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Passenger screening to begin at New Carrollton station

(The following article by John Erzen was posted on the Montgomery County Sentinel website on April 29.)

NEW CARROLLTON, Md. -- Beginning in late May the U.S. Transportation Security Administration will begin screening passengers and their bags at the New Carrollton train station, a pilot program that was fast tracked in the aftermath of the passenger train bombing in Madrid, Spain.

Although the start of the 60-90 day pilot program comes on the heels of the terrorist train bombing in Spain last month, planning for the screenings began last year with U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge setting a May 2004 deadline for implementation.

According to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials, the New Carrollton station was chosen because it presents similar infrastructure challenges to other stations and "unique challenges" such as open platforms, its proximity to the nation's capital and serving customers using both mass and rail transit. The station serves approximately 480 passengers using Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) trains and 315 using Amtrak daily.

Even with the start of the screening process a month away, officials have yet to decide the exact type of technology they will use to screen passengers, but have narrowed their focus to a walk through device or some type of baggage screening machine.

"It hasn't been decided how many types of technology we will test," TSA spokesperson Anne Davis said. "We're gonna be specifically looking for explosives, unlike airports [that] look for trace elements of metal."

Along with technology to best suit security needs, TSA is looking for devices that can withstand outdoor weather conditions.

Councilman Tom Hendershot, a Democrat from New Carrollton, said it did not matter which station was chosen as long as the program is done right and people are made safer, but he was pleased that the testing would be conducted in the county.

"The fact that they picked Prince George's County will hopefully mean that our residents will be safer quicker," he said.

"I think anything our government can do to help protect our citizens is a plus. The fact they started in Prince George's County is a bigger plus and it gives us an extra layer of security," Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Public Safety and Homeland Security Vernon Herron commented.

State Senator Gwendolyn Britt, of Landover Hills, also expressed support for the screenings.

"I think it is a good idea. Since it is a pilot program, it will give the state of Maryland and Homeland Security a chance to test new technology and additional security measures. We certainly don't want to wait until after a tragic event like [the train bombing in Spain] occurs."

Some commuters have expressed concerns about lengthy delays in travel times, but TSA officials say their screening process will not be as invasive or time consuming as those at airports.

Hendershot feels mass transit passengers will be "similarly flexible" to airport goers and he does not expect to receive too many complaints about delays.

"I think there will be some adjustments but our [residents] adjust pretty well."

Herron echoed Hendershot, saying the days of getting to the gate 15 minutes before departure are over and people would have to learn to accept the fact that new post September 11th security regulations are a normal part of American life.

"We've all had to conform to what we have to deal with for the safety of the general public. If it causes some delay, that's something we have to grow accustomed to. People need to understand that everyone who gets on a plane and a train aren't just going for a visit. Some people want to harm us and we have to take precautions and eradicate those people from our system."

Friday, April 30, 2004

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