MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. (AP) - The Department of Homeland Security was expected to award an $800,000 grant to the South Shore commuter railroad later this year as part of a plan to guard the nation's rails.
The grant would be put toward a central communication center being built in Michigan City, Ind., according to South Shore officials. It would fund the placement of video cameras along the rails to relay information back to the Michigan City center via a fiber optic feed, also to be funded with the money.
Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Chief Robert Byrd told The Times of Munster for a Sunday story that the grant will be awarded shortly after the system assesses threats and vulnerability of the rail line that traverses northern Indiana from South Bend to Chicago.
"I'm confident we're going to start spending (the grant) in 2005," said Byrd, who is in charge of transit security for the South Shore.
Following the one-year anniversary last month of the Madrid commuter train bombings, which left 192 dead, and the recent freight rail accident in South Carolina that killed nine, security concerns have been mounting on Capitol Hill about the railways, officials said.
Amy Von Walter, the Midwestern spokeswoman for the federal Transportation Security, created after the Sept. 11 attacks, said railways are terrorist targets because of their location. Unguarded, grounded train tracks are easier to reach than a high-flying jet, she said.
According to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee, people use the nation's public transportation system 32 million times a day.
Byrd said the rails should be guarded, but did not think they would necessarily be terrorist targets.
"I think what the terrorists want is mass casualties," Byrd said. "Do I think these (lines) are a target? No, I don't think so at all."
The transportation administration is hiring 100 security inspectors to patrol the nation's rails and to ensure its security directives - traditionally difficult to monitor - are being implemented and enforced.
"We felt this was an area where we could add an additional layer of security," Von Walter said.