Securing rails: doable, if complicated, endeavor

seemed more feasible. With rail and other modes of transportation, the infrastructure is much broader and more difficult to secure.

With miles of rail, “it becomes a complex issue of how to address security,” Goodrich said. “We only have a finite amount of resources.”

In addition, rail security is further complicated by the number of public and private entities involved. The federal government, state governments, counties, cities, and transportation authorities can all play a role in rail transport. These entities have their own elected officials, budgets and concerns.

Many also have their own law enforcement and emergency response teams. A single freight train carrying hazardous material may travel on tracks owned by different companies and through numerous jurisdictions to reach its destination. “You can see how this can get complex,” Goodrich said.

The result is that the security of rail passengers and trains is essentially a public-private partnership. “A substantial amount of effort has gone into building partnerships between federal, state, and local governments and operators,” Farmer said.

Steen writes that experts point to a number of avenues for increasing rail security, although they all have drawbacks.

First, screen passengers and luggage. When the government needed to increase security for airports, it increased security screenings and restricted access to boarding areas. Passengers take off their shoes, and their bags are scanned.

More people travel on trains and subways than on planes, however. If you try to screen all of them, it ceases to be mass transit, Peña said. “It brings the system to a complete, grinding halt.”

Even if passengers and bags could be screened and moved efficiently, hiring all the people necessary would be expensive. “That’s a huge amount of manpower if every station has to have people who are patting people down,” he said.

Another issue is access at stations in less populated areas. “People just walk up onto platforms,” Peña said. “You don’t have control points.”

One possibility is to institute random screenings, said Lawrence Mann, a Washington, D.C. attorney who has worked on rail safety issues for forty years.

“That would at least mitigate a person thinking he can get away with it.” Major rail carriers like Amtrak could also institute screening without too many problems, he said.

There are no easy answers, however. “People are used to being able to show up and board within 10 minutes,” Goodrich said. “You have to balance these things [with] what the customer is willing to put up with.”

Second, reinforce