Schumer: Madrid Attacks Should Be Wake-Up Call To Upgrade Rail And Subway Security
Senator: Feds have been focusing on air security but should make developing anti-explosive detection devices for subways & trains a high priority
Schumer also proposes additional funding for transit policeand $350 million to upgrade rail tunnels under NYC
Standing outside an East Side IRT subway station, US Senator Charles E. Schumer today said that the tragic terrorist bombings in Madrid this week should serve as a wakeup call to the United States to finally get serious about improving rail security. In light of this week's events, Schumer proposed a 3point plan to speed up the development of bombdetecting sensors for subway and rail stations, provide more federal funds to help cashstrapped cities and transit systems pay for additional police patrols in stations and on trains, and send New York an additional $350 million to improve rail tunnel safety in and under New York City, which is by far the busiest rail passenger hub in the nation.
Schumer also announced that before leaving Washington for recess on Friday, he cosponsored new bipartisan legislation to give the US Department of Homeland Security $515 million to develop ways to secure passenger and freight rails in the United States. "In Madrid, they are calling Thursday's terror attacks 'Spain's 9/11' and that's right on the money on several levels," Schumer said. "In a certain way, Spain's innocence about international terrorism was shattered this week much like ours was in 2001. But 9/11 was at also a wakeup call that we had to do a lot more to protect ourselves in the skies. The alarm bells are ringing louder than ever saying we have to do a lot more to protect us on the trains, and if we finally listen, the people in Spain might not have died entirely in vain."
Coordinated bombing attacks on Thursday left nearly 200 people dead and 1,400 wounded in synchronized explosions on four commuter trains in Madrid. It is still unclear if the armed Basque separatist group ETA is responsible for the attacks, if al Qaeda is responsible, or if the two groups worked in concert to pull off the killings.
Schumer revealed today that US Customs Officials have confirmed to him that every passenger who goes through an airport terminal now passes a radiation detector that can sense chemical, biological, or explosive material on their bodies. Schumer called for the federal government to accelerate the development of similar detectors for rail and subway stations. But unlike the relatively controlled environment of an airport terminal, approaching and departing subways and trains create wind tunnels that wreak havoc on similar systems in stations. Currently, individual transportation systems in major US cities are developing their own detection devices, but Schumer said today that a coordinated effort funded by the federal government is needed to overcome the many technological barriers that face scientists and engineers working on such systems.
Schumer also called on the Federal government to provide additional resources to areas at risk of terror attacks like New York to pay for additional police and National Guard members to patrol station platforms and train tunnels looking for suspicious packages and activities. Late Thursday night, US Department of Homeland Security officials issued a bulletin advising state officials, police, transit and rail agencies to be vigilant in light of the bombings in Spain. There have been no indications from Washington that new funds will be made available to pay for additional patrols.
A spokesman for Amtrak, which owns 700 miles of railroad track in the northeastern United States as well as New York's Pennsylvania Station, said dog and police patrols have been intensified, as were procedures on suspicious activity like reporting of unattended baggage. In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority increased uniformed forces and canine patrols at Grand Central and Penn stations, as well as in other sensitive security areas like elevated rail lines. And the MTA Chairman said that for every additional uniformed officer, there are one or two plainclothed officers patrolling New York train stations. And New York City sharply increased Police Department patrols in and around subway cars and stations.
In addition, Schumer today renewed his call for an additional $350 million from Washington to upgrade train tunnels and their escape towers under New York City. Currently, only two of the six major tunnels used by Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit under New York have had significant upgrades for their ventilation and evacuation routes since September 11, 2001. In June, Schumer brought the nation's top federal transportation security official, US Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson, to Penn Station to view progress there and see what else needs to be done under New York. They showed how the $100 million New York has already received has bought K9 bomb detection units, numerous devices that scan the air for traces of explosive materials, underground lighting, security cameras, barricades, bombresistant trash cans and sensors that detect chemical, biological and radioactive agents.
But Schumer warned that much more was needed at protect the half million people who come through Penn Station every day. Two critical parts of the project involve improvements to underground ventilation systems and expansion of narrow circular stairways that now provide the only escape routes from the six rail tunnels leading to Penn Station under the East River and Hudson River. Those projects, which are intended to lessen the threat of passengers' being trapped in a terrorist attack, are in planning or the early stages of construction.
And Schumer announced today that before leaving Washington on Friday, he cosponsored bipartisan legislation to give $515 million for the Homeland Security Department to assess security risks to freight and passenger rail and develop recommendations for securing them. The Rail Transportation Security Act of 2004 would require the US Department of Homeland Security to study the cost and feasibility of screening all passengers, baggage and mail that travels on Amtrak trains, and would also require the department to conduct a pilot program to randomly screen passengers and baggage at as many as 10 rail stations. Schumer today also assured New Yorkers that while the City and State have moved decisively to protect subway and train passengers, and that there is no need to panic because they are being well protected on public transportation.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again you have a much greater chance of getting hurt riding in a car than during a terror attack, and we have to continue to live our lives as normal. I've ridden the subway my entire life, and my family and I will continue to ride the rails. It's the best way of getting into the city and around the city. Despite all the steps we need to take, there's no reason to stay off the trains," Schumer said.