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Transit police detain tourists

(The following article by Debra Gruszecki was posted on the Munster Times website on August 5.)

MUNSTER, Ind. -- Four tourists from India, who were discretely filming landscape from inside a moving South Shore Line commuter train Sunday, were detained by transit police for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District for questioning about suspected terrorist activity, Transit Police Chief Robert Byrd confirmed Wednesday.

Their tapes were turned over to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force for review, Byrd said, but now are expected to be returned to the young male travelers.

The four, who boarded Car 504 at the East Chicago station at 10:15 a.m., were detained by Chicago Metra police when the light rail train pulled into Chicago's Randolph Street station.

The men were filming on both sides of the train. Tourists often film on board the nation's last inter-urban railroad in the country. But suspicion about their activities reportedly arose when the men tried to hide their camcorders as the conductor approached.

All were released after terrorist-network databases were checked by the joint task force, Byrd said.

"No red flags were raised," he said.

Since the March 11 train bombing in Madrid, Spain, South Shore commuters like John Mario know federal money has been awarded for transit security training. Yet, Mario said it seems the rush-hour train crew has been reduced.

"I feel perhaps less safe riding the train, due in part to the staff reduction,'' he said, but acknowledged seeing limited police activity and police dogs at the Chicago station.

NICTD and Metra employees -- ticket agents, train crews, engineers, dispatchers and office clerks -- recently underwent awareness training by the National Transit Institute. There now is transit patrol around the clock, Byrd said.

Federal agency contact is routine, Byrd said, as is regular sessions with antiterrorism units. NICTD transit police are monitoring the effects of bag screening tests at Amtrak's Union Station in Washington, D.C., and a technology test in New Carrollton, Md., where passengers were tested for explosives with a puff of air directed at them.

"Government's locked up air traffic, but passenger commuter rail -- rapid transit trains that feed the large metropolitan areas -- have not yet been touched, but it's evolving because of Madrid,'' Byrd said. "New technology is coming into place."

Thursday, August 5, 2004

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