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Metra police heighten efforts to keep watch for terrorists

(The following article by Tona Kunz was posted on the Daily Herald website on April 30.)

CHICAGO -- Metra is in the middle of its largest safety campaign ever to stop rail crossing deaths, but equally as fierce is its battle against terrorism.

It's not widely promoted, though.

"Our guys are on heightened awareness," said Dan Taylor, Metra's fire marshal who helps oversee security.

Metra has put 70 of its 97 police officers, some in plain clothes, out on the streets to patrol boarding platforms and rail lines. They look for suspicious unattended packages or any devices attached to rails. Those were used for the recent bombings in Spain that killed 199, and Metra officials are taking no chance of the same thing happening here.

"If it doesn't look like it belongs there, nine out of 10 times it doesn't," Taylor said.

In the Chicago train stations, Metra also has joined with the FBI and Chicago Police to use bomb-sniffing dogs.

You easily could have come across an agent of the commuter line's new war on terror without knowing it. Undercover officers with full arrest powers ride the trains just as air marshals ride airplanes.

"They are riding, randomly, all of our lines," said Judy Pardonnet, Metra spokeswoman. "We have taken other security measures also that I can't really talk about. But they are having security updates every day."

The hidden officers are an outgrowth of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The transportation industry as a whole has reconsidered how it looks at security.

Robert Gallamore, director of the Transportation Center at Northwestern University, considers terrorism prevention to be one of the top five concerns taking up labor hours and money for the transportation industry in the coming years.

Friday, April 30, 2004

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