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Bill would improve El Paso rail security

(The following story by Darren Meritz appeared on the El Paso Times website on April 11.)

EL PASO, Texas — Border cities such as El Paso could get an added boost in grants from federal appropriations if a rail security bill passed by the U.S. House last week becomes law.

The Rail and Mass Transit Security Act of 2007 would have special significance locally because of El Paso's proximity to the border and potential security and safety threats to the city's commercial center, said U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas.

"The bill provides long-overdue funding to improve mass transit security across the country, and also focuses on our own backyard," Reyes said in a statement. "Our region is particularly unique, and it is important that this bill create grant programs to improve infrastructure and training at rail facilities on our nation's borders."

Union Pacific Rail Road operates four rail yards in El Paso, including three in and near the Downtown with about 162 acres, according to data from the railroad and a 2003 study done by Moffatt & Nichol Engineers of Houston for the city of El Paso.

It also operates a 95-acre rail yard where intermodal traffic is handled in Southeast El Paso, near the Phelps Dodge copper refinery. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway operates a 44-acre yard near the Santa Fe International Bridge, at the edge of Downtown.

Joe Arbona, a spokesman for Union Pacific, said that Union Pacific generally supports safety from the standpoint of the rail industry and the proposed legislation, as long as certain conditions are met.

Union Pacific typically supports legislation that benefits both the community and the railroad as long as Union Pacific and the government share the costs voluntarily, that Union Pacific can provide its expertise on new projects and that the legislation would not affect the competitive environment of the railroads, Arbona said.

He added that his company also preferred to see legislation that creates uniform federal regulations for the railroads rather than allows each of the 50 states to create separate standards.

The legislation would establish a program with $600 million in grant funding for rail security improvements, which include money for railroad inspection and related facilities at U.S. international boundaries. The grants would include additional side rail track needed for passenger and freight inspection.

In addition, the bill calls to use $50 million in each of the next four years for security research and development of emergency responses involving railroads, including responses at U.S. international borders. The bill specifically seeks inspection imaging equipment where rail shipments cross an international border to enter the United States.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

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