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How safe are our railways?

(Citizens for Rail Safety issued the following on June 12.)

BOSTON — Citizens for Rail Safety, Inc. (CRS) unveiled a Penn State University (Penn State) study today detailing the improvements made upon the country's railways, while highlighting glaring holes and therefore opportunities for terrorism. The Penn State report, "Securing and Protecting America's Rail System: U.S. Railroads and Opportunities for Terrorist Threats," gives several recommendations to help ensure the safety and security of the American railways.

"Our nation's rail and mass transit systems have been left vulnerable for far too long. It is critical to the security of our nation that we immediately address this vulnerability and include the security provisions of HR 1401 which overwhelmingly passed the House in March to the 9/11 bill conference. It is time that we give the millions of Americans who ride our rail and mass transit systems everyday the security they deserve," said Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Congressman Bennie G. Thompson.

Perhaps the key issue that the Penn State study uncovers is the delegation of responsibility for terrorism response training and security, and the importance of the role of the federal government. According to Penn State, "Congress needs to pass comprehensive rail security legislation and allocate adequate financial and administrative resources to enhance security efforts." Presently the government allots $671 million for rail security compared to $15.8 billion for aviation security. The federal government must assist the private rail industry with efforts to protect the public from a fatal event says the study

"It is time to take common-sense steps to secure and monitor our rail stations and train platforms, and train our rail workers adequately in terrorism evacuation and HAZMAT response," said Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, member of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Relations. "I'm proud that the Democratic-led 110th Congress has made rail security a national priority. By passing comprehensive rail security legislation in March, we have already taken a significant step towards safeguarding America's rail systems and ensuring that our rail workers receive adequate security training. I am grateful to Citizens for Rail Safety for their ongoing public awareness campaign and thoughtful research on a number of critical rail security issues."

Among the list of key recommendations in the report is the fact that information sharing among state, federal, and local leaders needs to be more open and available; and when appropriate this information should be shared with the public. The study states that another vital issue that needs to be resolved is the increase in terrorism preparedness training for rail workers. The strategy for a response to a terrorist attack or the derailment of hazardous materials must include response official coordination and public information dissemination of information about evacuation procedures.

The research in the study found that there are too many vulnerabilities to America's rail system citing the actions that took place in Madrid and London in recent years, lack of federal funding, policing, and training point to an immanent terrorist attack in the United States.

"Citizens have the right to know what travels through their communities," said CRS Executive Director Patricia Abbate. "The time of disaster is not the time to start devising plans. There should be practices in place that facilitate a coherent and efficient response plan," said Abbate.

CRS, a national non-profit public interest organization comprised of transportation consultants and concerned citizens advocating for national railroad safety and efficiency, is a member-supported organization. Membership is open to all citizens who feel that safe rail transportation is no longer a goal for the railroad industry, but is an obligation. Since its inception in 2005, CRS has commissioned four new reports. For access to the complete report and to learn more about CRS visit http://www.citizensforrailsafety.org/.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

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