Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on Emerging Threats to Rail Security

June 14, 2011

Chairman Rockefeller asks Sec. Locke questions about strengthening manufacturing in America.WASHINGTON, D.C.—When we talk about terrorist attacks on the United States, airplanes are the first image that comes to mind. Why? Because the horrors that took place in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon on 9/11 all involved deadly attacks involving planes. What we don’t hear much about is maintaining the security of our surface transportation system—specifically, our rail networks. Too often, this gets lost when we talk about security.

But it shouldn’t.

We face a determined enemy who seeks to do our way of life harm. The threats we face are real and they are ever-present. Every day, enemies are plotting new ways to bring us harm and disrupt our way of life.

All over the world, terrorists have used rail systems as new opportunities for attack. Since September 11th, there have been more than 1,700 attacks on rail and buses which have killed more than 3,700 people. Attacks on rail systems in Moscow, Mumbai, London and Madrid illustrate the death and destruction that terrorists can cause when they turn our transportation systems into weapons. 

Securing these systems is a challenge. Given their open nature, numerous access points, and the high volume of people and goods that move through them—annual ridership on the New York Subway System alone is more than 1.5 billion—it is impossible to lock down the entire system. We can’t search every person who enters a train. We can’t check every single bag. To do so would bring the rail system to a grinding and disruptive halt.

But there are smart things we can do to minimize the danger.

We need to develop technologies and strategies to keep our rail system safe without impeding the free flow of commerce and people. I am concerned that the TSA has spent comparatively little on surface transportation security—only 2 percent of its annual budget. On top of that, a number of key requirements from the 9/11 Act remain incomplete—including the requirement to develop security training plans for rail employees so that they know the best steps to take in response to an attack or other breach of security. It is critical that security employees receive adequate, consistent training. The TSA must show strong leadership on this issue and play a leading role in developing and implementing cutting edge technology. 

I especially want to thank Senator Lautenberg for his leadership on this issue, and for chairing today’s hearing. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about what we can do to further bolster rail security and protect the millions who ride our network every day.