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CSX says passenger rail biggest security threat

(The following story by John D. Boyd appeared on The Journal of Commerce website on April 22, 2010.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — CSX Transportation, one of the continent’s largest freight railroads, sees the greatest security risk for its system from potential terrorist attacks on passenger trains that run on CSX tracks.

Howard R. Elliott, the company’s vice president for public safety and environment, made that point before a hearing on surface transportation security needs at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Elliott first ticked off a list of steps CSX and other major railroads have taken in recent years since the September 11 terrorist strikes against the World Trade Center and Pentagon to improve security along their networks as they handle cross-border shipments and hazardous materials.

But he told senators, “our actions cannot be solely focused on freight rail security. Given the information we have received from federal intelligence sources, we believe that the greatest terrorist threat to CSXT comes from the approximately 8 million passenger and commuter train miles each year that operate on CSXT-owned rail lines.”

Elliott said CSX in 2007 established 149 “safe havens” along its lines where Amtrak trains could be safely stopped roughly 30 miles apart to evacuate or tend to passengers in the event of heightened terrorism concerns or actual attack. Last year, he said, CSX added similar safe haven stops for its four commuter rail partner lines.

CSX has “the only U.S. based freight railroad police department to be nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies,” he said. Its police force includes a group of special agents in a Rapid Response Team that Elliott said are “the premier rail counter-terrorist experts in the industry.” The RRT has explosive-detection and tactical specialists, plus medical support and hazardous materials engineers.

The remarks make clear that increasing the use of freight rail corridors for intercity passenger trains adds more security issues for the freight system. It also raises a question of who pays. “The Class I railroads would urge the committee to direct future grant programs precisely to freight rail infrastructure security projects,” Elliott said.

Friday, April 23, 2010

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