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    Port Authority says it's intent on protecting PATH tunnels   

Saturday, December 23, 2006  >BY RON MARSICO Star-Ledger Staff 

Port Authority officials yesterday defended their efforts to safeguard the PATH rail system, despite a report the agency did not act quickly enough to strengthen its Hudson River tunnels from a potential terrorist bombing.

Marc La Vorgna, a spokesman said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said the agency authorized $180 million on Dec. 14 for security projects on the system that handles 230,000 one- way trips each weekday.

"That's a major expenditure for capital security improvements at the PATH," said La Vorgna, who declined to discuss specifics be cause of security concerns. "Those dollars are being spent based on past and ongoing analyses as to what are the needs."

La Vorgna's comments follow a story in yesterday's New York Times that cited a preliminary engineering analysis that found the nearly century-old PATH tubes running from New Jersey to the World Trade Center and Christopher Street in Manhattan are more susceptible to a bomb attack than initially believed.

The paper reported damage from even a small amount of po tent explosives could blow a hole in the side of the mostly steel tunnel and cause major flooding. It said a summary of the analysis was provided by a government official who felt the Port Authority had delayed taking action to fix the problem and notify other law-enforcement and security agencies.

Several solutions were cited by the analysis as under consideration by the Port Authority: installing a "concrete blanket" atop the tun nels to cover blast holes, reinforcing various sections and building flood gates to limit water damage in case of an explosion.

The newspaper report revives concerns over PATH safety; in July, authorities said the FBI thwarted a plot by al Qaeda allies to blow up a PATH tunnel. Officials said three people were detained overseas in connection with the plot, which included five other suspects and was to be carried out late this year.

At the time, authorities also said there was no imminent threat.

Port Authority officials also re leased a statement yesterday in which they said they recognize the "difficult realities" of protecting an open transit system.

"But if at anytime we believed the riders of the PATH were in im minent jeopardy, we would immediately close the system," the statement said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) promised an increased emphasis on rail security when Democrats take control of Congress next month.

"The security of our tunnels has been ignored for too long," said Lautenberg, who will chair a subcommittee with jurisdiction over rail tunnels. "One of the first bills that the Senate Commerce Committee will complete will be a rail security bill. I will be attaching strong tunnel security provisions to that legislation."

Lautenberg did not specify how much money will be sought to strengthen the PATH tubes, but his statement noted $470 million already is expected to be earmarked for "safety and security improvements" to Amtrak's tunnels in the New York-New Jersey region.

Ron Marsico may be reached at rmarsico@starledger.com or (973) 392-7860.
© 2006  The Star Ledger

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-5/1166852271167290.xml&coll=1 

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