Research targets safety of America's rail transportation network

Two Penn State Harrisburg faculty members are embarking on a research study to determine how secure America’s rail transportation network is from terrorist attack.

Supported by a grant from the college’s Research Council, Jeremy Plant, professor of public policy and administration, and Richard Young, professor of supply chain management, are partnering on the national study, designed to classify threats and identify safety gaps which need to be addressed.

Young said efforts to secure the nation’s rail system have been undertaken by federal, state, and local agencies and by private rail operators, but he said these activities differ fundamentally between the passenger and freight modes.

“Driven by events such as the Madrid and London rail attacks, and by the assumption that since the 9/11 event all modes of passenger travel in the U.S. constitute potential terrorist targets, passenger rail security has been largely entrusted to the public sector, but with fewer resources granted for aviation,” Young said. “Freight rail security also has been driven by events, but has been guided by the private sector rail industry.”

“The focus of the research is to recognize that rail transportation is a common network shared by freight, intercity passenger, and commuter railroads," said Plant. "The vulnerability of one is therefore the vulnerability of all.“

The specific objectives of the rail study will be to identify gaps in the regulatory theory and practice aspects of protecting rail assets, to determine how public policy may be further enhanced to provide for safe passage of customers as well as goods, to identify how opportunities may be present for the sharing of intelligence, and to resolve those areas where public policy may be at odds with the objectives of railroad operators.

Plant said securing the rail network, specifically its infrastructure, is a matter of serious concern for a wide variety of reasons, including the fact that freight railroads are critical to the nation’s economy and that passenger operations move millions of riders each year and are essential to the functionality of many of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

Young stressed that railroads provide the safest logistical means of moving hazardous materials necessary for the economy, but such movements provide prime opportunities for terrorist actions, and the rail network is vast and diverse. Also important, he said, is the fact that some of the infrastructure that would be most attractive to terrorists is in metropolitan areas where freight, intercity passenger, regional commuter and rapid transit lines are in close proximity.

“Our focus will include identifying how rail network security can be enhanced by better collaboration among public law enforcement agencies, railroad police, government intelligence organizations, and the Department of Homeland Security,” Plant said.


Last Updated August 11, 2009