In a response to the March terrorist train bombings in Madrid, the Senate Banking Committee has cleared legislation that would authorize $5.2 billion to boost security at transit systems across the U.S. The legislation, which the committee approved unanimously on May 5, authorizes $3.5 billion for security-related transit capital spending under the Dept. of Homeland Security, plus $1.5 billion spread over three years for operating costs and $200 million in 2005 for research.

The bill states that federal security spending on aviation totaled about $11 billion in 2002 and 2003, but only $115 million in 2003 and 2004 on transit security. The American Public Transportation Association has estimated transit's security needs at $6 billion and is asking for $2 billion of that in fiscal 2005.

Shelby says security is a top transportation priority

Looking at the next legislative step, Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said, "We wouldn't preclude anything." He said he would try to move the bill as a stand-alone measure, but also would consider attaching it to another measure, "if we agree on things like we have today, and we can see a vehicle that's moving. This needs to move." On April 8, the Senate commerce committee approved a security bill aimed at passenger. commuter and freight railroad security. It authorizes $1.2 billion, including $670 million for improvements to decades-old Amtrak and commuter rail tunnels in New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and $128.5 million for other Amtrak security projects and programs. A rail security bill also is expected to be introduced in the House.

Even if the banking panel's transit bill is enacted, funding would depend on annual approval by the appropriations committees. With the increased overall federal deficit, those panels will be pressed to find room for such large increase for security. Nevertheless, the bill has advocates on Appropriations: Shelby is well positioned, as chairman of the transportation appropriations subcommittee and two other Banking Committee members who voted for the bill, Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), also are appropriators. Regarding the outlook in appropriations, Shelby says, "It'll be a challenge, but security is on of our top priorities, if not our top priority, in dealing with transportation. Look what happened in Spain. We have no alternative."

(Photo courtesy of Office of Sen. Richard Shelby)