The Transportation Security Administration’s John Pistole recently testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on emerging threats facing the U.S. rail system. The administrator’s testimony emphasized TSA’s efforts to reduce security vulnerabilities and strengthen its resilience against terrorist attacks for all mass-transit systems, including ferries, trucks, and freight and passenger rail.

Mass-transit and national railroad systems remain targets for terrorist groups, Pistole said. Moreover, an open architecture connecting millions of passengers in major metropolitan areas creates inherent security vulnerabilities.

“TSA thus employs advanced risk-based, intelligence-driven techniques to prevent terrorist attacks and to reduce the vulnerability of the nation’s transportation systems to terrorism,” he said, pointing to a new DHS architecture to fend off such threats. The new architecture emphasizes collaboration across government, as well as with private industry and the public. Specifically, last year the TSA, the Department of Justice and Amtrak implemented the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI) capability throughout the entire Amtrak rail system. The NSI is collaboration of federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies that established a standard process for law enforcement to identify and report suspicious incidents or activity, then share the information nationally so it can be analyzed to identify broader trends.

“Under this collaborative program, Amtrak officers also are utilizing an upgraded reporting system — made available by TSA — to refer suspicious activity reports to DHS and FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] for analysis and follow-up,” he said.

Pistole said the TSA also provides security information to mass-transit and passenger railroad agency officials through joint efforts among federal, state and local agencies. Consumers of such information include mass-transit and passenger railroad security directors and law-enforcement chiefs in major metropolitan areas, as well as Amtrak personnel. Intelligence products are provided to partners through TSA Mass Transit Security Awareness Messages as well as through the Joint Terrorism Task Force network’s secure video teleconferencing system, he testified.

“TSA is constantly working with our partners to enhance the scope, accuracy, timeliness, and efficiency of information sharing in order to develop a comprehensive intelligence and security information-sharing platform,” Pistole said.

Pistole also pitched DHS’ comprehensive transportation security grant program (TSGP). TSGP is the primary vehicle providing funding assistance for security enhancements to eligible domestic mass-transit and passenger railroad agencies and employs risk-based prioritization for funding decisions. In 2010, the TSGP provided $273.4 million to the transit and passenger railroad industry and a total of $1.6 billion since 2006, he testified.

“Our goal at all times is to maximize transportation security to stay ahead of the evolving terrorist threats while protecting passengers’ privacy and facilitating the flow of legitimate commerce,” Pistole said.

Read the full testimony.