Groups Stress Security Risks of Inauguration Train Trip

Jan 5, 2009 7:44pm

ABC News Matt Hosford and Kate Barrett Report: A letter sent to the Secret Service on behalf of environment activist organizations Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth warns that President-elect Barack Obama’s train trip to Washington, D.C. before the Jan. 20 inauguration is a far riskier mode of transport than his typical travels by plane, automobile or helicopter.

The letter states that the whistle-stop tour is vulnerable to attack due to the threat of hazardous chemicals and cargo along the east coast rail corridor. It also states that even if the President-elect is protected, lots of other folks would be in harm’s way if there were an attack on a chemical facility along the route.

"This means that during a period of some days of heightened vulnerability to terrorism, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden on this day will be highly visible and relatively approachable together on the difficult-to-protect Eastern Urban rail corridor," the letter states.

"Some of the more dangerous chemical facilities in the country are also in that corridor," Fred Millar, a Friends of the Earth consultant, told ABC News on Monday. Millar and his colleagues have been pushing hard since 9-11 to reroute hazardous cargo away from city centers.

For better security before and during Obama’s inauguration, the groups are making suggestions such as shutting down the most dangerous high-pressure chemical operations and reducing on-site chemical storage.

"We will be urging Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden to re-consider their January 17 2009 plans, and to go ahead only with Inauguration-related activities in Washington DC which are demonstrably at a safe distance from potential massive industrial chemical threats," the letter said.

Today Linda Douglass, chief spokesperson for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said they do not discuss security matters but added that they are confident in their federal security officials who are advising them – US Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security. The Secret Service, meantime, is making extensive preparations for security surrounding Jan. 20.

Bill Holbrook, communications director for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, said the groups who wrote the letter are more concerned with pushing their environmental stance than they are about security.

"They’re simply taking advantage of this unique event to put their agenda on the radar screen," Holbrook said in a statement.
 
Still, Millar argued that unlike the rail journey, other modes of transport are safer because "the itinerary is secret, the travel route is secret, there are decoys that go along with it."

Millar said he understands the Obama team’s desire "to have a president that enters his term of office with a big reassuring message," but believes that traveling by rail down the east coast corridor could pose problems.

"There’s only two ways to escape: One is forward and one is backward," he said. "It’s just a very inherently dangerous situation."

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