Madrid terrorist attacks a wake-up call

The tragic March 11 terrorist attack in Madrid on commuter rail lines must serve as a wake-up call to the United States regarding railroad security.

The railroads are not only potentially dangerous to the traveling public but also to communities across the country. Our nation's railroads, the largest carriers of hazardous materials, continue to route through-shipments of highly hazardous industrial chemical cargoes, such as liquefied chlorine, through dense urban cores of even the most vulnerable and visible High Threat Target Cities.

The federal government terms such high-hazard cargoes "potential weapons of mass destruction" (WMD), and very attractive targets for terrorists. A study by the Naval Research Labs reveals that 100 people per second could die if a terrorist were to blow up a tank car full of chlorine. If that tank car were passing a crowded National Mall, 100,000 people could die in 1/2 an hour.

Despite FBI warnings indicating that our nation's railroads could be likely targets for terrorism, the Bush administration has left rail security up to their friends in private industry to adopt voluntary security measures. (Several high-ranking administration officials come from the rail industry including Vice President Dick Cheney, who served on the board of directors of Union Pacific Railroad until accepting the Vice Presidency.)

The rail corporations, left to their own initiatives, have implemented potentially dangerous cost-cutting measures that have taken trained professionals off of locomotives, created a fatigue crisis among rail workers, and inadequately addressed infrastructure maintenance, rail yard access and other matters of concern to rail workers and the public.

"Since 9/11, the United States has taken swift action to standardize heightened security measures throughout our nation's airports and airlines, but has left our nation's railroads virtually untouched," said James P. Hoffa, Teamsters General President.

A 2003 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report concluded that it is unclear as to whether or not the rail company's own initiatives have effectively deterred terrorism because there are no federal standards.

"We have tried repeatedly to warn the public and the rail corporations about the potential dangers on the rails," said Don Hahs, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a Division of the Teamsters' Rail Conference.

"We hope that Madrid serves as a wake up call for standardized security measures on the U.S. rail system for the sake of passengers, rail workers and the general public."


© 2004 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen