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Rail security requires local oversight of Bakken crude shipments

The District of Columbia Council uncovered a serious homeland security flaw this week that should raise red flags for mayors and town managers around the country. In the nation's capitol, local transportation officials aren't conducting oversight over CSX and the goods it transports through the city. Similarly, officials are unfamiliar with the rail carrier's security policies. DC transportation officials, as traditionally classified by the federal government, aren't rail stakeholders with a need to know this information.

Rail stakeholders, as defined by the Transportation Security Administration, are class 1 freight railroads (CSX, Norfolk Southern), Amtrak, and regional and short line railroads. Members of these companies advise TSA on rail security matters and TSA provides them with security information. This relationship is further solidified in TSA's strategic plan. The exclusive club does not include first responders nor local representatives from the communities through which the rail carriers transport goods.

By not including cities and towns as part of their stakeholder group, TSA has weakened the nation's rail security system. Mayors and town managers control the first responder assets that will be used when the next Lac Megantic or Lynchburg occurs. TSA, however, as DC transportation officials told the DC Council this week, doesn't require local officials to review rail security plans covering their jurisdiction. Absent a comprehensive review, they won't know if their assets are sufficient to respond to a significant accident.

TSA's definition of rail stakeholder was upended this summer when Secretary of Transportation Foxx mandated that rail carriers share information regarding Bakken crude with local officials.  For the first time, a federal department broadened the definition to include first responders and emergency managers. The Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act included information sharing requirements but TSA never followed through with them.

The lack of knowledge is problematic because local officials approve rail permits for projects like the proposed Virginia Avenue Tunnel project in DC. These officials however, have not include homeland security threat information in their permit analysis. They couldn't. Local officials didn't have this information before Secretary Foxx's order. Thankfully, his order will increase the flow of information to local officials and will enable them to finally complete a more thorough analysis before making critical permitting decisions.

It's my hope that Secretary Foxx's order will be formalized by the Department of Homeland Security. DHS indicated in its Spring 2014 unified regulatory agenda, that TSA will be drafting regulations concerning rail security plans and other measures outlined in the 9/11 Act. These regulations will firmly establish the federal government's expectations and one of these should be the inclusion of state and local officials in the decision making process.

Denise Rucker Krepp is an attorney, transportation and energy consultant, former special counsel to DOT and the U.S. Congress, and author of the 9/11 Rail provisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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