Timing, as they say, is everything. Last fall, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, community officials in the Alameda Corridor released a first-of-its-kind report on railroads and Homeland Security. And though chock full of the kinds of alarming projections that usually garner headlines, the official reaction was more a whimper than a bang.
What makes the government's dismissive attitude all the more ironic is that at least one of the predictions has already come true. The report was nothing if not direct in its assertion that al Qaeda's "apparent interest in rail attacks should be cause for concern." It then went on to emphasize the strategic significance of Southern California's rail lines to both national security and the U.S. economy. And it called for more funds to protect the nation's rail corridors and freight rail services.
The study, which was published in cooperation with the Orange North-American Trade Rail Access Corridor (OnTrac) Joint Powers Authority by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC) and Rand Corp., went so far as to quantify the economic disruption the country would suffer if the Alameda rail corridor alone were shut down. "Southern California has become the nation's primary gateway for two-way international trade," said Executive Director Christopher Becker of the OnTrac Joint Powers Authority. In 2000 alone, he reported, rail lines in the Alameda Corridor East moved about $116 billion in goods (based on the manufacturers' value). Given that volume, Greg Freeman, LAEDC's public policy director, projected that the cost of shutting down the Alameda Corridor East would reach $414 million a day. "A 10-day disruption due to a terrorist attack would cost $4.1 billion," he added, "and one of 30 days' duration would cost $12.4 billion."
Despite its urgent call for action, the report apparently languished in Congress until March 11, the day terrorist bombs ripped open three railway stations in Madrid. The study sponsors quickly dispatched a copy of the report, OnTrac Trade Impact Study: National Economic Significance of Rail Capacity and Homeland Security on the Alameda Corridor East, to the ranking members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. And one day after the bombings, the committee began reviewing the findings.