Biden chides Bush not doing enough on rail security

In the year since terrorists bombed commuter trains in Madrid, the Bush administration "has done next to nothing to protect passenger rails," Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, said at a press conference March 10.

Biden and 12 other Democrats are pushing legislation to spend more than $1 billion over five years to enhance security on freight and passenger rails.

The White House budget proposal for the Homeland Security Department for fiscal 2006 sets aside just $32 million for rail security. However, David Stone, chief of the department's Transportation Security Administration, said in a congressional hearing March 3 that the line item is adequate, because additional grant money is flowing to state and local governments that can be used, in part, for securing mass transit systems.

Republicans have raised concerns about protecting rails from terrorists as well.

"Given the Madrid bombings and recent actions to limit hazmat cargo shipments in the District of Columbia, I would think TSA would have increased its budget for rail security, not decreased it," Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said at the March 3 hearing.

Rogers was referring to the D.C. City Council's action Feb. 1 banning hazardous material rail shipments through the city. That prohibition is being contested in court.

Biden said U.S. rail security is severely underfunded. Since Sept. 11, the president has spent $24 billion on airline security but less than $450 million on passenger rail security, he said.

"We know for a fact that al Qaeda operatives have directly targeted U.S. rail systems with conventional and chemical attacks. Nonetheless, the Bush Administration has done next to nothing to protect passenger rails, and Republican Congressional leaders have held up critical rail security legislation for years," Biden said. "If we don't learn the lessons from Madrid, we will surely suffer the consequences."

On March 11, 2004, terrorists planted 10 bombs on four trains carrying morning commuters in the Spanish city, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,500.

Biden introduced his bill, the Targeting Terrorists More Effectively Act, in January to cover not only rail security but also a broad range of concerns about securing ports, preventing terrorists financing and promoting diplomacy and education against terrorism, among other measures. It would provide $570 million for fire and safety improvements to New York City rail tunnels, $350 million for passenger and freight security improvements nationwide and $40 million for improvements to Union Station rail tunnels in Washington, D.C., among other measures.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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