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Congressional leaders raise security concerns on rail travel

Congressional leaders expressed concern that rail security needs to be tightened after plans to target trains were revealed in intelligence gathered at the site of the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in early May.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on May 8 he would push for a “do not ride” list for the nation’s Amtrak passenger rail service similar to the list airlines use to screen passengers.

“Anyone, even a member of Al-Qaeda could purchase a train ticket and board an Amtrak train without so much as a question asked,” said Schumer in a statement. “So that’s why I’m calling for the creation of an Amtrak no ride list. That would take the secure flight program and apply it to Amtrak trains.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which oversees of the Department of Homeland Security on May 6 urged the Department of Homeland Security to “increase the threat level” in light of the intelligence on the rail threats. DHS Secretary Napolitano said DHS wouldn’t issue an alert though the National Terrorism Alert System (NTAS) in the wake of Bin Laden’s death given the department wasn’t aware of an imminent threat. Weeks earlier, Napolitano eliminated the decade-old, much-criticized color-coded terrorism warning system in favor of the NTAS which aims to provide specific, actionable information to U.S. citizens.

Collins, however, said DHS should “increase the threat level for two weeks” as intelligence from Bin Laden’s Pakistan compound is further analyzed. “I continue to question the Secretary's decision not to increase the threat level," she said.

For his part, Schumer wants DHS to expand the use of the Secure Flight program to include Amtrak, creating the “no ride list” aimed at keeping suspected terrorists off U.S. rail infrastructure. Secure Flight requires a passenger’s full name as it appears on government-issued ID, date of birth and gender. The information is gathered and transmitted by the airline to the Transportation Security Administration for screening prior to flight departure. 

Along with the new screening procedures, Schumer said that he would also push for increased funding for rail security for increased track inspections for commuter and passenger rail systems, as well as increased monitoring and support for local law enforcement security at local train stations throughout the country.

The congressman noted that the recent $50 million cut to rail and port security grants reached under the congressional budget compromise in April requires reconsideration and greater investment in rail safety funding to help local law enforcement officials. He called for increased investment in the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP), which supports sustainable, risk-based efforts to protect critical transit infrastructure. The program provides rail operators with funding for track protection against explosive devices in tunnels, deterrence provisions, and training for rail personnel.

“While taking Osama Bin Laden out last week has been a major victory in fighting terrorism, the war is not over,” said Schumer. “Circumstances demand we make adjustments by increasing funding to enhance rail safety and monitoring on commuter rail transit and screening who gets on Amtrak passenger trains, so that we can provide a greater level of security to the public.”

 

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