Transportation Systems Sector: Freight Rail

The Freight Rail sub-sector is one of seven modes that make up the Transportation System Sector and is comprised of railroads, about 143,000 miles of track, roughly 1.3 million freight cars, and some 20,000 locomotives in the United States. The sub-sector is responsible for roughly $55 billion per year in cargo transport.

New Jersey freight rail occupies about 1,000 miles of track and transports goods to the third-largest port in the United States—the Port of New York and New Jersey. Major commodities shipped by rail in New Jersey include petrochemicals, construction materials, food products, raw materials, and finished goods for manufacturers.

Threat

Cyber: Moderate
Freight rail faces moderate cyber threats as nation-states, terrorist groups, and other malicious actors are increasingly exploiting vulnerabilities in industrial control systems. For those seeking to cause physical damage to US infrastructure, economic strain, or harm to US citizens, freight trains carrying hazardous materials through densely populated areas present an attractive target for disruptive or damaging cyber attacks.

Terrorism: Low
Although environmental and anarchist extremists on the West Coast targeted freight rail in 2011, there have been no plots targeting freight rail on the East Coast. Foreign terrorist organizations have attacked the sector in conflict areas. They have not plotted or attacked freight rail in the United States.

Hazardous Materials
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the transportation of hazardous materials via freight rail is recognized as the safest method of moving large quantities of chemicals over long distances. The New Jersey freight rail system is responsible for transporting hazardous materials through heavily populated areas, to and from the Port of New York and New Jersey, and the ports in the Delaware Bay.

Preparedness

In May 2014, the US Department of Transportation issued an Emergency Order requiring all railroads to notify State Emergency Response Commissions about the operation of trains containing one million gallons or more of petroleum crude oil sourced from the Williston Basin through their states.

Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response (TRANSCAER) is a public-private partnership that helps communities prepare for and respond to hazardous material transportation incidents through training for first responders.

AskRail is a mobile application that provides first responders immediate access to accurate, near real-time information about railcars carrying hazardous materials. It is a collaborative effort sponsored by all North American Class I railroads.

The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration offers free training for emergency services personnel to safely manage incidents involving flammable liquid unit trains.

Intelligence Gaps

  • How are extremists in New Jersey capable of attacking freight rail assets?
  • What systems or devices used by the freight rail industry are most vulnerable to cyber threats?
  • What cyber actors are conducting reconnaissance or exploiting freight rail assets?

For more information, please contact NJOHSP's Preparedness Bureau at preparedness@njohsp.gov.