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New rail security for Connecticut

(United Press International distributed the following article by Thom J. Rose on July 15.)

WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson said the rail-security program started in New Carrollton after the terrorist attacks on Madrid's rail system has been successful and will be expanded on passenger trains in Connecticut.

Mr. Hutchinson said yesterday that the first and second phases of the pilot program, which tested explosives-detection equipment at the New Carrollton Amtrak station and the District's Union Station, were important steps toward improving U.S. railroad security.

"We're now going to be having a new test of this in Connecticut. ... We'll have a mobile onboard solution for screening the passengers as they go onto the train," he said.

The new test will be the last of a series implemented to evaluate methods for screening passengers in a specific area or on a specific train.

The program was begun in May. Coordinated terrorist bombs placed on trains and at rail stations had killed 191 persons and injured more than 2,000 in Madrid on March 11.

Mr. Hutchinson said 100-percent screening plans like those tested in the pilot program are unlikely to be put in place for all rail travel, but that preparing for some 100-percent screening is essential.

"It is important to have that experience and knowledge base so that if we have intelligence that there is a particular threat at a particular subway stop or a particular route, we can deploy [100-percent screening] on a case-by-case basis," Mr. Hutchinson said.

The explosives-detection pilot program in New Carrollton used General Electric's Entryscan3 system, which can determine the presence of explosives from a small air sample.

Entryscan3 has been tested in airports in New York and Rhode Island since June and will be expanded to other airports in California, Florida and Mississippi in the coming weeks.

But rail stations are considered to be a more difficult environment in which to use explosives-detection technology.

"It's not as sanitary as an airport; it's not climate-controlled," General Electric Infrastructure spokesman James Bergen said.

Still, he said the technology worked well at New Carrollton, in which Entryscan3 detectors were installed in walk-through portals much like metal detectors.

"We're very pleased with how it ran in that trial," he said.

One key question is the time needed to check each passenger.

Mr. Hutchinson said final numbers from the New Carrollton test are not in, but preliminary results are promising.

The second phase of the test, which ended July 5, used similar technology to test checked and unclaimed luggage at Union Station.

The third phase is likely to employ another variation of explosives-detection technology in a format that can easily fit into a moving train car.

Mr. Hutchinson said explosives detection is one of many rail-security measures the Department of Homeland Security is developing.

His department also has created a set of uniform rail-security requirements -- the first such requirements put in place in the United States -- and shares manpower and explosive-sniffing dogs with railroads.

Several bills have been proposed to beef up rail security, but no additional federal funding has been approved.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

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