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Homeland official pushes Hill to improve U.S. rail security

(The Associated Press distributed the following article on March 17.)

WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security deputy Asa Hutchinson defended the Bush administration's commitment to railway security Wednesday, in the aftermath of a Madrid terrorist bombing that killed more than 200 people.

``We didn't get a wakeup call last week. We were fully aware of what needs to be done in our rail system,'' Hutchinson said, responding to questions from a House subcommittee of whether enough was being spent on rail security.

Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security, said the Madrid attack prompted a reassessment of rail security in the United States. Some changes would likely be made, he said, but declined to elaborate.

Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, noted the Bush administration was requesting $5.3 billion for the Transportation Security Administration for the upcoming budget year, with all but $147 million of it going to air security.

``The striking disparity indicates to me that we're not putting enough emphasis on rails, buses, ferries and other modes of transportation,'' Turner said. ``This area has not been a core concern of the administration or Congress and that needs to change.''

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said the amount going to rail security should be doubled, and the administration should start setting security standards for rail lines.

Hutchinson said that Congress has told the department how it wants the money spent, reinforcing airport security and requiring that every piece of luggage be checked. Securing passenger rail service is different from airport security, he said, so the department is awaiting the results of security studies, expected soon, before proceeding.

``I think it's important not to be reactionary. I think we make mistakes in our security when we do that,'' Hutchinson said. ``More can be done and more will be done. It will be different than what we do in airlines.

``It's not the same solution for every transit authority in the United States.''

The department has made $115 million in grants for rail transportation and expects more money for grants in the 2005 budget, Hutchinson noted. It also has installed chemical and biological sensors in subway systems and trained personnel in emergency response.

Plus, Amtrak received $100 million to improve security and the Transportation Department is expected to provide $37 million in rail security grants in the coming budget year.

Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., said the Madrid attack was similar to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, in that some of the suspected terrorists were already known to authorities, but they failed to piece together the whole puzzle.

Cox suggested money poured into additional security ``would not be as well-spent as resources connecting these dots.''

Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced legislation last year to increase penalties for terrorist attacks on rail lines. It would also make it easier to get warrants to monitor suspected terrorist activities.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

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