The new report, “DHS Grants Used for Mitigating Risks to Amtrak Rail Stations” from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General is a reminder of our rail system’s vulnerability to attack. While the report criticizes DHS’s oversight of rail security spending, the more important issue is that our rail and mass transportation systems continue to remain vulnerable.
Terrorists (Al Qaeda and others) have focused on rail attacks at a much higher rate than attacks on airlines. Yet, spending for aviation security far outpaces that for mass transit security. The United States has had numerous plots and unsuccessful attempts on our mass transit systems, and we are lucky to have avoided tragedy thus far. The rest of the world hasn’t been as lucky: Madrid in 2004 (191 dead/ 1800 injured); London in 2005 (52 dead/ 700 injured); Mumbai in 2006 (209 dead/ 700 injured); and Moscow in 2010 (40 dead/ 100 injured).
What’s less known is that globally, there are about 90 terrorist attacks per month on surface transport, with a third of those targets being trains. According to the Mineta Transportation Institute, since 9/11, over 1,700 attacks on trains/subways/buses have killed over 3,700 people.
As of 2007, 9 billion trips were made per year using all forms of public transportation; that’s 32 million trips per workday, more than 16 times the number of air travellers. Yet, for every $50 TSA spends on airline security, only $1 is spent on surface transport security. Though there has been a 24 percent increase in the TSA budget allocation to surface transport vulnerability to patch it up quickly, it doesn’t come close to addressing the vulnerabilities. In these troubled budget times, particularly in light of the recent debt ceiling crisis and the commitment to cut expenditures, it is difficult to advocate an increase in spending. However, shifting priorities and reallocating resources isn’t an answer either, because we are a long way from addressing the security needs of all the nation’s critical infrastructure. In short, Congress needs to keep focused on our domestic security and invest more resources into protecting the American homeland and our mass transit systems, which are vital to the economic stability of this country.