Enforcement not job for rail companies

More evidence that our government officials now consider themselves rulers rather than public servants:

Federal officials are ordering private rail companies to become de facto law enforcement arms in this country’s troubled drug war. Companies face stiff fines if their efforts don’t satisfy the feds.

The Justice Department already has sued Union Pacific Corp. to collect $37 million in fines for drugs that have been seized on its trains.

At issue is the fact that Mexican drug smugglers are finding ways to stash illicit drugs onto railcars headed into the United States. Traffickers have built hidden compartments into some railcars, or sabotaged rail lines and sneaked drugs onto the trains while they were slowed or stopped to deal with the obstructions.

Certainly, the companies don’t want the drugs on their trains, and are doing what they can to keep their cars secure. The Associated Press reports that Union Pacific already has invested millions in security measures, and donated inspection stations to law enforcement agencies so they can do the job that belongs to them — not the rail companies. Mexican rail line Ferrocarril Mexicano, has taken similar measures south of the border.

It’s unreasonable, however, to expect them to be as trained and equipped as law enforcement agencies are in their drug interdiction efforts. Does the government expect the companies to plant little Woodcocks, like the loyal sentry in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” on each rail car to keep it secure?

It’s even less reasonable to impose hefty fines on private companies when drugs get through, especially when one considers the fact that the contraband found on trains is just a fraction of the total amount of drugs that cross the border each year. Most of that gets by Customs, Drug Enforcement Administration, Border Patrol and any number of federal, state and local agencies that are trained and equipped to detect and stop drug smuggling.

Those agencies aren’t penalized when drugs get through — on the contrary, they usually get more resources in order to perform their jobs better.

And, again, it is their job, not that of the private rail companies.

Trains are subject to inspection by official law enforcement personnel at the border, at their destination and several places along the way. Those inspections should continue as long as our drug trafficking laws remain on the books. Railroad companies can be expected to continue cooperating with these officials as best they can, since keeping their trains secure is in their interest.

Imposing fines on the companies, when the specialists at border checkpoints don’t even find the contraband, is unreasonable and heavy-handed and unreasonable, and only deteriorates the public confidence that can help make law enforcement officials more successful.

The government should rethink its policy and endeavor to support, rather than punish, private companies that are less equipped to fight the drug war than the policing agencies.