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Tom Ridge remarks on rail security

(Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge delivered the following remarks at a March 22 press conference on rail security. They appeared on the Department of Homeland Security website on March 22.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Secretary Ridge: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. On behalf of Under Secretary Hutchinson and myself, I would like to acknowledge the nation's rail and transit leaders who are here today and join us: Ed Hamberger, CEO of the American Association of Railroads; Bill Millar, president of the American Public Transit Association; John O'Connor, chief of Penn Station, Amtrak police; Richard White, chairman of the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority, incoming chairman of APTA as well; and Bill Morange, director of security of the Metro Transit Authority of New York.

I also want to just publicly acknowledge a couple of other really fine public servants. Allan Rutter over at the Federal Railway Administration and Jenna Dorn at the Federal Transit Administration could not be with us this afternoon, but they have been working with us not only on the issues that we're going to discuss this afternoon, but frankly have been working with all of us since 9/11 to deal with the issues of safety and security around rail and mass transit. So I wanted to recognize their good work as well.

When America was attacked on September 11th, we instantly felt the warmth of support from our neighbors around the globe. While we hoped to never have to return that favor, certainly our collective thoughts and prayers have been with the Spanish people as they recover from the horrible events of March 11th in Madrid. Terrorism anywhere weighs heavily on the hearts of freedom-loving people everywhere, and terrorist attacks anywhere must remind all of us that the threat of terrorism remains.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation have been monitoring developments in Spain since the transit bombings occurred more than a week ago. And while there are no indications that terrorists are planning similar attacks in the United States in the near term, we have asked transit and rail operators around the country to be on a heightened state of alert and deploy additional security personnel and surveillance equipment, where necessary.

Across this country and around the world, expert and deeply dedicated professionals are hard at work to keep our trains running smoothly and securely. Our transit systems are among the safest in the world, thanks to measures taken before -- and, I might add, immediately after -- September 11th to strengthen security through the vast web of railroads in America.

Now many of these initiatives didn't get too much attention, because most of the public discussion about threat reporting has focused on other areas, other sectors, like aviation. But the bombings in Madrid are a solemn reminder that terrorists continue to expose and exploit our vulnerabilities. And the American public should know that the leaders at all levels of government and the private sector with the responsibility for transportation security have been hard at work every single day since 9/11 to find more and better ways to secure our railroads and our mass transit systems.

The Department of Homeland Security has been working with the Department of Transportation and other partners in the public and private sector to significantly upgrade rail and security -- transit security over the past two years. Now we are adding several new layers of security that we believe will help reduce vulnerabilities to our systems and make commuters and transit riders more secure aboard our nation's trains and subways.

The Department of Homeland Security will develop a rapid- deployment mass-transit K-9 program to assist state, local and transit authorities in the event of a special explosive threat situation. We will use current DHS resources in creating these mobile response teams that will be specially trained to work in the undergrounds and tunnels unique to some transit and rail environments. Building upon TSA's work in aviation, the Department of Homeland Security will partner with local authorities to provide additional assistance and training for their local K-9 teams.

One of the additional challenges we have is to work with the railroads and these transit authorities to build a level of best practices. I mean, part of the federal government's role is leadership and providing leadership and sitting down with the rail and transit systems to determine what, under any and all circumstances, we want as a baseline of best practices to be employed and then building additional measures, depending on the threat or need as it arises.

Now one of the challenges we also know is that we have a situation where we cannot apply an aviation standard to railroads and mass transit.

One particularly challenging area of trying to preserve the flexibility, the convenience and the easy access to mass transit and railroads particularly, and then balance that off with security. Clearly, we could provide enough security to put the mass transit systems out of business. So trying to find that balance is something that we need to do.

So in that end, the department's Transportation Security Administration will begin to implement a pilot program to test the feasibility of screening luggage and carry-on bags at rail stations and aboard trains. We want to see if there are other protocols that we might be able to use, again, not the aviation model, but other systems that might assist us in providing added security to commuters and rail passengers.

Unlike airports, passengers can board trains at several stops, some as simple as a lone platform. The security environment for trains will never resemble that for aviation, but we think this program will provide the department with an opportunity to test new technologies and screening concepts that could be used to deploy targeted screening in high-threat areas or in response to specific intelligence.

As always, vigilance and awareness are the greatest security measures available. Riders and crew must understand when to report suspicious activity and what to be watchful for in stations and aboard trains. That's why the Department of Homeland Security will work with the nation's rail and transit leaders to integrate existing passenger education programs and create new programs to increase passenger, employee and law enforcement awareness. Already TSA and the Federal Transit Administration are developing a number of training templates and rider education materials that will generate additional public consciousness of this threat.

And then, finally, one of the best ways to stay ahead of the terrorists is through the development of new homeland security technologies. The department is working hard to bring the future to bear on the threats we face today. For instance, our Homeland Security Advance Project Agency will invest in the research and development of next-generation technology for high explosive countermeasures that could intercept suicide bombers and car and truck bombs before they reach their intended target. This new initiative will augment other efforts to develop new technologies to combat biological, chemical and explosive attacks.

Just to remind folks, the Science and Technology unit in fiscal year '04 received about $350 million for research and development. And the '05 budget includes nearly $470 million, and much of the initial focus of these dollars is in the detection, the technology of detection for bio, chem., radiological explosive devices.

Already the department screens high-risk rail cargo entering the United States through the National Targeting Center and border inspection workforce to help prevent rail lines from being used as instruments of terrorism. Already, along with the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration, the department has conducted comprehensive vulnerability assessments of rail and transit networks that operate in high density urban areas. And we've allocated $115 million to improve rail security in these critically important urban areas as well. Already the department has held security exercises that bring together rail carriers, federal and local first responders and security experts. And we've hosted key rail personnel at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center to receive antiterrorism training.

We also strongly support the Anti-Terrorism Protection of Mass Transportation and Railroad Carriers Act of 2003. That's a long title. It will do something very simple, and that's make it a crime to attack mass transportation systems like subways and passenger trains just as it is already to attack railroads.

All of this security, new and old, means that our rail system continues to be one of the strongest and safest in the world. The railroads helped build the greatest economy in the world, and today they continue to turn the engine of a great and free country.

Our resolve to protect our citizens from senseless attacks marks an indispensable characteristic of the American experience, one based exclusively on the pursuit of freedom. We will continue to do everything we can to protect this country as the greatest home for this pursuit and all who seek the blessings of freedom.

Thank you.

Sir?

Q The programs that you announced today, are they going to be funded with new funds or are they going to be funded by funds that are already in the pipeline? And the second question is, what about rail transport of hazardous materials? is this being re-looked at again? And what's going to be done with that?

Secretary Ridge: The answer to the first question with regard to funding is that we'll use both those resources you talked about. There's already money in the pipeline dedicated specifically to some of these purposes, and we think we have enough flexibility in other programs to meet the initial needs.

And with regard to the hazardous materials, we have probably one of the closest possible working relationships of all the sectors of the economy with the transportation sector, and within that, the Federal Railway Administration and the railroad community writ large. And the safety, security and transport of hazardous materials is at the very heart of the discussion and the initiatives we are presently working on, far, far prior to the Madrid incident, because we realize that is a vulnerability that could be exploited with potential catastrophic consequences.

Yes?

Q What now would stop something like the Madrid incident from happening here?

Secretary Ridge: I suspect there are several things in place, and these things have gone unnoticed. I mentioned some of the initiatives that the railroads and the transit authorities have taken since September 11th and didn't get too much notice. But you should know that there are far more policemen, both in uniform and undercover policemen, on our transit -- in our transit systems than before September 11th.

There's far more surveillance equipment available. They deployed far more canine teams. So every step along the way, with some of the leadership in support of the federal government, the railroads and the transit authorities themselves have added several layers of security.

Our purpose today is, one, to say in response to Madrid -- but actually it's a continuing work product. One, we will take a look at what some of the major transit systems have done. If you take a look at what Chicago and New York and Washington have done since 9/11, you'll see it's a substantial upgrade. Take those best practices, build on those best practices. And I think another critical feature is employee training and public awareness. And then, ultimately, I think one of our greatest assets down the road -- and only science can drive us to a satisfactory resolution -- is the technology of detection.

Yes?

Q These rapid-deployment canine units you talked about at the very beginning -- how many, how much is it going to cost and where are they going to be deployed?

Secretary Ridge: Well, they would be deployed -- first of all, we do have some -- and right now as we build up additional capacity, we have several units available through the federal protective services. They would need some additional training, but it's at the margin because they are explosive detection dogs. They would be available upon request if there's a specific reporting stream or specific threat to make available to local authorities. We've also found that since September 11th, many of the local transit systems have beefed up their own capacity. I think someone today had said in a conversation before 9/11 they didn't have any and now they've got 18. And if they need additional ones we are prepared to train and -- train additional dogs to be provided to them.

Q Mr. Secretary --

Q Will you be spending extra money on that?

Secretary Ridge: We think there's -- again, part of our job managing this new department is to move the dollars around necessary to accommodate some of the needs. We anticipate that we can absorb the cost for the foreseeable future through the canine training program we have. We'll just -- we may accelerate it depending on the request for additional support and training.

Yes?

Q What about -- these dogs are just for explosive detections. What about biological or chemical attacks?

Secretary Ridge: Well, I think it's a fair comment to say that these are very, very sophisticated dogs and it's amazing how good they are. But they just can't sniff and distinguish everything in the air, and biological, chemicals -- that's an area where we're going to rely on, I think, more the technology of detection. You know, we've got some technology that exists today that we have built upon in our urban areas. The EPA has available -- to pull emissions out of the air and analyze them, but it's a very labor-intensive process.

And the first wave of additional research and development is -- (technical difficulties from source).

Number two, they've actually used some of the dollars that the city has received from its own grant program to beef up security. And again, it's one of the largest, most widely used system -- 180 million trips on that system last year. And so, again, you'll see that under the National Capital Region it would continue to get fairly high priority.

Yes.

Q What about criticism from -- you're saying you're basically going to use money that you already have, maybe get a little more, but there's so many people from the industry and on Capitol Hill that have criticized you, saying you need billions of dollars to actually properly protect the transit and rail system. Can you --

Secretary Ridge: Well, first of all, I think we need to give credit where credit's due. A recent survey of the railroad, particularly the mass transit people say they've invested in the past couple years about 1.7 billion (dollars). And so the notion that things are the same as they were on September 10th is just -- it's wrong. I mean, there have been a lot of -- there have been investment of federal dollars and state dollars and local dollars and community dollars. They really ramped up security. And that is a discussion and debate that we will continue to have this year and foreseeable future. We think, based on the initiatives that we've announced to date, we can absorb that cost.

Look, a lot of these -- some of the best solutions to the concerns we have with regard to biological, chemical and explosive devices are technological solutions. Millions and millions of dollars are being invested in that, but we can't even think about an acquisition strategy until we have a technology that we can acquire.

Yes, in the back.

Q Sir, in light of a further round of 9/11 Commission hearings this week, how better prepared is the country today to prevent a terrorist attack? I know we're safer, many safeguards in place, but how better off is the country to prevent an attack, taking into account intelligence?

Secretary Ridge: Well, I think it's -- we are far better prepared to prevent an attack because the heart of prevention is information sharing and being shared with people who can take action upon it in order to prevent the attack. And the integration of the intelligence capability of all the federal agencies has vastly improved. That ability to not only get information and share it and send it out to people who can do something about it -- clearly, the FBI has shifted its focus since September 11th, looking at those who would potentially either support or actually be in charge of some operational activity within the United States.

You've seen the states and locals step up to do their part in order to ramp up security, as well as the federal government.

The mere fact that we have substantially increased a baseline of security and vigilance around the country, I think, has substantially improved our ability to prevent an attack because we've learned from detainees that added security plus vigilance has probably kept them away from executing some of their plans.

So you've got better information sharing, now by the end of this year the Homeland Security Information Network to be shared with the 50 states, the territories, D.C., the 50 largest urban areas; the integration of the intelligence capability, the analytical capability at the Threat Integration Center; the aggregation and the integration of all those names we have on a Terrorist Screening Center that's available to us at borders, at airports, the information that we continue to get, send down to the states and locals, what we're beginning to get from the state and locals. So I think, without going into the operational changes we've made at airports and borders and the security enhancements, we are far, far better prepared to prevent an attack.

Having said that, it doesn't mean we're done working and it doesn't mean we'll ever get to a fail safe system.

Yes?

Q I'm interested in your comment that you could provide enough security to take the rail industry right out of business. And so I'm interested in how you might strike that balance. What analysis do you have so far or what information do you have at this point that indicates how much inconvenience rail travelers are willing to put up with?

Secretary Ridge: It's the seminal question and at the heart of why we want to run the pilot. I don't know if you've ever been -- I suspect you've been in Grand Central Station. I don't see a lot of people lining up to go through explosive detection devices and pulling over to the side to take their shoes off. You know, you can hop on the Metro here. I mean, people use mass transit because it's accessible, it's flexible, it's convenient; you go.

Having said that, in a post-9/11 and post 3/11 world, we still have to take a look at if there's a way we can engineer access in a better way. And again, the pilot program is to take a look at whether or not, one, will people tolerate a little more inconvenience. It's possible. But are there better ways to get people in and off these mass transit systems? And at the end of the day, depending on where the technology takes us, it is conceivable -- and listen, I went to law school, I couldn't get in any research-based university -- but it's conceivable, since everybody ultimately goes through a portal, that there might be a device or devices that we might be able to deploy as people enter the system. Maybe.

I mean, we still have to see where the science takes us.

Q (Off mike) --

Secretary Ridge: Yes?

Q -- looking ahead into the future, talking about technologies being a major basis for improving security and the possibility of these kinds of portals or perhaps baggage checking, what kind of timeline do you see? When might people actually see some of these --

Secretary Ridge: We're going to start that pilot program in -- by the end of April, beginning of May. And we want to move as quickly as possible on that and --

Q Where is the pilot being held?

Q Yeah, where -- have you decided where to deploy the pilot program?

Secretary Ridge: We're working --

Q And are any special measures being taken for New York City, which has the largest public underground transit in the world?

Secretary Ridge: Yeah, well, we are working with the public transit authorities and folks to determine the best place for the pilot --

Q You don't know --

Secretary Ridge: Well, it would be announced. I mean, obviously we're going to be doing things differently. So we'll let you know.

Q What about New York City?

Q Can we say whether New York or Washington wants to have the pilot program -- (inaudible)?

Secretary Ridge: They both want it.

Q Hm. (Laughter.)

Q And then does it matter the size of the system? Would it be a good place to test it in the largest system in the --

Secretary Ridge: Well, again, the -- I'll let the experts decide the kind of pilot, as robust and comprehensive as possible, to draw some realistic conclusions as to our ability to alter -- potentially alter the flow of people in and out of a transit system. I'll let people who have been much more experienced in that than I over the years determine what's the best place to hold the pilot, how long it should be and, you know, what the stations should be and how many people do we need there. I don't know that.

Staff: We have time for one more.

Secretary Ridge: Yeah. Alright.

Q Mr. Secretary, traditionally, Hamas has not been considered a threat to Americans here in the United States. But it has recently now, over the weekend, issued threats against the United States. Are you concerned about Hamas threatening, attacking in this country Americans?

Secretary Ridge: Well, the -- Hamas has been a terrorist organization for a long time, and they've demonstrated a capability of bringing death and destruction to other parts of the world. And if they are threatening the United States or our interests, either abroad or domestically, we have to take the threat seriously. And we will.

Staff: Thank you.

Secretary Ridge: Thank you.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

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