U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (NJ) and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) joined mass transit workers at the Trenton Transit Center this morning to oppose a Republican effort to cut rail security funding by 65 percent.
"Six weeks after the American military's raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, one thing is clear: this ruthless killer is dead and gone, but Al Qaeda remains determined to strike the U.S. again," Lautenberg said. "Yet just weeks after reports that hand written notes from Osama bin Laden were found in his compound targeting our rails, the Tea Party Republicans in the House slashed funding for rail security. The Republican cuts to homeland security funding are reckless and dangerous for New Jersey and I'm going to fight in the Senate to defeat them." Lautenberg is the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over rail security funding.
"In the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, we learned that Al Qaeda was actively plotting to attack the U.S. passenger rail system," Holt said. "Republicans have reacted to this news by slashing funding for rail security. Even from a purely budgetary perspective, cutting rail security is penny-wise and pound-foolish. A successful attack against a Northeast Corridor rail station could cost taxpayers billions in economic damage, lost revenue, and lost jobs -- above and beyond the tragic loss of life."
Under the House version of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month, security programs for intercity passenger rail, freight rail, and mass transit would fall by 65 percent below the administration's 2012 budget request. Holt co-sponsored an amendment that would have reversed many of the cuts, but his proposal failed on an almost entirely party-line vote.
Even under current law, transit security is significantly underfunded. According to data compiled by the American Public Transportation Association, surface transit provides 18 times as many passenger trips as aviation, but aviation receives 12 times as much security funding. On a per-passenger basis, aviation security receives $8.67, while transit security receives only 4 cents.
The underfunding has persisted despite real and ongoing threats to surface modes of transportation. Since 2004, terrorist cells have conducted deadly bombings on major passenger rail systems in Spain, the United Kingdom, India, and Belarus, with over 600 people killed and over 3200 wounded.
Republicans leaders in the House are pressing ahead with the cuts even though the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Peter King (NY-3), has voiced concern about their security impact. "I will have to vote against final passage of this bill," King said on the House floor. "I say this because we are at a stage now where the threat level, the homeland security threat level is the highest it's been since September 11. The killing of bin Laden has only made that worse. We know also from bin Laden's own records that he is aiming at maritime, he is aiming at mass transit, and he is aiming at our major cities."
King added, "Don't take a meat axe. Don't cut across the board the way it's being done here. We're talking about human life. We're talking about just a terrible threat to our cities, terrible threat to our ports, terrible threat to mass transit."