SCHUMER REVEALS: AMTRAK POLICE ARE NOT ABLE TO DIRECTLY COMMUNICATE WITH OTHER FIRST RESPONDERS—COULD CREATE HUGE DISASTER WHERE POLICE ON TRAINS & IN PENN STATION ARE NOT ABLE TO EFFICIENTLY REACH LOCAL POLICE & FIRE DEPARTMENTS—REMINISCENT OF 9/11; SCHUMER PUSHES FEDS TO GRANT AMTRAK FULL ACCESS TO NYC FIRST-RESPONDER RADIO LINE
Tens of Thousands Of People Travel Amtrak Each & Every Day But, Without Access To Key First-Responder Radio Line, Both Amtrak & The Traveling Public Are In Danger Should A Derailment, Natural Disaster or Terror Attack Arise; Ability to Communicate With Other First Responders Is Essential During Crisis
Amtrak Police Have Eagerly Sought Ability To Communicate With Other First Responders On Dedicated Frequency Since 2013, But FCC Has Been Radio Silent
Schumer: We Learned on 9-11 ALL Our First Responders Must Communicate on the Same System; The FCC Must Get On Board With Amtrak Police Access To First-Responder Radio
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant Amtrak Police Department full access to the key first-responder radio frequency that other first responders utilize during a crisis. Despite a number of serious rail incidents in the past, Amtrak police—like those at Penn Station, who oversee the safety of thousands of travelers a day—currently aren’t allowed to communicate on the same radio frequency as other public safety officers and first responders such as, the NYPD, and fire fighters. Schumer said this is a disaster waiting to happen and pointed to what occurred on 9/11 when NYPD and FDNY were not all on the same radio frequency.
The FCC has issued regulations determining which public safety entities may communicate on the public safety spectrum of the 700 MHz Band. According to the FCC, Amtrak Police are part of the railroad and not viewed as law enforcement; therefore, they are not eligible to communicate on the frequency. Since 2013, the Amtrak Police Department has been aggressively asking for the ability to communicate with other first responders on the dedicated frequency, however, the FCC has not yet obliged. According to Amtrak, more than 86,000 passengers ride more than 300 Amtrak trains each day and 600,000 people ride through Penn Station each day; tens of thousands using Amtrak. Schumer today said, with tens of thousands of passengers on Amtrak each day, it is important that Amtrak police have access to this radio frequency in the event of an emergency—and Schumer wants the FCC to grant Amtrak access as soon as possible.
“When it comes to Amtrak police and our local police and fire department first responders, what we have is a failure to effectively communicate. It makes absolutely no sense why Amtrak Police Officers, who help protect the nation’s busiest transportation hubs and tens of thousands of passengers and commuters each day in New York City, do not have direct access to the first responder radio frequency in the event of an emergency. This lack of radio access makes the Amtrak Northeast Corridor, which runs through major cities like New York City, even more vulnerable in the event of a natural disaster, derailment or terrorist attack,” said Senator Schumer. “We painfully remember the lack of radio interoperability between our law enforcement on 9/11 and the issues that arose when our first responders utilized parallel radio frequencies. Since then, the feds have invested billions of dollars in modernizing our radio spectrum, however, it’s unacceptable to think that Amtrak Police have been boxed out of the modern age. The FCC must allow Amtrak Police access to the first responder radio frequency immediately.”
Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which stretches from Washington to Boston, including New York City, is the busiest railroad in North America with more than 2,200 trains operating each day. New York’s Penn Station is the busiest train station in North America, with over 600,000 passengers traveling through the station every day. In 2013, New York City’s total Amtrak ridership was 9,556,424.
The Amtrak Police Department is a national police force committed to protecting the passengers, employees and patrons of Amtrak. There are more than 500 personnel at more than 30 locations in 46 states across the country. The New York staff is comprised of over 100 members who include patrol officers, officials, detectives and special agents. In New York, the Amtrak police helps protect New York’s Penn Station, the nation’s busiest transportation facility. In addition, Amtrak police performs uniformed police operations along rights-of-way, at yards, maintenance facilities, and within railways stations; the Amtrak police also conducts criminal investigations and participates in task force operations with local, state and federal agencies. Further, the staff in New York performs station surges, conducts baggage screening operations, counter terrorism operations, site security, intensified right-of-way patrol and dignitary protection in its efforts to protect the railroad.
Schumer today urged the FCC to allow the Amtrak Police Department access to the public safety spectrum of the 700 MHz Band. A portion of this band has been set aside for public safety entities, however, Amtrak Police cannot gain access to the spectrum. Therefore, unlike other first responders, Amtrak Police Officers must be routed through at least one operator when radioing other first responders regarding an emergency; this adds an extra, unnecessary step that may delay response time during a life threatening situation.
“After the painful lessons we learned on 9-11 about the essential nature of interoperable communications between all of our first responders, it boggles the mind that to this very day our Amtrak Police are not linked into one common communication operation with local first responders,” said Schumer.
Under FCC regulations, Amtrak Police are considered to be part of the railroad, rather than law enforcement, and therefore they are ineligible to use the public safety spectrum. However, MTA police officers are allowed to join the radio frequency because they are considered a “state policy agency.” In addition, Schumer noted that beach lifeguards and schools bus drivers can join the public safety radio frequency.
Schumer noted the lack of radio interoperability concerns related to 9/11 and the importance of making sure that Amtrak Police has access to the public safety radio frequency immediately. Before September 11th, there was limited or no capability of first responders from different jurisdictions to communicate with each other. In fact, on 9/11 officers from the Port Authority Police Department commands lacked interoperable radio frequencies and therefore, there was no comprehensive coordination of the overall response. In addition, there was a lack of radio communication between NYPD and FDNY. After the south tower collapsed, NYPD sent a radio message saying that the north tower may be collapsing; while many police officers heard the radio message, many firefighters’ radios were not linked to the police radio and unfortunately, did not hear the warning. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security has provided approximately $3 billion for communications interoperability initiatives.
Schumer today said that because the Amtrak Police Department protects millions of passengers, including many at New York’s Penn Station, they should be allowed the same access to the public safety spectrum. Moreover, Schumer said that Amtrak Police participate in counter terrorism operations, and it’s important that they have access to the radio frequency in the event of a major emergency or crisis at Penn Station or along the railroad.
The following organizations are in support of Amtrak Police Department’s request: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; American Radio Relay League; Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International; Forestry Conservation Communications Association; International Association of Chiefs of Police; International Association of Emergency Managers; International Association of Fire Chiefs; International Municipal Signal Association; National Association of State Chief Information Officers; National Association of State Emergency Medical Services Officials; National Association of State Foresters ;National Association of State Technology Directors; National Emergency Number Association; National Sheriffs’ Association.
Senator Schumer’s letter to FCC Chairman Wheeler appears below:
Dear Chairman Wheeler:
I am writing to request that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) immediately initiate a formal rule making process to modify Part 90 of the Commission’s rules to allow Railroad Police agencies, like the Amtrak Police Department, to access public safety frequencies. On May 27, 2014 the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) submitted a petition for a rulemaking process to address this issue and to date the FCC has not yet taken action. I strongly urge you to heed NPSTC’s request and begin the process to address this issue immediately.
Efficient and effective communication during emergencies is critical. From the September 11th attacks, to Hurricane Sandy, and the Boston Marathon bombings we have repeatedly seen the vital role that effective communication between various law enforcement agencies and emergency response personnel plays in ensuring public safety. It is unacceptable that railroad police agencies still are not allowed to hold a license authorization on frequencies reserved for public safety interoperability. Railroad police agencies, like the Amtrak Police Department, play an important role in protecting the public at Stations and along our Nation’s rail routes. Amtrak Police Officers respond to civil and criminal situations at train stations throughout the country, and they respond to emergencies such as fires, derailments, and other dangerous situations. Being able to effectively communicate with other emergency personnel while responding to those situations is key.
This issue is especially important in New York. Penn Station is the busiest train station in North America, with over 600,000 passengers arriving and departing from the station every day. Given the volume of traffic, transportation hubs like Penn Station could be the target of terrorist attacks or other dangerous situations. Luckily in recent years attempts to attack transit system in the United States have been thwarted by law enforcement but we must remain vigilant and prepared for any situation and part of being prepared means ensuring effective communication between first responders.
At the federal level, railroad police officers commissioned under state as law enforcement have the ability to enforce laws of jurisdictions in which the rail carrier owns property. This authority makes it clear that Amtrak Police Officers operating in places like Penn Station should be considered law enforcement personnel and should be allowed by the FCC to communicate with other law enforcement on emergency response frequencies.
I urge you to heed the request of NPSTC and the other law enforcement agencies including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and immediately begin the process to correct this issue. Solving this issue will help protect the traveling public and ensure an effective response during emergency situations.
I appreciate your attention to this issue, should you need further information please do not hesitate to contact my office.
Senator Charles E. Schumer