Doors that don’t lock, security cameras that don’t work, and a lack of control over who’s coming and going all contribute to making 30th Street Station a security risk, a report from Amtrak’s inspector general has found.
“Long-standing unmitigated security weaknesses at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and Penn Coach Yard are placing the security and safety of the company’s passengers and employees at risk,” stated the report, released April 24.
The consequences of those security lapses are seen through problems including a drunk driver who got onto the tracks and Amtrak police spending their time chasing trespassers who use drugs in the restrooms and commit crimes against workers and passengers, the report states. Trespassing accounted for almost a third of the incidents the police force handled in 2017.
“Amtrak has already started to address the identified security vulnerabilities and determined specific actions, responsible departments, and planned completion dates for addressing each vulnerability,” the rail company said in a statement Tuesday.
Porous security at the station and rail yard results from a familiar foe for Amtrak, officials interviewed in the report stated: a lack of money. Amtrak’s emergency management and corporate security department told the report’s investigators that it has an annual grant budget of $5 million for security at 30th Street Station, but addressing all the security risks identified would cost $20 million.
Beyond money, top officials told the inspector general’s office that there was a lack of coordination and accountability when it came to security issues, the report stated. Three different departments within Amtrak are working to add electromagnetic locks to exterior doors, but the $750,000 project is stalled, the report states, because “the company has not identified anyone to take responsibility for completing the project.” Confusion and a not-my-problem approach to security appeared to be a pattern that caused a number of the problems the report identified.
Workers interviewed for the report stated that they had not received security training, something Amtrak conducted until 2016. That choice contradicted the 9/11 Commission Act, the report states, which emphasized the importance of security training for rail workers.
The station served more than 4.4 million Amtrak riders in 2017 and brought in $306 million in revenue, Amtrak reported. The station also serves about 12 million riders on SEPTA and NJTransit trains, as well as riders on SEPTA’s trolleys and subway.
Railroad security is inherently a more complicated task than at an airport, where security screening happens near the entrance to a building, said Alfredo Perez, a consultant on rail security issues. Rail stations have multiple entrances and exits, he said, and very little passenger screening.
“It is an ongoing problem across all transit agencies,” he said. “Passengers want more security, ‘just don’t let me miss my train,’ and that’s the balancing act these transit agencies deal with.”
The flaws with security at 30th Street Station, he said, appear to be more a result of lax procedures than an effort to spare passengers excessive scrutiny.
The report’s authors credited Amtrak with spending about $12 million in grant money to improve security since 2009, including using dogs to detect explosives in bags and installing obstacles to keep vehicles from driving into the station’s entrances. Other improvements, such as card readers on interior doors to limit access to workers, and video cameras, have become less effective due to poor management and insufficient maintenance.
The report found that the station’s exterior doors cannot be locked, either because they aren’t equipped with locks or officials don’t have keys. Amtrak has been working on the problem, the report found, but efforts have stalled due to a lack of funding. Amtrak does not have the ability to secure the station if there’s an emergency.
Security within the building also is troubling, the report said. Interior doors aren’t secure, and too many workers have access to office space they have no reason to use. An example the report cited was the station’s ticketing office. Twenty-six people work there, but 450 employees and contractors in Amtrak’s ticketing department nationwide can get into the office in Philadelphia.
Outside the station, security at the rail yard was determined to be lax. Investigators found damaged fences, no gates at the entrance to the yard, and no regular patrols. Video cameras both in the station and the rail yard weren’t all functioning. Just 70 of 225 vehicles parked in the rail yard’s lot had valid parking permits.
“As a result, trespassers can easily access and park in the yard, which has resulted in thefts and other issues,” the report stated, “including an intoxicated driver overturning a vehicle onto the tracks in 2013.”
Fixes for the fences and cameras were, again, on hold due to a lack of funding, the report stated.
Philadelphia police were reviewing the report and declined to comment Tuesday.
Amtrak management’s comments were included in the report, and they said a plan to secure 30th Street Station’s exterior and interior doors, a project that may be consolidated under one department, should be done by December. They anticipated having training programs in place for workers by March 2019.
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) pointed to the report as a call for funding to improve for the national rail carrier. “Amtrak has been underfunded for years and this is one more example of why we need to invest in our national infrastructure and Amtrak,” he said.
Money problems have haunted Amtrak almost since it was created more than 40 years ago. Amtrak spends about $300 million a year on keeping the Northeast Corridor in good repair, but the need is estimated at between $700 million and $900 million.
The inspector general’s office conducted observations at the rail yard and station, interviews with workers, and compared practices at 30th Street with other Amtrak stations and security practices with other public and private organizations.