2006-07-12

Lax Security Prompts Concern From Industry

On one hand, one has to wonder about the wisdom of broadcasting something like this on FoxNews.com. On the other hand, hazardous chemicals roll through Colorado each day. Making sure they're safe is paramount to airport baggage checks and port scanning. It would take more than a .22 to puncture one of those tanks, but how much shielding is there on those tank cars? Particularly chilling is this remark, taken from the article:
"It's loaded, it's got graffiti painted all over the side of it. What does that tell you about security? It tells me that nobody's around to shoo them off," Smith said. "And if they've got time to paint their pictures, a terrorist's got plenty of time to plant a stack of C-4's on the side of the car and blow it up."
I know someone could easily duck in and out of a yard even while a train is waiting for a green signal and approach it with time to do something less than benevolent, given the right location and timing. Of course, this isn't the first time railroads have had to work to protect their assets. Train robberies have been around almost as long as trains themselves. The question is, what kind of solutions are railroads willing to implement? Stronger, safer cars? More cameras? I'm not willing to bet my life on such measures. It's clear by the amount of graffiti on the cars I saw the other day that these solutions aren't foolproof. Here are more recommendations, none of which the railroad industry will take seriously because it involves spending money on "Might possibly's." Railroads hate to do that.
  • Bring back the caboose - There was a reason railroads needed an extra pair of eyes on the cargo, and that reason has surfaced again. Railroads need a pair of eyes in a different location, or even two extra locations, on trains with hazardous cargo.
  • Stepped up patrols of yards - a few "No Tresspassing" signs aren't going to frighten a suicide bomber away. More patrols at every interchange, no matter how small, with larger and more accurate weapons.
  • Track inspection trucks - Run them no more than 5-10 minutes ahead of each freight carrying hazardous matierial.
  • Remove graffiti - Graffiti undermines the public's belief that the railroads are doing their job to protect their content. Getting it taken off as soon as it's found is needed to encourage the public's confidence.
Spending money on these solutions are something railroads are loathe to do. After all, "who needs brakes from that George Westinghouse character?" "Automatic couplers? They would be incompatible with our link-pin design. So our brakemen are missing a few fingers. We've never needed such things before."

It chills me to the bone to know that the railroads have threat analysis guys who actually can figure the odds of a chlorine leak and how many people it would kill. Betting the farm that such an act of terrorism isn't going to happen is inviting disaster. Clearly, the current efforts aren't enough and railroads need to do something about this before it's too late. If 9/11 threw our markets into a tizzy, imagine what 100,000 dead would do.