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By Jeff Stagl, managing editor
Like Class Is, regionals and short lines have a host of security concerns. Trespassers at yards, bridges and tunnels. The threat of vandals or terrorists tampering with rail cars along lines and in terminals. Unidentified and unexpected items placed along track or on trains.
But unlike Class Is, many regionals and short lines don’t have the resources to cover all the security bases. So, small railroads do what they can and count on the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) to provide guidance.
During the past few years, the association has tried to do just that. ASLRRA has developed workbooks, online tools and training courses, and launched “Secure Tracks,” a monthly newsletter offering security tips.
“Everything we’re doing is the result of concerns and queries voiced by short lines the last four or five years,” says ASLRRA President Richard Timmons. “We can’t spoon-feed 560 railroads, but we can make them aware of what’s available and lead them to water.”
Most of the association’s efforts are directed at small railroads’ No. 1 vulnerability: hazardous-material shipments.
“We’re not talking about haz-mat cars in the hinterlands, but in high-threat urban areas, like Chicago, Philadelphia or New York,” says Timmons. “The ability to deal with a mishap or an incident caused by a terrorist is a big issue.”
Because there isn’t a federal cap on railroads’ liability, legal and clean-up costs incurred by a regional or short line after a haz-mat incident could “mean the end of the railroad,” he says.
To help small railroads avoid that worst-case scenario, ASLRRA continues to work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Association of American Railroads, and other agencies and associations to provide tools and develop procedures for securing haz-mat shipments.
Two years ago, Railinc Corp. developed FreightScope, an online tracking tool ASLRRA uses to determine the location of haz-mat cars, especially those carrying Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) and Poisonous by Inhalation (PIH) materials. The FRA-funded tool enables association officials to locate a car by state, railroad or reporting marks, and obtain a car’s movement history.
“We can locate a car in 15 minutes,” says Timmons. “Before, we had to call the Class I interchange partner and hope they could find the car.”
Now, ASLRRA is using the tool to ensure a car isn’t stationary on a line or in a yard for days on end. In addition to the security implications, the association hopes to prevent what occurred four years ago at the Indiana & Ohio Railway’s Cincinnati yard.
A tank car carrying 20,000 gallons of styrene, which sat idle for several months at the RailAmerica Inc. subsidiary’s facility, caught fire because of a chemical reaction, releasing hazardous gases and prompting an evacuation.
“If a haz-mat car has been sitting on a railroad for 30 days and is still not moving, we can call and ask what the status is,” says Timmons.
Later this year, ASLRRA also plans to begin providing Web-based High-Threat Urban Area (HTUA) haz-mat training to short lines at no cost. Last year, the association obtained a $1.8 million TSA grant to fund the training. ASLRRA is partnering with the Watco Cos. Inc. and engineering/training firm Windsor Continental Corp. — which developed the HTUA program — to begin providing courses by mid-2009.
“It will cover a full range of issues, such as employee and manager awareness, haz-mat spills, and coordination with federal agencies,” says Timmons.
For now, ASLRRA offers haz-mat training courses at the Transportation Technology Center Inc. and National Academy of Railroad Sciences.
The association also provides a haz-mat response pocket guide that summarizes recommended procedures for dealing with a potential or actual incident; an improvised explosive device (IED) recognition and inspection DVD; and online tools that enable short lines to model a haz-mat car’s route to ensure the path meets federal requirements, as well as develop a security plan analyzing all risk factors.
Short lines need to create a security plan to comply with TSA requirements. The agency is developing a TIH dwell reduction tool that will be mandatory for short lines to use after it’s introduced. In addition, the TSA last year issued a final rule — which took effect April 1 — that requires railroads to designate a rail security coordinator and establish protocols for a “positive hand-off” and transfer of haz-mat cars, especially those carrying TIH and PIH materials.
In September 2007, the TSA also mandated field inspections of railroads’ security plans — an effort that stepped up last year after the agency added more field inspectors, says Timmons.
Regionals and larger short lines have had little difficulty putting a plan together and going through a TSA inspection. But some small short lines — such as those with three- to seven-person staffs — have struggled because they have limited resources and never developed a security plan before, says Timmons.
“We have some railroads that have their heads in the game and some out in left field,” he says.
Count the Morristown & Erie Railway Inc. (M&E) among the gamers. The 158-mile short line underwent a TSA security inspection a year ago and was ready with a security plan in hand, says M&E Chief of Police Chip Greiner.
A member of ASLRRA’s security committee, Greiner helped develop a template short lines can use to prepare for a TSA inspection.
“It shows a flow chart for when there’s an incident, who’s responsible for what and procedures for handling haz-mat on property,” he says.
To secure haz-mat cars, M&E uses on-site cameras, fencing and 24-hour guards. Depending on available resources, the short line could bolster security by installing additional real-time cameras and tapping emerging technologies, such as GPS devices on cars that can monitor movements via laptop or computer, says Greiner.
The Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co. (IHB) also is contemplating the use of GPS monitoring devices on TIH- and PIH-carrying cars, and considering upgrades to its surveillance system cameras. Haz-mat car security has been heightened since 9/11, says IHB Chief of Police Vic Barks.
“We physically inspect each car each shift,” he says. “We didn’t do that before 9/11.”
The nation’s largest switch carrier — which operates 54 miles of mainline track, and 266 miles of yard and siding track — also didn’t keep rail fans away from its Chicago-area property eight years ago. Now, IHB enforces a zero-tolerance policy for trespassers and no longer tries to accommodate rail fans, says Barks.
Each trespasser is stopped by one of IHB’s 14-member police force, who fully documents all information on each trespassing incident, he says.
For the past five years, Barks and his short-line counterparts have shared experiences with trespassers and haz-mat car security at ASLRRA Railroad Police Committee meetings. The committee — which now counts 23 railroad police chiefs as members — meets three times annually, says Barks.
Committee members use best practices and shared experiences to beef up their security programs. M&E officers need to be on top of their game because the railroad serves ConocoPhillips’ Bayway refinery in Linden and Elizabeth, N.J., which the DHS has identified as the second-most potential target after the Port of Houston, says Greiner. The short line moves about 12,000 haz-mat cars annually for the refinery.
M&E’s security procedures were put to the test in January, when a red fire extinguisher was found under a car’s wheel. Officers thought it could be an IED, says Greiner.
“We got the feds involved to try to figure out who put it there and why,” he says, adding that it turned out to be a standard fire extinguisher.
The incident reinforced the No. 1 goal of railroad security: You have to be vigilant, says Greiner.
Otherwise, a similar incident “could hurt us the next time,” he says.