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Troopers on train not doing job, some commuters say

(The following story by Mark Ginocchio appeared on the Stamford Advocate website on August 26.)

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Commuter rail advocates said they have received a number of complaints from Metro-North Railroad customers about the inattention of state troopers who have been riding the trains since the beginning of the month.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered troopers on the trains for added security in response to terrorism threats in the metropolitan area. But some commuters said the troopers aren't doing their job, according to the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council.

"It's a problem. Troopers are not being proactive as a deterrent," said Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the council. "Some people have told me they haven't seen them walking the train, but instead leaning against the doors in the vestibule."

He has not seen that himself, Cameron said, but the commuters who have reported the problems to him are those he trusts and speaks to regularly.

State police received one complaint about 10 days ago, said spokesman Sgt. J. Paul Vance.

"It was a nonspecific complaint," Vance said. "The person simply said that there was a trooper who didn't seem to be paying attention. That was it."

Because the complaint was vague, there was no need to discipline an officer, he said.

Troopers are expected observe passengers, look for unattended baggage and assist conductors, Vance said. Although he would not reveal what kind of training the troopers have undergone, they were instructed in evacuation procedures, Vance said.

One of the complaints Cameron received was from Mark Wuest, an investment banker who commutes daily from New Haven to New York City.

In a Web log he keeps about his railroad experiences, Wuest said he saw two troopers walk to the front of the train, enter the engineer's control booth and close the door. The troopers stayed in the booth for the entire trip and he heard them and the engineer laughing, Wuest said.

"In the first place, it is nearly impossible to inspect a 10-car train on a half-mile ride," Cameron said. "How can they even try to check anything if they're not constantly walking back and forth on the train?"

Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker said the railroad's customer service department has received no complaints. Train employees and the troopers are encouraged to develop a rapport because that will enhance security, Brucker said.

"Understanding the everyday operations, protocol and chain of command on the trains is just as important as being an expert marksman," Brucker said. "Laughter is fine. Humor is good."

Cameron has brought his case to the attention of the governor's office and said state officials acknowledged some of the complaints.

But Dennis Schaine, a spokesman for the governor, said he didn't know of any complaints.

"The governor believes in one of the finest state police forces in the country," Schaine said.

Commuters waiting for trains at the Stamford train station yesterday afternoon said troopers seem to be doing their jobs.

"The state troopers have looked very attentive and interested in what's going on," said Daniel Murphy, who works in Stamford and commutes from Bridgeport.

"I see them walk up and down the train, sometimes they say hi to someone," said Bolahan Fatoyinlo, 30, an accountant who commutes to Stamford from Mt. Vernon, N.Y. "I have nothing but positive things to say."

Security measures will be ramped up for next week's Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden. State police, the FBI and the federal Department of Homeland Security are working with Metropolitan Transit Authority police to provide security on trains running from Connecticut to New York.

Metro-North plans to run a normal schedule but it could be altered at the last minute if security warrants, Brucker has said.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

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