Senate focuses on railroad security

The U.S. Senate is currently considering a bill that seeks to improve the security of America's freight and passenger rail transportation system.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on October 20, regarding S. 1052, the Transportation Security Improvement Act. The hearing also examined public and private sector actions taken to enhance the security of passenger and freight rail transportation in light of September 11, 2001, and various attacks on rail systems overseas.

Introduced by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), S. 1052 provides for much needed security improvements for the railroad industry. When introducing the bill, Senator Stevens said that transportation security is "a national security function and an economic necessity."

Among other things, S. 1052 directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a task force (including the TSA, the DOT, and other appropriate agencies) to complete a vulnerability and risk assessment of freight and passenger rail transportation. It requires the Secretary, based on the assessment, to develop specific prioritized recommendations for improving rail security. It also authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to make grants to Amtrak for certain security upgrades, including fire and life-safety improvements and infrastructure upgrades to Amtrak tunnels on the Northeast Corridor.

The bill also provides for grants to railroads (including Amtrak), hazardous materials shippers, universities and research centers, and state and local governments for freight and passenger rail security upgrades to prevent or respond to acts of terrorism or sabotage.

These provisions could address some of the gaps in railroad security that members of the Teamsters Rail Conference have identified in a report titled "High Alert: Workers Warn of Security Gaps on Nation's Railroads." In it, rail workers reported that America's rail system is no better protected than before terrorist bombings in Madrid and London, despite repeated warnings from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that trains are a likely terrorist target. Employees of Union Pacific, CSX, Burlington Northern and others completed surveys that led to the report's findings. A copy of the report is available at: http://www.ble-t.org .

Eighty-three percent of respondents said that they have not received any, or additional, training related to terrorism prevention and response over the past 12 months, a security oversight that will be addressed by S. 1052.

The legislation contains provisions for a rail worker security training program that will prepare front-line workers for potentially threatening conditions, and it also sets forth certain whistleblower protections for rail employees or other persons who have provided information regarding a perceived threat to security to the employer, Federal Government, or Congress, or who have refused to violate or assist in the violation of any regulation related to rail security. The worker protection provisions are among the items on the BLET's most wanted list for a railroad security bill.

"S. 1052 includes many items that the BLET wanted included in a rail security bill," BLET National President Don M. Hahs said. "This legislation is a much needed step in the right direction in order to ensure the safety of our nation's railroads, the communities they run through and all rail workers employed by them."

The legislation currently has 11 cosponsors, including: Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA); Senator Thomas R. Carper (D-DE); Senator Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND); Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ); Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV); Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME); Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA); Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY); Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI); Senator Mark L. Pryor (D-AR); and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY).

 

© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen