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TSA to test rail security in Maryland

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Leslie Miller on April 14.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The government plans to use a suburban Maryland train stop to test the feasibility of security checks for rail passengers, a response to last month's deadly railway bombings in Madrid.

The testing in New Carrollton, Md., is expected to begin by the end of May and last 60 to 90 days, Transportation Security Administration spokesman Darren Kayser said Wednesday.

Kayser said the TSA is looking at a range of technologies and hasn't decided how many kinds of equipment to test or in what combination. An important question is how quickly machines can check people and luggage, he said.

The site was chosen because it presents challenges likely to be faced in screening railway passengers for weapons or explosives.

The platform is open to the elements and serves a mix of people, including rush-hour commuters and longer-distance passengers, Kayser said. The agency intends to screen Amtrak riders and is in talks with the Maryland Transit Administration, which operates the MARC commuter rail system, about participating.

Easy access to railways makes them vulnerable to terrorist attacks. In 1995, cultists unleashed nerve gas in a Tokyo subway, killing 12. Recently, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department warned that terrorists might strike trains and buses in major U.S. cities using bombs concealed in bags or luggage.

The key problem in screening railway passengers is doing it fast enough so the trains can still run on time.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel said the railroad is pleased the TSA is turning its attention to ground-based security. The agency spends the vast majority of its budget on aviation security.

"We will continue to work cooperatively with them in their efforts," said Stessel.

Jack Riley, director of the Rand Corp. research group's public safety and justice research program, said he's skeptical that the government could ever screen railway passengers to the extent airline passengers are checked.

"You have small stations, many spots for people to get off and on, and schedules don't permit anything that introduces a delay," he said.

Riley said it would probably be more effective and less expensive to run public awareness campaigns and rail employee education programs to alert people about things that could indicate a terrorist attack.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

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