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Public Statements

Protecting Our Railways Critical To Chicagoland Security

Op-Ed

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

As the anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 once again draws near, we must take care to remember not only the lives lost on that fateful day, but also the illusions of security that were shattered on that day.

Much has been done to address the vulnerabilities revealed on 9/11, from increased airport and border security to integrating cooperation between local, state and federal law enforcement officials. As the Chicagoland area continues to grow, however, new threats must be identified and addressed to continue to protect our communities. Serving as the crossroads of the United States and the largest hub for truck and rail transportation, Chicago's enormous transportation infrastructure stands out as a key target for which more must be done to anticipate and defend against future attacks.

In a single year, more than $300 billion in commercial goods is transported in and around Chicago and the suburbs by truck and freight rail. While significant attention has been devoted to screening airport baggage and addressing the vulnerabilities of our nation's air transportation systems, not enough has been done to identify and guard against threats to the more than 16,000 acres of critical rail infrastructure and the hundreds of thousands of commercial trucking assets so important to our communities' prosperity and economic development.

Consider, for example, that although nearly 1.8 million rail carloads of hazardous materials are transported throughout the nation each year, often passing straight through Illinois' 6th Congressional District in the heart of DuPage County, there is no requirement for companies to be able to track the whereabouts or conditions of those loads, nor a mechanism to notify local law enforcement of potentially hazardous material passing through the communities they protect. In fact, the last comprehensive change in safety standards for shipping containers was passed into law more than 30 years ago. Last year, although comprising only a handful of incidents, Illinois ranked second in the nation for hazmat accidents in freight rail shipping. So far, we have been fortunate. However, we need to continue to be vigilant in protecting against those who would hurt our families and our communities.

In 2006, the federal government spent just $11 million to improve Chicago's rail security, despite increasing intelligence reports suggesting a great and growing threat of a terrorist attack in the form of the improvised explosive devices (IED's) being used to devastating affect overseas.

IED's are homemade or makeshift explosives that use common household and industrial products and can be easily disguised or concealed to cause maximum damage and loss of life. The incidence of IED use for terrorist attacks is on the rise, including several attacks on U.S. embassies abroad in the late 90's, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 and an attack on a New York City military recruiting office earlier this year. The national supply of food, fuel, raw materials and countless other products being shipped through Illinois trucking and freight rail systems would be devastated by an attack on Chicago's critical transportation infrastructure.

To address these problems now and prevent an attack, we need to modernize the equipment and procedures for protecting local shipping. First, a nation-wide effort to incorporate the latest technology into rail car standards is essential to ensuring the tracking and prevention of hazardous material shipments. The Next Generation Rail Tank Car initiative is a good step in the right direction to use the lessons we have learned in automobile safety testing to improve the tanker cars used to ship hazardous materials to withstand attack and notify emergency responders in case of a chemical spill.

We also need to undertake a concentrated effort to inventory and enhance the security of local trucking and rail infrastructure to guard against emerging threats like IED's. A national training curriculum for transportation company employees needs to be developed so that those working on and around freight rail and trucks know how to detect, prevent and respond to an IED attack. Additionally, better information about the chemicals and designs used to produce IED's needs to be shared with store owners nationwide to increase vigilance and help stop the misuse of seemingly harmless products for terrorist purposes.

Just one freight car of chlorine presents a toxic inhalation hazard great enough to threaten the health and safety of tens of thousands of nearby residents. That's why I have been working to develop bipartisan legislation to address the safety of our local transportation infrastructure to ensure a notification standard is implemented.

Reviews of terrorist plots from around the world have shown time and again that with good information, clear communication among all levels of government, the military, the public and the private sector, and steadfast vigilance are the key to disrupting terrorist attacks. To preserve the vital role of transportation infrastructure in the Chicagoland economy, we need to remember the lessons of 9/11 and be on our guard against future, as well as current threats to our safety, our freedom, our prosperity, and our way of life.


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