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No rail worries

(The following article by Joshua L. Cornfield was posted on the Trentonian website on August 8.)

HAMILTON, N.J. -- Officials from the township and New Jersey Transit, and a railway safety expert, say that the construction around the Hamilton train station doesn’t raise security concerns.

"The New Jersey Transit system is an open transportation system," said NJT spokesman Dan Stessel. "It would be impossible to seal off every inch of the Northeast corridor, and every inch of any of the other rail lines that we operate on. The type of countermeasures that are in place are designed with those limitations in mind.

"Our police are aware of that threat (the construction) and they are maintaining a high state of vigilance to help guard against it."

The old American Standard plant across from the train station is being renovated into the American Metro office complex. Another parcel of the old toilet factory is being cleared of trees and the soil cleared of porcelain to make room for housing.

A roadway with an entrance on Basin Road is being worked on and residents in the neighborhood have expressed concerns that someone could gain access to the train station or the tracks from that road.

"This is an unchecked, unguarded, unsupervised entrance," said resident John Manos. "Anyone in the middle of the night could just take a vehicle, hop on over there, and actually sabotage the train station or put someone’s life in jeopardy."

Not likely, according to a railroad safety expert.

"Unless you have specific threat information, there may not be a real danger," said Mark Zannoni, of the Newark firm Booz, Allen and Hamilton. "There are many more dangerous things out there."

Lloyd Jacobs, the director of the township’s department of engineering, planning and inspections, said New Jersey Transit is in charge of its own security at its station and has done a good job.

"As a result of the construction," Jacobs said, "there hasn’t been any indication with us that that would interfere."

According to Zannoni, the biggest threat to railway safety are backpack bombs, like those used in the Madrid train attacks.

He said it is difficult for railroad systems like NJT to secure every inch of their railway and to screen passengers.

"It’s difficult," he said. "In the air system you have a controlled population, you can screen every passenger before they reach the gate. In mass transit it’s not practical to screen every passenger. ... If you’re going to try to vette or clear each of your passengers it wouldn’t be mass transit anymore. It wouldn’t be practical."

Zannoni said that the development companies, both Preferred Real Estate Investments and The Columbia Group, should maintain close contact with New Jersey Transit police during the construction on the American Standard site.

Monday, August 9, 2004

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