Mar. 2--The Transportation Technology Center complex sprawls out of sight in the prairie northeast of Pueblo, but the rail-testing center is the focus of a concerted effort by Colorado lawmakers in Congress.
Sens. Wayne Allard, a Republican, and Ken Salazar, a Democrat, are pushing in the Senate this week for an amendment that would make the test center part of an exclusive National Domestic Preparedness Consortium -- a group of five universities and federal test centers that shared $145 million in federal training grants last year.
On the House side, Reps. John Salazar and Ed Perlmutter, both Democrats, are trying to accomplish the same thing. Perlmutter, who serves on a House subcommittee on homeland security, added the test track amendment to railroad security legislation that was approved by the panel Thursday.
"There is opposition to this," Allard explained in a telephone press conference. "I've talked to lawmakers from states that already are part of the consortium and there is a concern that federal training money would be spread too thin."
The consortium was created to provide anti-terror training programs to federal and state agencies, but the Office of Domestic Preparedness limits where those grants can be used to the consortium. The current members are: Center for Domestic Preparedness, Anniston, Ala.; Louisiana State University; Texas A&M University; New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; and the Department of Energy's Nevada Test Site.
Transportation Technology Center, Inc., is the railroad testing center for the American Association of Railroads and is one of the premier rail-testing centers in the world with its 50 miles of track and its prairie location, where trains and railcars can be tested and even wrecked under all kinds of conditions. TTCI officials began lobbying Colorado lawmakers in 2005 to be included in the federal training consortium, maintaining that none of the other facilities can train people for rail disasters or terror attacks.
This week, the Senate is debating a wide-ranging homeland security bill and Allard and Salazar are backing an amendment this week to put TTCI in the consortium. That hasn't happened yet.
"But if we can't get it attached to this bill, we will make it part of a railroad security bill," Allard said Thursday.
Ken Salazar said much the same thing in talking to reporters Wednesday.
House Democrats passed their version of the homeland security bill during the first 100 hours of the new Congress in January. John Salazar offered TTCI legislation last year but said he was unable to attach the test center amendment to that bill because the House Democratic leadership was not allowing amendments to the six major pieces of legislation they had pledged to pass in their first two weeks.
Earlier this week, Salazar said he would get the legislation moving on other routes and Perlmutter did the job Thursday in the House subcommittee on transportation security. He added the TTCI amendment to the Railroad Security Act being drafted by the panel.
"Going through the House Committee on Homeland Security was the route to go with this amendment because Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) is very supportive," Salazar said Thursday, adding that he did not expect any serious opposition to the measure in the House.
Salazar said that adding TTCI to the federal training network filled an important gap because none of the other consortium facilities address terrorist threats to railroads and trains.
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