U.S. House of Representatives passes rail security bill
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act, H.R. 1401, on March 27. The legislation passed by a vote of 299-124.
The legislation gives the Department of Homeland Security $7.3 billion over four years to assess risks, train workers and secure tunnels for roads and railways. The Senate earlier this month attached a similar $4 billion measure to broader legislation aimed at carrying out the recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission.
"The passage of this much-needed rail security legislation came after months of hard work and lobbying by the BLET''s National Legislative office, the Teamsters'' Government Affairs Department, and several other like-minded Rail Labor unions," said Don Hahs, BLET National President. "BLET members and their families played an important role as well, particularly with the election of a labor-friendly Congress in November."
President George W. Bush has threatened to veto the bill, specifically objecting to whistle-blower language it said would allow employees with grievances to reveal security-sensitive information.
"I hope that President Bush recognizes the necessity of greater security on our nation's railroads, and does not follow through on his threat to veto this legislation," President Hahs said. "To veto this bill for purely political reasons would be detrimental to both railroad workers and the general public."
The bill included many elements that the BLET wanted in a rail security bill, including worker training. Under the legislation, rail and public transportation systems would be directed to train employees on how to prevent, prepare for and respond to a terrorist attack.
"We applaud the inclusion of worker training in this legislation," said John Tolman, BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative. "This bill includes recurrent training and periodic unannounced exercises for employees. The need for recurrent training for front-line railroad workers has long been a major theme for us, and we fully support conducting periodic unannounced exercises so that the sufficiency of security plans can be tested and in order for our members to better understand the goals and elements of their employers' security plans.
"We are happy that security awareness, preparedness, and response training for front-line railroad employees were included in the bill."
The House bill would require rail and public transit systems to submit vulnerability assessments and security plans to the Homeland Security Department, which would assign each carrier to a risk-based tier.
It approves grants of $2.5 billion over four years for rail security and $3.6 billion for public transportation, with the grants to be given out based on priorities established by the department.
The department is also told to issue an information-sharing plan to strengthen intelligence updates provided to federal, state and local agencies and other stakeholders.
The legislation has been sent to the Senate and was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen