Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is rail security adequate? Questions raised in Congress

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Just days before terrorist bombs killed 38 people on the Moscow metro, the adequacy of security funding for U.S. ground transportation came under sharp questioning at a Senate hearing in Washington.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), told the hearing, “Perhaps we haven't looked enough at surface transportation safety for buses and trains.” She pointed out that only 2% of the White House TSA budget proposal for fiscal 2011 would go to surface transportation while 68% goes to aviation.

Her comments came on March 23 as Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) chaired a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on the confirmation of Robert Harding to lead the Transportation Security Administration (Harding withdrew his name from consideration on Friday).

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) also expressed concern about the state of ground transportation security.

“I worry that TSA's delay in issuing final regulations for public transportation and railroad training programs has allowed some transportation agencies to ignore security vulnerabilities and avoid providing training to their employees on these transit lines in which literally millions of Americans travel every day,” Lieberman said.

Meanwhile, transit systems beefed up their security in the wake of the Moscow attacks.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority on Monday conducted random inspections of stations and yards with Metro Transit Police K-9 Explosive Ordnance Detection Teams.

We will remain on a heightened state of security at least through the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit scheduled in Washington in a few weeks [April 12-13] and we are partnering with federal and local law enforcement for security related to that summit,” said Metro Transit Police Acting Chief Jeri Lee.

The New York Police Department on Monday doubled is presence on subway trains.

Brian Michael Jenkins, director of the National Transportation Security Center of Excellence at the Mineta Transportation Institute, noted that authorities have uncovered and defused a number of plots against the New York City subway system in the past.

“Although 100% passenger screening is unrealistic,” said Jenkins, “some systems have implemented selective passenger screening, where some randomly selected passengers voluntarily submit their bags and backpacks for brief inspection. In a diverse society extremely sensitive to profiling and privacy protection, selective screening must be carefully planned and closely managed to maintain public acceptance. However, it remains a useful option where, as in the wake of the Moscow attacks, subway and train systems are taking security up a notch to discourage copycats and malicious pranksters and to reassure passengers.”