In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks against railroads in Spain, several Senators have proposed $1.2 billion in federal funds to upgrade passenger rail security in the U.S. The bill, introduced March 12, includes $777 million to make improvements to several Amtrak and commuter rail tunnels in the Northeast plus $515 million for the Dept. of Homeland Security. The DHS aid would go to carry out recommendations stemming a study of rail security that the bill also mandates.

Bill similar to one that passed committee twice before, but not full Senate

Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), who introduced the rail bill, noted that the Commerce committee had approved a similar measure twice before, but it didn't come up for a floor vote. Hollings, the senior Democrat on the commerce panel, says, "We've got to get serious and get this thing passed."

The bill had eight initial co-sponsors. Even if the legislation clears the Senate, the Appropriations Committee also would have to approve the funding.

The largest share of the bill's funding, $667 million, would go for improvements to six rail tunnels into and out of Pennsylvania Station in New York City. Those tunnels are more than 90 years old. Amtrak and local commuter rail agencies had been making some improvements on those tunnels, using $100 million appropriated earlier by Congress. Initial work includes new standpipes and repairs to walkways on the side of the tunnels. says Amtrak spokesman Clifford Black.

He says the total project cost is $985 million, about half of which would come from Amtrak's appropriations and half from New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road. There are two tunnels under the Hudson River and four under the East River.
With the start of the upgrades, safety is "greatly improved," says Black, but he adds, "We've got a lot more work to do." That includes new exits and improved ventilation systems.

(Photo courtesy of office of Sen. Ernest F. Hollings)