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Partnership Key to Reducing Risk in Rail

Release Date: March 4, 2009
Risk management and stakeholder engagement are key elements of TSA's surface transportation initiatives. Unlike in aviation, where TSA has employees performing security functions, we utilize stakeholder partnerships, grant funding and rulemaking to enhance security in surface modes.

Let's look at freight rail. There are 140,000 miles of freight-rail track and 560 railroads in the United States. Common items transported by rail are grains, cars, appliances and food, but a small number of rail cars – less than one percent - carry essential but potentially hazardous chemicals, such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia, which are called toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) materials. Toxic emissions that may result from an attack against a rail car carrying these chemicals presents a potentially serious risk in America's densely populated urban areas.

Instead of pursuing a lengthy rulemaking process, TSA worked in partnership with the rail industry to reduce toxic chemical risk. Beginning in 2007, the rail industry began sharing data on rail car movements to establish a baseline and a risk scoring system from which we could begin to measure risk reduction. Carriers retained local operating flexibility to reduce risk and worked with TSA to develop a risk reduction formula to that included unattended TIH car hours, population proximity, and the high threat urban area population.

As part of the collaboration, the freight rail industry implemented several key security measures including tracking and substantially reducing the standstill time for unattended freight cars transporting TIH materials in high threat urban areas, developing site-specific security plans, and providing security training for front line employees.

DHS's goal for rail TIH risk reduction was 50 percent by the end of 2008. This collaborative approach has been successful: as of this month, rail TIH risk has been reduced by more than 70 percent.

To complement and formalize the initiatives already underway, in November 2008, a Rail Security Final Rule (PDF, 180 pages - 801 KB) was published that covers the transport of TIH materials by rail, from start to finish, including predictable standstill points and unpredictable stops during shipment. The rule includes provisions that require freight rail carriers to ensure 100 percent positive hand-off of TIH materials, establish security protocols for custody transfers of TIH rail cars in the high threat urban areas, appoint a rail security coordinator to share information with the federal government, and formalize the TSA freight and passenger rail inspection authority. Under the Final Rule, TSA will require establishment of a tracking system that will enable the federal government to determine the location of rail cars carrying TIH materials within 30 minutes.

TSA appreciates the support of the rail industry and is using this collaborative approach to reduce risk in other transportation modes whenever possible.

Gale Rossides
Acting Administrator, TSA
Published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C.
Last Updated: 06/28/2022
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