October 7, 2005

US needs to step up rail security planning-study

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. authorities have no timeline
yet for completing national rail security planning and should
consider techniques used by European authorities, congressional
investigators said on Friday.

The Government Accountability Office report was released as
New York City boosted subway security following an attack
threat. The review concluded that federal officials have made
some progress but still must develop a consistent approach for
analyzing risks for subway, commuter rail and Amtrak services
used by 11 million people each weekday.

"Until this framework is finalized and shared with
stakeholders it may not be possible to compare risks across
different sectors, prioritize them and allocate resources," the
GAO said.

The report recommended the Transportation Security
Administration develop a timeline for completing assessments
and develop standards that can be measured and enforced.

GAO also said the government should closely evaluate
certain practices used overseas, including an information
clearing house on security technology as well as random bag and
passenger screening. New York authorities searched bags this

TSA defended security efforts, saying the government has
taken "multiple steps" to enhance rail and transit security
through better communications, public awareness and threat
assessments. Homeland security officials also said they
reviewed security measures at various key rail operations after
the July bombings in London.

"This is an ongoing priority for TSA," said Yolanda Clark,
an agency spokeswoman.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said it
assessed 32 passenger rail systems in the United States,
including commuter rail and subway operators and Amtrak, from
May 2004 to July 2005. Investigators also met with several
train operators in Europe and Asia.

Following the Madrid train bombings in May 2004, homeland
security officials ordered more frequent inspections at train
stations and the use of bomb-sniffing dogs when available. But
Congress and President George W. Bush have demanded a broader
strategy. The special commission that investigated the
September 11, 2001, attacks also recommended a detailed

Risk management requires agencies to determine which
systems are most vulnerable to attack and to establish
long-term priorities, goals and alternative options.

But authorities have so far completed seven scheduled
assessments for rail systems -- including New York and
Washington. Twelve are in progress and 11 other transit systems
have asked for help.

Experts agree that securing subway and commuter rail
systems is complicated by sprawling designs, multiple access
points, countless stations and crowded conditions.

Transit groups have complained about federal rail security
funding -- about $200 million in 2005 -- compared to the
billions of dollars spent to secure aviation.