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First day of MBTA bag-search initiative goes smoothly

(The following article by Mac Daniel was posted on the Boston Globe website on October 11.)

BOSTON -- A new era for T passengers started at 7 a.m. sharp yesterday at the Anderson RTC commuter rail station in Woburn, when the bags of every 11th passenger to walk through the doors were tested for explosives.

The random searches by MBTA Transit Police went smoothly in the first 90 minutes, apart from one passenger whose bag falsely tested positive. A subsequent search found nothing, but caused the man to miss his train and arrive a half-hour late to work.

“I have no problems with bag searches. I think it's perfectly reasonable,” said Paul Cianciulli, 40, of Andover, who said his asthma medication may have triggered the false result. “But they have to be efficient at it. And they have to make sure their equipment is working, and obviously their equipment is not working.”

The search team also deployed around noon at Government Center, where no incidents were reported.

Governor Mitt Romney announced the searches last week. The T and the New York subways are the only transit systems in the country to have regular, random screening of passengers' bags and packages. Romney did not cite a specific terrorist threat, but did mention attacks on transit targets in Madrid, London, and Mumbai, India, since 2004 that have killed more than 400 commuters.

Most T commuters interviewed yesterday morning knew that the searches, which mirrored the temporary ones during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, were happening and supported them.

Reynard Wright , 45, of Woburn, his girlfriend Michelle Avery , 34, and her son, 2-year-old Michael Rogers , breezed through the checkpoint.

Wright commended officials who did the searches. “My only concern is that they don't do any form of racial profiling, “ he said.

MBTA Transit Police will fan out unannounced on commuter trains, subways, buses, and commuter boats, randomly choose riders, and use a piece of cloth to swab the zippers, bottom, or handles of carry-ons.

Officers then place the swab in a portable machine that can detect explosives residue.

The process took less than a minute per passenger yesterday. If there is probable cause, officers will ask passengers to open bags and packages.

Passengers who refuse the search won't be allowed into the transit system, and any person refusing to leave could be arrested.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

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