By LISA STARK (@LisaStark) AND LAUREN VANCE
May 8, 2011
With the revelation that al Qaeda was considering targeting U.S. rail lines, transportation officials and experts are concerned that enough is being done to ensure that train travel is safe.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said today that there should even be a "do not ride" list for Amtrak, similar to the no-fly lists that are part of the airline security effort. Train bombings overseas, such as occurred in Madrid and London, are eveidence of what terrorists are capable of, but the documents found in the raid last week on Osama bin Laden's compound indicated that the more likely mode of attack would be on the rails themselves, rather than a terrorist trying to get on a train with a bomb. By tampering with the rails, the intelligence indicated, al Qaeda was hoping to send a whole train tumbling off a bridge or into a valley.
"The targeting of the railroad infrastructure itself is a much smarter move on the part of the terrorists, because you get more bang for the buck," said Kevin Lynch, a retired freight rail police chief who consults on railroad police practices.
With so much of the train lines running through the wide open spaces in this country, there could be attractive terrorist targets. Forty percent of the rail lines in the United States have no automatic monitoring systems. Those lines are supposed to be inspected at least twice a week, but that still can leave long stretches of track unwatched for long stretches of time.
"You could disrupt the rail network and disrupt commerce across the country," Lynch said.
There are 140,000 miles of freight and passenger track in the United States, not counting subway systems and light rail, as well as 3,100 train and transit stations. There were more than 4 billion passenger rail trips last year from commuters rushing to work, students heading to school and families out on vacation.
On any one day, 78,000 people ride Amtrak, 660,000 step on the elevated trains in Chicago, and 8 million ride the New York City subway system.
The rail lines along Amtrak's heavily traveled Northeast Corridor from Washington, D.C., to New York, the lines are carefully inspected.
"These guys out here, yeah workers out here, every day walk every mile of the railroad," Amtrak engineer Jack Barton said.
"We have people out on the Northeast Corridor tracks every day," Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm told ABC News, but he said "they are not necessarily inspecting every mile of track, every day."
Workers also inspect and maintain bridges and electrical power substations, overhead wires and stations and signal systems, and drainage ditches, he said.
In recent years, anti-terror deterrents have been introduced, such as additional bomb detection equipment and new vapor wake detection dogs trained to smell every possible component of explosives, which the Department of Transportation announced in late October.
As a result of what appears to be an already employee strapped system, adding trained K-9's could make sense. According to Bureau of Labor statistics, there are fewer than 1,000 officers policing rail transportation in the United States.
A most recent record to step up the nation's rail security was seen in July when Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano launched the first phase of the agency's "See Something, Say Something" campaign, requesting the public play a role in pointing out potential railway threats.
The effort is part of a series of events called Operation Rail Safe, which includes local, state, and federal efforts to increase occasional security presence onboard trains, canine sweeps and random passenger bag inspections at unannounced locations.
Lynch, however, said he is not convinced.
"Most of the time the railroad is unprotected, hundreds and hundreds of miles at a stretch," he said.
Nevertheless, officials are promising heightened vigilance.
Editorial: Rail safety must be larger priority for U.S.
Reports out of Pakistan based on the "treasure trove" of information uncovered in Osama bin Laden's hideaway suggest the terror kingpin and his associates had at least been considering a plot to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. This one would have involved America's rail system rather than airplanes, and would have centered on sabotaging railroad tracks or destroying a railroad bridge.
Tempting as it is to dismiss a plan so vague and ill-formed that we suspect bin Laden had seen the end of "The Bridge on the River Kwai" one too many times while holed up in his compound with his remote and a blanket, railroad security has been a concern since 9/11, if not getting the attention that air transportation safety has. This discovery may be a wake-up call.
Already U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has suggested that Amtrak needs to start using a "no-ride" list patterned after the federal "no-fly" list that has been in place for the last decade. "Anyone, even a member of al-Qaida, could purchase a train trip ticket and board an Amtrak train without so much as a question being asked from an Amtrak official," he said.
As many folks can testify, screening procedures can be awfully light, almost nonexistent. Even at Chicago's Union Station, security is not apparent beyond occasional announcements over the public address that passengers should keep track of their own bags. There are no electronic scanning machines or manual luggage checks.
Schumer goes on to argue that "one need only look to the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, in 2004, to know how devastating an attack on our rail systems could be." He notes that a no-ride list is possible to create here - if not for in-city commuter trains like Chicago's el system - because Amtrak has a computerized list of passengers holding tickets.
Despite that, some legitimate concerns have been raised, particularly regarding small, even unmanned stations that don't have the security presence rail hubs like Chicago do. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has said Schumer's proposals and others are worth looking into, but he won't endorse anything specific until it can be determined what measures would be efficient and effective. Amtrak's security chief pointed out earlier this year that within the past 12 months they've doubled the number of bomb-sniffing dogs operating in larger stations and are randomly screening some checked luggage.
All the same, during budget wrangling earlier this year, Congress sliced $50 million out of funding for beefing up Amtrak security, about a 15 percent cut. In the wake of these recent revelations, that issue may be worth revisiting. It's clear that our enemies view our rail system as having some security holes. Furthermore, ridership on Amtrak continues to increase, up 10 percent so far over last year on Illinois routes for example.
It has been said that 9/11 happened because of a failure of American imagination. We no longer have that excuse. High-speed rail investment is an Obama administration priority. Nothing would kill that concept faster than a high-profile train terrorist strike in the U.S. Passenger safety has to be a part of this discussion.
Peoria, Ill., Journal Star
Copyright 2011 North Andover Citizen. Some rights reserved
Read more: Editorial: Rail safety must be larger priority for U.S. - North Andover, MA - North Andover Citizen http://www.gatehousenewsservice.com/...#ixzz1MT6Lbp4l