Securing rails: doable, if complicated, endeavor

trains. Windows of locomotives and passenger trains are required to be bulletproof, but only for .22-caliber rifles. “Major damage can be done with high-caliber arms,” Mann said.

Efforts also are under way to improve tanker cars so they’re more resistant to attacks and accidents.

Third, air condition locomotives. When locomotives are not air conditioned, crews in hot areas have no choice but to ride with windows and even doors open, said James Stem Jr., national legislative director of the United Transportation Union, which represents transit, rail and other workers.

“It’s impossible to secure the cab when it’s 100 degrees outside,” Stem said. “That is probably the most outrageous rail security issue today.”

Fourth, safeguard hazardous materials during transport. Much of the attention in rail security has focused on passenger trains and subway systems — with good reason.

Attacks on heavily populated passenger systems allow terrorists to achieve “casualties, damage and the laser-like attention of the international media,”

Farmer said. They make rail passengers worldwide worry if such an attack could happen to them.

Attacks on freight trains also can potentially be deadly and attention-getting, especially if they hit trains transporting hazardous material through a heavily populated area.

“Throughout the country, hazardous materials are transported more on trains than any other mode of transportation,” Mann said. “There’s no real protection against someone just taking a shotgun and shooting it. That’s a major problem.”

Freight trains’ schedules and cargo are unpredictable, Farmer said, making such an attack “not nearly so easy.” Some attacks on freight trains turn out to be fairly similar to an accidental derailment — a problem, but not the sort of catastrophe that gets international headlines.

Although freight trains may not be as attractive targets as passenger trains, “the freight railroads have been very attentive to the new realities after 9/11,” Farmer said.

Steen notes that within weeks of the attacks, safety and security officials assessed the risks and created a security plan. The transport of hazardous materials got particular attention, both from railroads and government.

Focusing particularly on transported material that can be toxic when inhaled, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) created a plan to ensure that those materials are kept secure, especially in heavily populated areas.

A partnership

Because securing both freight and passenger rail systems is so complex, those in charge are turning to an old strategy: enlisting the public to report suspicious activity. “Terrorists are looking for what’s easy to do,” Peña said.


If security efforts and the sharp eyes