Long before papers found at Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout revealed a plot to attack U.S. railroads, security experts warned that the nation’s 140,000 miles of track presented an attractive—and difficult to protect—terror target.
Passengers riding Amtrak, commuter rail or subway systems face little of the routine security screening Americans have come to know at airports. And once out of the station, every mile of track presents a potential security vulnerability.
The much-larger freight-railroad system also presents a daunting set of security challenges. Hazardous materials crisscross the U.S. and pass through major cities, often on tracks protected by little more than no-trespassing signs.
Yet for every $50 the Transportation Security Administration spends on aviation security, the agency budgets $1 to protect surface transportation. In addition to that money, the Department of Homeland Security distributes grants of between $300 million and $400 million annually for security of surface transportation, which includes railroads and buses.
In the U.S., there have been six high-profile plots to attack surface transport since 9/11, though none have succeeded. That includes the 2009 plan to blow up subway cars in New York City and a 2010 plot, foiled by a sting operation, to blow up metro trains near Washington.
Full story: Terror worries ride rails