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Rail passenger screening test ends at New Carrollton

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Stephen Manning on June 3.)

NEW CARROLLTON, Md. -- The Transportation Security Administration has ended its test of a bomb-sniffing machine at a suburban Washington train station, saying initial results show the machine works.

The monthlong pilot project ended May 26 and the equipment that puffs small bursts of air at passengers to detect explosives has been removed from New Carrolton station, according to TSA spokeswoman Chris Rhatigan.

A detailed final report will be completed over the next month, but early results showed the detection equipment worked and did not cause significant delays to passengers.

"Everything worked involving both people and the equipment," Rhatigan said.

The test was the first of a three part experiment by TSA to see if passengers, bags and trains can be effectively screened for explosives.

Starting next week, checked luggage at Union Station in Washington will be scanned. In July, the agency will use detection equipment to check passengers already on trains.

The bomb sniffing machines, known as EntryScan, would only be used at stations when there are specific threats to particular cities, stations or rail lines. There are no plans to install the equipment permanently.

Under the system, passengers headed to the platform have to line up and pass through a checkpoint similar to an airline security check. Passengers must stand in a portal while the equipment shoots bursts of air onto them and analyzes it. The whole process takes about 12 seconds.

The test was conducted on passengers boarding only Amtrak and MARC commuter trains at New Carrollton. Those riding Metro subway trains that also stop at the station were not affected.

Railway passenger advocates said that the lightly used New Carrollton may not be big enough to give a true picture of how much the security checks would affect commuters. Only about 1,000 passengers ride MARC and Amtrak each day from that station.

"If you try to do this on anything that approaches the Washington Metro system or the Long Island Rail Road at rush hour, you're talking about slowing down the process," said Ross Capon, executive director of that National Association of Rail Passengers, who visited the New Carrollton test site.

MARC and Amtrak both said they heard few complaints or reports of passengers who missed trains. However, the screeners allowed passengers to skip the check if their train was scheduled to depart within two minutes, said Marcie Golgoski of Amtrak.

"This was just a test program," she said. "They weren't there to detain people."

The pilot started May 4 and was originally scheduled to last 30 days, but was cut because TSA had the information it needed and wanted to avoid causing delays during the busy Memorial Day weekend, Rhatigan said.

Thursday, June 3, 2004

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