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Rep. Castle pushes for train security

(The News Journal posted the following article by Kristin Harty on its website on October 12.)

WILMINGTON, Del. -- During most rush hours these days, you can see a police officer and canine walking around the Wilmington Amtrak station, casually patrolling and letting themselves be seen.

It's a small step station operators, and local and state governments, have taken to enhance security since bombings in London's subway system during the summer, said Ron Edwards, Amtrak's district manager of stations.

Train stations across the country and abroad have taken similar steps to decrease the likelihood of terrorist attacks, according to a recently released report. But no comprehensive plan has been developed to protect rail passengers from terrorism.

It's time for the federal government to act, the report states.

Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., who with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, urged the Government Accountability Office to study rail security in 2003, discussed details of the GAO's 70-page report at a news conference Tuesday in Wilmington.

He plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks that -- if funded -- would put many of the report's suggestions to work.

"It's important to strike while the iron is hot," said Castle, who acknowledged federal finances are tight because of the war in Iraq and hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Enhancing security for the country's rail system would cost about $500 million a year, he said.

"I consider this to be a very tall order, to get this, or legislation like this, passed," Castle said. "To suggest that it will be easy or will happen quickly, no. ... We simply cannot afford to not address this."

Castle's legislation, to be called the Rail Security and Public Awareness Act of 2005, would:

Authorize grants for mandatory rail worker security training programs.
Provide more funding for security personnel and technology.
Require the Department of Homeland Security to develop strategy for increasing and promoting public awareness campaigns to encourage riders to observe and report suspicious behavior.
Require the Transportation Security Administration to come up with a timeline for developing a comprehensive national rail security policy.
Require the Department of Homeland Security to study the cost and feasibility of implementing rail security practices that have proven effective overseas, such as passenger and baggage screenings.

No formal security systems are in place at Wilmington's train station, though passengers are required to show a photo ID when purchasing tickets. Amtrak has its police force on site, which is supplemented by city and state officers.

Time is right, Castle says

"It's about visibility," said Jon Tainow, Amtrak's chief of system operations in Wilmington.

Getting passengers involved is key, he said. New York's transit system has a public awareness program called "If You See Something, Say Something," which Amtrak endorses.

"It's the visibility of seeing people who are watching people," Tainow said.

An estimated 11 million people ride in U.S. passenger trains on any given weekday -- several million of them along the eastern corridor. Castle, who frequently rides the train from Wilmington to Washington, said the GAO report will give momentum to an issue he's been pushing for years.

The federal government spends about $4 billion a year on aviation security, Castle said.
"The funding is incredibly lopsided," he said. "That's fundamentally wrong. ... I think we have turned the burners up on this issue."

The GAO report acknowledges that implementing random security checks at train stations could pose "political, legal, fiscal and cultural challenges."

Threats of terror make it worthwhile to consider altering the ultra-open feel of train stations like that in Wilmington, the report said. About 4,000 people use the station every day, Edwards said, traveling to destinations aboard some 103 trains.

Passengers torn on privacy

On Tuesday evening, no security was visible at the Wilmington station, though typically a police officer and canine pair patrol during rush hours, Edwards said. Passengers waited quietly for trains, some working on laptops, talking on cell phones or nodding off to sleep.

Judy Anastasi read a book while waiting to board a SEPTA train home to Pennsylvania. She wouldn't mind if she had to walk through a metal detector at the Wilmington Amtrak station or let a security officer look through her bag, she said.

"This is a time in life when you have to give up a little personal privacy,' Anastasi said.
Others worry that increased security would be too invasive.

"I would be very wary of it because I think there are some vicious and abusive police," said Ed O'Donnell of Wilmington, who was headed to Philadelphia. "I'm not personally concerned about terror. I'm more concerned about personal liberties."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

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