Metro Transit Police Chief Polly L. Hanson urged Congress and the Department of Homeland Security yesterday to make securing mass transit a higher priority.

In testimony before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, she said Homeland Security had awarded less than $250 million in grants to transit systems in three years. In contrast, aviation security has received about $18 billion.

Transit systems, which are more accessible than planes and carry millions of people every day, are harder to secure.

"Don't throw up your hands because it might be challenging," Hanson said after the hearing.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the committee, said terrorist attacks on Madrid trains that killed 191 people in March 2004, as well as those on buses and trains in London that killed 56 people July 7, should be considered wake-up calls.

"It should not take another attack in the U.S. or somewhere else in the world for us to focus on improving mass transit security" as a top priority, she said.

Edmund S. Hawley, assistant secretary of Homeland Security, testified that the department considers transit security very important but that the strategy focuses on identifying and stopping terrorists before they attempt an attack.

"If we are only protecting the final end point, that's not a very good system," he said.

Metro received more than $49 million from the federal government after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The funds were used to purchase additional cameras, canine teams and fiber-optic lines for emergency communications and other equipment.

Since Homeland Security was established in 2003, Metro has been awarded grants totaling $15 million. However, Hanson said, she is still waiting to receive the $8.5 million awarded for fiscal 2005.

The money would be used in part for creating a backup command center -- at an estimated start-up cost of $20 million -- to direct all traffic and communication of the trains if a terrorist attack or natural disaster occurred, she said.

The Metro Matters capital improvement campaign, launched in fall 2003, has identified $150 million in high-priority security needs, including more training, equipment and new technology.

The Homeland Security and Transportation departments delivered a report Sept. 9 to Congress on the federal government's strategy for transportation security, spelling out a plan to protect the system from terrorist attacks.

The report has been classified, though Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) said he read a copy.

Lieberman said the plan "continues to reflect an encouraging proactive, aggressive . . . can-do, must-do attitude about aviation security but not the same about mass transit."

Transit Police Chief Polly L. Hanson spoke before a Senate committee.