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Schumer seeks better railroad security

(The following story by Robert Cristo appeared on The Record website on April 13.)

RENSSELAER, N.Y. -- Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is urging federal leaders to take steps toward overhauling lax train security before a deadly terrorist bombing occurs on this side of the Atlantic.

Schumer and local officials gathered at the Rensselaer Amtrak Station Monday to announce bipartisan railroad security legislation that would allot $1 billion for improvements to passenger and freight rail systems throughout the country.

The funds, according to Schumer, would alleviate the cost of added security dumped on local police departments and taxpayers.

The recent threats of rail bombings in America and the bloody terrorist train attacks in Madrid that killed nearly 200 passengers last month should serve as an alarm to federal officials to boost rail security, according to Schumer.

"Last month's terrible attack in Madrid is a wake-up call that the terrorists are not done yet," said Schumer inside the station. "The bottom line is terrorists look for weak pressure points, and our trains are vulnerable."

In light of the heightened perceived threat, both the Rensselaer County Sheriff's Department and the city Police Department have been forced to tighten Amtrak station security measures with no financial assistance from Washington. Still, officers from both departments only sporadically patrol the station on a daily basis.

Added to the problem, the Rensselaer station has only one full-time security guard. Amtrak officials contend it is all they can afford.
Considering that the Rensselaer station ranks as the ninth busiest in the country (600,000 yearly riders), Rensselaer Police Chief Rick Fusco believes there's a need for more of a round-the-clock police presence.

"Right now it's very easy to get on a train with some sort of package (or bomb)," said Fusco. "Even though we send officers to patrol here, there's still a need for a more constant security presence. ... Let's not take action after something happens."

To help provide top-of-the-line protection for passengers, County Sheriff Jack Mahar also hopes federal funds will be provided to ultimately open an office at the station to boost security against a potential biological, chemical or suicide bomber attack.

Rensselaer County Legislator Michael Stammel, R-District 6, who also works for Amtrak, contends that President George Bush's administration is not interested in assisting the practically bankrupt Amtrak rail system.

"They should be providing the resources for rail safety, but Bush's agenda is more interested in doing away with the rail-roads," said Stammel. "I haven't seen anything that shows he (Bush) has submitted a plan to keep railroads running safe.

"What happened in Spain could very easily happen here," he added.
About 1,000 riders pass through the Rensselaer station every day.
Stammel, Schumer and Fusco all agree that local taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for a national concern that should be covered by federal Department of Homeland Security funds.

"If the feds are putting localities like Rensselaer County on notice that they need to up their patrols, then the feds ought to chip in and pay some of that bill," said Schumer.

If passed, Schumer's Rail Security Act would also require the Department of Homeland Security to study the cost and feasibility of screening all passengers, baggage and mail that travels on Amtrak trains.

The plan would include funds for the development of anti-explosive detection devices that could be used in stations and on trains.
Some passengers who regularly use the Rensselaer station admitted it worried them that they haven't noticed any added security presence since the Madrid bombings.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

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