Friday, March 20, 2009

House Appropriations Looks at Rail Security Grants

A week ago Thursday, the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing to look at the security of transit and freight railroad operations. As befits an appropriation committee they were really looking at how efficiently TSA and FEMA were dispersing grant monies. Time Delay Note: A week ago Thursday, give me a break! What took so long? Well the Appropriations Committee Staff takes that long to get copies of prepared testimony up on their web site. This is the largest committee in the House and routinely holds five or more sub-committee hearings each day. Oh yes, and the rarely web cast their hearings. So, for those of us that live away from Washington, this is as good as it gets. Transit Systems Most of the testimony dealt with grant support for transit systems. In fact, two of the four witnesses were from major metropolitan transportation authorities. This has been the main focus of rail security since the Madrid and London bombings. It certainly makes sense. Al Qaeda and its affiliates have demonstrated their ability to attack these types of systems, so protecting US systems from similar attacks is a high priority. Freight Rail System The only witness to specifically address freight rail security was John Sammon Assistant Administrator, TSA. First he addressed the primary focus to date of the TSA freight rail program:
“The principle element of TSA’s Rail security strategy is to reduce the risk of Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) chemicals in high threat urban areas. TSA works in close cooperation with the Rail industry to measure risk as a function of unattended standing TIH rail car time in high-threat urban areas. We track every TIH rail car using the Rail industry’s Automatic Car Identification readers. These readers are accurate for mainline movements, but are less accurate in complex urban areas. The Rail grant program prioritizes awards to compensate TIH tank car owners and lessors for installing Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) devices on their tank cars. The GPS devices will ensure awareness of the location of the highest risk shipments and enable appropriate security response as such shipments move into or through high consequence urban areas.”
Next he noted the priority that TSA has placed on security awareness training for frontline rail personnel in both the transit and freight side of the business. He noted that while the formal rule making process was underway to meet the 9/11 Commission Act training requirements, TSA was using grant funding to encourage and support railroad initiated programs in this area. Finally, he noted that TSA was continuing to work with railroads in conducting vulnerability assessments of high risk lines. To aid this and other enforcement actions TSA has added an additional 50 Surface Transportation Security Inspectors. Interestingly he made no mention of the recently implemented freight rail security rules (which go fully into effect on April 1st, less than two weeks from now). Freight Rail Security Low Priority From the testimony presented at this hearing it sure looks like the transit security effort remains far and away the highest priority for TSA. Very little money and effort is being expended on protecting high-risk freight rail targets from terrorist attack.

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