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Rail security proponents: Increase funds

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by David Porters on September 12.)

NEWARK, N.J. Attacks on buses and trains have killed more than 400 people worldwide since 2004.

Yet since Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has appropriated "less than a penny" per passenger for rail security compared to about $7 per airline passenger. That, despite the fact 16 times more people use trains and buses, according to New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt.

Holt, joined by Rep. David Price, D-N.C. - chairman of the House subcommittee on homeland security - on Wednesday argued that such facts demonstrate the need to increase funding for mass-transit security in the U.S.

"These are all-too-real, disturbing examples of the vulnerability of transit systems," Holt said from Newark Penn Station - a hub for NJ Transit, the nation's largest statewide public transportation system that handles more than 800,000 passenger trips each day on bus, rail and light rail lines.

To help fix the problem, Price has proposed a $400 million spending package for rail and port security that was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate. But the measure didn't obtain a veto-proof majority in the House and President Bush has said he will veto the bill.

"His proposed spending level is business as usual, and it's not enough," Price said of the Bush plan. "We're not trying to push the panic button; we're approaching this in a sensible, rational way. But we've got to do better."

Holt noted that since Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has approved $30 billion for aviation security compared to about $720 million for mass transit security.

Price's bill represents a significant increase over last year, when $175 million was approved for rail and port security, and $100 million more was added in a supplemental appropriation.

The New York-New Jersey metropolitan area received $98 million of that $275 million total, Holt said. Neither he nor Price would estimate what percentage the region would receive under the new bill.

Price and Holt were joined by NJ Transit police, who demonstrated an array of security equipment purchased with federal homeland security grants since 2003, including a fully-equipped hazmat truck that can be used for tunnel rescues; sensors to detect the presence of chemical and biological agents; a crime-scene unit truck and handheld sensors carried by transit police to gauge radiation exposure.

NJ Transit Police Chief Joseph Bober said the new funding would be used to upgrade the agency's closed-circuit television system to connect it with similar systems used by New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Friday, September 14, 2007

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