Hollings' port user-fee plan
dropped in committee

In a response to the March terrorist attacks on trains in Madrid, the Senate commerce committee has approved bills aimed at tightening security on U.S. railroads and at domestic seaports. The panel cleared the two measures on April 8 by voice votes.

The rail security bill would authorize about $1.2 billion, including $670 million to upgrade Amtrak and commuter rail tunnels in New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. It also would provide $128.5 million for other Amtrak security projects and programs and $185 million to railroads and state and local governments for infrastructure hardening, adding police and canine units and other security improvements. In addition, $100 million would go for research into such areas as detecting explosives, and another $100 million for security of hazardous-materials transportation.

All of that funding, however, would hinge on approval by the Appropriations committees, which will be pressed to increase the budgets for any non-defense programs in the coming fiscal year.

The rail measure also would authorize a pilot program for screening rail passengers, baggage and cargo and require the Dept. of Homeland Security to produce a nationwide rail security assessment, and recommendations, 180 days after it is enacted.

In the maritime security bill, the committee authorized only $35 million a year for testing security technologies at domestic seaports. It also mandates a wide-ranging security plan for intermodal cargo, within 180 days of enactment. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), the maritime bill's sponsor, had sought to set up a $400-million-per-year user fee to finance port security upgrades over the next five years, but that was deleted in committee on a 13-10.

(Photo courtesy of Senate commerce committee/Democrats)