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TSA Failures Keep U.S. Train System Vulnerable to Terrorist Attack

Train System

The nation’s train system remains dangerously vulnerable to a terrorist attack because the agency created after 9/11 to protect it hasn’t bothered implementing crucial security measures, including performing background checks on frontline railroad employees. You can’t make this stuff up. A decade and a half after Islamic terrorists used commercial planes to carry out the worst attack on American soil, the government can’t seem to fulfill its obligation to adequately protect all transportation systems.

It involves the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the famously inept multi-billion-dollar agency created by Congress to secure the nation’s transportation system after the 2001 attacks. Judicial Watch has reported on a multitude of TSA transgressions over the years and sued the agency to uncover documents detailing sexually-related assaults on passengers by agents at three major U.S. airports.

Over the years the TSA has made headlines for missing weapons and bombs during test security checks, hiring an accused child molester without a background check, clearing flight training for illegal immigrants, letting terrorists slip past its highly trained behavior detection officers and failing to properly vet airport workers with access to sensitive areas. A few years ago TSA missed a piece of luggage that somehow got on a commercial plan and exploded after landing in south Florida. The list of transgressions goes on and on.

In this latest case, an audit conducted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General reveals that the nation’s passenger train system—known as Amtrak—has been treated like a stepchild when it comes to security. This is worrisome, the watchdog points out, because recent global events highlight the vulnerability of rail systems to terrorist attacks and the importance of security for passengers.

As an example, the DHS IG lists in its report the August 2015 incident in which armed gunman terrorized a passenger train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. The plot inspired two members of Congress to request that the TSA provide an update on the state of domestic rail security, including the implementation of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission. It’s not pretty. The agency has neither implemented 9/11 Commission requirements or key passenger rail requirements, according to the IG.

This is a major transportation system with 300 trains that travel throughout 46 states and Canada with about 31 million passengers annually. Legislation passed after 9/11 requires the TSA to take a number of rail security measures that the agency has evidently blown off. Among them is a national railroad security strategy, assigning rail carriers to risk-based tiers and creating a training program for rail carriers. The TSA is also supposed to perform background checks for frontline railroad employees as it’s supposed to do for airport workers. Why is this bloated agency dragging its feet? Investigators reveal in their findings that the TSA is blaming it all on the “complex federal rulemaking process.” Keep in mind it’s been eight years since legislation was passed mandating the agency to create a system to protect passenger trains.

It’s not like money hasn’t been allocated to railroad security but the absence of a concrete, organized plan has resulted in waste while the system remains vulnerable. Back in 2011 JW reported that DHS gave Amtrak more than $1 billion to bolster security but the money wasn’t spent efficiently to adequately protect the most vulnerable stations. This occurred because DHS simply doled out the cash but never followed up to ensure it was being properly and effectively spent on security.

DHS never required Amtrak to develop a corrective action plan to address its biggest vulnerabilities, approved lower risk projects and didn’t document roles and responsibilities for the grant award process, according to a federal audit. “As a result, some rail stations and the traveling public may be at a greater risk to a potential terrorist attack,” investigators determined. This was five years ago and it seems that little has changed amid growing threats of a terrorist attack.


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