Nation’s, World’s Transit Systems on High Alert Following London Blasts; House OKs New Rail Terror Penalties

WASHINGTON — Transportation systems and railroads throughout the United States — and the world — went on high alert following terrorist attacks in London.

“The war on terror goes on,” President Bush said. “…We will not yield … to the terrorists. We will find them, we will bring them to justice, and at the same time, we will spread an ideology of hope and compassion that will overwhelm their ideology of hate.”

N.J. Transit, for example, doubled the number of officers on patrol and tripled the number of K-9 units inspecting the rail network. New Jersey state troopers also helped increase the security.

“Customers will see stepped up patrols at rail, bus and light rail stations statewide, as well as officers riding on trains, buses and light rail vehicles,” the railroad said in a statement.

N.J. Transit has operated under a heightened alert since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Similarly, Amtrak increased the railroad’s security threat level in response to the terrorist bombings in London.

Amtrak said it would put more resources into its security efforts in stations, aboard trains and along the railroad. The heightened security involves deployment of more officers and K-9 teams as well as briefings to the railroad’s employees reminding them to continue to be vigilant and on alert for suspicious activity.

“Amtrak takes the London train bombings very seriously and is taking extra security measures strictly as a precaution. There has been no specific or credible threat made against Amtrak,” the railroad said in a statement. “The railroad will continue at this heightened security threat level until we have a better understanding of the events in London.”

The moves of N.J. Transit and Amtrak were indicative of transit systems nationwide. In New York City, subway passengers were subjected to random bag searches.

But, the increased vigilance didn’t only extend to the nation’s passenger and commuter rail network. Freight lines said they too were increasing their awareness, despite no specific threats.

Like their passenger counterparts, the increased measures on freight railroads include deployment of additional police officers and K-9 teams to key areas, as well as “elevated vigilance” along the U.S. freight rail network, the American Association of Railroads said.

“This is a precautionary step that is part of the industry’s security plan,” said Ed Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. “We continue to work closely with all government agencies to ensure that we are receiving and sharing the best possible information about potential threats and prevention measures.”

July saw not only heightened alerts on the nation’s rail network. It also saw a move to increase penalties for terrorist actions against railroads or mass transit, a move railroads applauded.

Rep. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., successfully proposed an amendment to the Patriot Act to increase the penalties.

“The recent attacks against the London subway system once again demonstrate the need for Congressional action to protect rail and mass transportation hubs,” Capito wrote in a letter to her fellow Congressmen.

“The Rail and Mass Transportation Security Amendment is critical to the war on terrorism as it will reduce our criminal law’s vulnerability to bogus legal challenges, bring more consistent and uniform protections to all modes of transportation providers, cover more offenses such as biological agents and radioactive materials, and toughen criminal penalties for aggravated offenses where death results,” she wrote.

Capito’s amendment makes a terrorist attack on a railroad or mass transportation system punishable by death and sets uniform penalties for attacks against all rail and mass transit systems on land, on water or through the air.

It includes a sentence of up to 20 years in jail for violence against a rail or mass transportation vehicle; a sentence of at least 30 years imprisonment if the vehicle is carrying spent nuclear fuel or high level radioactive waste; and a mandatory life sentence with death penalty eligibility if the attack results in the death of a person.

“Rep. Capito’s legislation ensures that anyone committing an act of terrorism against a railroad would receive just as stiff a penalty as for a terrorist act against aviation,” Hamberger said. “We strongly urge the Senate to include similar provisions when it takes up the Patriot Act.”

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the amendment July 21 by a vote of 362-66. The legislation is pending Senate approval

“If you plan or execute a terrorist attack you will face justice and not escape on a technicality,” Capito said. “I urge the U.S. Senate to adopt this provision that sets a uniform set of consequences for acts of terrorism on all mass transportation. This standard does not exist today. As we fortify our nations homeland security to deter attacks we must also adjust our legal system to properly deal with terrorists.”

Last year, in the wake of the terrorist bombing at a rail station in Madrid, the House adopted Capito’s amendment to enhance penalties for attacks against our Rail or Mass Transportation facilities. However, the amendment was stripped during conference with the Senate, the Congresswoman wrote in the letter.

Published in the August 2005 edition of The Cross-Tie.

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