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Transit Safety & Security Chiefs Roundtable - New York


Remarks: James S. Simpson, Federal Transit Administration

On behalf of President Bush and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, I am pleased to join you today to discuss matters that require us to make the most important decisions in the world  --  decisions that empower us to preserve and protect lives that may be endangered. . . whether by a terrorist attack, an accidental train derailment, or a natural disaster, such as a hurricane.

FTA is proud to be a co-sponsor of this timely event, along with the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

A collaborative mindset is essential, in this business. That’s why I’m pleased to welcome our international participants here today.  . .

Many of you are here to share the lessons you’ve learned the hard way about best practices in transportation security.

Thank you for joining us, and I hope you enjoy the value of the U.S. dollar while you’re here.

Seriously,  we have much to learn from each other  -- and we all need to be open to new ideas, and new ways of tackling these challenges.

One of the key themes of this roundtable --  encouraging a coordinated regional response to security – reflects the importance of collaboration and cooperation at all levels of government,  law enforcement,  and the private sector.

I would like to begin this morning with some thoughts about the nation’s current state of affairs.

I think it’s fair to say that many of us here in the U.S. are quite concerned about recent economic trends.

Some of us may even be operating in a crisis mode  --  or something close to it.

We see our economy weakening, in certain sectors.  We see record-breaking fuel prices affecting nearly all segments of society,  and driving up consumer prices.

And in the transportation industry, it’s not just fuel prices,   but also the escalating price of commodities,  like aluminum and concrete,  combined with limited contractor availability,   that are making it difficult to keep large-scale projects on time and on budget.

Nowhere are these trends felt more keenly than in public transit.

I know your agencies are working very hard right now to balance surging levels of ridership against rising fuel costs. . .  squeeze as much as you can from very tight operating budgets. . . and still maintain your capital programs.

As the ancient Chinese used to say,  “May you live in interesting times.”

They meant it as a curse.

Now, where do safety and security fit into this rather bleak scenario I’ve described?

When we’re in crisis mode, we tend to get very short-sighted. . . .  We fight fires. . .  We look for the quick fixes. . .  And we sometimes postpone dealing with the big challenges looming on the horizon, because we’ve still got to get through tomorrow!

It’s only human nature. . . . We’ve all been there. . . . I’m certainly not blaming anyone.

But safety and security never take a holiday.

And we can never allow them to become back-burner issues.

We cannot lose sight of what it means  -- and what it really takes  --  to keep our transit systems operating safely. . . 

We must develop a secure environment that’s focused on preventing disasters. . . while also preparing to respond to any type of emergency.

I think it’s fair to say that we, and others, were galvanized by the terrorist attacks in 2001,  and by the devastating impact the Gulf Coast hurricanes had on parts of our transportation infrastructure in 2004  -- and the more recent floods in the Midwest as well.

It may be harder, however, to sustain a sense of urgency when immediate threats have been removed.

And yet we need to retain that sense of urgency, going forward.

Safety and security require committed strategic and tactical leadership over time. . . dedicated resources. . . and a commitment to implementing best practices.

FTA has pledged to stay on top of these issues  -- and to support the public transit industry’s ability to do so as well.

Let me share with you how we plan to do that.

As everyone here knows, the months following the terrorist attacks on 9/11 triggered a sea change for emergency preparedness, response, and security.

I won’t re-visit all of the efforts that FTA participated in at that time. . . working closely with the newly established TSA, FEMA, the American Public Transportation Association, local transit agencies, and other stakeholders.

Suffice it to say,  FTA became deeply involved in developing new security standards for transit agencies,  conducting risk and readiness assessments and on-site technical assistance,  reviewing infrastructure protection,  fostering new emergency preparedness procedures, and providing grant money for emergency drills.

We have also provided training to our grantees and the transit community at large.

Now it is time to find a new way forward, building on this baseline.      FTA’s new five-year strategic plan will ensure that safety, security, and emergency management at FTA are guided by a clear vision,  goals,  and a strategy that reflects a comprehensive, all-hazards approach to crisis management --  encompassing prevention, protection, response, and recovery.

In keeping with the all-hazards approach, we will integrate safety, security, and emergency management functions where it makes sense to do so.

This integration will involve our core programs and activities, ranging from data-driven analysis to the design of transit facilities and vehicles.

We will not, however, sacrifice our attention to specific issues that deserve attention. . . . including safety issues such as drug and alcohol awareness, and security issues like crime prevention.

I am confident that this plan will provide us with the guidance and focus we need to strengthen security among public transit agencies. . .

And this plan will help to protect our nation’s public transportation infrastructure  -- even in the absence of an imminent threat.

Now, speaking of threats. . . any time a transit worker’s or a passenger’s safety is threatened or compromised, we must look closely at the underlying causes – and then act swiftly to fix it.

When it comes to safety, there are no band-aids, only cures.

FTA is fully committed to enhancing safety throughout the transit industry.

We’re taking the lead on several initiatives that will promote a safety-first culture and help raise awareness.

For example, in response to concerns raised by the National Transportation Safety Board about the state of rail transit safety, we recently convened a summit of transit general managers and safety officers. This put this issue on the front burner. . . and allowed us to take a hard look at the problem. . .  and come up with some guiding principles.

For example. . .  We must not forget that

In addition, we’re developing pilot training courses to address key safety trends, such as track inspection. . . We plan to run these session at four heavy rail agencies in the near future.

We’re also developing a range of educational, training, and technical assistance materials that will be widely disseminated throughout the industry. . .

Also in the works is a track worker protection training video, and further research on public transportation safety, security, and emergency management.

I think it’s important for us to take to heart something the well-respected veteran and firearms expert, Jeff Cooper, once said:

“Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”

Now, what does the future hold?

As some of you know, Congress will pass a new authorization legislation for the Department of Transportation’s surface transportation programs within the next few years.

As we prepare for the authorization process, we must present a coherent vision for ensuring that our federally funded transportation systems are both safe and secure – for employees and passengers alike  --  and that we are ready to deal with virtually any emergency that may come our way.

I am confident that by working closely with other federal agencies. . . state and local governments. . . advocacy groups. . . and our international counterparts. . . FTA will be able to make a compelling case to Congress for the resources and regulatory framework to help us continue this journey. 

I urge each of you here today never to lose sight of that fact that no transportation system can ultimately be considered a success, if the best safety and security measures are not “baked in.”

So let us all pledge that we’re going to work together to find ways to make our transit systems the safest they can be. . .  to find ways to keep our infrastructure in a state of good repair.  . .and to give the American people the world-class transportation networks they deserve.

In closing, I believe we need a world-class transportation infrastructure in this country. . . We cannot afford to let it fail. . . and we should not be second-best behind other nations.

Let’s have the political courage and leadership to make the investments we need now, for the future we want tomorrow:

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

Thank you.

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