Metro Without $143M Needed for Security Improvements
By HEATHER GREENFIELD, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Metro boosted police patrols following the London bombings Thursday, but the attacks brought a crucial security question back to the front burner.
Of the $150 million the transit agency has requested over the next six years for security improvements, $143 million remains unfunded. About half of that would go for the most pressing item: a backup operations control center.
The request was part of a funding proposal transit officials brought to jurisdictions Metro serves in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Local officials said no. So has the federal government.
Metro got $6.5 million in federal funds from a Department of Homeland Security grant. Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith said it immediately put that toward a backup center, but $75 million more is needed to actually build it.
"Even though it's an expensive investment, it is the Metro equivalent of the air traffic control system," Metro CEO Richard White told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday.
"The vulnerability we're most concerned with is the ability to recover and restore service quickly. We'll see how long it takes London," White said.
He said both the London and New York City transit systems have redundancies that Washington lacks. He said a single failure could mean a lengthy period before full service is restored.
"If it's days, weeks or months it could have a huge impact on the metro area," White said.
So far this year, Metro has averaged more than 667,000 weekday passengers, said Smith, who noted ridership spiked to more than 700,000 several days last month.
Smith said since the Madrid train attacks of March 2004, Metro spent $180,000 on explosive detection equipment, increased the number of police patrols and started a citizens corps trained to help evacuate fellow passengers in an emergency.
Metro also has added chemical detectors, video cameras and bomb-resistant trash cans.
Smith said Metro wants additional funds for decontamination equipment, expanding its intruder detection system and equipment to detect weapons of mass destruction.
While the federal government has spent $18 billion to improve airport security across the nation since the Sept. 11 attacks, it has allotted $250 million for transit security.
White said local transit agencies have been asked to tackle lower cost improvements themselves, which he said they have done.
"We try to do all we can with limited resources, but at some point there's got to be investment," White said. "It would be really tragic to wait until we've been hit before we're spurred to action."
The Department of Homeland Security recently awarded a $12.4 million grant to improve rail security in the region. Smith said there is no agreement yet how that money will be divided between Metro, Virginia Railway Express, MARC and other MTA Maryland services.
Metro Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson said despite the inherent vulnerabilities of mass transit, Metro "is one of the safest transit systems in the world." Yet nothing is perfect.
"This is not an airport," Hanson said. "We don't have the luxury of funneling people through a (security) checkpoint," she said, calling such a system impractical for the volume of people who ride.
"If we do that, we would take the mass out of mass transit," Hanson said.
"Nothing is going to make us 100 percent secure," noted White.
Hanson put all available officers on station and bus patrols Thursday and set up a mobile police command center at Stadium-Armory station for the afternoon Washington Nationals game.
D.C. Department of Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini, who serves on the Metro Board, said he was disappointed someone chose to attack public transportation, and said it heightens awareness of the need improve passenger safety.
Most passengers Thursday said they were not too worried.
"It really doesn't effect me. Either way, I'm forced to ride Metro," said Cornell Pendleton, 26, accountant.
Metro said as of 11 a.m. Thursday, ridership was down about 8,200 people from Wednesday.