WASHINGTON DC Dec 18 2016 – The Transportation Security Administration proposed Friday to require security training for railroad and bus workers, to protect against terrorism like the commuter-train bombings in Spain that killed nearly 200 people in 2004.
The 66-page proposal published in the Federal Register offers a variety of options and could cost up to $222 million over 10 years. The costs would break even when compared to the losses from one freight-rail attack about every 100 years, but the TSA warned the impact on a local community affected by such an event could be far greater.
“As devastating as the direct impacts of a successful terrorist attack can be in terms of the immediate loss of life and property, avoiding the impacts of the more difficult to measure indirect effects are also substantial benefits of preventing a terrorist attack,” TSA Deputy Administrator Huban Gowadia said in the proposal.
The proposal covers 36 freight railroads that carry sensitive cargo through urban areas, Amtrak, 46 passenger-rail systems facing the highest security risks and 202 bus companies. But railroad and bus advocates said they already train workers to respond to emergencies.
TSA's goal is to have rail and bus companies train their workers serving “higher-risk” routes to observe, assess and respond to suspicious activity involving dangerous substances that might be linked to terrorist preparation or actions.
“Preparing and training these employees to observe, assess and respond to anomalies, threats and incidents within their unique working environment may be the critical point for preventing a terrorist act and mitigating the consequences,” Gowadia said.
TSA will collect comments on the proposal until March 16. The proposal could change depending on TSA’s analysis and response to the comments.
The Association of American Railroads, a trade group representing freight railroads, has said “TSA regulation of security training for railroad companies is unnecessary” because workers dealing with hazardous materials already receive security training.
“The freight-rail industry already conducts security training for our employees. In fact, we trained nearly 78,000 employees in 2015 alone,” said spokeswoman Kristin Clarkson. “What is being proposed does not enhance or build on what is currently happening for freight rail employees.”
The American Public Transportation Association, a trade group representing commuter rail, transit and buses, also said workers are trained to respond to emergencies.
“While APTA is in full agreement on the necessity of security training, the TSA needs to appreciate that public transit is partially reliant on federal funding,” said Randy Clarke, the group’s acting vice president for member services. “APTA looks forward to reviewing the proposed rulemaking and will work with our members to provide input during the public comment period.”
And the American Bus Association, a trade group for companies providing 600 million passenger trips per year, told TSA that front-line workers are trained to watch for threats.
Peter Pantuso, CEO of the bus association, said the group is happy to see TSA prioritize transportation beyond airlines. The bus group is analyzing the impact and benefit of the proposal on the bus industry with 20 times the passengers of Amtrak and twice as many as airlines.
The proposal applies to just a fraction of the motorcoach industry, so the bus group wants to understand the justification for that, Pantuso said. But the industry supports the training examples cited in the proposal.
“As in the past, funding is important to help the industry facilitate development and evaluation of effectiveness,” Pantuso said. “Standardization of these key programs is important and we look forward to continue supporting TSA in the collective efforts to ensuring the safety and protection of our national surface transportation network.”
TSA said it would credit transportation groups for voluntary training. The total cost of the program could be discounted to $157 million over 10 years. But the agency also contends that more training is needed because the damage from a single incident, such as the release of toxic gas in a city, could have a catastrophic impact beyond the loss of a single train or bus.
A single bus carrying 8,800 pounds of explosives would be equivalent to 200 pipe bombs or 20 suicide vests, according to the National Counterterrorism Center.
While TSA focuses mostly on aviation security, the agency is keeping an eye on surface transportation after 76 bus systems overseas and 68 mass-transit and passenger-rail systems overseas were attacked during 2014. Other threats included:
♦ Dec. 5, 2015: A knife attack in the London subway.
♦ Aug. 21, 2015: The attempted shooting of passengers on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris.
♦ July 7, 2005: Four suicide bombings in London subway stations and a double-decker bus, which killed a combined 52 people.
♦ March 11, 2004: The 10 coordinated bombings of four commuter trains in Madrid, which killed 191 people and injured 1,800.
“These previous events highlight the magnitude of the deadly consequences that an attack on surface transportation could have,” Gowadia said.