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U.S. screening railroad luggage under pilot program

(Bloomberg News circulated the following article by Chris Dolmetsch on November 7.)

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The U.S. Transportation Security Administration will randomly screen railroad passengers' luggage in Buffalo, New York, starting tomorrow as part of a pilot program, officials said.

Screeners with handheld explosives detectors will check bags of passengers boarding Amtrak and Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority trains, said Brett O'Neil, TSA customer support manager for the Buffalo region.

The program will help prepare for possible threats or attacks, O'Neil said. Rider advocates such as the National Association of Railroad Passengers say it's impossible to secure every train, bus and station against all potential attacks or put millions of riders a day through airport-style screening.

``It's all a question of how far they carry this,'' said Ross Capon, executive director of the rail passenger association. ``Certainly the basic points that we've made in the past remain.''

U.S. railroads began raising security in 2004 after the Madrid train bombings, and increased those efforts after London subway and bus bombings in July 2005.

The TSA screened train passengers outside Washington in May 2004 and randomly checked riders in Philadelphia in July in tests similar to the one that will be conducted in Buffalo, spokeswoman Ann Davis said.

Since late last year, the agency has sent teams to mass transit facilities in about a dozen cities, Davis said.

``These teams more often than not operate covertly and in other cases, like Buffalo, the personnel are actual security officers who are conducting random screening of carry-on baggage,'' Davis said in a telephone interview.

Random Bag Checks

Only a few U.S. rail systems currently screen passengers for explosives. In New York, police randomly check the bags of subway riders.

Amtrak does not regularly screen passengers or luggage for explosives, although its police do have bomb-sniffing dogs that randomly check bags or trains, spokesman Cliff Black said.

In Buffalo, screeners will examine luggage throughout the month and can be expected to show up at different stations on random days, O'Neil said. Any passengers who refuse to have their bags examined will be refused travel, he said.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

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