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Security of Obama train trip worries some

(The following story by Frank James appeared at SwampPolitics.com on January 7.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó President-elect Barack Obama's planned pre-inauguration train trip to Washington via Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del. and Baltimore has stoked concerns among some that he could be at risk from a terrorist attack on caustic industrial chemicals near the rail lines his official train will use.

According to Government Security News magazine:

Two leading environmental groups, the Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, have written a letter to the Secret Service warning about the potential danger of a catastrophic terrorist attack on a hazardous chemical facility along the East Coast rail corridor while Barack Obama and Joe Biden make a highly-publicized pre-inaugural whistle-stop train trip to Washington, DC, on Jan. 17.

Obama and Biden have announced plans to travel by rail from Philadelphia, PA, to Wilmington, DE, to Baltimore, MD, and on to Washington, giving speeches in several cities that day, according to the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee.

"This means that during a period of some days of heightened vulnerability to terrorism, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden on this day will be highly visible and relatively approachable together on the difficult-to-protect Eastern Urban rail corridor," wrote Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder and Greenpeace legislative director, Rick Hind, to Mark Sullivan, the Director of the Secret Service, in a letter dated Dec. 23.

The two environmental groups recommend that DHS and the Department of Transportation should remove temporarily from the Philadelphia-DC rail corridor the most hazardous industrial chemical cargoes, such as chlorine gas and ammonia, and should push commercial facilities to shut down their most dangerous high-pressure chemical operations and significantly reduce their on-site chemical storage.

"Our main focus here is how such a poison gas attack from nearby chemical cargoes or chemical facilities could harm the President-elect's train entourage," said the letter.

Long before Obama's planned trip, homeland security experts were worried about the potential for terrorists to attack industrial chemicals transported by rail, especially through densely populated metropolitan areas, and chemicals stored at plants to cause dangerous releases.

Despite such concerns, some critics say not nearly enough has been done to safeguard the public from such potentially dangerous chemicals since 9/11.

Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace's concerns for Obama's safety merely the latest manifestation of those concerns.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

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