BLET, Congress blast Bush on rail security

House Democrats say 'Voluntary standards are not enough;' Railroads held to a lower standard than ports

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and members of the U.S. House of Representatives expressed outrage over the Department of Homeland Security's announcement on March 31 that it was issuing voluntary security guidelines -- as opposed to mandatory regulations -- for railroad companies that transport the most hazardous chemicals in the United States.

The BLET, as a member of the Teamsters Rail Conference, has publicly expressed concern about glaring security oversights on the nation's railroads. Those concerns were summarized in the Teamsters' report, "High Alert: Workers Warn of Security Gaps on Nation's Railroads."

On March 31, the Department of Homeland Security attempted to address some of those security concerns. However, its security plan is merely a suggestion - it is nothing more than a list of voluntary measures that railroad companies may implement if they so choose.

"The Bush administration dropped the ball on this important national security issue," BLET National President Don Hahs said. "Our members are the first line of defense when it comes to the security of America's railroads, and the Bush administration's rail security plan issued today has let them down."

While the security guidelines issued by the Bush administration note that many hazardous materials carried by rail "have the potential of causing significant numbers of fatalities and injuries if intentionally released in an urban environment," the document also states that "All measures are voluntary."

Rep. Markey: Security not an 'April Fools' joke

Representative Edward Markey is the author of legislation that would require the Department of Homeland Security to impose additional security requirements for shipments of extremely hazardous materials, including re-routing of such shipments around areas that raise particular security concerns whenever possible. The legislation was recently adopted as an amendment to H.R. 4439, a bill to reorganize the Transportation Security Administration, during a Homeland Security Subcommittee markup.

Rep. Markey also spoke at the Teamsters press conference when the "High Alert" study was made public.

"(The March 31) announcement is an early April Fool's joke," Rep. Markey said. "This Administration says, 'we have new security guidelines - April Fools!'

"Unfortunately, this joke of a proposal has deadly serious consequences for the security of toxic chemicals transported across our nation's rail network. The Bush Administration motto continues to be 'In Industry We Trust,' and (the March 31) notice is the latest example of the Bush Administration letting companies decide just what security precautions should be taken. This Administration is doing nothing more than asking industry to do us a favor and please protect the public - this is an abdication of its responsibility to the American people."

The risks

Each day hundreds of thousands of shipments of extremely hazardous materials travel through densely populated areas and near critical infrastructure such as bridges and power plants. Enough chlorine to kill 100,000 people in half an hour is routinely contained in a single rail tanker car that rolls right through crowded urban centers without adequate security protection.

In 2003, an Ohio-based Al Qaeda operative was arrested for plotting to collapse a bridge in New York City or derail a train in Washington, D.C. He has since pled guilty. Last year, an accidental crash of a Norfolk Southern train containing chlorine in Grantieville, S.C., killed 9 people and caused hospitalizations and widespread evacuations.

House Democrats blast DHS

Democratic Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security also blasted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for its failure to issue mandatory security standards for the nation's railroads to safeguard the transportation of toxic chemicals.

Fifteen members of the Homeland Security Committee sent a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff on April 3, demanding an explanation why his department, on March 31, issued voluntary security guidelines for railroads instead of enforceable regulations.

The Democrats also question why the railroads are not held to the same high security standards as other modes of transportation.

"The Coast Guard already mandates security standards in our nation's ports, both to protect our economic infrastructure and to protect the people living nearby," the Committee wrote. "The Department should be doing the same thing for the elements of the rail system used to transport TIH (Toxic-By-Inhalation materials) and other hazardous materials."

Each day hundreds of thousands of rail shipments of extremely hazardous materials travel through densely populated areas and near critical infrastructure such as bridges and power plants. Enough chlorine to kill 100,000 people in half an hour is routinely contained in a single rail tanker car that rolls right through crowded urban centers without adequate security protection.

In the letter, dated April 3, the Committee members write: "We are extremely disappointed with your decision not to require railroads to meet certain security standards regarding the movement of toxic-by-inhalation (TIH) materials by rail. Instead, you have decided to issue recommended security actions that are purely voluntary.

"It is time for your Department to take a more active role in securing our nation's rail systems. Terrorists have already targeted rail systems in the past few years."

The Democratic committee members also write: "Our nation depends on your Department to ensure there is some level of baseline security to prevent terrorist attacks on TIH materials transported by rail, and to reduce the consequences of such an attack. Voluntary standards are not enough."

The committee members argue that enforceable regulations need to be put in place, echoing the sentiments of the BLET and other rail labor organizations.

The Teamsters "High Alert" report, the Markey legislation and the House Democrats' letter is available at www.ble-t.org/security .

 

 

© 2006 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen