WASHINGTON – Homeland Security officials on Thursday announced the first federal security directive to protect rail passengers from terrorism, especially explosives that could go off in bags left behind or in trash cans.
Many railways are already meeting the requirements, the officials said.
Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson said railway operators will be required to designate security coordinators, remove trash cans in some places, conduct inspections and ask passengers and employees to report unattended property or suspicious behavior. More will be expected if the threat level is raised.
"For the first time in the history of mass transit, the federal government has taken a lead role in setting security standards for passenger rail and mass transit systems," Hutchinson said.
Greg Hall, operations director for the American Public Transit Association (search), said transit operators are committed to security but concerned they'll have to spend more money to comply with the directive.
Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, transit authorities spent more than $1.7 billion from their own budgets on security, according to a transit association survey. Hall said the industry needs to spend $6 billion more for upgrading radio systems, closed circuit television, testing for chemical and biological agents, fencing, more staff, overtime and training.
Ed Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department (search), said the Bush administration's approach to rail security has been "press releases and vague warnings."
"Workers say they can parade in and out of rail yards with very little scrutiny or surveillance," Wytkind said. Rail employees aren't briefed when there's a heightened alert, receive little terrorism training and don't know whom to call if there's an explosion, he said.
Hutchinson said 200 transit authorities were told about the security directive on a conference call Wednesday.
The Transportation Security Administration (search) plans 16 site visits this year to make sure railway operators are complying, he said.