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U.S. to test security devices at PATH station

(The following article by Thomas J. Lueck was posted on the New York Times website on July 11.)

NEW YORK -- Commuters who use the Exchange Place PATH station in Jersey City during the next three weeks can expect to be checked by scanners and other security devices as part of a test by the Department of Homeland Security.

Starting at 10 a.m. Thursday, riders may be electronically searched by handheld devices that look like cameras, told to step in front of machines that resemble phone booths or subjected to tests involving radar, infrared sensors and other technology, federal officials said yesterday.

“In the first stage we used existing technology, and now we are moving out,” said Christopher Kelly, a department spokesman.

Officials said the testing was scheduled to continue on weekdays through July 27, with passengers being scanned from roughly the morning to evening rushes. “It may slow things up by a few minutes for those who are selected, but in general, it won’t significantly affect people’s commutes,” Mr. Kelly said.

Federal officials said that the technologies being tested were intended to check passengers quickly and unobtrusively, sometimes using devices that are placed far away.
The officials declined yesterday to describe in any detail what would be tested but said that some of the devices incorporated what is known as millimeter-wave technology, in which sensors detect energy emitted by bodies or other objects.

Experts say that the sensors read energy wavelengths that pass through clothing or composite materials, and that millimeter-wave devices can be placed at a distance from passengers who are being scanned, while generating images of objects under their clothing.

So some machines will monitor all passengers as they pass. Other riders will be selected at random to be searched, officials said.

The test is part of a two-year program, financed by $10 million from Congress, to develop scanning equipment that can provide railroad stations with a level of security comparable to what exists at airports.

Another security test was conducted in February at the Exchange Place station. The new test, which is to begin less than a week after the authorities announced what they said was a plot to blow up the PATH tunnels between New Jersey and Lower Manhattan, will no doubt serve as another reminder to commuters of the threat of terrorism.

But Mr. Kelly said that the testing “has been planned for a long time” and that there was no link to the plot described last week.

The Exchange Place station, which was closed for renovations after the attack on the World Trade Center, and reopened in 2003, has been fitted with new wiring and other equipment that makes it particularly suitable as a test site, federal officials said.

The testing in February was to measure the effectiveness in railroad stations of metal detectors, X-ray machines and other scanners used in airports. But the machines were set at a lower level of sensitivity, and people did not have to empty their pockets or remove their shoes.

Security experts have long warned that rail passengers cannot be expected to tolerate the delays that many have come to accept at airports. And they say that commuters are unlikely to arrive an hour or more in advance to board trains.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

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