Securing rails: doable, if complicated, endeavor

of the public make it more difficult, terrorists are less likely to try in the first place.

In July, DHS secretary Janet Napolitano announced an expansion of the department’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign, as well as a partnership with Amtrak to share information as part of the department’s Suspicious Activity Reporting program.

“See Something, Say Something” teaches the public what types of activities law enforcement would like to know about. The DHS is creating educational materials and advertisements to nationally expand the program, which started with New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The basic idea behind the program is sound and old — think of Neighborhood Watch programs, for example, Goodrich said. “They’re looking for a new way of getting through to people that this is an issue and they need to be aware of it,” he said.

The idea is that terrorist plots require planning, surveillance and information-gathering in advance. If alert citizens call law enforcement when they see something suspicious, it will be much more difficult for plots to form.

The government has numerous other programs as well. Although it is not always easy to calculate how much money goes specifically to rail — since rail is one component of larger programs like port security — the federal government has given grants to transit systems nationwide to enhance their security, Farmer said. This includes canine teams, intrusion detection technology and expanded police forces.

“Working together, the government, railroads, subways and local law enforcement are expanding their capabilities to do random, unpredictable security activities that are essential to deterrence,” Farmer said.

Some say even more could be done. “Rail security has taken a backseat to the security of other modes of transportation,” Mann said.

Stem said he sees a stronger role for the federal government: “When you deal with transit and rail security, those issues are national in scope.” Stem also said although he understands that the TSA needed to focus first on the airline industry, it’s past time for the TSA to work with other parties to improve training for rail employees.

In addition to training employees who deal with the public so they can better look for suspicious activities, Stem said the government also should work with railroads to establish better perimeter criteria — ensuring the cars are shielded and access is restricted when there’s hazardous cargo.

A balancing act

Any security program requires trade-offs. How much are passengers and taxpayers willing to pay to secure the railways? How much are passengers willing to be inconvenienced and have their privacy invaded?


“Security versus accessibility: Invariably it’s going to be a compromise between the two,” Goodrich said.

It can even be difficult for the public to tell how much is being done.

“You must have a certain degree of anonymity for a lot of security programs to function effectively,” Goodrich said. “The more people know about them, the more difficult it is for them to do their jobs. But we live in an open society: Where are my tax dollars going? How do I know it’s successful, appropriate and not violating my rights or anybody else’s?”

The unpleasant fact, Peña said, is that “at some point, you have to accept risk. But politicians don’t get re-elected and government bureaucrats don’t advance their careers by telling the public there’s a certain amount of risk you have to take.”

Even the most robust security systems are not perfect. “Hindsight is 20/20 when it comes to security,” Goodrich said. “In reality, there are gaps in all security programs.”