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FBI examining device found in Philly rail yard

(The Associated Press circulated the following story on May 22.)

PHILADELPHIA -- A small electronic device was found in a rail yard last week in Philadelphia, but officials said they found no evidence of any terrorist link.

The device - described by a commuter rail official as a motion detector similar to a garage door opener - has been turned over to the FBI.

No arrests have been made and no extra security precautions have been taken, in part because rail officials already have been on high alert because of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the March 11 train bombing in Spain, which killed 191 people and injured 2,000 others.

"We are at a heightened state of alert. If somebody leaves a briefcase, we call the bomb squad," said Jim Whitaker, a spokesman for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

A SEPTA police officer spotted the small device May 5 in a West Philadelphia rail yard where trains are stored. Tracks that carry commuter trains are nearby, but there is no passenger station in the area, Whitaker said. SEPTA first turned the item over to city police and then to the FBI on May 12, SEPTA officials said.

The discovery of the device never led to any delays and trains were running on schedule Friday, SEPTA officials said.

Although the device is sold in stores, its presence in a rail yard made FBI agents somewhat suspicious, FBI spokeswoman Jerri Williams said. She said the device was being tested for fingerprints, but otherwise declined to elaborate.

"We know that it's a commercial motion detector," Williams said Friday. "We're attempting to find out what the device is, why it was there and who put it there."

Meanwhile, Amtrak stopped and searched three trains Thursday night, including a pair of Acela Express high-speed trains traveling from New York to Washington, D.C.

"As a precaution we stopped three trains, and nothing was found at all," said Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel. "They were searched last night based on an anonymous noncredible threat called into the Baltimore City Police Department."

One Acela train was north of Philadelphia when it was stopped. The other was near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Details about the third train were not immediately available.

Amtrak police officers and dogs searched the trains. Delays ranged from 20 to 60 minutes, Stessel said.

Senators Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Tom Carper, D-Del., in a letter called on Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to take rail security seriously and work President Bush to immediately release funds so terrorists cannot use trains to carry out future attacks.

The senators said that less than 2 percent of the funds needed for rail security have been provided by the Bush administration.

"We cannot wait for another terrorist attack before we do something serious about rail security," Lautenberg said. "President Bush has sat on his hands while members of Congress have clamored for help. Today's discovery of that transmitter should be a wake up call. Let us not have what happened in Spain happen here."

A Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman did not immediately return a telephone message late Friday afternoon.

Monday, May 24, 2004

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