Saying urgent action is needed to improve security for the 14 million people who ride buses and trains every day in the U.S., House lawmakers introduced a $3.5 billion plan Wednesday to strengthen mass-transit systems against terrorist attacks.
If Congress and the Bush administration approve the measure, grants would be issued to mass-transit agencies and intercity bus and rail operators over the next three years based on assessments of the vulnerabilities of each system, officials said.
The issue is gaining attention partly because of the bombings aboard four commuter trains in Madrid last March that killed almost 200 people and a car-bombing outside a Moscow subway station earlier this month, officials said.
Terrorism experts say public transit systems have been frequent targets of attacks around the world. Almost half of the international terrorist attacks in the last 80 years occurred on buses or in bus stations, according to U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). Young, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, introduced the legislation along with three congressional co-sponsors.
"Mass transit is so very important to northeastern Illinois and I've always felt we have not put enough security into city transit," said U.S. Rep. William Lipinski of Illinois, a co-sponsor and the ranking Democrat on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee.
The $3.5 billion plan proposed in the legislation to expand anti-terrorism efforts represents the largest government expenditure to protect mass transit, which carries almost eight times as many passengers as the commercial aviation system, since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The federal government has provided about one-half cent per passenger to improve transit security, according to congressional testimony by officials at the Department of Homeland Security. The federal government, meanwhile, is spending $9.16 per airline passenger for aviation security.
Among other problems, the relationship between the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation and transit operators has been ineffective in setting security standards, experts have testified.
In the Chicago region, Metra has spent an additional $40 million on security upgrades since the 9/11 attacks, said Judith Pardonnet, a spokeswoman for the commuter rail agency. Pardonnet said Metra has received $3.3 million from the Department of Homeland Security.
"Metra has installed additional security cameras in our downtown terminals and we also used the money to become the first commuter rail agency in the country to enroll all 4,000 of our employees in training to help them identify and deter suspicious activity," Pardonnet said.
Security expenditures at the Chicago Transit Authority have risen 24 percent since 2001, said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney. "Our operating budget for security has gone from $22.5 million annually in 2001 to nearly $28 million this year," Gaffney said. "So far we have received $7.5 million in Homeland Security money."
Public-transit systems nationwide have invested $1.7 billion from their own budgets on security and emergency preparedness programs from Sept. 11, 2001, through the end of 2003, according to the American Public Transportation Association. The group said funding needs for transit security total $6 billion in the U.S.