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March 2, 2006

Transit System is More Secure Today, but Capital Security Projects are Behind Schedule

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has implemented a number of wide-ranging operational initiatives to prevent a terrorist attack, but the large capital intensive projects that are designed primarily to harden critical facilities and install electronic security are behind schedule, according to a report released today by State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi.

“The mass transit system is far more secure today than before September 11, but the capital security program has not advanced as quickly as the MTA had planned,” Hevesi said.

The Comptroller’s report focuses on the progress of the capital security program, but it also discusses operational initiatives implemented by the MTA to improve security. To determine whether the capital security program had advanced as planned, the Comptroller’s staff examined construction schedules and budgets that were prepared in late 2003 and early 2004, and compared them with the MTA’s projections as of December 27, 2005.

Among the operational initiatives implemented by the MTA that have made the system more secure are the following:

  • MTA Police Department has hired an additional 201 officers since September 11, an increase of 42 percent, and Bridges and Tunnels added 261 tunnel officers.
  • MTA Police Department now has 35 bomb-detection dogs and plans to expand the number to 50.
  • NYC Police Department, in coordination with the MTA, has stationed officers at the entrances to underwater tunnels.
  • The MTA has created an internal task force that is responsible for supervising and coordinating emergency drills and intelligence sharing. The daily intelligence briefing on transit-related threats and terrorist activities is shared with approximately 350 transit and security agencies worldwide.
  • The MTA has implemented a large public relations campaign (“If You See Something, Say Something”) to alert the public to suspicious activity.
  • NYC Police Department and MTA Police Department conduct random searches of backpacks and large packages at certain stations.

As for the capital security program, the report found that:

  • Design work on 11 of the 16 construction projects currently planned for Phase 1 of the capital security program began within three months of the scheduled start date, but the start of three projects was delayed by one year or more.
  • Only two projects made up for lost time and only one project did not lose any more time. The other 13 projects fell further behind schedule.
  • Half of the 16 projects are now eight or more months behind their scheduled completion dates, including five that are 20 months or more behind schedule. According to the Comptroller’s report, the delays are systemic and not just limited to the electronic security program as previously reported by the media.
  • Ten projects are still in the design stage, five are in the construction phase and only one has been completed.
  • Five projects were expected to be completed by March 1, 2006, but only one of them has been completed.
  • Phase 1 will not be completed until November 2009—more than eight years after 9/11, and 14 months later than planned by the MTA.

According to MTA officials, the security program fell behind schedule mostly because the work was more complex than originally envisioned; many projects are unprecedented in terms of construction and/or transportation applications; second opinions were sought during the design phase for a number of projects; multiple stakeholders had to agree to a proposed course of action; and emphasis has been placed on the top six priorities at the expense of lower priority projects.

“We are requiring a transportation agency to go well beyond its core expertise and to protect the public from a terrorist attack. Never before has a mass transit system tried to retrofit its facilities to address a threat like this,” Hevesi said. “We all want these projects completed quickly, but we also want them done right. While the MTA has not progressed as far or as quickly as they had planned, it is making progress. One project has been completed and the top two priority projects are scheduled to be completed by the end of the summer.”

The report also found that the federal government has not allocated sufficient resources to secure the nation’s mass transportation systems, nor has it provided adequate guidance to transit systems seeking information on security-related products, such as intrusion detection systems.  For example, in federal fiscal year 2005 the federal government allocated $5 billion to aviation security, but only $130 million to transit security, even though passenger rail systems carry 16 times more passengers daily than commercial airlines. Moreover, the New York metropolitan area, which accounts for 58 percent of all rail passenger trips in the nation, received only 35 percent of the funding allocated to rail transit security.

“The MTA and other mass transit operators throughout the nation have been left on their own to evaluate, implement and pay for existing and emerging security technologies without adequate guidance or funding from the federal government,” Hevesi said. “The federal government, which has the expertise, could at least provide an essential service by evaluating technologies and providing guidance to local mass transit operators, instead of leaving each system to do its own research. That would save valuable time and millions of dollars.”

The findings in the report were developed with the cooperation of the MTA and are based on a review of MTA documents and interviews with MTA and other officials. The documents include construction schedules and budget information by asset class (e.g., bridge or station) and by type of risk mitigation or security improvement (e.g., hardening or electronic surveillance). All of the information disclosed in the Comptroller’s report meets or exceeds the MTA’s security protocols regarding the dissemination of confidential security information.

“The public has a right to know how well the MTA is progressing in securing the mass transit system, but that right must be balanced against the risk of releasing confidential information that may compromise security. For that reason, I have decided to report on the overall progress of the MTA capital security program and to exclude details about specific facilities or security improvements,” Hevesi said.

There are 16 capital construction projects that presently comprise Phase 1 of the capital security program. Each project may entail one or more facilities and involve one or more security improvements. The projects target the MTA’s most vulnerable and heavily used assets, such as stations and transit hubs, bridges, and tunnels. Security improvement efforts include perimeter protection, structural hardening, improved fire/life safety and evacuation, and electronic security and surveillance.

As reported by the State Comptroller in September 2005, the estimated cost of the program has grown from $591 million to $721 million, an increase of $130 million, or 22 percent. With respect to the cost of the program, the report also found:

  • The MTA had planned to accelerate the program and commit all of the available resources for the capital security program by December 31, 2005, but committed $428 million, which represents a shortfall of 27 percent from the original $591 million cost estimate and only 59 percent of the now expected cost of $721 million.
  • The electronic security program is responsible for the growth in the overall estimated cost of the security program. Costs are higher because the proposed security improvement is more costly than first envisioned and because the scope of the program has been expanded.
  • The electronic security program, as currently funded, is expected to cost more than $400 million and accounts for more than half of the expected cost of Phase 1.
  • Phase 1 is already $130 million over budget, and the cost is likely to grow as projects move through the construction phase.

The report also found that Phase 2 of the capital security program has not yet begun even though it is part of the MTA’s 2005-2009 capital program. According to the MTA, Phase 2 has not begun because federal funding is lacking and because the entire program is under review in light of the terrorist attacks on the London transit system. Phase 2 was estimated to cost $495 million, but MTA officials acknowledge that it will cost more than originally planned unless steps are taken to either reduce the cost or scale back the scope of projects. The MTA is working with an outside consultant to determine if the terrorist threat has changed since September 11, 2001, and if so how to adjust Phase 2 to reflect the new security priorities. These changes could include narrowing or changing project scopes or abandoning them entirely.

“Unfortunately, the threat of terrorism is very real and keeping the transit system secure entails significant challenges,” said Hevesi. “While the MTA is making progress, the recent experience with the security plans for the Freedom Tower should remind us of the importance of ensuring that the New York City Police Department—the most sophisticated counter-terrorism police force in the world—is part of the MTA’s security decision-making process. For that reason, I agree with Mayor Bloomberg that the New York City Police Department should have a formal role in the MTA’s capital security planning and that Police Commissioner Kelly should have an ex-officio position on the MTA board.”

Click here for a copy of the report.


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