Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., the Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Friday that passage of the Port Security Improvement Act of 2006, which he co-sponsored, takes a great stride toward securing one of the nation’s remaining homeland security vulnerabilities, an advantage for Connecticut’s several ports. Lieberman also noted the legislation calls for almost $5 billion for rail and mass transit security, another concern of particular interest to Connecticut. The Senate approved the bill Thursday evening on a vote of 98-0.
“The Senate could have done nothing better to end this week of September 11 remembrance than to pass this bill because it closes one of our greatest remaining homeland vulnerabilities,” Lieberman said. “This will move us toward better prevention of the Number One homeland security fear: detonation of a weapon of mass destruction smuggled in through a shipping container.”
The measure provides resources for comprehensive port security grant, training and exercise programs, including a $400 million grant program available to all ports. “This could 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. Since September 11, Connecticut ports have directly received only $8.5 million for security.
In addition to the port security upgrades, the legislation contains nearly $5 billion for rail and transit security, another gap in our homeland defenses – $3.5 billion for mass transit security grant programs and $1.2 billion for freight and passenger rail security.
Connecticut commuters would benefit from rail and transit security upgrades made with this funding. 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 benefit.
Connecticut also stands to gain from the upgrades that will be made to Amtrak. The legislation calls 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 directs Amtrak to make a plan to address the needs of families of passengers involved in rail traffic accidents.
“The speed, reliability, and convenience of mass transit are a part of the fabric of this nation and help to make us as mobile a people as we are,” Lieberman said. “This bill is a good step toward the same ‘can do, will do’ attitude toward port, mass transit, and rail security that we’ve adopted toward aviation security.”