April 28, 2005: NORTON SCORES PARTIAL BREAKTHROUGH FOR RAIL AND FREIGHT SECURITY
April 28, 2005
NORTON SCORES PARTIAL BREAKTHROUGH FOR RAIL AND FREIGHT SECURITY
Washington, DC—As the CSX case against the District was heard in federal court, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) succeeded in getting the first major rail security provisions since 9-11 included in the first Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reauthorization, even though few Democratic amendments passed into the bill that the Homeland Security Committee approved last night. The chair ruled against amendments that required spending above the President’s budget, but after negotiating with the Republican majority, Norton was still able to get major language from her SAFE TRAINS ACT (Safe Transit Rail Awareness and Investments for Security) included in the final bill. Her amendment requires two important steps. DHS must develop passenger security best practices to be used by operators of rail, light rail, subways, buses, commuter ferries, and other mass transportation. DHS also must develop the agency’s first national plan for public outreach and awareness for passengers and for employees to prevent and to respond to terrorist attacks on rail and mass transit.
Norton also was co-author of an amendment that required the DHS secretary to consider rerouting if a safer route exists, as well as a number of other regulations to protect against attacks on hazardous substances in trains and facilities. When the Republican majority defeated the larger amendment, Norton negotiated committee report language to be contained in the bill (agencies usually regard such language as an instruction to proceed as directed) that the DHS secretary issue guidance to companies for rail shipments of hazardous substances, including pre-notification of shipments to local law enforcement agencies and first responders, setting protocols for effective and immediate communication between shippers and local authorities, training for employees who work with hazardous material shipments and those who would respond to an attack, and other important security provisions.
Norton said that considering the inaction on passenger rail as well as freight since 9-11, she did not expect the Republican majority to “suddenly embrace the issue,” despite the urgency. She said that the fact that the District was forced to take action on its own and has prevailed at the federal district court level was not only “an embarrassment to the Congress and the administration, but a serious wake-up call that demands an immediate response.” The Committee’s markup occurred as a federal circuit court considered CSX’s appeal of last week’s ruling upholding D.C.’s 90-day ban on CSX freight cars carrying toxic materials near the Capitol and throughout the District and the region. For months, Norton tried to get federal action on the CSX danger, including requests for hearings and five letters to DHS and other agencies from her and other members of Congress.
Her proposals for passenger and freight rail are important beginnings “four years late,” she said, “but I had to carve these out of my SAFE TRAINS ACT and the larger Securing the Critical Infrastructure Amendment in order to get anything done in this bill. By not going further this late in the game, the administration has broken its 9-11 pledge to always take preventive action and never to be caught flat footed again.”
Norton’s provisions are the first significant, rail post 9-11 security measures approved in the House, contrasting sharply with major funding increases and security measures for aviation. A member of both the Homeland Security Committee and the Aviation Subcommittee of the Transportation Committee, Norton initially sought $1.2 billion for a competitive grant program that would have been the first significant rail security funding.
The Congresswoman praised the City Council for acting to protect the lives and property of District residents and federal employees. “Now through my provisions and the Homeland Security Committee, Congress has an opportunity to join the city in taking action to remedy a dangerous risk to people and property here and nationwide,” Norton said.