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Explosive sniffing dogs to enhance VRE security

(The Associated Press circulated the following article on August 27.)

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Railway Express trains are expected to be safer for commuters beginning next week when authorities begin using dogs trained to sniff out explosives for random searches of the rail cars.

The dogs and their handlers, who will start the searches Monday, have been made available free of charge by a variety of local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI (website) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, VRE (website - news) spokesman Mark Roeber said.

"They look at it as a training exercise which they could not get on any other occasion," Roeber said, adding that it also helps the VRE because the officers will become increasingly familiar with the equipment and layout of the rail cars.

"That can only benefit our agency," he said.

VRE has made other security upgrades since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including agreements with more than 130 law enforcement agencies to have plain clothes officers ride the train each day for free in exchange for paying close attention.

The commuter rail runs 31 trains a day on its Fredericksburg and Manassas lines, and it experimented successfully with explosive-sniffing dogs on the trains in July.

Only one commuter complained, Roeber said, and the dogs were able to make their inspection of the cars quickly, delaying departures by just one to two minutes.

"One of our concerns was can, in fact, the dogs get through a crowded rail car without getting excited and without exciting the passengers?" he said.

"They're so focused, they just sniff and sniff and keep going."

Friday, August 27, 2004

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