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Bombings loom over rail riders

(The following article by Alicia Zadrozny was posted on the Montclair Times website on July 13.)

MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- When talking to commuters following the recent terrorist attack in London, one word fully describes the emotions they express.

Wary.

Some commuters became accustomed to a new standard of security in Manhattan following Sept. 11, 2001. Since July 7, when bombs tore through the London Underground system — killing about 50 and injuring hundreds, even more security was added to Montclair’s train stations, Penn Station, Port Authority and the New York subway system.

So then the question becomes, how do commuters absorb the news of the bombings in London? A sampling of Montclair’s seemed to agree that they would go about their daily routines by not dwelling too much on the tragedy but still being mindful that a similar attack could happen here.

On the afternoon of the bombings, Marlon Brown stepped off the train at the Walnut Street Station and said the marked increase in police and bomb-sniffing dogs in Penn Station did not evoke many feelings. Still, he said, the pangs of fear can happen at any time and for him it’s when the train passes under water.

"I think, if it happened now, I couldn’t get out. You pray and say, ‘I hope it’s not my time,’" Brown said.

NJ Transit heightened its security measures immediately following the London bombings. According to the transportation agency, the NJ Transit Police have stepped up uniformed and plainclothes patrols by 75 percent. Additional K-9 bomb-detection teams have been deployed. The agency set up vehicular checkpoints at major terminals and stations. Electronic surveillance was also increased.

As it has done for some time, NJ Transit is urging passengers to report suspicious activity or unattended packages.

Along with New York Gov. George Pataki, acting Gov. Richard Codey coordinated efforts to allow state police officers to ride commuter trains and granted them full enforcement powers.

After the bombings in London, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a Code Orange alert and its state counterpart has been issuing daily information to the Montclair Police Department. As a result, department officials have focused extra patrols at the train stations in town, said Deputy Chief Roger Terry. On the afternoon of the London bombings, for instance, a marked police car was stationed at Walnut Street. Also, a uniformed police officer could be seen patrolling the elevated walkway at Bay Street.

"We’re giving our railroad stations special attention," Terry said.

Steve Lavinsky said he sees the security measures taken locally and across the river in New York much differently from some of his neighbors, considering that he lived in Israel for 10 years. The 48-year-old advertising executive was not unduly worried about commuting into Manhattan following the bombings in London.

"I know what real security is, that’s not what they’re doing here," Lavinsky said. "I still feel safe. What will be, will be."

Kristen Engberg believes the increased presence of cops and bomb-sniffing dogs is barely a blip on the radar of most commuters. Day in and day out, people are just rushing to their trains, she said, and doing their "self-interest thing." But if she had the chance to pause as she did with The Times at the platform of the Watchung Plaza Station, she might think about her fears. For one, Engberg said she worries about getting home to her children in Montclair.

"Your kids are on the other side of the river. That part is pretty unnerving," Engberg said.

The potential for another terrorist attack is part of Colleen Hawk’s life. The events of 9/11 took care of that, she said, and the bombings in London have not heightened the realization. A Broadway dancer who teaches lessons in Montclair but lives in Manhattan, Hawk said she merely goes about her life taking trains and subways and attempts to keep fear in check.

"It’s just something you live with," Hawk said. "If something is going to happen, there’s nothing I can do about it."

Christine Burgess also said her life changed after 9/11 and added that if anything, New York should practice London’s security measures.

"We went through it then. The threat has been with us ever since," Burgess said. "London has a lot more video. I’d like to see more bomb-sniffing dogs on trains. I’d like to see the transit authority communicate more."

Leslie Peoples of Bloomfield sometimes takes NJ Transit from the Bay Street Station. Peoples also said she sometimes thinks about terrorist attacks around the world but mostly tucks them in the back of her mind.

"I’m sad about it but I don’t think about it every day," Peoples said.

Bilal China feels most comfortable at home or at his mosque. Terrorist attacks that take place around the world have become the saddest part of this 24-year-old observant Muslim’s life. China waited for his afternoon train at Bay Street. He said he senses suspicion about him wherever he goes, whether it’s at his job at a Manhattan moving company or home in Montclair. China said he expects terrorism to happen. He wishes that he could convince "deviant" Muslims that they are hurting all of humankind including their own faithful. He also wishes that he could convince everyone that his faith is a faith of peace.

For now, he said, "You just have to pray for all the families who lost people because of deviants."

Thursday, July 14, 2005

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