Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Railroad Transloading Facilities and CFATS

Generally speaking, CFATS does not affect railroad facilities; DHS has taken the stance that such facilities are addressed under TSA regulations. Additionally, they note that railroads and pipelines are inherently different than the chemical facilities that are covered under CFATS. Last week I ran across an article that describes a railroad facility that I think crosses those lines and should be considered a chemical facility under the definition used by CFATS.

Transflo Facility

The article discusses some of the public concerns about a Transflo facility that is being planned for a redeveloped CSX rail yard. While the article is short on a detailed description of the operation of the planned facility in Westborough, MA it is clear that the facility will be a transfer facility where bulk chemical railcars are transloaded into tank trucks. A CSX consultant is quoted as saying that the facility would handle about 30 truck loadings per day.

CSX is being naturally reticent about publicly listing exactly what chemicals will be handled at the facility. They do note that, although about 30% of the traffic will be hazardous chemicals, “explosives and dangerous chemicals like chlorine and ammonium [anhydrous ammonia?] will never go through there”. That still leaves a large number of chemicals that could be handled at the facility that could require Top Screen submissions.

Lack of TSA Coverage

TSA chemical regulations for rail shipments is limited to a small number of very hazardous chemical, essentially toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) chemicals like chlorine and anhydrous ammonia and explosives. If the currently planned restrictions on the handling of these types of chemicals at the facility is maintained, there will be no TSA regulation of security measures at this facility.

In a typical urban or suburban rail yard this very selective chemical security regulation can be justified by the fact that such railcars are typically in transit and in place for only a short periods of time. Add to that the difficulty that an outsider would have in even locating a specific railcar and the natural resistance of railcars to all but the most robust attacks while stationary and the problems with providing classical security measures are typically outweighed by the reduced risk of attack.

Higher Risks for Transloading Facility

In transloading facilities like this many of the traditional mitigating factors no longer apply. First, the actual schedule of hazardous materials moving through the facility becomes much more publicly available. Truck drivers, dispatchers and brokers all are given specific information about the timing and location of hazardous material railcars. The increased number of people given access to sensitive security information increases the likelihood that the information can be compromised either through poor information security practices or actual recruitment or compromise of someone with legitimate access to the information.

The increased number of people with legitimate access to the facility also reduces another typical rail yard security measure; the ease of identification of unauthorized personnel. The number of people with authorized access to rail yards is very small and railroads are a relatively tight knit family. Outsiders are fairly easy to recognize as not belonging to the facility. As the number of legitimate outsiders moving through the facility increases it becomes much less likely that attackers would be quickly identified.

One of the most effective attack vectors against the reinforced railcars is vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). In a typical rail yard it is next to impossible to get a VBIED anywhere near a target railcar. There are very few places where even a small truck can physically get close enough to a hazmat railcar. At a transloading facility, however, specific provisions are being made for bringing large tank trucks right up to the rail cars. Additionally, transfer lines are much more vulnerable to small IED’s or even small arms fire and the control systems for such operations add another potential route of attack.

CFATS Coverage?

To my mind it is clear that facilities of this type are no different than traditional chemical distribution facilities that accept deliveries of hazardous materials by rail and ship the same material by tank truck or load the material into other smaller containers. It is less clear that railroads will make the distinction between this type of operation and their more traditional transportation operations. Nor is it clear that DHS will be proactive in this matter; ISCD has enough problems on it plate with the regulation of the current CFATS facilities. This is an issue that needs public discussion.

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