Homeland Security Proposes Rail Security Plan

WASHINGTON_A government proposal to prevent terrorists from attacking trains would require railroads to inspect rail cars and keep them in secure areas when not in use.

The plan, to be announced Friday, would affect freight and passenger rail systems.

The Homeland Security Department's proposal falls short of the more stringent measures proposed by Democratic lawmakers who are set to take control of Congress next month.

The incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee indicated Congress may impose stricter requirements than those proposed by the Bush administration.

"I am not convinced that all of the security gaps plaguing our current hazmat transport system will be filled by this proposal," said Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson.

A major concern is that terrorists would attack or sabotage a rail car filled with poisonous chemicals, which would spread quickly and kill thousands.

The proposal would give the Transportation Security Administration authority to inspect railroads, rail yards and mass transit rail systems, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press from a person involved in the rulemaking process.

The 708 railroads affected would have to designate a rail security coordinator to receive intelligence from the government, and would have to report significant security concerns and potential threats.

The proposal also would require receivers of hazardous materials to keep the rail car in a secure area until it is unloaded. Freight railroads would have to report the location of a rail car when requested by the government.

The plan does not match what at least nine cities have proposed - rerouting around densely populated areas trains that are carrying hazardous material.

The District of Columbia passed a law in 2005 banning hazardous material shipments within 2.2 miles (3.6 kilometers) of the Capitol. CSX Transportation sued; the case is pending.

"The only significant risk reduction is rerouting," said Fred Millar, a consultant to the city council in the nation's capital. "Anything short of rerouting isn't serious."

The rail industry fears that other cities would follow Washington's lead if the city prevails. Eight other cities have introduced legislation to ban hazardous shipments.

Railroads say forcing trains to take longer, circuitous routes would create a safety hazard by increasing the likelihood of an accident.

The Federal Railroad Administration has met with freight railroads in an effort to come up with voluntary efforts to secure hazardous materials.

TSA chief Kip Hawley previously was a senior executive with Union Pacific.

The eight cities that introduced legislation to require trains carrying hazardous material be rerouted around them, according to Millar, are Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Albany and Buffalo, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore and St. Louis.

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Associated Press writer Beverley Lumpkin contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.gov

<<Associated Press WorldStream -- 12/15/06>>

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