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Feds to inspect bags at train stations

(The Associated Press circulated the following article by William Kates on March 29.)

ROME, N.Y. -- Federal inspectors will begin looking for bombs in the baggage of train passengers at several Upstate New York rail stations starting next month, including Rome and Utica, a Transportation Security Administration official said Wednesday.

The first check will take place April 6 at the rail-bus terminal in Syracuse, Federal Security Director Gary Milano said. After that, unannounced inspections will occur periodically in Syracuse, Utica, Rome and eventually Albany, Milano said.

The inspections are part of a new nationwide homeland security initiative and a shift after years of focusing on aviation and airport security, Milano said.

“There is not a specific threat directed at either the rail system, or at Central New York. It’s just high time we started doing this,” Milano said.

Terrorist attacks in recent years on rail systems in Madrid, London and Mumbai show that train security cannot be ignored, he said.

For most train riders, the baggage checks will be similar to those at the airport.

Using portable screening equipment, TSA agents and local uniformed police will set up temporary security checkpoints where bags will be scanned. Bomb-sniffing dogs also will be used, Milano said. Undercover federal and state police will mingle with the station crowd, he said.

“There may be certain circumstances where we need to do a little bit more than that. But in general it will be a very limited intrusion because we want to respect people’s civil liberties but also their ability to get on the train in a timely fashion,” Milano said.

Amtrak Police Deputy Chief Robert W. Smith said the inspections have been done in Buffalo, Boston, Philadelphia and Providence and have caused little fuss for riders.

According to Amtrak, it had nearly 103,000 riders come and go through the Syracuse station in 2006. Rome reported 6,879 riders while Utica had close to 46,000.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

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