Senators call for rail security enhancements

The federal government must step up its efforts to increase rail security measures, railway representatives and government analysts said Tuesday.

At a Senate Commerce hearing to examine rail security in the wake of the train bombings in Spain earlier this month, public transportation representatives said President Bush's fiscal 2005 budget request is inadequate to address necessary improvements in rail security. American Public Transportation Association President William Millar said the nation's public transit systems need $6 billion to address critical security improvements such as better radio communications, on-board security cameras, restricted access to transit facilities, and more and better trained security personnel. Millar said the fiscal 2005 budget should be amended to include a line item increasing direct funding for transit security measures.

GAO physical infrastructure director Peter Guerrero identified funding for security enhancements as "the key challenge" facing local and national rail transit agencies. Guerrero also said the Homeland Security Department must clarify the roles of the Transportation Department and the Transportation Security Administration on rail security. Those agencies' roles "have yet to be clearly delineated, which creates the potential for duplicating or conflicting efforts," Guerrero said.

Administration officials testified that the federal government has made great strides in rail security and is continuing to make improvements. Homeland Security Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson said his agency is developing new security initiatives, such as a rapid deployment K-9 explosives detection program. Hutchinson also said his department will implement a pilot baggage screening program to assess the feasibility of a nationwide system. He said the Homeland Security Department is developing a national transportation security plan, which "hopefully will be completed by the end of the year."

But Commerce Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said that timetable was not adequate. "We need that plan as quickly as possible to determine appropriate funding levels to include in legislation," McCain said.

"Rail security efforts remain fragmented," said McCain, who added that "only modest resources have been dedicated to maritime and land security over the past two-and-a- half years compared to the investments made to secure the airways." McCain said he will work to draft and mark up a bipartisan rail security bill before the Senate's Easter recess.

At a separate hearing Tuesday, Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said Homeland Security Secretary Ridge's newly announced rail security plan fails to make passengers any safer.

"Secretary Ridge's statement yesterday that we will use existing resources to do more long-term research on technological solutions, share information and distribute information on best practices, just does not make the grade with me," Byrd told acting TSA Administrator David Stone and Coast Guard Commandant Thomas Collins at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. Stone replied that the government was "devoting significant attention and resources on rail security." It took the Madrid train bombing, Byrd said, "for the administration to wake up to this threat."

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