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Device found by tracks

(The following story by Jere Downs appeared on the Philadelphia Inquirer website on May 23.)

PHILADELPHIA -- The FBI is investigating the discovery of an electronic device found alongside SEPTA train tracks in West Philadelphia, but the agency yesterday stressed that there was no evidence to suggest it was linked to terrorism.

News reports of recent unauthorized surveillance of NJ Transit trains and SEPTA's discovery of the electronic device prompted officials to issue assurances that such law enforcement attention has become commonplace.

The FBI is trying to discern the purpose of a black remote transmitter - about the size of a baseball - that was spotted by a SEPTA conductor May 5, SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said. The conductor removed the object from the Powelton yard, and SEPTA police turned it over to the FBI on May 12, he added.

"It was a simple motion detector. We don't know who put it there or why it was there," FBI spokeswoman Jerri Williams said yesterday.

In a joint statement, the FBI and SEPTA said: "There is no evidence to indicate that this device has any nexus to terrorism."

In New Jersey, law enforcement officials were notified last week to be vigilant near rail lines after seven reports were received of people videotaping or photographing NJ Transit trains around New York, Trenton and Philadelphia, said Roger Shatzkin, a spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.

"It could be a kid shooting video for a class project," Shatzkin said. "We seemed to have a cluster of instances, and that is why we reported it back to law enforcement."

On Thursday night, telephone bomb threats prompted the search of two Acela trains. Amtrak police officers found nothing in their search of one train stopped north of Philadelphia and another halted near the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Amtrak spokeswoman Marcie Golgoski said yesterday. "We stop trains for police activity every single day," Golgoski said. "It is really a nonevent for us."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued its first "best practices" directive Thursday to transit agencies nationwide.

The rules require transit agencies to conduct a "vulnerability assessment," and continuously inspect facilities," among other practices, Maloney said. "They are items that we have already gone through in the year following Sept. 11," Maloney said.

A bill in Harrisburg would require Pennsylvania officials to study how to tighten security on passenger and freight railroads - including whether locomotive engineers should carry guns.

In light of the Madrid train bombing March 11 in which 191 people died, a train engineers' union official criticized the bill for merely studying measures.

Monday, May 24, 2004

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