DHS issues rail security regulation

The Homeland Security Department issued a final rule Thursday designed to create a risk-based strategy for freight and passenger rail security.

The rule, which becomes effective 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register, mandates -- among other things -- that freight and passenger rail carriers identify rail security coordinators and immediately notify the Transportation Security Administration about any significant security concerns.

"By striking a sensible balance of security guidelines with certain regulatory requirements, we're enabling the rail and chemical industries to be stronger partners," DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement. "The results are sound security measures without excessively burdening owners and operators."

The rule also requires a secure chain of custody for "security-sensitive materials," which entails having shippers inspect the rail cars where the material will be stored before shipment and having freight railroad carriers establish secure handoff procedures, according to DHS.

"The chain of custody requirement applies to the transportation of any [poisonous by inhalation] material shipment, certain explosive materials, and certain high-level radioactive material shipments," DHS said.

Other components of the rule include requiring freight railroad carriers and some shippers and receivers of hazardous materials to "report the location of individual rail cars containing security-sensitive materials within minutes," at TSA's request.

The rule also codifies TSA's inspection authorities.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman, expressed satisfaction with the rule.

"Sen. Lieberman is pleased the department is finally addressing this obvious vulnerability as required by the 9/11 commission bill signed into law in 2007," said Leslie Phillips, the committee's communications director. "Although some freight railroads voluntarily began tracking hazardous materials months ago, these standards are long overdue. The department needs to quickly implement a system that will track dangerous chemicals as they are transported by rail, especially through or near major population areas."

Rep. Peter T. King of New York, ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said he is "pleased that the TSA has based this rule on risk by securing the most dangerous materials being transported through the highest risk areas."