Press Releases

Carper, Lautenberg: More Needs to Be Done to Protect Rail Systems

Northeastern Senators Say Administration’s Rail Security Efforts Are Inadequate

May 21 2004

WASHINGTON (May 21, 2004) – In the light of a report by ABC News that federal investigators are looking into suspicious activity along the New York-Philadelphia-Washington rail corridor, Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., today criticized the Bush administration’s rail security efforts as being inadequate and urged the Department of Homeland Security to take greater steps to protect passenger and freight rail systems from potential terrorist attacks. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Carper and Lautenberg criticized the administration for not taking an aggressive stance on the issue of rail security, calling it the “Achilles heel” of our nation’s transportation system. They noted that the Bush administration has yet to request any money for intercity passenger or freight rail security, and has yet to spend nearly two-thirds of the $115 million allocated for transit systems. Moreover, they said new rail security regulations issued by the Department had already been implemented by many public transportation officials and urged the Department instead to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of our nation’s rail lines to help coordinate state and federal efforts. “The attacks in Madrid should have been a wakeup call that we need to be doing more to secure our nation’s rail lines, but the Bush administration has still not acted to provide the kind of resources we know our necessary to make passengers as safe as they can be,” said Senator Carper. “Today’s news about the suspicious activity along one of our most heavily populated rail corridors shows that we can’t afford to be complacent about this issue.” “We cannot wait for another terrorist attack before we do something serious about rail security. It is time the Bush Administration quit talking about securing the nation’s rail system and start providing leadership and action,” said Senator Lautenberg. “President Bush has sat on his hands while members of Congress have clamored for help. Today’s discovery of that transmitter should be a wake up call. Let us not have what happened in Spain happen here.” The full text of the letter follows: The Honorable Tom Ridge Secretary, Department of Homeland Security 3801Nebraska Ave, NW Washington, DC 20528 May 21, 2004 We write today to express our continued concern with the Department Homeland Security's efforts to secure our nation’s rail systems. More than two years after September 11th -- and more than two months after bombs placed on a commuter train took nearly 200 lives in Madrid -- rail security remains a major vulnerability. Although we have increased the security of our aviation system, the Federal government has done little to protect our rail and transit systems from terrorist attacks and other security threats. This vulnerability remains an Achilles heel in our nation’s efforts to secure our homeland. We have already been warned by the FBI that al-Qaeda may be considering directly targeting U.S. passenger trains and that their operatives may try to destroy key rail bridges and sections of track to derail trains. Just today, ABC News is reporting on a pattern of suspicious behavior along the rail corridor between Washington, D.C., and New York. According to the report, New Jersey's Attorney General's office is investigating at least 7 instances in the last week of suspected surveillance along the New Jersey Transit commuter lines leading into Philadelphia, Trenton and New York. Also, FBI agents in Philadelphia are probing the discovery of an infrared sensor concealed along the track bed of a Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority rail line in your home state of Pennsylvania. The device could potentially be used to trigger an improvised explosive device on the tracks or on board a train. Yesterday, your Department issued directives designed to protect our rail systems from potential terrorist attacks, but these requirements appear largely to require actions already taken by rail and transit agencies. Further, they would appear to do little to address the vulnerabilities highlighted in the ABC News report or prevent a Madrid-style disaster from occurring in our country. Requiring that rail operators remove trash cans, inspect their facilities and make use of bomb-sniffing dogs are positive steps, but these efforts fall short of the critical capital investments and security operations funding that are needed to protect railroad and transit passengers. In addition, the security directives are not accompanied by any additional Federal funding for rail and transit security. Thus, the railroads and transit agencies will continue to be forced to spend scarce funds to pay for security improvements, including these recent unfunded mandates. Just as we did not expect the nation’s airlines to shoulder the entire burden of increased air security after September 11th , we should not expect our nation’s railroads and public transit systems to entirely pay for the various upgrades needed to make our railways safer. In the wake of the Madrid bombings, two Senate panels have acted to pass legislation that would dramatically increase funding for rail security and provide Amtrak and transit systems many additional tools to protect rail passengers from potential terrorist attacks. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on April 8 approved the Rail Security Act of 2004 (S. 2273), which would authorize almost $1.2 billion to protect passenger and rail systems around the country, including Amtrak’s network of tunnels in New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. More recently, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on May 6 approved legislation, the Public Transportation Terrorism Prevention Act (S. 2453), which would authorize about $5.2 billion to help our cities and states protect vital transit networks, such as subways and bus systems. It is our hope that the Bush Administration lends its support to these proposals and urges congressional leaders, particularly in the House -- which has yet to move any type of rail security legislation -- to act quickly to better protect the nation’s public transportation system. In light of recent reports, it is of the utmost importance that we act quickly and decisively. In the meantime, we request that you provide the necessary funding to address this major security risk in our country. Senator Tom Carper, Delaware Senator Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey