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MTA probes security on trains

(The following story by Herbert Lowe appeared on the Newsday website on September 8.)

NEW YORK — In the wake of its conclusion that Metro-North Railroad was too casual about guarding access to sensitive documents and areas, the MTA's inspector general has launched a new probe to see how well the LIRR and the Transit Authority are managing that task.

Metro-North's safekeeping of its operations manuals and thousands of door keys is far too lax given the ever-present concerns of a terrorist strike against a rail system, Matthew Sansverie, inspector general of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said Thursday.

"What we're really trying to find out is, are there adequate controls over those items to keep them in the hands of people who should have them as opposed to people who shouldn't have them," Sansverie said.

Sansverie's concerns about Metro-North were outlined in a 12-page report sent to the agency's president, Peter Cannito, on July 17.

The inspector general's office began looking into the matter after a Metro-North engineer left his backpack behind on a train.

Police in Larchmont later found the backpack in an alley behind retail stores in that Westchester County village. A ring of keys that gave the engineer access to rooms and closed areas within Grand Central Terminal, controlled train movements and opened train car doors were missing, Sansverie wrote.

The engineer, Clifford Scott, a 23-year veteran of the agency, also reported that his operations manual and a general safety instructions book were missing from the recovered backpack, officials said.

Sansverie's letter also stated that Scott failed to report the loss to the proper authorities, and other Metro-North employees were likely being similarly careless.

The investigation also discovered that Metro-North produces more than 6,300 operations manuals when only about 1,800 of the railroad's employees are required to carry it, the letter stated.

In a statement released Thursday, Metro-North officials insisted that they take the threat of terrorism seriously. Merely having a train's key, it said, will not let just anyone steer it into harm's way, for example.

"In other words, a train cannot be operated anywhere the tracks don't go and where the signal and dispatching systems don't allow it to go," the agency's statement said.

Scott, who could not be reached for comment, will not be disciplined for losing the key or manual, according to Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman for Metro-North.

"You can't punish someone retroactively," Anders said.

Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the MTA, said officials at both the LIRR and Transit Authority will cooperate with the new investigation. "Obviously whatever findings are reached in a report like this are shared with the other agencies and the issues are addressed," Kelly said.

Friday, September 8, 2006

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