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Security increased on trains, at stations as GOP convention nears

(The following article by Katherine Didriksen was posted on the Stamford Advocate website on August 23.)

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Security measures will be ramped up at Metro-North Railroad stations and aboard commuter trains to prepare for next week's Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden.

The railroad plans to run a normal schedule during the convention, although it could be altered at the last minute if security warrants, Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker said.

Usually 10 percent to 15 percent fewer commuters use the rails in August, Brucker said, and Metro-North anticipates an additional drop of up to 10 percent during the convention.

"Many of our customers may indeed decide to take their vacation time during the convention," he said.

Security will be increased Grand Central Terminal, where Metropolitan Transit Authority Police plan to add canine units, spokesman Tom Kelly said. Canine units also may ride trains, he said.

"We are doing everything humanly possible to protect our customers, employees and the infrastructure," he said.

The 750-person MTA police force will work overtime to enforce safety, he said, and commuters are encouraged to take part in the MTA's campaign -- "If you see something, say something."

Connecticut State Police, the FBI and the federal Department of Homeland Security are working with MTA Police. Connecticut troopers in uniform and plainclothes will ride trains running from Connecticut to New York.

State troopers have been aboard trains periodically since the March 11 terrorist bombings of commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, that killed more than 200 people.

"It made a dramatic change to what was going on," said Sgt. J. Paul Vance, state police spokesman. "Suffice it to say that we increased our coverage."

State police increased the number of troopers aboard trains by 50 percent, he said, and they already are working overtime. Troopers examine the trains before boarding, observe passengers, look for unattended baggage and assist conductors, he said.

"Terrorists don't particularly care for uniform presence," Vance said. "We want to be seen. We want people to see that there is law enforcement."

During the convention, the state police aviation unit also will check Fairfield County infrastructures such as power plants, bridges and rail lines.

The system will remain in place at least through the end of the convention, he said.

The cost of keeping the state police running during the convention week will be about $55,000, Vance said.

Connecticut National Guard units have been patrolling train platforms since Gov. M. Jodi Rell requested their help Aug. 2.

The soldiers provide platform security and surveillance while troopers ride the trains, said Maj. John Whitford, spokesman for the Connecticut National Guard. He would not reveal how many soldiers are assigned to that duty.

The Connecticut National Guard has not been asked to provide further security for the convention, but "that could change," Whitford said.

"We have two missions -- a federal and a state," he said.

Soldiers are paid by mission, Whitford said. The state pays for the platform patrols ordered by Rell.

Some commuters said they wonder whether the extra security is effective.

Mark Wuest, an investment banker who commutes daily from New Haven to New York City, said the troopers trains seem to keep to themselves.

"They're more optics than real safety and security," said Wuest, who maintains a Web log of his experiences on the railroad. "Obviously, there's no urgency at the individual officer level."

Bill Bradford, a New York resident who commutes to UBS Warburg in Stamford, said he doesn't feel at risk, but thinks police could be more vigilant.

"They don't walk the trains. They don't look at bags," he said. "It's impossible to know what's going on."

Fellow UBS employee Art Burdag said the extra security measures do not make him feel safer.

A native of Turkey, where security measures against terrorism are more common, Burdag said he has watched police officers talk among themselves and soldiers fail to make eye contact with people they observe.

"I don't think it makes a difference," he said.

Wuest said taxpayer dollars could be spent more effectively. Troopers could watch more closely as passengers get on trains, patrol the tracks or secure bridges, he said.

"I know the world's changed. That's a given," he said. "We can no longer go about thinking we're immune from terrorist activities. Ignorance is not bliss."

Monday, August 23, 2004

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