Today’s news:

Schumer calls for $3B to upgrade train safety

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for Congress to provide $3 billion to make trains as safe as planes and to upgrade deteriorated Penn Station tunnels through which thousands of Queens commuters pass daily.

“If we strengthen air security without doing the same for rail, we only make our trains a greater target,” said Schumer. “We need more surveillance cameras, more police officers, more K-9 units and better ID checks just to name a few new security measures — not only to ensure the safety of rail travelers but to ensure their faith and confidence in all forms of travel.”

Schumer said that right after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center with air travel suspended, Amtrak provided the only alternative.

The bill Schumer advocates would allocate $3 billion for providing new security and safety equipment, training and personnel and adding new capacity to the nation’s railway system.

Some $1.5 billion would go toward a nationwide security upgrade featuring new security measures and requirements including:

• Requiring all passengers to pass through metal detectors before boarding.

• Stringent ID checks for all rail passengers.

• Baggage scans and random luggage inspections.

• More police, security personnel and K-9 units patrolling rail facilities.

• New and upgraded training for railway security personnel.

• A new communications system enabling Amtrak to install satellite technology on all trains and a state-of-the-art training tracking and locator unit.

• Hazardous material detection and response systems.

The money would also provide for modernizing railroad tunnels in New York, Washington and Baltimore to meet fire and safety standards, provide better ventilation and new escape routes in emergencies.

In New York, it would mean repairing 90-year-old railroad tunnels to Penn Station beneath the East and Hudson rivers. The New York City Fire Department and federal officials have long called for work on the Penn Station tunnels, which are 10 stories deep and have stairways only 24 inches wide. Critics say access and ventilation are inadequate, particularly in case of heavy smoke and the number of water hydrants is inadequate to fight a fire.

The tunnels, two under the Hudson River and four beneath the East River are all a bit more than two miles long and are used by the Long Island Rail Road and the New Jersey Transit System as well as Amtrak, which owns them.

Thousands of Queens travelers are among the 350,000 commuters who daily use the tunnels.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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