Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Railroads and TWIC

A reader provided me with a copy of an interesting document last week and asked me to comment on it. It was produced by the TWIC/MTSA Policy Advisory Council and it concerned how the MTSA rules affected the TWIC requirements for railroad employees. Now I haven’t used those acronyms in this blog before because they refer to two things about which I knew little. But, after some studying this weekend I found that the document raises some interesting questions for high-risk chemical facilities. Explaining Acronyms For those of you who, like me, do not keep up with every arcane acronym that comes out of the Federal bureaucracy let me explain the two acronyms from the first paragraph: TWIC and MTSA. Both are related to security at maritime facilities. TWIC is the transportation workers identification card. MTSA is the Maritime Transportation Security Act. A simplistic explanation of MTSA is that it is to facilities in and adjacent to our nation’s ports as CFATS is to high-risk chemical facilities, only it is administered by the Coast Guard. TWIC and MTSA Anyone that has seen (in person or on TV) operations at any of our major ports knows that there are a large number of truck drivers that pick-up and deliver cargo to these ports every day. Security planners quickly realized that these truck drivers, with identification from 50 different states and three different countries (remember NAFTA) were a huge potential security problem at these ports. To help control this problem the TSA came up with the TWIC. This provided a single document that ‘proved’ the holder had been checked and approved as not being a known terrorist. According to the MTSA regulations (33 CFR 101.514):

“All persons requiring unescorted access to secure areas of vessels, facilities, and OCS facilities regulated by parts 104, 105 or 106 of this subchapter must possess a TWIC before such access is granted, except as otherwise noted in this section. A TWIC must be obtained via the procedures established by TSA in 49 CFR part 1572.”

Anyone without a TWIC still had to provide identification, but they have to be ‘escorted’ when in one of those security areas. It was a simple enough plan; which meant that there were certainly problems with it. Railroads and Unaccompanied Access Almost as ubiquitous as trucks at these ports are rail lines; rail lines that go into or through security areas at those ports; rail lines that carry trains and personnel on those trains. That presents some potential problems. First, how do you stop a train to check IDs when they frequently enter at unmanned gates? Second, how do you ‘escort’ a member of a train crew when the railroad will not let untrained personnel on their trains? For facilities where a track transits the secured area, how do you check the IDs on the crew when the train does not stop? The Coast Guard came up with some basic answers. First it recommended that all train crews servicing MTSA facilities obtain TWICs. Then it said that the Captain of the Port (COTP) would accept advance notification from the railroad to the facility as an acceptable alternative to stopping the train to check TWIC as part of the facility’s security plan (FSP) as long as there were periodic spot checks of TWIC on site. Finally, COTPs were instructed to accept creative methods of ‘escorting’ train crew without TWIC credentials as long as they provided ‘equivalent security’. Affect on CFATS Currently there is no requirement for use of a TWIC for unaccompanied access to secure areas of high-risk chemical facilities. In fact, DHS is prohibited by the authorizing legislation for CFATS from requiring any specific security program like the use of TWIC. So what does this MTSA guidance document have to do with high-risk chemical facilities? What this does is to identify a problem, how to properly identify railroad crew members entering the facility. A large number of the facilities identified as high-risk by DHS have railroad delivery of raw materials and also ship by rail. At most of these facilities, railroad crews unlock the plant gate across the rail line and announce their presence once they get well into the core of the facility. Train crews are unsupervised in their work around hazmat railcars. Allowing truck drivers to do this would never be allowed by site security plans. The problems seen at port facilities are magnified at CFATS facilities by the fact that there is no easy way for facilities to vet the train crews. No CFATS facility will have the political pull to require railroads to have all of their crews obtain TWIC. Some crews will already have TWIC, because they routinely service MTSA facilities, but most crews away from the ports will not. The largest chemical facilities will have pull with local short lines, but no single chemical facility could bring sufficient force to bear on the major long-line railroads. Lacking Congressional action to require all train crews to have TWIC, chemical facilities will have to come up with some way of checking rail crews. The good news for the bulk of the facilities is that they are typically served by a limited number of local crews. This limits the number of people being covered. But, some method of identifying train crews operating on high-risk chemical facility sites will have to be worked out. Few sites are large enough to have their own yard crews. All other facilities will have to work with the railroads. What is really needed is Congressional action, something almost as difficult to get as cooperation with the railroad.

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