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Amtrak security more visible

(The following story by Jim Meenan appeared on the South Bend Tribune website on February 20.)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. South Bend's Judy Woodfolk has seen a lot of things during her 15 years of working for Amtrak.

Even, yes, some violence.

The train attendant is sure about one thing, though: She is pleased with Amtrak's plans to step up security.

"Definitely," she said. It will make people a bit more at ease, she said. And be helpful to smaller stations on the routes, like ones in St. Joseph, Niles, Dowagiac and South Bend.

"It was definitely necessary," she said. "A lot of the smaller stations get the most complaints and threats actually instead of the large ones because they know they are the least protected, like the local banks."

She points, out, however, that even at the smaller stations, there is more security going on than people realize, while at places like Union Station in Chicago, bomb-sniffing dogs, police presence and random identification checks were already going on.

"In Chicago, we have more dogs," she said. "We have police on the Segways. It's been going on the last couple years. And in places like Dallas and Fort Worth, if they get any calls, they will even meet the trains."

At the larger stations, security has indeed been present.

"We have always been randomly looking at bags," said Marc Magliari, Amtrak's Chicago media relations manager said. "Now we will do it much more publicly.

"We have always had a police presence at Union Station and stronger ones in recent years.

"We have always had animal protections. Now it will be more publicly and in a stronger way."

For smaller stations, like those found in Michiana, it means what Amtrak is calling its Mobile Security Team could pop in the station someday.

According to Amtrak, a Mobile Security Team may consist of armed specialized Amtrak police, explosives-detecting K-9 units and armed counterterrorism special agents in tactical uniforms, according to Amtrak. They will screen passengers, randomly inspect baggage and patrol stations. These squads also may sweep through trains using K-9 units.

"We will be deploying them more," Magliari said, "at large and small stations. The response teams can be anywhere with the detection animals and even ride the trains."

No timetable has been or will be announced for the stepped-up security, Magliari said. "That would defeat the randomness of it," he said.

The plans for stepped-up security generally got the public's approval at South Bend's Washington Street station Wednesday morning.

"I think it's a good thing," said Tom Harris, of Knox, who was returning from Pennsylvania.

"It will make people more aware of what's going on," said Colleen Turley, of South Bend, prior to boarding to Fargo, N.D. "I think it's OK."

Ferdinand Crespo, also of South Bend, was about to board for Houston.

"It will work," he said, "for the safety of everybody."

Woodfolk stressed that even smaller stops like South Bend do have things going on behind the counter, from wands going over suitcases to possibly even K-9 units.

In addition, she said any train could have a plainclothes officer on it, even now, for the traveler's protection.

She has also undergone preparation and awareness training "so we can identify packages and notify authorities from Amtrak on the train as well as in different stations that we go to."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

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