The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced their allocations of $345 million left in the DHS competitive preparedness grant programs for fiscal year 2018. The grant money, totaling more than $1.6 billion for 2018, is used to assist states, local areas, tribal and territorial governments, nonprofit agencies and the private sector with their terror preparedness efforts.
Of the $345 million recently allocated, Amtrak received $10 million to “protect critical surface transportation infrastructure and the public from acts of terrorism and to increase the resilience of the Amtrak rail system.”
The DHS allocated $88 million to the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP). “The TSGP provides money to owners and operators of transit systems to protect critical surface transportation and the traveling public from acts of terrorism and to increase the resilience of transit infrastructure.”
Some of the recipients of the TSGP include Dallas Area Rapid Transit ($542,905), SEPTA ($3.6 million), WMATA ($5.4 million), LACMTA ($6.2 million) and many others.
The Intercity Bus Security Grant Program (IBSGP) was allocated $2 million to “assist operators of fixed-route intercity and charter bus services in high threat urban areas to protect bus systems and the traveling public from acts of terrorism, major disasters and other emergencies.”
Click here for a press release from DHS detailing which agencies are awarded funds.
NJ.com reports that despite legislation requiring strengthened security procedures for railroads having passed a decade ago, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has yet to put any new security measures in place.
Both the House Homeland Security Committee and the Department of Homeland Security have found that railroads in the U.S. are especially vulnerable to attack. What’s more, al Qaida recently published information on how to attack trains in the U.S. and Europe.
Following last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris that left 129 dead and hundreds of others wounded, U.S. transit agencies have stepped up security measures.
Among agencies that announced tighter security yesterday is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which has upped the number of patrols, K9 sweeps and random bag checks and screenings for explosives across its system.
Senators urge TSA to immediately complete measures required in 2007 legislation.
“Tens of millions of riders use our country’s public transportation and passenger rail systems every day, and these networks serve as the backbone of economic activity throughout the country…While aviation security is a vital focus of the TSA, your agency also has a critical role to play in protecting rail and transit passengers.”
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, called on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to immediately implement outstanding security and safety improvements to the nation’s passenger rail systems that were mandated in legislation passed by Congress in 2007. In a letter to TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, Blumenthal and Booker noted the attempted terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train last week in which three Americans successfully subdued the attacker and the need to ensure basic protections for the tens of millions of people who every day rely on America’s public transportation systems.
In 2007, Congress passed the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, measures the 9/11 Commission urged Congress to adopt to ensure greater security on all of America’s transit systems. The legislation required TSA to create a regulatory framework that addresses the threats facing our passenger rail and transit agencies by having security plans in place, ensuring proper security training for employees, and requiring thorough vetting for those working on the systems.
“Tens of millions of riders use our country’s public transportation and passenger rail systems every day, and these networks serve as the backbone of economic activity throughout the country,” the senators wrote. “Our rail and transit networks carry significantly more people per day than our airlines do. Penn Station in New York City, for example, handles half a million passengers each day – making it busier than all three New York City regional airports combined, and the busiest transportation hub in our country. While aviation security is a vital focus of the TSA, your agency also has a critical role to play in protecting rail and transit passengers.”
“Action on many Congressional mandates has languished for far too long…The legislation was enacted in August 2007 and these items were all due within one year of that date. As of August 2015 – over seven years since the last deadline – we still do not have final action on these requirements. These are urgent priorities and completion of these mandates will further prepare us for emerging threats on the horizon.”
“Last week, three Americans traveling in Europe heroically subdued an armed terrorist attempting to attack and kill passengers on a Paris-bound train. The swift action of these men averted a catastrophe that could have claimed many lives. This close call requires that we consider the vulnerabilities this incident – and several other high-profile attacks on rail and transit elsewhere globally – expose for our rail and transit passengers. This is why we ask for action on long overdue requirements placed on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) by Congress.”
A Transportation Security Administration effort to help protect ports against terrorism was creation of a tamper-resistant biometric worker-access pass known as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) that is issued, in addition to maritime workers, to rail crews entering port facilities.
Obtaining a TWIC requires submitting to a FBI background check and completion of a security threat assessment. Some 6,500 rail employees currently hold a TWIC.
The program, initiated in 2009, has had problems, however, and the UTU National Legislative Office, in conjunction with the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, has been working with congressional lawmakers on various improvements.
One problem nearing solution is a logistical and financial burden for workers in renewing their TWIC credential.
The House Homeland Security Committee has taken the first step toward solution by approving legislation (H.R. 4251) – which still must be approved by the entire House and the Senate – to postpone requiring workers to renew their TWIC credential until June 30, 2014, and mandating reforms relating to enrollment, activation, issuance and renewal.
“Despite concerns about the program from the outset, workers across the country fulfilled their legal obligations by applying for the TWIC biometric cards, which, without the proper hardware in place at ports, turns TWIC cards into expensive flash passes,” the Transportation Trades Department told lawmakers. “The first wave of applicants, beginning in October, must pay $132.50 to renew their cards if this legislation is not enacted.”
This bill also would ensure workers are required to make only one in-person visit to an enrollment center, lifting a logistical burden from workers who may be hundreds of miles away while on the job.
WASHINGTON — Federally mandated improvements to locomotive cab security and comfort, along with enforceable remote control operation (RCO) regulations, are being sought by the UTU and the BLET in joint comments filed with the Federal Railroad Administration.
Significantly, the FRA is being asked to ban remote control operation on mainline track.
The two organizations responded to an FRA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update, consolidate and clarify existing locomotive safety regulations.
Following are the requests made by the two organizations to the FRA:
Locomotive cab security
A fatal shooting of a conductor and wounding of the engineer, by a street thug in New Orleans in June 2010 highlight the imperative of enhancing crew member cab security. But sealing the locomotive cab also requires adequate air conditioning and improved window glazing (bullet resistant material).
Extreme heat in the cab can accelerate crew fatigue, slowing reaction time and compromising train safety.
Requested of the FRA is a requirement that all newly purchased and reconstructed locomotives — as well as locomotives already equipped with air conditioning — maintain an interior cab climate of between 60 degrees and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
As for window glazing, the two organizations said, “If a glazing is available that can protect operating employees from most of the firearms available to common criminals, then FRA should require the installation of such glazing on the locomotives.”
Remote control locomotives
The UTU and the BLET note that the FRA has yet to issue enforceable regulations for the operation of remote control locomotives. It is time to do so, they said, and the regulation should include a prohibition of RCO on mainline track.
“The manufacturers of the remote control locomotive technology in use today designed the software and equipment for switching operations, not mainline movements,” the organizations said.
Additionally, the organizations seek a regulation mandating remote control operator units “be as simple in design and uncluttered with any function not necessary for safe operations.”
The UTU and the BLET also asked the FRA to develop an improved electronic record-keeping system for employee on-duty hours in remote control service. Under the FRA’s current record-keeping, they said, it is difficult to compare accurately the number of employee hours worked in remote control switching versus conventional switching.
“Switching hours must be accurately recorded so that the number of accidents, incidents and fatalities can be compared on an apples-to-apples basis,” the UTU and the BLET said.
Improved locomotive seats also are requested. The organizations said railroads continue to scrimp on proper seating on new locomotives without regard for the safety or health of crew members — an effort to save a mere $220 on a $2.2 million locomotive. Such penny-pinching, said the organizations, is “shamefully inconsistent with providing a safe working environment.
“Improper and unsafe seats have caused many injuries and illnesses to operating crews in the past decades, and now is the time for FRA to accept the scientific facts and offer requirements for specifications of locomotive seats on occupied locomotives,” said the UTU and the BLET.
Said UTU International President Mike Futhey: “Safety regulations with real teeth in them are long overdue.”
Said BLET National President Dennis Pierce: “BLET and UTU remain united and unwavering in our commitment to the safety and security of our members.”
Click here to read the 21-page joint UTU-BLET submission to the FRA.
(The following is a security alert from the UTU’s Rail Safety Task Force.)
Rail security remains a constant threat to the nation’s railroads and our members. President Futhey wrote of this concern in a recent leadership message, “We need training to spot trouble.”
Based on recent events, the UTU’s Rail Safety Task Force strongly encourages all railroaders to remain vigilant in our effort to recognize potential threats.
That message was hammered home at a recent FRA hazardous materials seminar in Hot Springs, Ark. The hazardous materials specialist told a chilling story of a recent routine inspection of a rail yard.
The FRA specialist was approached by a conductor and asked, “Are you back again? We were just inspected a few days ago.”
The FRA specialist inquired about the suspicious individual’s description and what happened. Immediately, he realized that the FRA had no one in the region that fit the description.
The facts became more chilling.
When the possible terrorist was asked by a crew member as to whom he was, the individual flipped out a badge and quickly closed it without giving the crew member an opportunity to inspect it. The suspicious individual went as far as to inquire about the chemicals vinyl chloride and ammonia nitrate — if there were any cars in the yard with those chemicals, and the frequency they were there.
With rail crews subjected to physical abuse, robberies and threats from public trespassers, the potential for a breach in security seems to be trending in the wrong direction.
The UTU Rail Safety Task Force reminds our members to focus on the following:
KNOW YOUR WORKSITE: Know your area officers, co-workers, FRA and TSA inspectors — if not personally, at least by name or face.
If a person or vehicle looks out of place, and you are unsure of who an individual is, or if suspicions arise for any reason, follow your railroad’s guidelines to ensure that person remains on the property. In many cases this may involve contacting the proper authority to handle the threat.
All federal agents are required to present proper identification upon request. In cases of trespassers, caution should always be taken and it may be best to let those authorized to handle such situations handle them.
MAINTAIN SITUATIONAL AWARENESS: Be aware of suspicious individuals and items. We generally travel and work the same areas. If something looks out of place, report it immediately. Do not leave a potential threat for others to handle.
Be aware of high risk locations, such as fuel facilities, hazardous materials cars, radio towers, and dimly lit areas. Make sure to inspect safety appliances and use them if they are required.
Inspect all locks, gates, doors and derails that are used as safety devices, and report those that are found to be damaged or missing to the proper authority.
As always, our first line of defense is ensuring that any issues that may impair our personal safety are properly handled in an expedient manner. Those on the ballast see or hear it first, and it is those on the ballast who are most in harm’s way.
For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, click below:
The recent tragic, senseless and violent murder in New Orleans of CSX conductor Fred Gibbs, and wounding of the train’s engineer (a potential witness whose name is being withheld), accelerates an already urgent need for better workplace safety and security measures for rail, transit and motor coach facilities and operations.
Gibbs and the engineer were shot by a lone gunman (a suspect is in police custody) inside the cab of their intermodal train parked on a dark and isolated stretch of track as it awaited dispatcher clearance to enter a yard in New Orleans. The motive appears to have been robbery of the crew, but the train could have contained a cargo of chlorine gas or other deadly hazmat, and the shooter could have been a terrorist or delusional individual with knowledge of locomotive operations.
Indeed, prior to 9/11, few, if any, envisioned terrorists capable of hijacking and piloting multiple sophisticated passenger aircraft and flying them into high-profile targets; or of terrorists in Madrid, Spain, who coordinated four separate rush-hour bombings aboard packed commuter trains in March 2004.
Many of our members noted immediately after the New Orleans shooting that federal regulations do not require bullet-proof glass in locomotives, tamper-proof and functioning locomotive door locks, “keyed” or electronic safeguards that limit locomotive operation to licensed train and engine workers, or train scheduling and dispatching that restricts the stopping of trains to well-lighted and protected areas.
Certainly these are logical responses to the New Orleans shooting.
But without more expert study and collaboration among experts at the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Transportation Security Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, law enforcement agencies, carriers and labor organizations representing rail, transit and bus employees, we could be overlooking other effective safeguards.
Transportation labor long has been ahead of the curve in calling for greater collaboration among stakeholders, which includes front-line employee training to recognize threats and learn how best to report concerns to dispatchers and law enforcement.
In fact, Amtrak and the UTU recently agreed to a joint project that, in cooperation with the Transportation Security Administration, directs almost $300,000 in federal funding to the UTU to devise and implement a training program for conductors, assistant conductors, engineers, on-board service personnel and yard employees to enhance their abilities to recognize behavioral traits of individuals intending to engage in terrorist-like activity.
The UTU is now reaching out to build on this program to effectuate workplace safety as it pertains to terrorist and delusional activities.
We are seeking collaboration among other concerned labor organizations, federal safety and homeland security agencies, and carriers to create an incubator for effective ideas on a comprehensive security action plan, including employee training, that can be presented to Congress for fast-track federal funding.
We are heartened by word from CSX that it has begun a cooperative security venture with other carriers and law enforcement agencies to increase security around interchanges and loops in New Orleans.
The potential threat, however, is nationwide; and as train and engine employees, and bus drivers, are constantly in the cross-hairs of danger as well as being the eyes and ears best and first able to recognize threats, it is essential that transportation labor organizations be an integral part of any effort to improve rail, transit and bus security.
Historically, transportation labor and the carriers have been most successful in achieving policy goals when they act in concert. Where carriers or labor act separately — and often at odds with each other — success often is elusive or falls short of goals.
For any action plan to be effective, all parties with accountability and responsibility must collaborate in the creation and implementation of that plan.
We will be reporting more on this effort in the near future.