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US Senators Urge Increased Efforts to Boost Railroad Security - 2004-03-23

In Washington, U.S. Senators are urging the Bush administration to do more to boost the security of the nation's railroads in the aftermath of Madrid's deadly train bombings earlier this month.

Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee expressed concern that not enough money has been invested in rail security since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

"This year, $4.5 billion is budgeted for aviation security, while only approximately $65 million has been set aside for the nation's public transit operations, even though about five times more people use the trains system as take airplanes every day in this country," said Senator John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat.

Administration officials defended efforts to protect the nation's railways from terrorists. "We have trained over 46,000 transit employees to be the front-line eyes and ears to spot suspicious activity that might be able to detect al-Qaida techniques and other types of techniques that are used to case our nation's systems," said Robert Jamison, the deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration.

Mr. Jamison also noted that since the Madrid train bombings, many local transit systems in the United States have begun public awareness campaigns to urge passengers to be vigilant to suspicious activity.

Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security at the Homeland Security Department, echoed Mr. Jamison's comments. "I believe we have more protective measures that are in place than what we see in some of the rail transit systems there in Spain," he said.

Mr. Hutchinson noted his agency Monday announced it would begin a pilot program for screening rail passengers and their bags for bombs. The new measures include the use of bomb-sniffing dogs on rail and mass transit systems, and plans for technology to detect biological and chemical agents in the air.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are offering their own proposals to increase rail security.

The Commerce Committee is considering a $515 million plan to assess vulnerabilities on the nation's railways, test bag and passenger screening technology, and improve surveillance of railroad facilities.

Committee chairman, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, says he believes the administration will back the legislation. "I am somewhat confident the administration recognizes the need for this as well," he said. "We may have some differences, I hope we can work them out."

A separate bill offered by Senator Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, would spend more than $1 billion for more police patrols, lighting, fencing and closed-circuit television at rail stations, and would better secure rail tunnels along the busy train route from Boston to Washington.