Sunday, June 21, 2015

HR 2786 Introduced – Cross Border Rail Security

Last week Rep. Vela (D,TX) introduced HR 2786, Cross-Border Rail Security Act of 2015. The bill would require a report to Congress on efforts to inspect high-risk cross  border rail shipments.

The bill would require the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to submit a report to Congress. The report would include {§2(a)}:

∙ The number of shipments entering the United States by rail annually that are determined to be high-risk by the Commissioner;
∙ Specific details on the status of radiation detection units, by type, at each rail crossing on the northern and southern land borders as of such date of enactment;
∙ An assessment of whether additional radiation detection equipment is necessary to ensure that all such high-risk cross-border rail shipments are examined with appropriate equipment; and
∙ A plan for ensuring that all relevant CBP personnel receive adequate training and guidance on the proper use of CBP’s Automated Targeting System for such high-risk cross-border rail shipments.

The bill would also require periodic audits by the GAO of CBP “operations at rail crossings on the northern and southern international borders to ensure rail shipments are targeted, examined, and the results of such examinations properly documented” {§2(b)}.

Moving Forward

Vela is the Ranking Member of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee and his co-sponsor on this bill, Rep. Miller (R,MI) is the Chair. This bill obviously has high-profile, bipartisan support and will be considered by the Homeland Security Committee. Since the bill requires nothing but another report to Congress there will be no active opposition to the bill. If and when it comes to the floor of the House it will almost certainly be considered under suspension of the rules and will pass with a solid bipartisan vote.


This bill continues to reflect the congressional obsession with the potential for smuggling of nuclear weapons or radiological materials into the United States for use in a terrorist attack. While it is clear that a nuclear weapon would produce catastrophic results, the chances of a terrorist group getting their hands on such a weapon are relatively low. Not low enough to ignore, but low enough for that not to be the main focus on cross border rail shipment inspections.

A much higher probability attack mode would be weaponizing one of the many cross border rail shipments of toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) chemicals. Routine shipments of chlorine, for example, cross both the Canadian and Mexican border. Current TSA regulations  pertaining to these shipments do not require security inspections {49 CFR 1580.107} of these railcars until the first time that they are interchanged in the US or until they are delivered.

I would like to suggest that this bill would be improved by including a requirement for reporting on the number of rail security-sensitive material shipments {§1580.100(b)} coming into the US and the number of those railcar that there is documentation available that equivalent inspections of the railcars as required in the US {§1580.107(a)(1)} have been conducted.

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