Money & Business

Passengers Group Cautions Against Too-Stringent Rail Safety Measures

By / Sep 4, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

After the recent foiled terror plot on a high-speed Paris-bound train, U.S. lawmakers are urging the Transportation Security Administration to step up passenger screening in the nation’s rail stations. The National Railroad Passengers Association is asking Congress to pump the brakes.

Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler—the three Americans who subdued a Moroccan gunman and foiled a terror plot on a Paris-bound train last month—will long be remembered for their quick-thinking heroics that saved countless lives. But their actions may also be remembered for their lasting impact on the U.S. railway system—and that has at least one association concerned.

The incident has sparked calls from Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) urging the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to implement new safety measures across the nation’s passenger rail systems.

“Tens of millions of riders use our country’s public transportation and passenger rail systems every day, and these networks serve as the backbone of economic activity throughout the country,” the senators wrote in a letter to TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger. “Our rail and transit networks carry significantly more people per day than our airlines do. … While aviation security is a vital focus of the TSA, your agency also has a critical role to play in protecting rail and transit passengers.”

Booker and Blumenthal pressed the agency to get on top of safety directives placed on TSA as part of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. Those measures, which they said still haven’t been implemented, include development of security plans for railroads considered vulnerable or high-risk, training standards for frontline employees, and a framework for conducting frontline employee background checks.

Neffenger was joined by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Amtrak Chief of Police Polly Hanson in a press conference at Union Station in Washington, DC—a major rail hub—on Thursday to discuss rail safety issues.

“Rail Stations Are Not Airports”

And while safety is front and center, the National Association of Railroad Passengers urged Congress and TSA to ensure that screening measures don’t impede rail travel. “Rail safety is the number one priority—however, there must be a balance between protecting passengers and preserving their mobility,” NARP said in a statement.

Lawmakers and regulators need to “recognize the unique characteristics of rail and recognize that what works for airports will not work for train stations,” NARP said. “There are more than 500 Amtrak stations in the U.S., along with thousands of transit stops. Many of these stations are located within the center of downtown areas, serving as centers of commerce and community gathering points. It is simply not feasible to completely seal off access and screen every passenger.”

NARP warned that transit rail, which made more than 6 billion trips last year, would come to a grinding halt if security measures in use at airports were implemented in rail stations.

Further, the group urged Congress to consider the financial impact of increased security on railway systems and asked that any additional safety and screening provisions be passed as part of a funded package.

“Too often transit providers and passenger rail operators are given unfunded safety mandates and left to figure out how to pay for these directives on their own,” NARP said. “While instituted with the best of intentions, these provisions can have a negative impact on other safety-critical capital investments. The U.S. rail transportation system is too important to our economy and mobility for us to allow the threat of terrorism to endanger a connected America.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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