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Explosives screening for rail passengers begins Tuesday

(The Associated Press circulated the following article by Carolyn Thompson on November 6.)

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Rail passengers in Buffalo will undergo explosives screening as part of a program being tested by the Transportation Security Administration.

Beginning Tuesday, randomly chosen carryon bags of Amtrak travelers and passengers using the city's Metro Rail system will be swabbed and checked with portable machines capable of detecting minute traces of explosives.

The pilot program is meant to give security officials another tool should the nation's terror alert level rise from its current status of yellow, or elevated, said Brett O'Neil, spokesman for the TSA in Buffalo.

"We're preparing ourselves for, hopefully, something that never happens, but probably will at some point in time if they make specific threats against the ground transportation system," O'Neil said.

Buffalo was chosen as one of the first cities to test the screening program because of its location on an international border, as well as for its relatively light rail passenger load.

"It gives us a little bit of a chance without being inundated with passengers to be able to develop a process and procedure," O'Neil said.

Philadelphia has been conducting the screenings for several months, he said.

The TSA was created by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks to oversee security of all transportation modes. The Madrid railway bombings that killed 191 people in March 2004 focused greater attention on rail security.

About 29 million people take commuter trains, subways and buses daily in the United States and experts warn they may be tempting terrorist targets because of their predictability.

"We have to adjust our security strategies to make it more difficult to plan and carry out a potential terrorist act," said Lawrence Meckler, executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which oversees Buffalo's Metro Rail system of above- and below-ground trains.

Under the pilot program, TSA officers, assisted by Amtrak, NFTA and Depew police officers, will staff different boarding points at various times throughout November. After that, the technology will be used on a random basis and when the threat level is increased, authorities said.

"We are very pleased to be one of the first sites in the country to be rolling out this type of risk-based approach to passenger screening," said David Bassett, the TSA's federal security director in Buffalo.

In addition to the screening devices, passengers also may encounter two newly trained canine explosives teams at rail stations and stops.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

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