Rail protections fail to win approval in Pennsylvania

| 12/12/2006

An effort in the Pennsylvania Senate has died that sought to provide more protections for passenger and freight trains from potential terrorist acts.

Sponsored by Sen. Michael Stack, D-Philadelphia, and Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, the bill remained in the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee when the session ended last month, effectively killing it for the year.

The bill - SB1298 - would have required 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 have required 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 have mandated an evaluation of the dangers and vulnerabilities related to transporting hazardous materials. In addition, improvements would have been 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 can be reintroduced during the regular session that begins Jan. 2, 2007.