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U.S. sets new standards to boost rail security

(Reuters circulated the following article on May 21.)

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government on Thursday set minimum security standards for the nation's rail systems, including the use of bomb-sniffing dogs to screen luggage and trains.

``Our objective is to keep the transit systems open and keep them safe and secure,'' Asa Hutchinson, the Homeland Security Department's undersecretary for border and transportation security, told reporters.

The new requirements, which cover passenger, commuter and mass transit systems, take effect on Sunday.

The directive is part of a stepped up U.S. rail security plan that took shape after March 11 commuter train bombings in Madrid that killed nearly 200 people.

``Obviously it emphasized the importance of our efforts. There have historically been specific threats to our mass transit systems and we see this worldwide as well,'' Hutchinson said.

Unlike the overhaul of aviation security that occurred after the 2001 hijack attacks, the rail measures provide operators greater flexibility to meet their specific needs.

At certain locations, operators will be required to remove trash receptacles, except clear plastic or bomb-resistant trash containers.

When needed, canine explosive teams may be used to screen passenger baggage, terminals and trains.

Passengers and employees will be asked to report unattended property or suspicious behavior.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has said the government believes it is vulnerable to attack during a number of high-profile events.

For example, the Republican and Democratic party national conventions are both being held above train stations in Boston and New York.

Friday, May 21, 2004

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