AUGUST 04, 2011
Despite getting more than $1 billion from the U.S. government to bolster security, the nation’s passenger train system—known as Amtrak—remains vulnerable to a terrorist attack because the money wasn’t spent efficiently to adequately protect the most vulnerable stations.It’s the last thing Americans need to hear in the tumult of an epic budget crisis and record-high unemployment, that tax dollars were wasted by yet another incompetent government agency with a bloated budget. It’s an old, worn out story that gets repeated way too often.In this case the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) failed to ensure that more than $1 billion in grants were appropriately spent to secure Amtrak’s 22,000 miles of passenger rail lines or its 500 stations sprinkled throughout 46 states. Nearly 30 million passengers use Amtrak annually and, to protect them from becoming victims of a terrorist attack, Homeland Security officials singled out high-risk stations in need of protection.Then they doled out the tax dollars but never bothered to follow up that the projects got done, according to a DHS Inspector General investigation. DHS never required Amtrak to develop a corrective action plan to address its biggest vulnerabilities, approved lower risk projects and didn’t document roles and responsibilities for the grant award process. “As a result, some rail stations and the traveling public may be at a greater risk to a potential terrorist attack,” the IG wrote in a report that was recently made public with extensive redactions.Investigators visited four high-risk stations and observed that Amtrak did not take actions to mitigate some of the “more critical vulnerabilities” that had been identified years ago. As an example, they said that at one unnamed station “terrorists could access….” The information was redacted for security reasons, no doubt. Other examples were completely blacked out in the report.The bottom line is that, $1 billion taxpayer dollars later, the nation’s train system is quite vulnerable to a terrorist attack. In fact, in its report the DHS Inspector General warns that terrorists will continue to target trains (remember Madrid and Mumbai?), explaining that “passenger rail stations are especially attractive to terrorist targets because of the large number of people in a concentrated area.” Furthermore, a terrorist attack in these areas with high passenger and cargo volumes could lead to a significant loss of life and economic disruption.Homeland Security officials took their spanking gracefully, essentially agreeing with the IG’s findings and promising to right the wrong. The agency concurred with all of the IG’s recommendations, which include ridiculously basic things like ensuring that “Amtrak uses grant funds to protect rail stations from terrorism.”
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