Monday, June 20, 2011

Threats Against Freight Rail

With the news from the intelligence folks looking at the Bin Laden raid information that al Qaeda was looking at possible attacks on rail assets in the United States there has been an increase in security awareness at most railroads. This increased awareness may have been responsible for the detection of an apparent attempted attack on a freight rail line in Iowa a little over a week ago.

The Incident

An article at reports that a rail switch outside of Menlo, IA was tampered with; leaving a 2” gap in the switch that could have resulted in a freight rail train derailment. The tampered-with switch was covered to make the attack harder to detect.

According to the article, the FBI did not feel that the attack was terror related. While that is good news in one respect, it also points out that security measures are not needed just to protect against an al Qaeda attack. A variety of people and groups may have a reason to attack railroads or use rail derailments to attack facilities or communities near rail tracks.

Chemical Facilities as Targets

With a very large number of high-risk chemical facilities located along rail lines, security managers at these facilities need to consider that relatively simple attacks like this could be used as a method of breaching the perimeter security of a high-risk facility. A large-scale derailment with the release of flammable, explosive or toxic chemicals could be an effective weapon against such a facility.

Even without a catastrophic release, (and most rail lines near high-risk facilities are not high-speed lines, reducing the potential risk from a derailment) a derailment brings about a great deal of confusion as a wide variety of responders from multiple agencies show up in the areas to deal with the emergency situation. This confusion could be utilized to make it easier to breach a security perimeter

Where it is obvious that emergency personnel responding to a train derailment would need to gain access through a high-risk facility, facility managers will need to address such access in their security plans. While police, fire and EMT responders should not be problem, a rail derailment also involves railroad personnel and a variety of contractors used to mitigate hazards and clean-up the mess.

Advance Coordination

Facility security managers are typically going to have to coordinate with the local freight railroad companies about access issues for trains making deliveries to and shipments from the facility. That would also be a good time to establish a close working relationship with the security and emergency response folks at the railroad. That relationship would greatly ease the problem of the timely vetting response personnel needing facility access.

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