WASHINGTON (AP) – The government still doesn’t have a comprehensive plan to keep passenger railways safe, and the security precautions it does suggest may do more harm than good, congressional investigators say.

The federal government ordered rail systems to install bomb-resistant trash cans, but railway groups said they might not work because they’d direct the force of a blast upward, possibly causing underground stations to collapse, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Friday.

The GAO, Congress’ investigative and auditing arm, also said the government ordered railways to lock all doors to the operator’s cab, which would violate federal safety regulations that require the door to be unlocked so the engineer can escape in an emergency.

The report, which comes out shortly after a terror threat against the New York City subway was disclosed, said the two Homeland Security Department agencies responsible for rail security may be duplicating each other’s efforts in assessing the risk faced by railways. With the two working independently, there still isn’t a comprehensive plan that sets priorities for spending limited funds – and no deadline for completing it, the GAO said.

“The GAO report shows that the Transportation Security Administration is not fulfilling its duty to protect Americans,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who requested the report.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who also asked for the report, said, “Given the London bombings and the recent heightening of security in the New York City subway system, one wonders what it will take before the federal government makes a real commitment to rail security.”

The Office for Domestic Preparedness, which gives out grants, had finished assessing risk on seven railways and was working on 12 more. There are 32 U.S. rail systems that represent 95 percent of ridership.

The TSA is required to coordinate protection of transportation infrastructure. By July, the agency had given scores to 700 rail stations based on their potential for loss of life, economic impact and symbolic importance – without any input from the people who run the railways. The TSA has also assessed 73 bridges and tunnels, but needed to do 370 more, the report said.

TSA spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said the agency had done more than that, having given 848 scores to rail systems and more than 2,600 for mass transit.

It was the deadly May 2004 railway bombings in Madrid that prompted the Homeland Security Department to order railways to take a series of security measures, including more frequent inspections, passenger awareness programs, locked doors to operators’ cabs and bombproof trash cans.

The American Public Transit Association and the American Association of Railroads complained that they weren’t consulted before the directives were issued, the report said.

“The directives did not, in their view, reflect a complete understanding of the passenger rail environment or necessarily incorporate industry best practices,” the report said.

The TSA’s Clark said railways were consulted on most of the security measures.

“The security directives establish a baseline of security measures which could be enhanced in response to heightened or specific threats,” she said. “These measures were flexible by design to allow for variations.”

Snowe said the TSA needs to work with the railways.


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