WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Members Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday said rail and transit security in the U.S. has improved since 9/11 but needs to reach a higher level – particularly since recent evidence recovered from Osama bin Laden’s hideout suggests that rail systems remain key terrorist targets.

            At a hearing entitled “See Something, Say Something, Do Something,” discussion focused on the essential role of mass transit and rail passengers to stay alert, report suspicious behavior, and understand the risks.

“We must continue to work with travelers to make them full partners in securing our rail and transit systems,” Lieberman said.  “This includes educating them about risks, how to report suspicious activity, and how to respond and recover should an attack occur. Speed, reliability, and convenience are hallmarks of mass transit. But with so many passengers at so many stations, along so many routes, these systems are very difficult to secure. It is simply not possible to install permanent aviation-level security checkpoints without impeding the flow of traffic. But there is much more TSA can and should do and more that state and local governments and transit agencies can and should do.”

Collins said:  While improvements have been made since 9/11, the challenge of securing rail and mass transit systems is enormous.  As CRS reported in February, passenger rail systems, primarily subway systems, carry ‘about five times’ as many passengers each day as do airlines, over many thousands of miles of track, and serving hundreds of stations that are designed for easy access by passengers.  Security at airports is now the responsibility of the federal government, but security at subway, bus, and rail stations is largely in the purview of mass transit providers in partnership with state and local governments. It is vitally important that the federal government, in concert with local partners, help to ensure the transit providers and local officials have the equipment and training to plan for and respond to terrorist threats — while ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently. “

Fourteen million people use rail and mass transit systems every day in this country –seven times the number who fly aboard airplanes each day. Yet the House of Representatives is proposing that the Department of Homeland Security’s Transit Security Grant Program be zeroed out for Fiscal Year 2012. The proposal also slashes the research and development budget by more than 75 percent. Lieberman called the plan “just plain bad policy.”

Rail and transit security has long been a complicated issue because rail systems cannot be tightly secured like aviation systems without impeding the flow of traffic because of their open nature and the number of passengers who ride them. Since September 11, 2001, violent Islamist extremists have targeted railroads and mass transit in Washington D.C., New York, Mumbai, Madrid, London, and Moscow – often with devastating success. The Mineta Transportation Institute reports that worldwide since September 11, 2001, 1,800 attacks have been carried out on surface transportation, mostly busses and trains, causing over 3,900 deaths. Compare that to the 75 attacks carried out on airplanes and in airports that caused 157 deaths. 

Although rail and transit security is primarily the responsibility of state and local law enforcement and rail operators, the Transportation Security Administration has a critical role to play. Among the steps that must be taken:

·                     TSA must fulfill a 2007 legislative requirement to develop uniform standards for rail and transit training programs, for background checks for frontline employees, and for transit agencies’ security plans.

·                     The Department of Homeland Security must step up its efforts to develop creative, non-intrusive security solutions – especially to detect improvised explosive devices, which history has shown are the weapon of choice for disrupting rail and transit systems.

·                     TSA must improve its intelligence sharing with state and local officials, and the private sector.

  •                      All stakeholders should conduct more exercises to accustom rail and transit officials to the unique requirements of disaster prevention and response involving trains.

·                     Make passengers full partners in rail and transit security, educating them about risks, how to report suspicious activity, and how to respond should an attack occur – without alienating them.

            In addition to Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole, witnesses at the hearing included Peter Boynton, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department Emergency Management and Homeland Security, and Dr. Stephen Flynn, President of the Center for National Policy.