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GOP convention security to tangle travel

(The following article by Tom Hester Jr. was posted on the Trenton Times website on August 25.)

TRENTON, N.J. -- Jim Duffy works as a telecommunications manager for McGraw-Hill at 2 Penn Plaza, the office building that essentially sits atop Penn Station in New York City.

The Florence resident commutes to his job on an NJ Transit train, but Duffy isn't enthused about riding the rails next week, when the Republican National Convention comes to Madison Square Garden for four days starting Monday.

"I think it's going to be a nightmare," he said.

But Duffy, who caters to the company's data and telephone systems, will be one of the lucky ones. His employer is putting him up in a hotel for the week so he's guaranteed to get to work.

"I've got to be here, so it's actually more convenient because I don't have to commute," Duffy said. "I'm thinking the commute will take a long time. I'd spend half my time commuting."

State transit and security officials wouldn't dispute Duffy's concerns. Yesterday, they warned commuters heading to New York next week to anticipate delays as they ride into a tight security net around the Republican National Convention, which officials fear will become a terrorist target, with trains among the most vulnerable.

Neither NJ Transit nor Amtrak trains to New York that pass through Mercer County will be rerouted, but riders are being warned to expect delays on trains and inside Penn Station, with the trains halted for inspections and only select entrances at New York's Penn Station open.

Joseph Bober, chief of the NJ Transit police department, said few rest rooms aboard NJ Transit trains will be open and use of overhead luggage racks will be prohibited. He said trains will be inspected in the yard, en route and prior to entering New York, with all trash receptacles sealed.

Bober warned riders to expect delays because the agency is "putting safety and security first and foremost."

At a news conference at Newark Penn Station yesterday, various state transportation and police officials unveiled a campaign that will use radio, billboards and transit advertising to urge the public to report suspicious behavior that may be related to potential terrorist activity.

They asked people to call a statewide tip line at (866) 4-SAFE-NJ. If the activity is related to bus or train transportation, commuters and travelers were urged to contact the toll-free tip lines of NJ Transit at (888) TIPS-NJT or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police at (800) 828-PAPD.

"We are not interested in suspicious people," state Attorney General Peter C. Harvey said. "This is not an effort to profile anyone. It is an effort to profile conduct."

Harvey said, "Law enforcement at the state, county, local and national level, as well as our colleagues in the military and health sectors, has mounted a well-coordinated effort to prepare for the convention.

"We are prepared," he said.

Officials asked riders to be aware of, among other things, unattended baggage, anyone exiting a secure area or groups of people congregating together in poorly lit areas.

"We ask and encourage the public," said Lt. Col. Lori Hennon-Bell, deputy superintendent for the State Police homeland security branch. "We need your support in this effort."

According to the officials, state troopers will join NJ Transit police in patrolling New York-bound trains and platforms, while security also will be increased at the Hudson River tunnel and bridge crossings.

State Police helicopters and boats will be deployed. Bomb squads with dogs will be activated. The dogs were present yesterday in Newark, barking and yelping during the news conference.

Harvey said the state doesn't know how much the convention security efforts will cost but complained the federal government hasn't given the state any money to defray its costs.

While NJ Transit's Northeast Corridor trains will continue to run during the convention into New York, a Secaucus Junction stop will be added to some trains that normally bypass the station, the agency said.

Amtrak, meanwhile, will require riders to make reservations for nearly all trains that serve New York during the Republican National Convention. The only trains exempt from Amtrak's reservation requirement will be Keystone and Clocker trains. Both stop in Trenton.

About 13,200 people, on an average weekday, board an NJ Transit train in Mercer County, where the Northeast Corridor line to New York makes stops in Trenton, Hamilton and West Windsor.

About 2,500 others in Mercer County board Amtrak trains heading to and from New York on an average day. Amtrak stops in Trenton and West Windsor.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

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