The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) delays in implementing rail security requirements according to a law passed nearly a decade ago may be putting the United States’ rail system, Amtrak, at risk of terrorist attack, according to a new report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (DHS OIG).
In August 2015, two American service members foiled an attack by a gunman on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. The incident raised awareness of the vulnerability of rail systems to terrorist attacks, and prompted members of Congress to request an update on the state of rail security.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Congress passed the Public Law 110–53, Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (9/11 Act) requiring DHS, through TSA, to create a regulatory framework that addresses the threats facing the nation’s passenger rail systems. The 9/11 Act requires Amtrak to appoint a rail security coordinator, report significant security concerns to TSA, and to allow TSA to conduct inspections, among other things.
TSA has experienced a number of delays in fully implementing these requirements. The agency attributes the delays to the complex federal rulemaking process. However, considering over 8 years have gone by since the legislation was passed, DHS OIG said TSA has clearly not prioritized the implementation of key passenger rail requirements.
“Although the rulemaking process can be lengthy, TSA has not urgently prioritized the need to implement these rail security requirements,” the DHS OIG report stated. “This is evident from TSA’s inability to satisfy these requirements more than 8 years after the legislation was passed.”
While TSA has implemented a number of the 9/11 Act requirements, three remain uncompleted. These include TSA’s failure to issue regulations assigning rail carriers to high-risk tiers, establish a rail training program, and conduct security background checks of front rail employees.
The requirements TSA has implemented include awarding security improvement grants to Amtrak, creating a program for conducting rail security exercises, establishing a task force to assess the risk of a terrorist attack and issuing a regulation prohibiting rail carriers from making false statements to employees while undergoing TSA security background checks. TSA is currently working on satisfying the three remaining 9/11 Act requirements.
“Without fully implementing and enforcing the requirements from the 9/11 Act, TSA’s ability to strengthen passenger rail security may be diminished,” the report explained. “The absence of regulations also impacts TSA’s ability to require Amtrak to make security improvements that may prevent or deter acts of terrorism.”
Without formal regulations, TSA relies on outreach programs, voluntary initiatives, and recommended measures to assess and improve rail security for Amtrak.
“Although voluntary initiatives assist TSA in identifying potential securityvulnerabilities, they do not replace the need to implement regulatory requirements,” the report stated.
To strengthen the effectiveness of passenger rail security, DHS OIG has recommended that TSA develop and adhere to a detailed plan to deliver the remaining 9/11 Act passenger rail requirements and coordinate with the Office of Management and Budget to expedite implementation.
DHS concurred with both recommendations and is actively working to address them.