Protections for rail sought in Pennsylvania

| 11/7/2006

Two state lawmakers in Pennsylvania want more protections for passenger and freight trains from potential terrorist acts.

Sen. Michael Stack, D-Philadelphia, and Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, have introduced a bill that would require two state agencies to evaluate the risks involved with rail in Pennsylvania and then develop plans to make trains safer.

The pair said the vulnerability of rail lines is evidenced by terrorist attacks in 2004 on railways in Madrid, Spain, and in 2005 on London subways.

The rail system in Pennsylvania has 5,600 miles of track. It's used to transport freight, including hazardous materials, as well as thousands of passengers on Amtrak and rail or subway systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Stack said more focus is needed on rail security even without considering terrorism. He pointed out that two trains carrying chemicals were derailed and wrecked in the state this summer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The bill would require the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the state's Emergency Management Agency to develop contingency plans to restore rail traffic if such structures as track, tunnels, rail yards and bridges are lost due to natural or man-made disasters.

It also would mandate an evaluation of the dangers and vulnerabilities related to transporting hazardous materials. In addition, improvements would be made to passenger screening and cargo security systems as well as develop strategies to minimize terrorist threats to the state's rail system, the Post-Gazette reported.

The bill - SB1298 - is in the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee. With the regular session scheduled to wrap up by Nov. 30, the bill isn't expected to receive consideration until a new Legislature convenes in January 2007.