Washington Area to Test New Rail Security Program

The Department of Homeland Security plans to install surveillance cameras and sensors along an eight-mile rail corridor in the Washington, D.C., area in a test of whether the systems could be expanded to tracks nationwide.

The security system is being installed on a rail corridor used by freight trains, Amtrak and the com-muter rail service Virginia Railway Express.

The sensors and surveillance cameras are intended to protect against the risk of terrorist bombings of passenger trains or against freight trains carrying hazardous materials.

About 150 surveillance cameras would provide real-time video feedsalong the tracks. Strobe lights would flash and a warning would be sounded in several languages if an intruder is detected. Another portion of the security system would use virtual "gates" to scan trains for radioactive and toxic materials.

Planning for the pilot project started in 2004, but has been awaiting results from a Department of Homeland Security environmental impact study and agreements with District of Columbia agencies.

Agreement Took Two Years

One of the hold-ups involved bright floodlights along the track, which prompted concern from the D.C. Planning Commission and National Park Service that the lights would disrupt residents and detract fromWashington's monuments. Homeland Security officials agreed to use infrared lights instead.

The planners say it will take as much as a year to install the system.

The new security system responds in part to complaints by the D.C.Council about the risks of a terrorist attack against rail systems in the nation's capital. Last year, the Council banned rail cars from carrying hazardous chemicals within 2.2 miles of the Capitol.

CSX Transportation, which runs tank cars carrying hazardous materials through the District of Columbia, opposed the ban in a lawsuit and was joined by the federal government. They argued that the shipments are crucial to industry.

A federal judge put the ban on hold until the lawsuit is resolved.Meanwhile, CSX says it has voluntarily rerouted shipments of hazardous materials around the capital.

The D.C. Planning Commission is trying to identify ways for rail lines used for hazardous materials shipments to be moved away from thecity. Commission officials say they also are searching for a permanent solution to rail security, but have no definite plan.