circulated the following article on January 16.)

PITTSBURGH -- Train lines that carry hazardous shipments have little or no police presence and shoddy security that makes them easy targets for terrorists, according to a newspaper investigation.

During a several-month, nationwide investigation, a reporter with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was able to penetrate 48 hazardous chemical plants and the freight lines that service them. The reporter, who left his business cards on the cars, was never questioned when he climbed trains, photographed derailing levers and peeked into signaling boxes that control rail traffic, the newspaper reported in a series of stories that began Sunday.

“What you uncovered is a criminal tragedy, and it’s a criminal tragedy that’s just waiting to happen. It’s also criminal what we haven’t done about this,” U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., told the newspaper. Biden has sponsored legislation to revamp rail security nationwide and pledged to hold hearings on the issue.

The newspaper visited rail lines from Seattle to New Jersey that had been documented by the Federal Railroad Administration since 2003 for defects in security. The newspaper found that little, if anything, had changed since those first reports were issued.

In Las Vegas, the Tribune-Review reporter reached 11 hazmat tankers either inside plants or along rail tracks. As a result of the findings, the Nevada Homeland Security Commission said it is investigating security shortfalls.

“Closing gates, making sure workers and guards and police are aware of our chemicals, that’s important,” Commission Supervisor Larry Casey said. “Unfortunately, the farther we get from 9/11, the more people forget about staying vigilant.”

The Tribune-Review reporter left about 100 business cards on Union Pacific hazmat tankers from Las Vegas to Seattle.

“Our only statement is that we believe what you did is dangerous and we strongly encourage people to stay away from railroad tracks,” Jim Barnes, a spokesman for Union Pacific railroad, told the newspaper.

Among other things, the newspaper also found defects or lapses in security in several other areas, including:

--In Atlanta, the reporter climbed aboard unguarded stores of deadly insecticides, flammable petroleum distillates and acetone. Atlanta and Georgia homeland security officials declined to comment on the newspaper’s findings.

--Despite security cameras, roving patrols and high fences at Pioneer America’s Tacoma, Wash., bleach plant, the reporter walked past rail switching levers and safety chocks to access a railcar filled with chlorine that was sitting outside the railyard gates. Pioneer’s plant manager said police did patrol the area.

--In the New Jersey suburbs abutting New York City, the Tribune-Review found the toughest chemical plant security of anywhere, but was still able to enter 12 chemical facilities or railroads. Richard Canas, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said the state is vigilant about protecting its rail lines but there are some vulnerabilities.

Nancy Wilson, vice president and director of security for the Association of American Railroads, said freight security has improved since 2001 but more must be done. There is about 240,000 miles of unprotected railroad line in the U.S.

“You’ve got to remember the open architecture of railroads. We’re not static facilities. We cannot protect every railcar, every rail yard or every customer’s facility all the time,” said Wilson, whose organization represents haulers who handle about 90 percent of the nation’s hazmat truck cars.

Homeland Security officials and the association said there’s no indication that terrorists are plotting any rail attacks in the U.S.

“To me, this is a no-brainer for terrorists in Atlanta or anywhere else,” Sal DePasquale, a Georgia State University expert on counterterrorism and retired security director for chemical titan Georgia Pacific, told the newspaper. “It’s toxic material. It’s unprotected. If you’re a railroad or a chemical plant and you won’t have someone ready to kill the adversary ready to attack your plant, then what can you do?”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

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