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The Honorable Patrick Leahy
United States Senator
Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy,
I thank Senator Biden and Senator Sessions for holding this hearing today and Chairman Hatch for scheduling it. Last month, terrorists nonchalantly placed 10 explosive-filled backpacks on a crowded city train and then walked away, leaving a trail of carnage behind them. The plan was simple but effective. Nearly 200 people died, more than 1,400 were injured. Though this horrific scene took place in Madrid, we all know that it could have occurred in any major city in the United States. My sympathies are with the Spanish people and the families of the victims of this crime.
The attacks of September 11, 2001, demonstrated our air transportation system's vulnerability to the threat of terrorism. We have made efforts to improve security in our airports and safety in our skies. Planes are not the only the public carriers in the United States and, to be sure, planes are not the only possible targets for terrorist attack. This is one reason that I was successful in including in passage of the PATRIOT Act a crime prohibiting terrorist attacks and other acts of violence against mass transportation systems. I also successfully pushed last year for clarification of the word "vehicle" in Title 18, United States Code Section 1993 to ensure that vehicle includes "any carriage or other contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on land, water or through the air."
Just over seven months ago, the General Accounting Office reported on concerns expressed by a number of representatives from transportation industry and State and local government associations. These groups told GAO that they are not included in governmental decision-making processes, such as the development of security standards for mass transportation. They explained that clarifying federal roles and coordinating federal efforts is critical because, as of that time, their members had not been informed which agency they should contact regarding security concerns or for oversight purposes. Some representatives from the transportation industry and State and local government associations also noted that they have received conflicting messages from the different federal entities.
It is very troubling that a real or perceived lack of information sharing and interagency cooperation within the Federal Government could remain an issue two years after September 11. Have we not learned the importance of coordination, communication, and consensus-building? Federal programs like the Surface Transportation Information Sharing and Analysis Center have mandates for coordination between government and private industry on information sharing and threat assessment, but small transit operators and railroads cannot afford to participate. What is wrong with this picture?
Senator Hollings introduced a bill, S.1961, last fall to allot $515 million for risk assessments and security improvements for trains. In fact, he has introduced the bill twice before, but it has gone nowhere. I count myself in good company among his 15 bipartisan co-sponsors. Last year, a survey of transit agencies by the American Public Transportation Association identified some $6 billion in unmet security needs. These needs remain unmet today, and yet we have not received a plan from the Transportation Security Administration to address them.
We must be mindful that rapidly rising operating costs -- including fuel, liability insurance, workers compensation insurance, and employee health insurance -- have already strained tight budgets for many public transit providers. Thus, additional security measures may well require additional federal funding. As legislative and regulatory proposals on security are considered, we must seek to ensure that the ideas proposed are practical, feasible and cost-effective, particularly when implemented in small or rural environments like Vermont. In addition, all security initiatives should reflect the views of first-responders, upon whom we rely to provide meaningful support to public transit's safety and security programs.
There is much to be done to keep America's transportation systems, including its railways, safe. Today's hearing should provide fruitful suggestions. With our combined efforts, surely we can make mass transit more secure for the American public and the businesses that use and rely upon it.
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