We had a stormy night here in Milwaukee yesterday, and I thought it provided the perfect opportunity to plop down on the couch and catch up on some TV. At the top of my "must-watch" list: "24." The show actually aired on Monday (what did I ever do before DVR?) and for those who don't follow it, the focus this season is on a group of domestic terrorists that are planning to release a bio-weapon in the nation's capital. The exact target has been kept under wraps for weeks, but finally was revealed last night... oops, I mean, Monday night: a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority subway station (though my WMATA source tells me the episode was not actually filmed on their system).It goes like this: the bad guys find someone to frame for the to-be terrorist attack, reeling him in by holding his brother hostage. The bad guys send the man they're framing to a Metro station, make him get on a train, then plant a duffel bag holding the bio-weapon on the same train. They set the timer on the weapon so it goes off shortly after the train is set to arrive at "Washington Central" station. The pathogen will not only impact the commuters at the station, but escape into the station's ventilation system and be circulated to other areas of the subway system, the bad guys said. Of course, this being a television show, the FBI was hot on the bad guys' heels, got in touch with the man that was being framed as a terrorist, had him remove the bio-weapon from the train and station, and bring it outside ... where the show's hero, Jack Bauer, was waiting to grab the bio-weapon. He secured it in a haz-mat vehicle just seconds before it released the pathogen. But the episode left me feeling a little uneasy. Even though it was purely fiction, the incident was exactly what transit agency execs have been saying for years is a very real possibility. Watching it play out on my television screen was creepy. In recent years, agencies have taken steps to help prevent such an attack — adding explosive-resistant trash cans on platforms, installing more security cameras, stepping up police patrols and installing intrusion-detection technology in tunnels. But agencies have a short funding supply and the federal government has contributed a minimal amount for transit security — at least in comparison to what's actually needed. Today's transit discussions typically center around state-of-good repair and expansion needs, and how they might be funded through stimulus dollars and upcoming surface transportation legislation. But let's not also forget about agencies' many security needs, and the challenges they face trying to fund them.
Nice synopsis of 24. However, I would like to test the system as it actually stands today. Homeland security, and the metro,and Metra systems, and all their baloney about how upgraded their security is since 9/11.
If I had amnesty from prosecution, I bet even simple little ol' me could breach their security measures and get away with it. And ,I'm no Jack Bauer..:)! If anything just to prove a point.
Terror on the commuter railroad won't require any weapon as sophisticated as biological pathogens.Sad to say, but the transit agencies themselves have already provided terrorists a very formidable weapon: the fuel supply in every dual-powered locomotive. Every day, Metro-North Commuter Railroad and Long Island Rail Road operate many dual-powered locomotives into Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station. Any terrorist worth her or his salt could easily figure out which locomotives were running with their 2,800 gallon fuel tanks full or nearly full. Detonating those tanks with suicide bombers from a logistical and tactical perspective would be a piece of cake compared to the intricacies required to execute the 9/11 attacks. Vehicle fuel supply was the weapon of choice in the 9/11 attacks and this is another identical opportunity. For example, No. 2 diesel fuel used for locomotives contains 132,000 BTU's of energy per gallon, whereas a typical gallon of gasoline contains approximately 115,000 BTU's of energy per gallon, virtually irrespective of octane (though the denser, higher octane fuels do have a somewhat higher energy content).
I shudder to think how easily an attack such as this could be carried out, on some Tuesday morning in September.
OK, folks, let's try to get really real about the threat risk of terrorism on commuter rails. Yes, it is a serious risk. The rail system in linear, stretched over 140,000 miles. It is, I submit, impossible to protect it from one end to the other. Ever since DHS and TSA were created following 9/11, we have been subject to the "you're doin a heckuva job, Brownie" mentality and approach, only it was "you're doin a heckuva job, Kip" for the Director of TSA. A decent guy, formerly with UP, but with nothing in his background that would cause anyone to have made him head of a new transportation security agency. That said, TSA does a good job of catching the lotions and potions that little old 80-year-old ladies carry in their purses. It does a somewhat lesser job of catching knives, scissors and other implements that a real terrorist might like to bring aboard an airliner - or train. We know he can bring it on the train. Real security will come from TSA or the FBI and such actually try to outthink the bad guys and head them off before they get to the airport or train terminal. Saul_Frank is right about the possibility of blowing up the fuel tank of a dual-fuel locomotive. How about the terrorist in 1995 who removed a tie-plate on the SP west of Phoenix and was smart or knowledgeable enough to know not to disconnect the signal wire. Dispatch never knew the rail hwas been moved out of line until the fatal derailment occurred. Ancient history, but the silly FBI chief investigator followed up with the following statement: "We're the FBI. We catch criminals like this one." P.S. We'e still waiting, some 14 years later for this guy to be caught. No, you cannot make the system fool-proof; there are too many fools for that.
I don't think it is productuctive to discuss the weak links in our nation's trasnsportation system in a public forum. Anyone who has worked in the industry knows the problems. For those who don't know now, it's just providing a "how to."
If you have concerns about transportation security issues they would be more productively addressed by the NTSB.
Oh, for crying out loud. What arrogance. It is, sir, arrogance to suggest that a terrorist wouldn't think of these things if we didn't suggest them. The figured out how to fly large aircraft and how to beat the existing aviation security system and convert passenger aircraft into massive bombs. Don't kid yourself; terrorists always have been able to figure out ways of creating terror. That's why they are called terrorists - because that's what they do. You probably blame the news media for causing a recession by talking about it, right? Nobody at Southern Pacific discussed how to derail Amtraks Sunset Ltd. in 1995. The terrorist figured that one out all by himself. If this reply is unkind, not to worry; I mean it to be. By the way, you prove my point with your suggestion that we go to the NTSB with any concerns about security. NTSB is an investigative agency that comes into play AFTER an accident. It has no police authority and no real authority to effect change in safety matters. It only can make recommendations, most of which are ignored by the FAA, FRA, and FHWA. Sheesh!
Get pissed much LarryKaufman?
Anyway, I do agree w/ the fact that discussing it isn't going to change anything. However just as the media exacerbates the market problems so does it exacerbate market growth. It's better to at least and discuss and try to prepare than to ignore it and not discuss the possibility, being completely unprepared.
If you are commenting on security provisions, you are right this time, Adron. Perhaps the next head of TSA won't be a former railroad lobbyist, but instead will be someone with real counter-terrorism experience. TSA does a good job of screening the little 80-year-old grandmothers trying to visit their grandchildren, but it does a lousy job of actuall finding the potential weapons. Considering the way TSA has changed rules AFTER just abut every threat was discovered (take off your shoes because Richard Reed was going to blow up a plane with the bomb built into the heel of his shoe. Remove all potions and lotions from your carry-on and place them in a one-quart plastic resealable bag - a gallon bag is too big and no container can have than 3 ounces of liquid) we had better hope that no terrorist ever is caught with explosive soaked into his clothing. TSA would undoubtedly revise the rules again and we'd all have to strip down to our skivvies. I don't know about you, but I would not want to inflict the sight of me in my skivvies on the traveling public. As for you question: no, I don't get pissed much, at all, Adron Hall. I admit to having strong opinions and to being articulate enough to express them clearly. Also, I don't suffer fools at all well.
A thought aimed at no one in particular on the "influence" of the media on public policy: You cannot have it both ways. The same people who toss off comments to the effect that "I don't believe anything I read in the papers," or "the media don't have any credibility and don't influence policy," or phrases to that effect tend to be the same people who look first to the meida when looking for someone to blame for security lapses, or a recession, or anything bad that has happened. One or the other, but not both. So, I reject the concept that the media market problems and/or market growth. As a long-time member of the Fourth Estate, I only can wish I had been as important and influential as some would like to believe. I'd be far wealthier.
So what's the answer folks?
I agree with...no I won't shut up about talking down the security angle....I believe that it's my right to tell the government to go to hell with their inept appointments, and I only wish that I could make money at praising (when justified),and critisizing (when justified or not) haha. We all know it's easier to critisize unjustly. But I think i'm getting better at constructive critism as of late....and I herald mr Kaufman for that.
So who does one contact to get the real message accross with. The President doesn't read his own mail, whether it's the president of the US or president of a nickel and dime company they're to important, so I guess making a spectacle that would reach millions would be the answer.
Or perhaps one might just go and disrupt service much like IT security companies used to do in order to get IT security contracts. So I guess I have to reach into my bag o tricks, and think and act like a terrorist, (I look terrible with full facial hair, and a beach towel wrapped around my head) and bring to light all the misgivings of an inadequate railroad and local police, along with county,state and federal buffoons, and the only reason they'll get egg on their face is they were'nt train in this type of scenario, so I guess the only egg in the face falls on the heads of USDOT,FRA,FTA, which is rightly so!
In your piece you said for years transit execs have been describing this kind of scenario....and it made you creepy watching it unfold
I think you have things in the wrong order, transit execs have not even noticed these kinds of things how could they when the boy blunder of the Chicago transit agency had no nada, experience running that transit system, or just like the guy from the UP and director of the tsa has no law enforcement background.
What are these politicians thinking, or is the selection of good qualified people non existant(except if you pay to play).
Your frustration is understandable, James. Unfortunately, public officials make a statement every time they name someone to an appointive position. If the appointee is unqualified (and those in the Senate who ratify the appointments should not go without notice), the statement is that the job isn't seen as really important, so qualification really is of no concern (anyone remember "You're doin a heckuva job, Brownie?) On the other hand, when the job is seen as genuinely important, they really do try to appoint qualified people.
I am glad that Richard Reed used his shoe instead of where some drug runners put their contraband. Airport dlays would be very long and I don't think I would fly.