Transportation Security:

Additional Actions Could Strengthen the Security of Intermodal Transportation Facilities

GAO-10-435R: Published: May 27, 2010. Publicly Released: Jun 21, 2010.

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Charles A. Jeszeck
(202) 512-7036


Office of Public Affairs
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Terrorist attacks on mass transit and commuter rail facilities in Moscow, Madrid, London, and Mumbai, and the significant loss of life and disruption they caused, have highlighted the vulnerability of transportation facilities to terrorism and the need for greater focus on securing these facilities, including intermodal transportation terminals. Such intermodal transportation terminals--locations where multiple modes or types of passengers or cargo transportation connect an merge--are potentially high value targets for terrorists because the large number of passengers or volume of cargo can lead to significant loss of human life and economic disruption. For example, New York City's Pennsylvania ("Penn") Station, the nation's busiest rail station, functions as an intermodal hub for Amtrak, two ma commuter rail lines (New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road), as well as six city subway routes. According to Amtrak, an average of 500,000 passengers the station daily. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has primary responsibility for homeland security, including transportation security, under the Homeland Security Act. Within DHS, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has primary responsibility for securing the aviation and surface transportation sectors. The Department of Transportation (DOT) supports DHS by providing technical assistance through some programs (e.g., supporting the development of security standards for mass transit and passenger rail systems). DOT also assists DHS when possible with implementation of its security policies, as allowed by DOT statutory authorities and available resources. A number of other entities, including Amtrak, transportation agencies, local law enforcement, and state and local governments, have day-to-day responsibilities for securing the aviation and surface transportation sectors. Amtrak, for example, operates the nation's primary intercity passenger rail system and serves more than 500 stations across the country. DHS and DOT formalized their roles and responsibilities for transportation security through a memorandum of understanding signed in September 2004, which identified that they would work together to achieve the required level of multi- and intermodal security. You raised questions about the level of security and protection at intermodal transportation facilities throughout the nation, and asked us to examine federal efforts to secure these facilities. On January 7, 2010, we met with your staff to update them on the status of our work assessing the security of aviation and surface transportation modes and intermodal facilities. As agreed, this report summarizes the work that we have completed in recent years in the aviation and surface transportation security area that is most directly related to intermodal facilities, as well as our ongoing work in these areas. Although this work focused on individual modes and related facilities within the transportation sector--such as aviation, mass transit and passenger rail, freight rail, and highway infrastructure--many of the facilities examined were also intermodal. Thus, this report addresses the following questions: (1) To what extent has DHS taken actions to ensure that efforts to strengthen the security of the aviation and surface transportation sectors are based on a risk management framework, particularly those that include intermodal facilities? (2) To what extent has DHS taken actions to ensure the security of the aviation and surface transportation sectors, particularly those actions that involve intermodal facilities?

Although TSA has taken some actions to strengthen the security of aviation and surface transportation facilities through a risk management framework, it has not fully implemented such a framework to inform the allocation of security resources across the transportation modes, including the security of intermodal facilities. For example, we reported in March 2009 that while TSA's transportation sector security plan outlines the need to identify and understand the risk factors associated with intermodal transportation, TSA has not conducted comprehensive risk assessments for the aviation and surface transportation sectors. DHS and its component agencies have taken a number of actions in recent years to help ensure the security of the nation's aviation and surface transportation sectors, including intermodal facilities; however, opportunities exist to strengthen activities related to: (1) personnel--including workforce planning and training of workers carrying out security activities; (2) operational and management processes--including coordination among key stakeholders and entities responsible for transportation security; and (3) security and related technologies--the technical systems and technologies developed and deployed for carrying out these programs. For example, in terms of personnel, TSA has periodically deployed Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) security teams within mass transit and passenger rail facilities to augment local security forces, but could do more to measure their performance. With regard to operational and management processes, we reported that while TSA has made progress in a variety of areas related to program implementation across a wide range of transportation security programs, such as conducting assessments to guide investment of security resources and supporting the establishment of information-sharing entities, it continues to face challenges with regard to planning and management of some programs and coordinating with stakeholders. In terms of technology, we reported in October 2009 that TSA was not fully testing certain airport checkpoint screening equipment in an operational environment prior to deployment.

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