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Railroad security now includes terrorism

(The following article by Harold Reutter was posted on the Grand Island Independent website on March 23.)

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. -- Floods and fires used to preoccupy railroad executives when it came to securing rail lines.

After Sept. 11, 2001, rail executives added terrorists to the list of things to worry about, according to Robert Grimaila of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Grimaila, U.P. vice president of environment and safety, spoke Thursday at the annual Nebraska Infrastructure Protection Conference at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island.

When people look at some of the vital cargo transported by rail, it is easier to understand why rail lines and trains might make a tempting terrorist target, Grimaila said.

Sixty-four percent of all coal is transported by train, Grimaila said. Nationally, 50 percent of coal comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.

Grimaila said 70 percent of all autos are shipped by rail, with the percentage rising to 100 percent if auto parts are included.

Trains are a vital link in the nation’s food supply, transporting agricultural equipment and fertilizer to the nation’s farms, then hauling either bulk agriculture products or finished food products to consumers, he said.

In addition, railroads also ship military equipment. With the nation at war with Iraq, maintaining the security of military material is paramount.

Grimaila said Union Pacific alone has 33,000 miles of rail lines, along with 400 bridges and 700 tunnels. He noted U.P. and other rail lines in Nebraska are some of the busiest in the nation.

“It’s like the I-80 of rail lines,” he said.

As an industry, railroads may have made the quickest changes in reaction to 9/11, said Grimaila, who cited a report that contended that out of 28 government and private agencies in the country, only railroads deserved to get an “A.”

Grimaila said that grade was issued within the first year after 9/11. Since that time, other industries have probably earned the same grade when it comes to improving security.

Grimaila said railroads have four security levels.

Level one is normal, day-to-day operations, he said. Railroads haven’t operated at level one since 9/11.

Level two is heightened security awareness, which has become the new standard since 9/11, Grimaila said. Again, that heightened awareness is needed when railroads are shipping some military material needed for the war in Iraq.

Level three is a credible threat of attack and level four is a confirmed threat of an attack.

Grimaila said railroads use a formula that is likely familiar to people who work in security: “Threat” times “impact” times “vulnerability” equals “risk.”

It is not feasible to reduce risk all the way to zero, Grimaila said. But moving just one of the factors -- threat, impact or vulnerability -- toward zero can greatly reduce risk.

Railroads try to add layers of protection, including detection, deterrence, delay, defense and defeat.

Grimaila said railroads have tried to build relationships with others such as law enforcement and the military to bolster security. He said railroads and others need to share intelligence.

“You don’t get unless you give,” he said.

Railroad officials know that local and state responders are going to be of the most immediate help.

“You don’t wait for the federal government,” Grimaila said.

Railroads carry toxic inhalant materials such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia, Grimaila said.

Only 0.3 percent of Union Pacific’s business is for such materials. But with 9 to 10 million cars, that 0.3 percent equals 30,000 to 32,000 cars of toxic inhalant materials transported each year, he added. About 85 percent of toxic inhalants transported by rail is either chlorine or anhydrous ammonia.

Grimaila said the 0.3 percent accounts for about half the railroad’s insurance premiums. In some ways, railroads would prefer not to haul such materials, but that is a legal requirement.

He also noted that if railroads did not transport such materials, they would still be hauled, usually in less secure modes of transportation.

Railroads are working with the chemical and fertilizer industries on new tank car design standards, including items such as shell thickness and valve protection, Grimaila said.

With the NCAA basketball tournament under way, railroads cooperate with local officials to delay shipment of sensitive materials near such venues when they are filled with people.

Global positioning systems or GPS and container seals that can show where they have been closed and opened also help to improve security for shipping sensitive or hazardous materials.

Railroad executives must concern themselves with more than physical infrastructure when it comes to thwarting threats from terrorism, said Robert Grimaila of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Union Pacific Railroad alone has 52,000 employees and it has another 80,000 people who work in cooperation with the railroad to ship materials around the country.

That requires background checks of employees to ensure secure transportation, Grimaila said.

On the other hand, Union Pacific has 52,000 sets of eyes and ears to help detect threats to railroad safety, he said.

U.P. also is enlisting the eyes and ears of citizens by publicizing the number, (888) 877-7267 (888-UPRR-COP), for people to call if they see anything amiss.

Grimaila said he is convinced there are people in the United States who are taking photographs and trying to obtain information to plan another terrorist attack on this country.

Friday, March 23, 2007

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