Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., today condemned a last minute Republican move to strip funding for rail and transit security from a comprehensive port security bill moving toward final Congressional passage.
The Senate-passed version of the Port Security Improvement Act of 2006, which Lieberman co-sponsored, specifically contained a $4.5 billion authorization to protect the nation’s mass transit and freight and passenger rail lines, a particular concern in Connecticut. That funding has been removed from the version of the bill that emerged from House and Senate negotiations on a final bill.
Senator Lieberman had planned to offer an amendment that would have added $400 million for rail security and $400 million for transit, and but the conference committee never provided an opportunity for amendments to be offered.”
“The speed, reliability, and convenience of mass transit has made it a part of the very fabric of this nation and has helped define us as a mobile society,” Lieberman said. “Yet this Administration has not shown the same ‘can do, will do’ attitude toward mass transit and rail security that we’ve adopted toward aviation and now port security. The terrorist attacks on rail and transit systems in Spain, London, and Mumbai should be enough evidence to convince the Republican-led Congress that U.S. rails are dangerously vulnerable.”
The underlying port security bill, which was reported out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in May, provides resources for comprehensive port security grant, training and exercise programs, including a $400 million grant program available to all ports. Lieberman said these measures will make our wide open system of sea and river ports more secure than they would be otherwise. The transit funding was added as an amendment on the Senate floor.
“The port security measures may be of particular benefit to Connecticut, whose ports have largely been excluded by the Department of Homeland Security in past awards of grants,” Lieberman said. “But why this Republican Congress doesn’t recognize that transit vulnerabilities demand the same attention is a mystery to me.”
Connecticut commuters would have benefited from rail and transit security upgrades that could have been funded by this bill. In Connecticut, the Metro North New Haven line is one of the busiest rail lines in the United States, carrying about 110,000 riders each day. The Stamford train station on that line is among the busiest city rail stations in the United States. Connecticut commuters who use rails that are part of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority would also have benefited.
Connecticut also stood to gain from the upgrades that would have been made to Amtrak. The Senate bill called for the Department of Homeland Security to complete vulnerability assessments of freight and passenger rail, a pilot program to conduct random security screens of passengers and baggage at a specific number of Amtrak stations, and money for upgrades to Amtrak tunnels along the Northeast Corridor. It also directed Amtrak to make a plan to address the needs of families of passengers involved in rail traffic accidents.
Since September 11, Connecticut ports have directly received $8.5 million for security. The ports of New London and Bridgeport recently received an additional $637,500 and $24,968 respectively.