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House transportation committee members seek co-sponsors for 'PROTECTS' rail security bill

Reps. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and other members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Subcommittee on Railroads are seeking co-sponsors for the Protecting Railroad Operators, Travelers, Employees and Communities with Transportation Security Act of 2004 (H.R. 4896) — also known as the PROTECTS Act.

On July 22, Oberstar introduced the bill, which would authorize more than $1 billion to protect the nation's rail network from terrorist threats. The PROTECTS Act would provide about $500 million to state and local governments, railroads, rail labor unions and other organizations to reimburse the cost of preventing or responding to terrorist attacks or similar security threats to freight and passenger railroads.

The bill also would provide Amtrak $597 million to improve the safety of tunnels in the Northeast Corridor and $65 million to upgrade security system-wide, and the U.S. Department of Transportation $50 million to create a research and development program aimed at improving freight- and passenger-rail security. In addition, the PROTECTS Act would authorize funding for a vulnerability assessment of freight and passenger railroads, and a study and pilot program on passenger, baggage and cargo screening.

"Moreover, the PROTECTS Act focuses on something other bills ignore: the importance of ensuring that key workers have the necessary support and training required to protect our rail system, whether those workers are railroad employees or emergency responders," said Oberstar in a letter sent to House democrats. "The act also strengthens whistleblower protections to ensure that all workers who report or identify a security risk will not face retribution or retaliation from their employers."

H.R. 4896 was referred to the transportation and infrastructure committee, which is considering the bill.

"It is clear that federal leadership is required to address the needs of a reliable, safe and secure rail network, just as has been used in establishing a secure federal aviation network," said Oberstar. "But despite congressional deadlines, the Transportation Security Administration has yet to develop an integrated strategic plan for the transportation sector and specific plans for various modes, including rail."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/30/2004