On Monday The Washington Post ran a story on the phenomenal growth of the freight railway industry over the past few years. Due in large part to growing global trade and rising fuel costs for trucks, railroads are adding new track, building new terminals and switchyards and refurbishing tunnels to accommodate larger rail cars. So what are the security implications for this sudden expansion?
For the past several years DHS and DOT have undertaken a number of initiatives to help bring an elevated level of security to freight rail. Unlike aviation security, DHS is not the lone actor when it comes to securing freight rail. Aside from DOT, perhaps the most important players are the railroads themselves. The vast majority of rail tracks and infrastructure is privately owned and operated. As such, the federal government’s responsibilities and actions need to be aligned accordingly.
However, before declaring a security threat due to this increased usage of freight rail, DHS should continue to look at the intelligence and make risk-based decisions. At this time, the ongoing threat does not come from freight rail but from passenger rail.
The 2004 Madrid subway attacks and the 2005 London subway and bus attacks demonstrate that the terrorists consider passenger rail and mass transit as preferred targets. The rising fuel costs for automobiles and congested air travel could logically push more passengers to rail throughout the course of the year and beyond. This is where DHS and DOT should place their emphasis.
And while DHS continues to place importance on growing the number of inspector and canine teams that patrol passenger rail, more emphasis should be placed on technological solutions. Will there be a silver bullet? No, but that shouldn’t stop a robust R&D effort.
For too long DHS and Congress have devoted small sums of resources to adequately address this growing threat. More should be done to secure our passenger rail and mass transit systems. For instance various x-ray technologies have been considered in recent years and could become a significant deterrent if deployed on a random but ongoing basis. Also, expanded deployment of bomb containment units could help mitigate potential threats and additional inspectors across the entire rail sector would add a welcome degree of heightened vigilance.